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The benefits of different types of running

Reading Time: 4 minutes

If you’re not a regular runner, you might think of running as two distinct types – sprinting and long distance.

After all, those are the ones you see on tv. Professional runners seem to be competing for the quickest time over a short distance, or over a longer distance, like in a marathon. If you think back to when you last ran you probably did this yourself too. Either you were sprinting as quickly as possible to get to an end point not so far away, or you were trying to keep running for longer and therefore, at a slower jogging pace that you could endure.

More than just sprinting and long-distance

The truth of the matter is that if you were to ask an Olympic runner which type of runner they were, they probably would answer that they were a sprinter or a long-distance runner, so you could be forgiven for thinking that this is all there was. There are however, a number of different running techniques that all professional runners will be familiar with as part of their movement workout – as will many hobbyist runners. Studies have shown that to maximise the health benefits of physical exercise when running, you’re best to vary up the types of runs you do.1 If you ever find yourself signing up for a major running event such as the London Marathon, their official running programmes will even feature these styles of running, which are recognised for their benefits in getting you into the best running shape possible.

Progression runs move you through your paces by starting slow and finishing fast. They are a great way to boost fitness as they can enable you to go further and for longer, as you are saving your energy for the end. Start at a slow, relaxed pace for about a third of your run, then pick it up to a comfortable, but more challenging tempo for the second third and build up to a quicker pace for your final third.

Tempo runs are neither a slower, comfortable pace or a quicker, flat-out pace. They are somewhere in the middle, at the point where you are testing your limits, but at a pace you can maintain for longer than if you were sprinting.

Long runs. If you ever find yourself training for a long-distance event, the long run is something you will soon be familiar with. They are what you might have assumed all your training would be about – distance. The long run is typically done once a week with the aim of slowly increasing your distance and getting your body more used to time on its feet. This is not a run to worry about speed. It’s simply about endurance. You should be able to maintain a conversation throughout.

Recovery runs. A recovery run is typically performed the day after your long run. It serves two functions. The first being to get you used to running on tired legs (if you are training for a long-distance event) and the second to flush out the lactic acid from your body, help prevent stiffness and encourage a swifter recovery. The recovery run is a short, slow run that is neither about speed or endurance. It’s simply about moving when you don’t want to, but when your body needs you to.

Interval running has increased in popularity in recent years and follows a similar principle to that of a HIIT workout – you can increase fitness in less time, by doing bursts of high intensity movement. In fact, interval running could be considered a HIIT workout in its own right! If you were going for a twenty-minute jog, for example, you could turn it into an interval run by sprinting for between 10-30 seconds, depending on your fitness level, and then returning to a slow jog for a minute or longer while your heart rate lowers. Simply repeat that process for the duration of your run.

Fartlek sounds both odd, and technical, but it’s actually neither. Meaning ‘speed play’ in Swedish where it originated, a fartlek run is deliberately less structured and designed to vary up speeds and terrains during a run to improve your fitness and endurance. You might decide to jog for a minute or so and then sprint between lampposts, or you could even play a game with yourself where you jog when you see a red car and sprint when you see a blue one. There are no hard and fast rules and that’s entirely the point. You are quite literally, playing with speed.

Hill sprints are the bane of many runners’ life, but they are a fantastic way to rapidly improve your fitness. All you need is a steep incline. Starting at the bottom, set yourself a time period depending on your fitness level – 10 seconds is a good place to start. It might not sound long but you will feel every second of it! Sprint at maximum effort up the hill for those 10 seconds, then slowly walk back down, recover, repeat and continue for the duration of your workout.

And now for something totally different… skyrunning!

This is not going to be for everyone, but those that have tried it are raving about it. Skyrunning is the practice of running above 2,000 meters altitude across mountains with a minimum incline, according to the International Skyrunning Federation, of 6% and sections that must exceed 30%.2 Founded in 1992, there are now over 200 official races worldwide. Your legs might not thank you for it, but if you are a keen runner and looking to try something different that will really reap the health benefits of physical exercise, it’s a challenge like no other.

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