Short intense workouts may cut injuries without hurting performance
By Anne Aurand / The Bulletin
Jason Moyer, 38, trains on the Deschutes River Trail near Dillon Falls. A competitive long-distance runner, Moyer had injured his knee and quit running for a year. When he restarted, he substituted shorter, high-tempo runs for some longer-distance runs, and he no longer logs 100-mile weeks.
Pete Erickson / The Bulletin
Need for speed? Here’s how
Want to try to increase your speed by adding some interval work? Intervals are bursts of speed work alternated with recovery periods. Try alternating three easy minutes of jogging with three harder minutes of running — 85 to 90 percent of maximum effort. Repeat five times, for a cumulative 15 minutes of speed work and 15 minutes of easy, slow running. To start, do this only once a week.
Source: Denny Dragan, physical therapist at Rebound Physical Therapy Bend
In the ongoing saga about which is better for runners — longer, slower distances or shorter, faster running — results from a new study suggest that brief, intense runs might be a useful training approach to reach peak aerobic conditioning while reducing the risk of overuse injuries.
The small study, published in a recent issue of The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, showed that shorter, faster runs didn’t cause the fatigue-related changes to running form and natural shock-absorption that longer training runs did.
The results came as a surprise to researchers, who had seen studies suggesting the opposite.
It’s hard to come to truly valid scientific conclusions on best-practice training questions. Disparate results among studies could be attributed to different protocols for fatigue and data collection. Some studies that examined whether there are benefits to speed work have used treadmills; others watched outdoor runners. However, small studies have suggested high-intensity training can improve speed and performance in competitive runners.
This new study “raises the intriguing possibility that brief, high-intensity training runs might provide many of the benefits of training with a lower risk of overuse injuries,” its authors wrote. The authors also concluded that more research is needed.
“This is a debate, actually, that’s been ongoing for decades,” said Dave Clark, cross-country coach at Summit High School in Bend. “This kind of thing has been studied before.”
“From my opinion, after coaching 20 years and talking to runners and being a runner, I’d say it’s not that simple,” he said. “Every person is different.” His thoughts were echoed by other experts and runners. What a body needs for optimal performance and to avoid injury depends on the individual’s personal biomechanics and running goals.
Runners who compete in shorter distance races, such as an 800-meter run, don’t need to wear their bodies down with more mileage to be strong competitors, Clark said. But the rest of runners — facing anything from a 5K to a marathon — are going to have to put in some distance.
Competitive distance runner Jason Moyer, a 38-year-old carpenter from Bend, has logged plenty of miles. But over time, on his own, he realized he was better off substituting some of those long runs with shorter, faster runs.
Moyer has been running marathons and ultramarathons since college. A few years back, for 12 consecutive weeks he ran between 100 and 140 miles per week.
“By the end of that I had ruined my left knee,” he said. A muscular imbalance led to tendonitis, and he stopped running for a year.
“When I started back, I found that I could run as fast as I wanted but just not as far anymore,” he said. He discovered, partly by experimenting and partly by reading related research, that he was going to be better off if he switched out some long runs with some 20- to 30-minute, high-tempo runs. As a result, he’s generally injury-free, and he’s still pretty fast, with fewer training miles.
Plus, he said, “I don’t have the time to run 100 miles a week anymore, or the energy. Most people with full-time jobs are the same way. If you can spend less time and still progress toward a PR (personal record), then why not?”
“If you’re just running slow, you’ll get to be a better slow runner. Depending on your goals, that might or might not work,” he said.
But, average runners are liable to get hurt if they take up speed work too fast.
“I’ve learned you have to listen to your body. I always warm up 20 to 40 minutes before a speed workout. If I’m not feeling energetic or loose enough, I won’t do it,” he said.
“You have to train as hard as your body will allow you, not going over the line. I think that’s true in speed work as well. You always want to finish that workout thinking you could have done one more.”
Denny Dragan, a physical therapist at Rebound Physical Therapy, said for most runners — or cyclists or swimmers for that matter — who want to get faster, it’s important to add some higher-intensity training, or intervals (bursts of speed work alternated with recovery periods). But the problem, he said, is that most people are not in tune with their bodies, so they’re likely to overdo it. That’s when running injuries Bend happen.
Speed work is like strength training, Dragan said. After a speed workout, people’s bodies and muscles have to rebuild, so they need recovery days between hard workouts.
For the recreational runner who wants to be faster, he suggested trying longer-duration intervals, such as three- to four-minute surges of higher speed. Shorter periods of speed (such as 30 seconds) are more conducive to overloading the body’s capacity to the point of injury, he said.
To start, a runner might try three easy minutes of jogging and then three harder minutes at 85 to 90 percent of maximum effort. Repeat that fast/slow cycle five times. This plan would provide 15 minutes of hard, fast running and 15 minutes of easy, slow running.
And, try this no more than once or twice a week. He said most running injuries Bend come from people who train hard day after day and don’t give their bodies time to recover. Varying workouts and including recovery days is crucial to avoiding injuries.
As for long-slow versus short-fast runs, the takeaway message, he said, is “you have to do both.”