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Speed

These workouts can boost fitness, speed, endurance and correct weaknesses - and are fun to do

Walt Reynolds explains how you can improve your level of fitness.

How can you improve your fitness, including your speed, speed endurance, leg power, and work capacity, while at the same time having fun and introducing variety into your regular routine? The answer is to rely on "run-play" workouts. Run-play is a variation of conventional fartlek or "speed-play" training and involves a mixture of running, bounding, and sprinting exercises that are combined with mobility and agility drills to form a sequenced training session of high energy activity.

Run-play workouts can be altered to suit the needs of different athletes, and specific weaknesses in an athlete's fitness (in speed, stamina, or leg power, for example) can be corrected by accenting various portions of the overall run-play format. Individuals who need more speed can emphasize the speed training units, while those who lack stamina can focus on speed endurance, and so on.

Run-play workouts can be especially helpful during the general preparation or base building phases of training. However, periodic use of the run-play format can give you much needed variation in your training during the pre-competitive and competitive phases of training. All run-play activities, including warm ups, running, sprinting, bounding, and various drills, should be performed on a soft, resilient surface away from the track and roads, so the best site for run-play training is an outdoor trail, a park, or a level, grassy field.

Run-play training can be carried out by individuals or groups; with groups, run-play can be incorporated into a game of "follow the leader" which increases camaraderie and helps build team unity (especially when used with young athletes). Coaches can easily add new activities to the run-play format to keep the programme interesting and fun. Run-play sessions are typically scheduled near the end of a training week (on Saturday, for example) and are followed by a day of rest or light training to allow for complete recovery and the re-stocking of energy stores.

The actual number of exercises, drills, and activities in run-play training is virtually limitless, but the basic pattern of training units (for mobility, power, speed, and endurance) is organised in a way that emphasizes the specific characteristics of an athlete's particular event.

For example, in the case of runners:

  • a sprinter is looking for greater leg power, acceleration, and maximal speed
  • a middle distance competitor is primarily trying to improve basic speed and speed endurance
  • a distance runner is hoping for better speed endurance and aerobic endurance

The actual composition of a speed play workout is different for each type of athlete. Here are the basic training units, which are the "building blocks" of run-play workouts.

The Warm Up

The warm up starts slowly and progresses in speed and intensity over a 20 to 25 minute period. Begin your warm up with a combination of walking, marching (walking with an exaggerated knee lift), and slow jogging for a total of about 150 to 200 metres. Then progress into 50 to 100 metre segments of trotting (fast jogging), skipping, "grapevine stepping", backward jogging, side shuffles, and small jump bounding (from foot to foot) over the course of about 800 to 1000 metres. Between each exercise, jog slowly for a little while, and try to perform the activities in multiple directions (backwards, and sideways right and left, in addition to straight ahead) in order to add variety, fun, and increased difficulty to the warm up. This initial portion of the warm up serves to raise your body temperature, increasing the blood flow to your working muscles. It engages your nervous system, muscles, and joints in low level agility activities that prepare you well for your actual training. Your warm up period continues with dynamic mobility exercises, which increase the range of motion in the major joints of your body. Arm swings, neck movements, trunk and shoulder motions, hip circles and twists, leg swings, and ankle bounces should be performed for about 10 to 15 repetitions each, following one after the other with minimal interruption.

The warm up concludes with running activities that are specific to your preferred sport and prepare you completely for the training activities, which form the main portion of your workout. Warm up for sprinters, basketball players: Complete two repetitions ("reps") of 60 to 80 metre strides at about 75% of your maximum speed, with a 60 to 80 metre, walk back recovery. To work out what is 75% of your maximum speed, put your various running paces on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being your absolute maximum speed. Then try to run the repetition sat a speed which would correspond with about 7.5 on this scale. Follow the two strides with two 40 to 50 metre accelerations where you increase your speed from 50% to 90% of maximum over the course of 40 to 50 metres. Use a slow walk back to the starting point, while keeping your legs loose and relaxed ("shake them out" if necessary) for recovery. Warm up for middle distance runners and soccer players: Carry out two repetitions of 120 to 150 metre light runs at about 65% of maximum speed, with a 120 to 150 metre jog back recovery. Follow the light runs with two 80 to 100 metre strides at 75% of maximum speed. Each stride is followed by a walk back recovery. Warm up for distance runners: Run two repetitions of 150 to 200 metre light runs at 60% of maximum speed, with a 150 to 200 metre, jog back recovery. These are followed by four 100 to 120 metre strides at 75% of maximum speed. Follow each stride with a walk back recovery.

