I did this Ladder Run today before work and it was amazing! It is a variation of an interval workout - it's not an interval session in the traditional sense that it alternates between periods of high intensity work and rest, but still works with the concept of alternating periods of higher intensity work with lower intensity work in a more gradual way.
This workout is a great way to increase your running speed! And for all you Canadians who have been stuck indoors due to the cold it's a great way to challenge yourself with a short but intense run so you're not on the treadmill for hours. Always warm up with 5 minutes of walking/ light jogging and some dynamic stretches and finish with some stretches specifically for the quads, calves, glutes and hamstrings.
Obviously the running speeds can be increased or decreased depending on your own abilities. I am naturally more comfortable running long distances vs running fast so I am gradually trying to improve my speed through more interval style runs. For people who are faster runners you may have to up the speed whereas newer runners may want to start at a pace closer to 5 m/h.
As a general way to gauge appropriate speed, the middle interval should be your 10 km race pace. I'm doing a 10 km race at the end of March and am aiming for under 50 minutes, so my race pace is approximately 7.5 m/h or 8 minute miles (5 minute km). Get out your calculators and find your race pace!
What this workout is doing
1) Increasing your VO2 max: VO2 max stands for maximal oxygen uptake. This run is actually quite similar to a VO2 max test which progressively increases in intensity until you can either run no more, or your oxygen uptake plateaus. As the intensity of activity increases, your muscles require more oxygen (hence why you start to breath harder and faster). The more oxygen your body can take in and the more efficient your body is at delivering that oxygen to your muscles, the harder they will be able to work. If your capacity to take in oxygen is high, you will be able to run faster and harder for longer. By working up in that VO2 max range, you are stressing (good stress) and challenging your capacity to increase.
2) Increasing your lactate threshold: Lactate is a byproduct of the process of glucose breaking down to produce energy. All day long your body is producing lactate as it produces energy from glucose, however it also has an efficient process of clearing lactate (some people more efficient than others). When the intensity of work is low - ie. just walking around town - your body can clear lactate at the rate that it is being produced. As you increase the intensity of your workout however, lactate increases at a faster rate than it can be cleared. This is your threshold! It's that burning sensation in your muscles and what ultimately stops you from continuing. By progressively increasing speed as you make your way up the ladder without rest, you are training the body to work close to that threshold and push that threshold further and further along. The point is to feel uncomfortable in those faster intervals, that means you are challenging your lactate threshold.
3) Increasing your recovery ability: Once you've progressed up the ladder to your fastest speed, you have one minute at a slower pace to recover before moving up the ladder for set 2. Although you may want to jump off the treadmill for a minute of complete rest research has shown that active recovery is more efficient than rest at removing lactate that accumulates during high intensity exercise. As well, you are teaching your body to recover from the faster pace while continuing to run and over time your body will become more efficient at this recovery process even if at first you don't feel like you are getting so much of a rest!
4) Increasing your confidence running at a faster pace: This is actually a huge one! It's amazing how much psychology comes into play in running speed. I used to always run at 6 m/h. It was my speed. Whether I was running outside, or on a treadmill I would set the speed for 6 m/h and run for an hour. But I've realized now I wasn't able to improve because I was always staying in that maintenance zone without overloading which is essential for improvement. By increasing the speed in short 2 minute intervals, it is a manageable way to psychologically get over the hurdle of running at those faster paces.
Ways to Progress
There are various ways to progress this workout once you've done it a few times and feel comfortable with it. Here are a few suggestions:
Increase the speed: Instead of starting at 6.5 m/h try starting at 6.6 and doing each interval 0.1 m/h faster. You probably won't notice that much of a difference but after 5 runs you will be starting at a completely different pace!
Increase the time of each interval: Try progressing to 3 minute intervals for 2-3 rounds.
Increase the number of rounds: Aim to progress to 5 rounds of this workout! That's 50 minutes of running - you will be KNACKERED!
Variety is the key!
This isn't the only exercise to push the intensity of your runs, and not necessarily even the BEST. But... it might be something slightly difference than what you are used to do. The key is challenging your body in different ways and varying it up from run to run. By running at a constant speed day in and day out not only will you not improve, but your body will begin to adapt to that stress over time and you will actually be doing a disservice to yourself. Try this run out and let me know what you think!
Hi! I'm a dance science educator, Pilates instructor and Personal Trainer residing in Toronto. Here is what I have to say about all things health and movement related.