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Steal Tinman Elite’s Speed Training Secrets With This Key Workout

Runner’s World logo Runner’s World 9/16/2020 Chris Lee
Dean Whare holding a frisbee: Tinman Elite coach Chris Lee shares speed training tips that can take your running to the next level. © Greg Mionske Tinman Elite coach Chris Lee shares speed training tips that can take your running to the next level.

Science first. That’s how Tom Schwartz, the head coach of Tinman Elite, and I approach training our team both on the track and for cross country. At all times of day and night, we’re discussing the latest research and training methodology. And while we don’t always agree on everything, one concept we both believe in is that the key to running faster is about training smarter, not harder. Our philosophy is simple: “Keep the ball rolling.” Consistent, injury-free training is how you meet your goals.

That’s why we approach speed training differently. The purpose of training speed in running is really two-fold: First off, we want to recruit more Type-IIa muscle fibers. These are the fast-twitch muscle fibers responsible for generating power when we sprint. As distance runners, we most often rely on Type-I, slow-twitch muscle fibers. These have a slower contraction speed but a higher aerobic capacity and resistance to fatigue, which is why we’re able to keep going for miles and miles. But by recruiting more of the Type-IIa fibers, we can improve running economy, which leads to faster baseline and top-end speeds. We all want that.

Second, speed is a skill. Like any other skill, the more we practice it, the more it becomes second nature. However, the quality of our practice determines how advanced we become at a skill. Sure, you can get faster by ripping 200’s and 400’s at intensity at the end of a workout on tired legs, but you risk developing both poor mechanics and injury due to fatigue.

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When we repeatedly perform a movement, we reinforce motor learning and muscle memory development. In a study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning, researchers found that when running at speeds equivalent to 62.5 percent anaerobic effort (the approximate energy demands of a 400-meter sprint), the runners required a high amount of neural recruitment as well as a high rate of force development. Translation: Running fast requires the most brainpower and muscular demand.

a man walking down a dirt road: Chris Lee photographed in July 2020 in Boulder, Colorado where he likes to run © Greg Mionske Chris Lee photographed in July 2020 in Boulder, Colorado where he likes to run

Our brain-body connection is so strong, it’s actually quite difficult to unlearn a motor pattern once it’s ingrained. So if we get used to training speed on tired legs when we might have improper mechanics and compensation patterns, we often end up relying on those same bad habits at the end of a race or during a tempo run. What we want to do is practice our skill of running fast while we still have a strong neuromuscular relationship and proper mechanics.

Think of it like trying to stream Netflix with a bad internet connection—the content won’t load properly, and you might see glitches or errors. The same goes for running in a fatigued state; our muscles won’t fire properly and thus our mechanics become compromised.

That’s where smart training comes in. Speed-first workouts are a safer, smarter way to prepare the body for hard efforts because you benefit from having the highest quality of movement. In speed-first workouts, you perform shorter, faster repeats right after the warmup when both the mind and body are still fresh, rather than at the end of the session when your mind and body are fatigued.

Practicing speed this way also prevents injuries. Most high-intensity running injuries are seen during acceleration or deceleration, during which the hamstring muscles are tasked with high loads. That risk for injury is even higher after fatigue.

In one study published in Frontiers in Physiology, researchers found that during submaximal sprint efforts, the accumulated fatigue led to altered kinematics and muscle function, specifically of the glutes and hamstrings, causing runners to produce less horizontal force and slower sprint times. When you perform a fatigued sprint at the end of a workout, you have to compensate in order to counteract the fatigue-altered muscle function if you want to generate enough horizontal force, which leads to a high risk of injury.

That’s not to say there’s never a time or a place to practice speed late in a workout. End-of-run striders with proper mechanics can train your body to push through rough patches, and—maybe more importantly—train your mind to dig deep and find grit when the going gets tough. At Tinman, we still use the tempo-first, speed-after approach at times. It’s a very effective workout, and we usually end most of our slower workouts with some striders to recruit those fast-twitch fibers and restore neural recruitment.

a man standing on top of a grass covered field: Chris Lee photographed in July 2020 in Boulder, Colorado where he likes to run © Greg Mionske Chris Lee photographed in July 2020 in Boulder, Colorado where he likes to run

Want to build even more speed? Try Chris Lee’s 30-Day Cross-Training Challenge to get faster, finish stronger, and shave seconds—or even minutes—off your personal best times.

But when it comes to the skill of running fast, the speed-first workouts reduce the risk of injury and set you up to run with the best mechanics and strongest mind-body connection. That means you’ll be able to keep the ball rolling, ensuring your training stays consistent, and you aren’t sidelined with aches or pains. Practice speed-first workouts and get comfortable running fast while fresh. Once you can do that, you can start adding speed in when fatigued with the confidence of knowing your biomechanics are rock solid.

Speed-First Workout

This workout below is a personal favorite of Drew Hunter, who ran a personal best of 13:21 in his pro 5K debut after a long hiatus from the event. To find your personal race paces, check out this guide.

all out studio app © Hearst Owned all out studio app

Warm Up

  • 2 miles or 15 to 20 minutes easy running, building to moderate pace
  • 20 meters (or 30 reps) of dynamic drills: High Knees/Butt Kicks/Skips/Side Shuffles/Squats
  • 100 meters (or a 30-second to 1-minute build) to 5K pace

Speed

  • 8 x 400 meters @ 1500 pace (20 seconds faster than 5K pace)
  • Jog 200 meters recovery in-between each interval

Tempo

  • Easy 7 to 8 minutes easy recovery jog
  • 3-mile tempo run @ 5K pace + 0:20

Cool Down

  • 10-minute easy recovery jog

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