After completing the warm up, move directly into the training exercises described below. Follow the order outlined for your specific event.

Leg Power Improvement

Leg power exercises include horizontal bounding and hopping. Bounding and hopping are basic forms of plyometric training, which can enhance your leg power and running speed by increasing the "reactive" capabilities of your legs. As your legs become more "spring like," you'll get more energy out of each stride, and your stride lengths will naturally increase. The bounding sequences in your run play workout can include the following:

  • Sprint events, basketball: Use four to six sets of 10 bounds, alternating from your left foot to your right, back to the left, and so on. Each foot contact with the ground counts as one bound (each foot strikes the ground five times to make 10 bounds). A walk back to your starting line follows each set of 10 bounds. After the bounds have been completed, perform four to six sets of eight to 10 hops on your left leg, again with walk back recoveries. This pattern is then repeated with your right leg. Try to make the bounds as long and as fast as possible.
  • Middle distance events, soccer: Perform three to five sets of the bounds and hops as described above, with' walk back recoveries between sets.
  • Distance events: Complete two to four sets of the bounds and hops described above, with walk back recoveries. Don't worry too much about the distance covered with each bound or hop; instead just focus on keeping up a good rate of movement.

Speed Development

Run-play training helps develop foot speed by emphasising exercises, which focus on improving sprint form while running at less than maximal velocities. The increased speed, which is developed then, provides the foundation for more specific speed training, which is carried out during the pre-competitive and competitive phases of the training year. Run-play speed training is applied to the sprint and middle distance events as follows:

  • Sprint events: Complete four to six repetitions of form accelerations. These accelerations begin slowly with a jog and build up smoothly and quickly to 90% of maximum speed over a 30 to 50 metre distance. Then maintain this speed for an additional 20 to 30 metres. The focus during these form accelerations should be on a powerful knee and arm drive, an upright posture with a stable trunk, and strong but quick ground contacts with each foot strike. Include a slow walk back to your starting point with "leg shaking" if necessary to keep your leg muscles loose during each recovery period. Three to four repetitions of form sprints follow form accelerations. These sprints are carried out at an intensity of 85 to 90% of maximum speed over a 60 to 80 metre distance. Each rep is followed by slow walking back to the start line and leg shaking for recovery. Form accelerations and form sprints teach you the "feeling" of acceleration and fast running. High speed running is a skill that must be practiced and refined through many repetitions of sprinting exercises. Form accelerations and sprints help develop this "speed skill' through the practice of sprinting mechanics and the controlled build up and maintenance of running speed.
  • Middle distance events: Conduct four to six repetitions of form sprints as outlined above, over a distance of 120 to 200 metres at 85 to 90% of maximum speed. For recovery, just walk slowly back to your starting point, keeping your leg muscles as loose as possible.

Speed Endurance Development

The ability to maintain submaximal, but high quality, running speeds over distances of 150 metres or more requires the development of speed endurance. Speed endurance training improves your ability to tolerate increased amounts of lactic acid in your system and lessens your feelings of fatigue as you run at faster speeds. Speed endurance development is most important for runners who compete in events of 400 metres and longer. They can also be used by sprinters as a form of base training. The speed endurance component of run-play training includes the following:

  • Sprint events: Carry out four to six repetitions of 150 to 300 metre rhythm runs at about 75 to 80% of maximum speed. The focus during these runs is on smooth running form and a quick, consistent rhythm (leg turnover). Somewhat paradoxically, the longer distances (250 to 300 metres) are used in the early weeks of training, and the rhythm runs get progressively shorter (150 to 200 metres) but faster as the season progresses. Each rep is followed by a walk back recovery of the same distance.
  • Middle distance events: Complete three to six repetitions of 300 metre rhythm runs at 800 metre race pace if you compete at 800 metres or three to six repetitions of 500 metre rhythm runs at 1500 metre race pace if you're primarily a 1500 metre competitor. If you compete at both distances, do half of your rhythm runs at 800-metre speed and half at 1500 metre tempo. These runs are carried out in the manner described above for sprint competitors, but are followed by slow, jog back recoveries instead of walks.
  • Distance events: Conduct four to eight sets of 300 to 500 metre rhythm runs at about current 5k race speed. Perform the runs as described above, along with slow jog back recoveries.

