Introduction to Workout Types
Runners often start out by running the same distance at the same pace each time. However, using different styles of training runs can significantly improve the benefits of exercise. Our bodies respond to the training stress of running by being temporarily weakened, then growing back stronger, a process called Supercompensation. There are different ways of training that produce different stress and result in different improvements. Training modifies different systems in the body, including cardiovascular, muscular, biomechanical, neurological and hormonal. This article gives a high level overview of the different training types.
Many runners do the bulk of their miles in what are often described as 'easy' runs. These runs are 'easy' in the sense that they are not fast enough to improve aerobic capacity, or maximal speed and not long enough to improve endurance. There is little evidence to support the idea that an easy run on a rest day improves recovery. Adding an extra 20% distance at an easy pace (from 4 to 6 days/week) did not improve marathon times in a study  .
2 Interval Training
Interval training is alternating high and low intensity exercise. The high intensity might be a slow jog for a beginner or a fast run for the more advanced runner. The low intensity might be a slower run, a walk or lying on the ground. I believe that interval training is the most important type of workout, for everyone from beginners to elite athletes. For beginners, it seems that there is a perception that interval training is in some way taking the easy way out, or that walking in a run means you are not a 'real runner'. Nothing could be further from the truth; real runners do interval training! Interval training is the most efficient ways of improving aerobic capacity and maximal speed. Interval training is also great in hot weather - the low intensity period allows for cooling off. For runners starting off with interval training, it is important to practice Safe Speedwork.
3 Long Run
Everyone has a limit on how far they can run. The long run is the key workout for increasing distance and is part of any reasonable marathon training plan. The distance that can be run is dramatically increased by taking Walking Breaks; you can go much further than with continuous running. Generally, a long run is at an easy pace, often well below the target race pace. However, a number of running plans include some type of higher paced running. I would advise most runners to have one run a week longer than the others.
There is a lot of variety to hill training. It can be used with interval training, running hard up the hill and easy down to build fitness with lower impact. However, Downhill Running and especially Downhill Intervals are the best form of hill running. A long run can be hilly to prepare for a long, hilly race.
5 Tempo Run
Tempo Runs are generally a run for 20 minutes at a pace that could be maintained for a maximum of an hour (83-88% VO2max) . Jack Daniels claims tempo runs "are one of the most productive types of training". However, the science does not back up the claims of many coaches. While Tempo Runs can provide some benefit for untrained subjects, but not as effectively as either Long Slow Distance or High Intensity Interval Training. One study referred to Tempo Runs as a "black hole" which many recreational athletes fall into.
Racing can be used as a form of training, and for some people this is their preferred way of improving their speed. I think that for most runners, a marathon or longer race does too much damage to produce a useful fitness benefit.
7 See Also
- Golden Rule of Training
- Supercompensation and Why exercise does not make you fit
- Introduction to Interval Training and Safe Speedwork
- Recovery Runs and Toxic Miles
- Walking Breaks
- Neuromuscular fatigue and recovery in elite female soccer: effects of active recovery. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18202563
- Rest v Active Recovery http://evidencebasedfitness.blogspot.com/2008/02/rest-vs-active-recovery.html
- Preparing For Your First Marathon http://www.pponline.co.uk/encyc/0307.htm http://www.pponline.co.uk/encyc/0307.htm
- Long slow distance training in novice marathoners http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7886283
- Jack Daniel's Running Formula, 2nd Edition, pp 111