Shortcuts to Faster Running


There’s something so appealing about the 15-minute workouts and the promise of making fitness gains in little time, especially in these slushy, snowy days of winter that can make running seem like a chore. What’s the get-fit-quick equivalent for runners? Rockie James, owner and head coach of The Fitness Center in New York City has the answers — hill and speed workouts that can be done outside or on a treadmill. Whether you’re forced to cut workouts short due to fewer daylight hours or frigid temps or just generally short on time, promises that you’ll see gains just by adding one of her workouts to your weekly running routine.

Hill Workouts

This can be done on a treadmill or outside. Warm up with 10 minutes of easy running, then stretch for a couple of minutes. Next, you’ll run uphill for one minute. If you’re on a treadmill, use a 4 to 6 percent incline. If you’re outside find a hill that isn’t “so steep that you feel like your mouth is kissing the ground, but steep enough that it still feels like work,” said James. Rest at the top of the hill, then run back down the hill. If you’re on a treadmill, lower the incline and walk for 30 seconds. Rest for two minutes and repeat three more times, then cool down with 10 minutes of easy running.

If you’re a more experienced runner, James suggests trying to run faster with each of the uphill intervals. “Just be sure your first run isn’t really fast or you’ll be too taxed at the end,” she cautions. Another advanced option: Instead of going faster, you could further, she said. For example, if running one minute uphill doesn’t bring you to the very top, aim to get a little closer to the top on each of your subsequent runs.

The benefit of the hill workout? “For one, you’re getting it done faster. Also, a lot of runners often only run one pace or only on mostly flat surfaces. Giving yourself the opportunity to do hills is important if you want to travel to a race, let’s say the New York City Marathon, which has lots of hills. You have to know your body can handle that,” she said. “It also makes you a more effective and efficient runner,” James said. “If you did this workout once a week for four weeks, when you’re on flat ground you’ll be able to go faster with less effort.”

Speed Workouts

These can also be done on a treadmill or outside. Again, you’ll warm up with 10 minutes of easy running. Then, run fast for 30 seconds, slow for 60 seconds and repeat for six to 10 minutes with no resting in between. What qualifies at fast and slow will vary by person. James advises thinking of your fast pace as your 5K race pace and your slow pace as your average training pace. More experienced runners can do a second 6-minute set with 1 to 2 minutes of rest or slow running in between. Then cool down with 10 minutes of easy running.

How do speed workouts help you? By recruiting fast twitch muscle fiber, which is what you’ll need to generate short bursts of speed and strength, as opposed to slow twitch muscle fibers, which is what you predominantly use for long distances, said James. “Your body needs to know how to recruit those fast twitch muscles when you need them for a race. It needs the muscle memory to be able to do that.”

These workouts may be time savers but they shouldn’t replace all of your regular runs. Instead, include one of these workouts in your routine each week. If you’re less experienced, do one every other week, she advises. “Even with every other week, after eight weeks, you’ll see gains.”


Fit After 40: Less Pain, More Gain

fit-after-40Tight lumbar? Sore knees? Overworked rotator cuff? At this point in our active lives, we’ve all got some nagging pang that holds us back from burning as much fat and calories as possible. For me, it was overdoing it in a kickboxing class that inflamed a hip joint. For you it might have been a benign-looking yoga posture. Regardless, there’s a lot you can do to prevent the pain before it starts, especially as you age.

Stay loose: “When you’re continually tight and not functioning at one hundred percent in one area, other looser parts get overworked in order to compensate,” said Lynn Millar, professor of physical therapy at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Mich. “The eventual results are pain and possible injury.”

Common tights spots are shoulders, hamstrings, lower back and hip flexors. According to an article published in the IDEA Fitness Journal, flexibility decreases up to 50 percent with age. In one study of 1,000 elderly folks, shoulder abduction decreased gradually, reaching about 25 percent compared to the younger set.

Pop pills: Even if you’re careful during your workouts, osteoarthritis is a common condition that can come with stress on the joints over time. Meds can lessen the pain around the joint and improve mobility.

Ibuprofen and naproxen are effective but take gingerly; regular use can lead to cardiovascular dysfunction and gastrointestinal bleeding. If you need relief on a daily basis, consider the supplements glucosamine and chondroitin as alternatives. Many people swear by them, however, newer studies have found they don’t relieve pain or stiffness.

Listen to your body: “Yes, exercise causes aches and as we age, they become a part of everyday life. But if a pain doesn’t go away with rest, or progressively gets worse, then you need to see your physician,” said Millar.

There are other factors to heed, also. “Dehydration and constantly sitting can make you more achy. And overdoing it’s another big one. If you’re not sure of your fitness level, it’s better to do less than you think you’re capable of to prevent problems.”