General Endurance

Upgrades General endurance or stamina is developed by completing bouts of continuous activity at moderate intensifies, performed for longer than three minutes. The general endurance component of run-play training includes the following:

  • Middle distance events: Carry out a cool run of 2000 to 3000 metres at around 70 to 75% of maximal heart rate. A cool run serves as a wrap up to the main training portion of a run-play workout and should be performed at a relaxed and easy conversational pace.
  • Distance events: Try a cool run of 3000 to 5000 metres at about 70 to 75% of maximal heart rate. Don't try to run too fast. The pace should feel fairly easy and you should feel very relaxed.

Run-Play Cool Down

For all athletes, the cool down portion of a run-play workout involves walking and jogging for a distance of 500 to 800 metres, followed by a short period of static stretching which especially focuses on the calves, hamstrings, quads, and hip and buttock muscles. This concluding segment of a run-play session should not be neglected, because it allows your body to gradually return to a state of rest.

Run-Play Glossary

  • Marches- Walking with an exaggerated knee lift, bringing the thigh of the "swing" leg parallel to the ground as it moves forward and upward
  • Grapevine Stepping- Jogging sideways while alternating a cross in front and cross behind step. For example, to grapevine step, you would move your right leg to the left, crossing over the front of your left leg, then move your left leg sideways so it is again "leading" the right leg, and then cross your right leg behind your left leg, continuing this pattern for the specified distance and then changing so that the left leg crosses in front of and behind the right leg
  • Strides- Repetitions performed at approximately 75% of maximum speed. Actual distances vary depending on the training objectives but are typically 60 to 150 metres in length
  • Accelerations- Speed oriented runs that begin with a jog at approximately 50% of maximum speed and accelerate smoothly to 90% of maximum over a short distance. Usually about 20 to 60 metres
  • Light runs- Runs performed at approximately 60% of maximum speed over distances of 120 to 200 metres
  • Horizontal bounding- Jumping from one foot to the other repeatedly while moving forward over the ground. When performed correctly, bounding resembles a very long running stride, with an exaggerated knee lift
  • Hopping- Jumping on one foot repeatedly while moving forward, also known as one legged running
  • Form accelerations- Accelerations, which emphasize a powerful knee and arm drive, an upright and stable trunk position and a strong push off on each foot strike. To complete a form acceleration, you build up to approximately 90% of maximum speed over the first 40 to 50 metres and then maintain this speed for about 20 to 30 additional metres
  • Form sprints- Runs performed at 85 to 90% of maximum speed over distances ranging from 60 to 200 metres, depending on the event. Always carried out with an emphasis on proper sprint mechanics
  • Rhythm runs- Runs completed at about race pace for 800 metre and 1500 metre competitors (if you run both races, half of your rhythm runs should be at each pace) or 5k race tempo for distance runners, over distances of 150 to 500 metres. The focus is on correct running form and the establishment of an appropriate "rhythm" (leg turnover) for racing
  • Cool runs- Continuous efforts of about 2000 to 5000 metres at a moderate, conversational intensity (talking pace) of about 70 to 75% of maximal heart rate
  • Walk or jog back recoveries- Recovery periods between runs, bounds, or hops, which involve walking or jogging the distance covered during a repetition


Article Reference

This article first appeared in:

  • REYNOLDS, W. (2003) These workouts can boost fitness, speed, endurance and correct weaknesses - and are fun to do. Brian Mackenzie's Successful Coaching, (ISSN 1745-7513/ 3 / July), p. 9-11

Page Reference

If you quote information from this page in your work then the reference for this page is:

  • REYNOLDS, W. (2003) These workouts can boost fitness, speed, endurance and correct weaknesses - and are fun to do [WWW] Available from: https://www.brianmac.co.uk/articles/scni3a8.htm [Accessed

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