The Need For Speed
By Rick Morris
Do you want to be the tortoise or the hare? You remember that story from your childhood, don’t you? It involved a foot (or paw?) race between two cartoon characters. One was the arrogant, wise-cracking and swift hare. The hare’s opponent was the patient, kindly but slow tortoise. Of course, the tortoise wins the contest despite being the slower participant. The moral of the story being “slow and steady wins the race.” Many of today’s fitness experts follow that same thinking in prescribing exercise intensity. They tell us that easy or moderate paced exercise is the best way to lose weight and build fitness. Many of us are following their advice. Most walkers and runners do all or nearly all of their training at an easy pace. There are a number of reasons for the popularity of low to moderate intensity exercise.
- The experts tell us that lower intensity exercise burns a higher percentage of fat. This is absolutely true. When you are exercising at an easy pace, a greater percentage of your calories are coming from the consumption of fat.
- It is a low risk form of exercise. This is also true. Low intensity exercise keeps your heart rate fairly low and does not produce a lot of stress on your muscles, joints and tendons.
- It is physically easy to perform. Once again, this is very true. Easy pace means just that. It means that you are exercising at a comfortable pace and you are feeling very little physical stress or discomfort.
It looks like the evidence is overwhelming. Low intensity exercise is the best way to go. You should definitely be the tortoise and not the hare. But, wait a minute. Let’s not be so fast to criticize the poor hare. Why don’t we take another look at those reasons for exercising at an easy pace?
Pace, Fat Burning and Fitness
Energy to fuel your body is produced using a using a combination of fat and carbohydrates. At easier paces, a higher percentage of your calories are coming from fat. When you increase your pace, you begin to burn more carbohydrates to produce energy. So far, it looks like the tortoise was right. The problem with this thinking is the fact that working out at an easy pace burns fewer calories. Weight loss is a function of calories in versus calories out. If you burn more calories than you are eating, you will lose weight. So to lose weight, you will want to maximize your calorie burning ability. Let’s use our famous tortoise and hare in an example. Running burns approximately 100 calories per mile. In this example, we will assume that the hare runs at an 8 MPH pace and the tortoise is trudging along at a 4 MPH pace. In 30 minutes the hare will travel 4 miles and burn around 400 calories. In that same 30 minutes the tortoise only went 2 miles and burned 200 calories. That’s one point for the hare.
Now, what about the amount of fat being burned. The exact percentage of fat that you burn at various exercise paces depends a great deal upon your current fitness level, how efficient you are at running or walking and the amount of muscle you have. Generally speaking you are burning somewhere around 50% of your calories from fat at an easy pace and around 40% from fat at a moderately hard pace. At these levels, our hare would have burned about 160 calories from fat. The tortoise would have consumed around 100 calories from fat. That’s two points for the hare and zero for the tortoise.
You probably already know that building muscle gives your body a great fat burning boost. Almost all energy production and calorie burning takes place in your muscles. The more muscle you have, the more efficient a fat burner you become. Our tortoise is not doing a very good job at building muscle. Moving at a slow, easy pace does not require a lot of muscle power. As you increase your speed, you begin to recruit more muscle fibers and require them to contract more quickly and with more power. Your body responds to this by building more muscle. So, training at higher speeds means you will increase your muscle mass and as a result; you will burn even more fat. The score is now 3 to nothing in favor of the hare.
Higher Pace and Fitness
Many individuals mistakenly associate faster paced exercise with higher physical risk. The main reason for this is because when they see the word speed, they are thinking Maurice Green or Marion Jones type speed. Faster pace exercise does not necessarily mean all out sprinting. It simply means running at various paces that are a bit faster than your normal easy pace.
This type of training has many benefits. It strengthens your tendons, which will help you avoid injury. It builds your muscles so that you are stronger and more powerful. It increases your level of fitness. Most important of all, it increases the health of your heart and decreases your risk of cardiovascular disease. If you are keeping track, that is 4 to nothing with the hare pulling away.
