Advance Your Fitness With Progression Runs

Photo: Brian Metzler

Boost your fitness and speed recovery by picking up the pace.

Elite distance runners often use workouts known as progression runs to boost fitness, train their bodies to run faster while fatigued and speed recovery. The workout isn’t just for elites, however; it can also be a great training tool for competitive age-group runners and recreational runners alike. Not only can progression runs effectively improve your race fitness without requiring additional recovery time, they can add variety to your weekly training regimen and spice up your long, slow runs.

Simply put, a progression run is any run in which you begin slowly and gradually increase your pace to finish faster than you started. There are many different types of progression runs and each has a slightly different goal: building fitness, sharpening up for races, developing speed and endurance and even enhancing recovery.

RELATED — Workout Of The Week: Progression Runs

A progression run allows the body to thoroughly warm up at a slower pace before speeding up to a pace that requires more muscle power, greater hip extension and more agile movements. If you try running fast from the start of a run before your respiratory, circulatory and muscular systems can warm up, you not only run the risk of injury but you also greatly increase lactic acid production by stressing your anaerobic system too much.

Another big benefit of inserting progression runs into your training schedule a couple of times per week is they allow you to increase your volume of up-tempo training more quickly than you would if you kept all of your recovery runs, maintenance runs and long runs at a slow, methodical pace. To race fast, you have to train fast, but progression runs bring on considerably less fatigue than a sustained long run at race pace or a hard track workout, and therefore require less recovery. In fact, a light progression at the end of a recovery run can actually speed recovery from a previous day’s hard workout and give your body a better chance to absorb the harder session.

Longer progression runs can be effective ways to increase mechanical efficiency by forcing a runner to increase stride length and stride cadence while the body is fatigued and form has started to break down. In essence, the increased pace and stride adaptations at the end of a progression run can act as the equivalent of dynamic stretching while you’re running.

Progression run workouts are best run by feel or perceived effort, but they can also be gauged by heart rate or actual pace. Developing that sense of effort takes time, and while it’s important to err on the side of slightly too slow instead of too fast, the most important consideration is to keep your up-tempo paces consistent so your body can begin to understand what it feels like to run at a sustained pace.

In the following pages you’ll read about four types of progression runs, but the variations you can create are limitless.

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