Tempo Running is NOT Speed Training!

I’m sure I’m going to ruffle some feathers with this series but here goes nothing:

Have you ever seen this workout or any of these workouts and seen it called ‘speed training’:


5-6x200m @goal pace. Rest: 45 seconds

4x400m @2-3 seconds faster than race pace. Rest: 2-3 minutes

4x400m @goal pace. Rest: 15-20 seconds

4-5x800m @5 seconds faster than race pace. Rest: 6 minutes


If you have seen these workouts then you know exactly how tough they are and how taxing they can be on the body and mind if you don’t make the goal pace times. But I have also seen these workouts labeled as ‘speed training’! Sorry to burst anyone’s bubble here, but that is NOT speed training! Just because you run really really super duper fast and faster than normal doesn’t mean that it has anything to do with speed.


Speed is defined as the ability to make body parts move through a given range of motion in the least amount of time. Speed is part of the ATP system which is called “free” energy and that free energy only last 4-7 seconds (maybe 8 if you’re lucky) and it includes a high intense effort for those 4-7 seconds that is not hindered by fatigue and bad technique. Speed is also part of the Anaerobic Alactic Energy System; meaning without oxygen for fuel for the muscles and without lactate. So the Anaerobic Alactic Energy System doesn’t use oxygen to fuel muscular activities and does it without the buildup of lactate but instead uses the free energy, ATP+CP, adenosine triphosphate+creatine phosphate, and is restored just by resting for long periods of time. Simple enough? Of course it’s not, it’s science! Still with me so far? Of course you’re not, it’s science!


Okay, now, go back and look at those workouts and I want you to tell me which of those workouts will last between 4-7 seconds at high intense (all out) effort with full recovery meaning recoveries of 8 minutes at least? Oh don’t worry, I’ll wait…… (cue the Jeopardy music)


Let me guess…the answer is…E! None of the above right! You got it! Now even though those workouts aren’t considered speed training they are considered something right? Of course they are. When you see a set pace for a number of reps for a length of distance then start to think about Tempo. Tempo is part of the Aerobic Energy System; meaning oxygen fuels the muscles and can do so for a very long time so long as the runs are at a low intensity. The workouts above are a different category such as race modeling and even touching on Special Endurance 1 or 2 but the rest times don’t line up with what’s needed to achieve quality runs so those workouts look like they just make athletes vomit honestly and they look like they do a great job of doing that!!!


Tempo running is a great way to build a solid foundation on which all specific intense work can be built. Tempo is broken up into 3 categories: Continuous Tempo (general endurance), Extensive Tempo and Intensive Tempo. Continuous is just that; continuous with a steady state of running at a low intensity for a long period of time such as 25-40 minutes of steady running or 30 minutes of fartlek work (run, jog combo’s).


Extensive Tempo is between 60-80% intensity and is usually used to help the muscles recover and help assist the muscles in the removal of lactic acid. These runs are done at the beginning of the training periods during the training week with high volumes of runs, over 100-200-300 even 400 meters in length with short recovery at a moderate pace.


Intensive Tempo is borderline Speed Endurance in that the intensity is 85% and up. The quality of the run is the focus of this tempo and the reps are kept low, usually 6-12 reps, and the volume isn’t very high, anywhere from 600-800m total.


Later I will give more examples of each Tempo so that you can see which is which and where to use each Tempo and what it does for you.


Continue in knowledge my friends!






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