Regardless of your favorite race distance or the distance you usually train for, most training programs for runners incorporate a variety of types of running workouts.
Not only does variety itself keep things fresh and prevent boredom and burnout, but each type of running workout in your training plan has a specific purpose and offers a different set of benefits.
If you’re a beginner runner, the names of all the different types of running workouts can be highly confusing and learning the nuances that distinguish each can take some time.
However, understanding the different types of running workouts isn’t just an exercise in building your vernacular as a running nerd—it also is highly valuable for grasping the purpose and goals behind each workout, which can help you set your intentions for each type of run on your training plan to reap the maximum benefits from the work you put in. The result? Better fitness, reduced risk of injury, and faster race times.
Let’s take a brief trip to the running classroom in this complete guide to the different types of running workouts. Ready?
Here we go!
#1: Base Runs
Base runs are your basic training runs.
These aerobic runs develop your cardiovascular fitness, strengthen your muscles, bones, and connective tissues to handle the forces and demands of running, condition your aerobic metabolic pathways to burn fat and carbohydrates for energy and get you out on the roads, trails, tracks, or treadmills to get your mileage in.
Base runs form a significant portion of your weekly running mileage, and while they aren’t particularly “hard” workouts, they are usually the most frequent type of run in your training plan.
#2: Recovery Runs
A recovery run is a low-intensity, easy-effort run typically performed within 24 hours of a race or hard workout. As the name suggests, recovery runs help your body recover and bounce back from strenuous, taxing workouts.
The goal is to get your heart pumping and muscles working so that you increase circulation and aid recovery without further taxing the body. You want to run at an easy, conversational pace. This should be an effort of 3-5 on a scale of 1–10, where 10 is an all-out effort.
In fact, you can’t go “too easy” on a recovery run for it to be productive and effective. When in doubt, ease up. If you like to train by heart rate, you want to make sure your heart rate stays below 70% of your maximum during your recovery runs, though even lower—like 60-65%—is ideal.
During recovery runs, you should always be able to pass the “talk test,” which means that you’re running easily enough to carry on an entire conversation as you go.
Duration is another essential component of successful recovery runs. Because the goal of recovery runs is not to tax the body, you must keep your recovery runs relatively short. Most runners should aim for 20-40 minutes or roughly 2-5 miles, depending on your level of fitness, weekly mileage, and the race distance you’re training for.
#3: Long Runs
Long runs are exactly what they sound like: a long-distance run that exceeds the distance of your typical daily mileage to increase your cardiovascular and muscular endurance, mental stamina, and aerobic energy systems to handle the distance of your target race.
Long runs are typically run at an easy, conversational pace because the goal is to increase your aerobic capacity. Most running coaches recommend trying to keep your heart rate around 70% of your maximal heart rate during a long run.
Most running plans have one long run per week, gradually progressing the distance most weeks, with some weeks stepping back the distance to prevent overtraining.
#4: Threshold Workouts
Threshold workouts are designed to improve your lactate threshold or the point at which your body can no longer clear lactate from the muscles as quickly as it is being produced. Beyond this point, you will rapidly fatigue, and your legs feel heavy and tired.
The lactate threshold occurs around 83-88% of your VO2 max, so your threshold run pace would be the pace you are running at 83-88% of your VO2 max according to your lab results or roughly the pace you could hold at max effort for an hour of running. For most runners, threshold run pace is somewhere between 10k-15k race pace.
Threshold workouts involve any work done at threshold effort. For example, you might warm up and then run 4 x 5 minutes at threshold pace with 2 minutes of recovery pace between each interval. Tempo runs are a specific type of threshold run.
#5: Tempo Runs
Tempo runs are specific threshold workouts that involve maintaining threshold effort (usually run around 10k or half marathon pace) for a sustained 20 minutes or more.
Tempo runs condition the metabolic system to clear metabolic byproducts and waste at the same rate it is being produced to prevent muscular fatigue and discomfort and challenge your mental fortitude to keep going when you are uncomfortable or to “get comfortable being uncomfortable.”
This type of running workout, like threshold runs, also conditions your cardiovascular system to deliver and utilize more oxygen at faster speeds, which is essentially reflected in an improvement in your VO2 max (a measure of your aerobic capacity).
In this way, tempo runs improve your running economy because if you can deliver more oxygen to your working muscles while you are running and are simultaneously better able to clear metabolic byproducts made when producing energy without oxygen, you will be able to produce more energy faster with less resultant fatigue.
#6: Progression Runs
Progession runs are like base runs, but the goal is to gradually increase the pace and intensity throughout the duration of the run. You might start a five-mile progression run at your comfortable pace. Then, from miles 2-3, you ramp up to half marathon pace. Miles 3-4 are run at 10k pace, and the last mile is run at 5k pace.
Progression runs train your body to pick up the pace, even when you are tired. These types of running workouts also build mental strength and endurance.
#7: Hill Repeats
Hill repeats are sprints run up a hill. Runners may choose a short, steep hill, such as one that can be run in 20-30 seconds, or a longer hill, which might take one to several minutes to summit. The grade of the incline and length of the hill to use is dependent on your race goals.
By running up a steep incline, runners have to fight against the force or resistance of gravity, which makes the hill sprint more challenging than covering the same distance on flat land.
The goal is to use an exaggerated but proper running form. Drive with your glutes and hips, bring your knees up, keep your stride short and powerful, engage your core, and use a powerful arm swing. Again, the focus is to build speed, so attack each hill as fast as possible.
Hill workouts build speed and strength. Sometimes running coaches even refer to hill workouts as “strength training in disguise” because working against resistance requires greater activation and force generation from your muscles.
Between each hill sprint, runners jog down slowly or may walk down (even backward sometimes) to recover.
#8: Interval Workouts
Track interval workouts involve running specific distances at specific paces on the track with the goal of training you to run faster, learn the feeling of different paces, and boost your fitness.
Examples of interval workouts include 10 x 400m at 5k pace with 200m recovery, 4 x 1 mile at 10k pace with 400m recovery, 20 x 200m at max pace with full recovery, and two sets of 1600, 1200, 800, 400 at 5-10 seconds faster than 5k effort with 2 minutes of recovery.
#9: Fartlek Runs
Fartlek is a Swedish term for “speed play.” Fartlek runs are a form of speed workout, much like track intervals, but have a looser structure and take place on a trail, road, or another running course instead of a track.
Rather than having a set distance for each interval, a fartlek run may go by time or choose arbitrary landmarks to demote the start and stop of hard efforts. There is no stopping between intervals; the runner just adjusts the pace between recovery and “on” intervals.
For example, a runner might do a fartlek workout that involves warming up for two miles and then running 10 x 90 seconds at 5k pace with 60 seconds recovery jog in between each interval, followed by a 1 mile cool down.
A beginner runner might do a fartlek workout that involves walking for 5 minutes, then running from one street sign to the next, and then walking until the next street sign. When the next street sign is passed, the runner will start running again until the following street sign, and so on.
Lamp posts, houses, mailboxes, traffic lights, stop signs, city blocks or avenues, and telephone poles are all examples of landmarks a runner can use to denote starting and stopping locations for each interval in these types of running workouts.
Strides can help you run faster by increasing your turnover or running cadence. Strides are typically run at the end of a workout and can be considered running sprints.
Strides may be anywhere from 50-200 meters and should be run at near-maximal speeds. Running at this pace trains your neuromuscular system to handle faster paces in a controlled and coordinated manner.
There you have it, ten different running workouts explained. Ready to get training?
If you would like to go into more detail on some of the above-mentioned types of running workouts, check out our detailed articles here: