Contrary to popular belief, track workouts aren’t just for elite sprinters like Usain Bolt and Carl Lewis. Any runner who wants to compete seriously or recreationally to improve their race time should heavily consider including track workouts in their running regimen – but what if you’re just getting started? Should beginner runners do track workouts?
Beginner runners should do track workouts. Regardless of your skill level, track workouts offer a multitude of benefits including increased speed and endurance, stronger muscles, and increased metabolism. Options for beginners are running sprints, fartlek runs, or hill repeats. Track workouts shouldn’t make up more than 20% of your total mileage.
Keep reading for the various benefits of track workouts for runners, precautions you should consider taking before experimenting with track workouts, and sample track workouts for those interested!
Beginner runners: who are we talking to here?
Before we hop into the discussion of whether track workouts are appropriate for beginner runners, it’s necessary to define exactly what a beginner runner looks like.
For our purposes, a beginner runner is someone who has been running for a relatively short period of time, say 6 months or less.
Classifying the skill level of runners is a tricky topic because, in the end, it is totally subjective.
It’s impossible to say, “Oh, you’re advanced because you have 10 races under your belt.” That just isn’t how it works.
For today’s sake, I’m slapping an arbitrary number on beginner runners – 6 months or less. The reasoning for this stems from the tendency that after 6 months, it is likely runners have built an aerobic base and become consistent in their training habits.
What are track workouts for runners?
If you’re a beginner who is relatively new to the vast expanse of the running community, you may be confused about the wide range of workouts available to you.
What exactly constitutes a track workout for runners?
Track workouts are high-intensity, high-speed workouts performed with the goal of increasing your speed. They are powerful in small doses but should only make up a small percentage of your workouts.
The name itself offers a sufficient explanation; a track workout is simply a running workout you perform at the track. The distinguishing factor from regular runs is that they are typically performed at a fast pace.
The main goal of track workouts is to build speed, not to build endurance. For this reason, track workouts include runs like sprints and intervals.
Lastly, track workouts tend to follow a basic skeleton that can be customized for every runner. Runners should first warm up, then perform their speed work, and end with a cooldown section.
Why are track workouts important?
If the primary goal of a beginner’s training is to build an aerobic base, why perform workouts at the track that don’t align with these goals?
Track workouts are important, even for beginners, because they introduce a new type of stimulus to the body. Through track workouts, runners can bulletproof their bodies and improve overall running performance with faster pacing.
In a nutshell, the importance of track workouts boils down to introducing new stimuli to your workout routine. Too often we fall into the trap of stagnant training.
By incorporating track workouts into your routine, you can work on your speed, an often neglected aspect of training. Speed is built with stronger muscles and a body trained for fast-twitch movements; track workouts contribute to both of these.
Track workouts are also important for your overall health. They help to prevent injuries and boost your metabolism with an elevated heart rate and stronger muscles.
Benefits of track workouts for beginners
As runners, we tailor our training to get the most bang for our buck.
One of the things we can leverage to become better runners is track workouts. Implementing track workouts into your routine can boost your performance like you wouldn’t believe.
There are 6 substantial benefits of doing track workouts, even as a beginner runner:
- Improved speed and endurance
- Reduced risk of injury
- Increased motivation and confidence
- Increased metabolism (EPOC)
- Building new muscle
- Strengthens bones
Let’s take a look at each of these benefits!
Improved speed and endurance
Growing up, I was a baseball fanatic. However, the lesson my coaches taught me is applicable to all walks of life: the only way to get good at something is to do it.
In this case, if you want to get fast, run fast.
Performing track workouts as a beginner is great for improving speed and even endurance. By sprinting and running intervals, your body acclimates to performing at a high threshold; your muscles also adapt to the stimulus, increasing speed.
Beginner runners often focus on building an aerobic base, and rightfully so. However, it’s a good idea to train on the track if you want to run fast.
Running at high speeds is often anaerobic and pushes the heart rate above its usual threshold. This is great for runners because it will help them sustain faster pacing on race day.
Given that track workouts are performed at a higher intensity, they also work different muscle fibers.
Rather than training your slow-twitch fibers, track workouts train fast-twitch muscle fibers. These are the fibers that make you fast!
Reduced risk of injury
Similar to how incorporating resistance training into your regimen reduces the risk of injury, so can track workouts.
Track workouts reduce runners’ risk of injury by strengthening their lower-limb muscles and connective tissue.
There is some indication that sprinting can help prevent hamstring injuries. Runners who incorporated sprint training, a form of track workout, into their recovery saw strengthening of the lower-limb muscles as well as induced tissue healing and repair.
In addition to this, athletes who sprint at maximal velocity in their training see a reduced overall risk of lower-limb injury.