Easy Versus Challenging
Here is a no-brainer. Easy exercise is physically easy. That is one of the main reasons so many people exercise at an easy pace. It does not require a lot of effort. Faster paced exercise requires more effort. The faster the pace, the more effort it requires. Is fast pace training worth the effort? You bet it is. Here are just some of the benefits:
- As I mentioned earlier, faster pace exercise builds more muscle and strengthens your tendons and joints. This means you will be stronger, more powerful and a more efficient fat burner.
- Higher intensity exercise will increase the number of mitochondria and fat burning enzymes in your muscle cells. Mitochondria are tiny structures in your muscle cells where all energy production takes place. More mitochondria will allow you to burn more fat and calories. The fat burning enzymes are compounds that allow the fats to enter your muscle cells to be burned for energy.
- Faster paced exercise will raise your lactate threshold. A by-product of exercise is a compound called lactic acid. The harder you exercise, the more lactic acid is produced. At lower intensities, the lactic acid is cleared from your blood stream and used to produce more energy. But, as you increase your pace, lactic acid is produces in greater quantities. Eventually, lactic acid is produced faster than your body can clear and process it. At that point you are forced to slow down or stop exercising. The faster paced training will improve your body’s ability to clear that lactic acid from your bloodstream. That means that you will be able to run at faster paces for longer periods of time and burn even more calories and fat.
There is no question that faster pace workouts are more challenging and require more effort. But, the results are worth the effort. If it were easy, everyone would be doing it and no one would be overweight or out of shape. Final score: Hare 5 – Tortoise 0. You have the need for speed.
Now that we know the hare was right, let’s build some speed. The two most commonly used methods for determining your exercise pace are exercise heart rate and rate of perceived exertion (RPE). I do not suggest using the heart rate method because of several inaccuracies that are built into the calculation. The rate of perceived exertion (RPE) method is more accurate and also has the advantage of adjusting itself as you gain fitness. The RPE is a scale that ranges from 1 to 20 with 1 equaling no effort and 20 equaling maximum effort. An easy run would be rated at around 11 to 13. A moderately hard workout would be around 15 to 16 and a hard workout would be approximately 17 to 18.
In order to build your speed as quickly as possible, there are three different paces you will be using for your workouts. The first is an easy pace. Yes, I did say an easy pace. Before you start calling me names, wondering why I am telling you to run at a pace I just finished telling you was wrong, let me explain. An easy pace is not bad. In fact, it is a critical workout. You just do not want to run at an easy pace every day. You should vary your workouts. Do an easy paced workout between each harder workout. The easy day will give your muscles the time they need to recover and strengthen after the hard sessions. The easy runs also play a role in increasing your endurance and fitness levels. The easy runs should be at around 11 to 13 on the RPE scale. They should feel easy. A rule of thumb is that if you cannot speak clearly, you are running too fast.
The next pace you will be doing is intended to raise your lactate threshold. This is a moderately hard workout that falls between 15 and 16 on the RPE scale. This workout should feel fairly hard, but not maximal. You should be breathing rapidly, but should not be out of breath. The purpose of this type of workout is to raise the intensity level at which the lactic acid begins to accumulate in your blood. By raising this level you will be able to run faster, for longer periods of time.
The third pace is your speed pace and also the fastest pace. This workout will fall between 17 to 18 on the RPE scale. This should feel hard, but once again, should not be your maximum pace. You will be breathing heavily during this workout. You should be able to continue this pace for no more than 5 to 6 minutes. Running at this pace will improve your strength, power and foot speed. It will also build enzymes that will help you burn more and more calories to produce the energy to fuel your workout.
The Speed Building Program
Now it is time to give the hare his due. Become the hare and you will build a higher level of fitness, burn more calories every day and achieve the sculpted and toned body that you deserve.
This is a six week program. At the end of this six week training schedule, you will be faster, stronger, more powerful and leaner. During each week you will be doing three quality workouts. One lactate threshold workout (LT), one speed workout and one hill workout. All LT workouts will be performed at a moderately hard pace. This pace is about 75% to 80% of maximum effort or 15 to 16 on the RPE scale. The speed workouts will be done at about 85% to 90% of maximum effort or 17 to 18 on the RPE scale. The hill workouts will be done a various paces. The hill workouts will improve your form, strength and power.
Each week in this schedule will list the three quality workouts that you should perform during that week. During the other 4 days, run for 30 to 45 minutes at an easy pace. Do not do two hard workouts on consecutive days. You need a day of easy running or rest in between each hard effort. The easy or rest day will allow your muscles to strengthen and recover from the quality workout.
Always warm up with 10 to 15 minutes of easy running or walking before beginning any hard workout.
- LT Workout – 3 x 5 minute repeats. Run for 5 minutes at LT pace. Then slow down to an easy pace for 5 minutes. Repeat this sequence 3 times. Cool down with 10 minutes at an easy pace.
- Speed Workout – 5 x 2 minute repeats. Run for 2 minutes at your speed pace. Then slow down to an easy pace for 2 minutes. Repeat this sequence 5 times. Cool down with 10 minutes of easy running.
- Hill Workout – If you don’t have hills in your area, do these hill workouts on a treadmill. Set the treadmill elevation at 3%. Run for 20 minutes at an easy pace. Decrease the elevation to 1% and run for 10 more minutes. Cool down with 10 minutes at zero elevation.
- LT Workout – 4 x 5 minute repeats. Do 4 x five minute repeats. (See week 1)
- Speed Workout – 7 x 2 minute repeats (See week 1)
- Hill Workout – Set the treadmill elevation at 4%. Run for 20 minutes at an easy pace. Decrease the elevation to 1% and run for 10 more minutes.
- LT Workout – 2 x 10 minute repeats. Run for 10 minutes at your LT pace. Then slow down to an easy pace for 5 minutes of easy running. Now speed back up to LT pace for 10 more minutes.
- Speed Workout – 5 x 3 minute repeats. Run for 3 minutes at your speed pace. Then slow down to an easy pace for 3 minutes. Repeat this sequence 5 times.
- Hill Workout – Run the following sequence at an easy pace: 5 minutes at 4% elevation, 5 minutes at 5% elevation, 2 minutes at 6% elevation, 2 minutes at 7% elevation, 2 minutes at 6% elevation, 5 minutes at 5% elevation, 5 minutes at 4% elevation.
- LT Workout – 2 x 15 minute repeats. Run for 15 minutes at your LT pace. Then slow down to an easy pace for 5 minutes. Now speed up to LT pace for 15 more minutes.
- Speed Workout – 5 x 3 minute repeats (See week 3)
- Hill Workout – Set the treadmill elevation at 4%. Run at your LT pace for 10 minutes. Decrease the elevation to 1% and run at an easy pace for 5 minutes. Increase the elevation to 5% and run at your LT pace for 10 more minutes.
- LT Workout – Run for 20 minutes at your LT pace. Then increase your pace to speed pace and run for 3 minutes. Cool down with 10 minutes at an easy pace.
- Speed Workout – 5 x 2 minute repeats. Run for 2 minutes at your speed pace. Slow down do your LT pace for 2 minutes. Repeat this sequence 5 times.
- Hill Workout – Set the treadmill elevation at 4%. Run at your LT pace for 10 minutes. Decrease the elevation to 1% and run at your LT pace for 5 minutes. Increase the elevation to 4% and run at your LT pace for 10 minutes.
- LT Workout – Run for 30 minutes at your LT pace. Then increase your pace to speed pace and run for 3 minutes. Cool down with 10 minutes at an easy pace.
- Speed Workout – 3 x 5 minute repeats. Run at your speed pace for 5 minutes. Slow down to an easy pace for 5 minutes. Repeat this 3 times. Finish this workout with 5 minutes at your LT pace.
- Hill Workout – Set the treadmill elevation at 4% and run at your LT pace for 20 minutes.