According to this study, exposing runners to this high-intensity track workout is the most effective way to bulletproof the body through strong muscles and connective tissues.
Increased motivation and confidence
An important part of enjoying running is feeling secure in yourself and your abilities. Track workouts are great for fostering an encouraging environment.
Seeing your speed increase and your body slim down from track workouts is incredibly motivating! Track workouts have the ability to motivate runners and boost their confidence like no other.
I think many runners tie their worth to their performance; I’m not saying that’s how it should be, but that’s the reality. I know I do, anyways.
For competitive runners like myself, track workouts are awesome for increasing motivation and confidence. You can go all out and feel great doing so.
Performing high-intensity workouts and seeing your race time improve by 30 seconds is gratifying. It has helped me feel confident in my abilities and can do the same for you.
Better yet, it can increase your metabolism and help you slim down!
Increased metabolism (EPOC)
For runners whose primary goal is weight loss, track workouts also have something to offer you.
Track workouts increase the metabolism of runners by inducing excess post-exercise oxygen consumption, or EPOC.
Excess post-exercise oxygen consumption is the effect of exercise on your body even after your workout. Simply put, your body consumes more oxygen than normal after working out to restore the body to its normal state.
This is good news for runners because increased oxygen consumption helps maintain an elevated metabolism, in turn burning more calories and aiding in weight loss.
A study published in 2006 found that high-intensity exercises like track workouts can prolong EPOC for as long as 24 hours! This translates to an increased metabolism for an entire day.
Building new muscle
It turns out that pumping iron in the gym isn’t the only way to build substantial amounts of muscle.
Performing track workouts can help runners build muscle through fast-twitch fiber activation and elevated levels of testosterone, an essential hormone for muscle growth.
As I mentioned earlier, running at high-intensity triggers fast-twitch muscle fibers. These are fibers that get neglected in endurance runners, so the new stimulus is welcomed.
In addition to fast-twitch fiber activation, track workouts increase testosterone, similar to how weight lifting increases testosterone.
A study published in 2011 examined the effects of sprint intervals on testosterone; the results found that athletes who performed sprints had significantly higher testosterone levels than those who did not.
Why is this such a big deal? Testosterone is a necessary hormone for protein synthesis, the process of repairing muscles to make them bigger and stronger.
The older we get, the more brittle our bones become. What could possibly safeguard us from the disease of old age?
Track workouts have been shown to improve bone strength in various studies. The high-intensity style of track workouts stimulated increases in bone density when compared to low-intensity endurance workouts.
A study performed in 2018 took a look at older athletes to determine the effects of different types of running on their bone densities. The results showed that the older athletes who performed sprints enjoyed much more dense bones than those who only trained for endurance.
This is an important distinction because having dense bones is an advantageous health trait in itself, even outside of running. Those with dense bones are less likely to suffer fractures and injuries.
Precautions before starting track workouts
Warning: track workouts are intense! They can be grueling and push you to new levels you haven’t experienced before in your endurance training.
Follow these 6 precautions to have a successful track workout:
- Consult with a healthcare professional
- Start with a warm-up and stretching routine
- Start with low-intensity workouts and gradually increase the intensity
- Know the “unwritten rules” of the track
- Don’t overdo the frequency
Before you hit the track, read on to learn everything you need about these precautions!
Consult with a healthcare professional
Before you even start a track workout, it’s important to double-check with a healthcare provider.
Runners should consider consulting a healthcare professional about their track plans before beginning their workouts.
As with all exercise, talking to an expert can be hugely beneficial. It’s even more important with track workouts because of their intense nature.
Talking with your doctor about any sort of prior injury or health condition (ex: heart arrhythmia) will provide insight into how to safely introduce track workouts into your routine.
The importance of hydrating when running cannot be understated; it is no different for track workouts.
Make sure to drink lots of water and hydrate properly prior to starting your track workout.
If there’s one lesson runners need to heed, hydrating before running is a must, especially for intense workouts at the track.
If you don’t start drinking water until you’re entrenched in your workout. You put yourself at risk for severe dehydration and heat illness.
Get ahead of the curve and hydrate before going to the track.
How much water should drink? Check out this article for exactly how to stay hydrated on your run!
Start with a warm-up and stretching routine
As a runner myself, I’ll admit I’m pretty bad about warming up and stretching. Follow my words, not my actions!
A proper warm-up and stretching routine is crucial to having good track workouts without suffering from injury.
Upon arrival at the track, your muscles are likely “cool.” They’ve been at rest, not really working too hard.
Jumping straight into high-intensity running requires pulling a muscle or tearing something. We need to warm up properly before sprinting or running fartleks.
I recommend starting with a light jog around the track, followed by some dynamic stretching.
Dynamic stretching is superior to static stretching before workouts because it helps lubricate your joints and gets the blood flowing to your muscles.
Start with low-intensity workouts and gradually increase the intensity
Like with weightlifting, it’s important to be responsible in your progression; overdoing your track workouts can set you back.
When first beginning track workouts, take it easy. Over time, slowly increase the intensity to work harder while avoiding an increased risk of injury.
Let me frame this from another view: if you haven’t been to the gym in 6 months, you wouldn’t load up the barbell with super heavy weights. You know you aren’t ready for it!
Track workouts are similar in that regard. Runners who only work on endurance aren’t accustomed to the strain that track workouts place on the body, so they must be cautious about introducing it into their routine.
Start with less intense runs, like intervals or fartleks, before moving onto full-out sprints.
Know the “unwritten rules” of the track
Nobody likes an ignorant runner. Doing your due diligence before hitting the track is the courteous thing to do.
Knowing the “unwritten rules” of the track will make for a more enjoyable track experience for you and the people around you.
When running at the track, it’s likely there will be other runners as well. Respecting them and their space is important.
As a general rule of thumb, aim to follow these guidelines:
- Read the posted guidelines
- Run counterclockwise
- Fast runners on the inside, slow runners on the outside
- Be considerate of the other runners around you
Don’t overdo the frequency
Track workouts can be addicting, making it easy to overdo things. Be wary!
Because track workouts are performed at a high intensity, it’s crucial that they make up no more than 20% of a runner’s total mileage. This is in alignment with the 80/20 rule.
The 80/20 rule states runners should perform 80% of their runs at an easy, conversational pace and 20% at a high intensity.
This allows for runners to build a solid aerobic base while recovering from the stress that high-intensity runs impose upon the body.
Anything more than 20% and you run the risk of injury due to inadequate recovery.
Sample track workouts for beginners
If you’re interested in integrating track workouts into your running routine, here are three excellent beginner workouts for you to try!
Sample workouts for beginners can be broken down into:
- Sprint intervals
- Fartlek runs
- Hill repeats
Let’s take a look at each of these!
For the most intense track workout, try sprints.
Sprints are characterized by running at an extremely high effort level for short bursts of time.
Sprints aren’t just for sprinters; endurance runners can enjoy quick bursts of speed and faster pacing when they work sprints into their workout routine.
Runners can perform sprint intervals by sprinting for a short period, followed by a long rest period. Distances and times vary based on your personal goals.
Tips for how to do sprint intervals
- Give the short sprints 100% of your effort!
- Do not cut long rest periods short, even if you think you feel okay.
- Warm up before sprinting to avoid injury.
- Start with a low number of intervals and longer rest periods. Over time, increase the number of intervals and shorten the rest periods.
6 x 100m sprints with 2-4 minutes of rest in between each sprint interval
Try to keep your rest time consistent throughout the workout. Start with longer rest periods when you’re new to this workout, then try to decrease the rest period during subsequent workouts.
Give fartlek runs a shot for a good balance between speed and endurance.
Fartlek runs are runs where you alternate between an easy pace and an uptempo pace. These runs are characterized by alternating between an easy pace to recover and a fast pace to push yourself. The times of each pace can be altered to increase or decrease the difficulty of your workout.
The name is funny, but the results are tangible. Fartlek runs are amazing for increasing pacing in endurance runners.
Tips for how to do fartlek runs
- You shouldn’t be sprinting during the uptempo periods. Just pick up the pace enough to feel the strain.
- Aim to run at a conversational pace during the easy periods.
- Warm up before and cool down after to avoid injury and aid in recovery.
- Train with others to push yourself during the uptempo periods.
20-minute run alternating between 1 minute of fast running and 1 minute of slow running
Try running hill repeats for a change of pace and a muscle-building workout.
Hill repeats are performed by sprinting up a steep hill, then walking or jogging back down. Simply repeat for as many rounds as your workout calls for.
These workouts build considerable strength in your legs and are an excellent tool for long-distance runners trying to work on speed.
Tips for how to do hill repeats:
- Start with a shallow-grade hill. Find a steeper hill as you progress in your running journey.
- New runners should walk back down rather than jog for a longer rest time.
- As with other track workouts, warm up properly.
- Increase the number of repeats you do as your body becomes acclimated to hill repeats.
5 x 30-second hill sprints with 1-minute rest walking back down
- About the Author
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Joshua Bartlett is a professional amateur when it comes to running – basically, he takes his mediocre running ability very seriously.
As the Editor-in-Chief at Saltmarsh Running, it is his job to make sure that readers get only highly-researched and comprehensive questions to all of their running questions.