Does Running Slow Help You Run Faster?

Are you tired of hitting a speed plateau in your running routine? You may be surprised that the solution could be as simple as slowing down. That’s right; incorporating slow runs into your training plan can help you run faster. But how is this possible? Shouldn’t practicing running faster help you run faster?

The secret to breaking through your running plateau may be in your pace. Well-known coaches like Jack Daniels and Jeff Galloway advocate for slow runs, while others like Alberto Salazar and Renato Canova prioritize speed work. the truth is that both methods can work, but different runners will benefit from different training plans.

In this article, we’ll explore the pros and cons of both approaches, how to pick which method is best for you, and how to combine them for the ultimate training regimen.

Does running slow help you run faster overall? Let’s take a closer look!

The Benefits of Running Slow… to Run Faster

Does running slow help you run faster?

Let’s first look at what’s involved in running slower, how it benefits you, and how to practice slow running safely.

What Do I Gain By Running Slower?

Slowing down your runs can help you run faster in the long run. By taking it easy and running at a slower pace, you can pay more attention to your form, build up your endurance and improve your overall running efficiency.

When you slow down your runs, you allow yourself to focus on your form. This means you can pay more attention to how you hold your body, where your foot strikes the ground, and how you move your arms. Improving these little things can make you a much more efficient runner. And better efficiency means better pace. Additionally, when you run slowly, you build endurance which is crucial for running faster over long distances.

Running slower puts less stress on your muscles. This allows you to focus on building muscle, which is great for runners who want to improve their speed and endurance. This is especially beneficial for runners looking to push their limits and take their running to the next level.

In addition, running slowly can help you become more efficient in your running overall. You’ll be able to run faster while expending less energy. By practicing running at a slower pace, you can work on your running stride and make it more efficient. Slow running helps you conserve your energy so you can cover longer distances.

Build Your Aerobic Base

Running miles at a slow pace is an aerobic exercise. Aerobic exercise is any activity that increases your heart rate and breathing for an extended period. These types of exercises rely on oxygen to fuel the body. The body breaks down carbohydrates and fats during aerobic exercise using oxygen to produce energy. This energy fuels the muscles, allowing them to work for extended periods.

Slow running uses large muscle groups and is continuous and rhythmic, making it ideal for improving cardiovascular fitness. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends adults engage in 150 minutes of moderate aerobics, 75 minutes of intense aerobics, or a combination of both per week.

When you engage in aerobic exercise, your heart rate and breathing increase, and you’ll typically begin sweating. This process is your body’s way of maintaining a proper balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide. Regular aerobic exercise can improve cardiovascular health, weight loss, and overall fitness. It can also reduce the risk of chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, and certain types of cancer.

If you are interesting in building your aerobic base, you may want to consider the MAF technique (low heart rate training), as well as a Zone 2 training plan.

Pros of Running Slower

  • It allows you to focus on your form, increasing efficiency
  • Increases endurance and cardiovascular health, improving overall performance
  • The body recovers more quickly, reducing muscle fatigue
  • Running slower reduces your chance of injury
  • It’s a great way to condition your body to eventually run faster

Cons of Running Slower

  • Your progress can initially be slower
  • Slow running is less challenging and, therefore, less motivating (see our tips for avoiding boredom!)
  • Your metabolism slows, meaning you burn fewer calories during your run
  • Less intense workouts for those looking for more of a challenge

When to Push it to the Limits

Tortoise and hare: should I run fast or slow?

Now that we’ve looked at the benefits of slow running, let’s see what faster running has to say for itself.

Running Faster

Running faster is a great way to boost your running skills and performance. As you push yourself, your body adapts to the increased demand, making you a more effective runner.

When you push yourself to run faster, it also improves your cardio endurance. It gets your heart pumping and makes your cardiovascular system more efficient, which allows you to run longer without getting tired, which is excellent for your overall fitness and performance.

The increased demand for speed makes your muscles work harder, which helps to build strength and power. Managing this demand is great for your overall running performance. It will help you become a more robust and faster runner.

Challenging yourself to run increasingly faster requires you to be able to concentrate and stay mentally strong. This training helps you develop the mental fortitude and focus needed to run faster and achieve your goals.

Anaerobic Exercise

Running miles at a fast pace is an anaerobic exercise. Anaerobic exercise is an intense, short activity involving using energy without oxygen. This exercise is typically done in quick bursts and focuses on building strength and power. Running fast, or sprinting, is a perfect example of anaerobic exercise, which in turn will improve your VO2 Max.

Note: Use our VO2 Max calculator to get an accurate view of your current fitness levels.

During anaerobic exercise, your body uses stored energy sources such as glycogen for fuel. This creates lactic acid, which is a byproduct of this type of muscle usage. As lactic acid builds up, it causes a burning feeling in your muscles, leading you to get tired quicker.

Muscles work harder than usual when you engage in anaerobic exercise, helping to make them stronger, bigger, and more capable of handling intense activities. Not only will this help you perform better in sports and other physical activities, but it can also help to speed up your metabolism, so you’ll burn more calories even while you’re sleeping. Bonus!

Pros of Running Faster

  • Builds power and strength in your muscles
  • Helps you burn more calories in a shorter amount of time
  • Improves your overall running efficiency
  • Running faster increases cardio endurance

Cons of Running Faster

  • More physically demanding and can lead to injury if not done properly
  • Harder to maintain proper form and technique when running fast
  • Requires more recovery time between fast runs
  • Fast running is difficult to sustain for long periods

Which Approach is Right for You?

Running slow to run fast

Finding the right balance between your speed and endurance is crucial. Slow running can help improve some people’s performance, while fast running can do the same for others. It all comes down to your current running speed, fitness level, and overall goals.

Considering these factors is essential to determine which approach is best for you. If you’re new to running or want to build endurance, starting with slow running may be the best approach. Running slow will allow you to focus on your form, build endurance, and avoid injury.

Alternatively, focusing on fast running can significantly improve your speed and overall running performance. It will help you build power and strength and improve your running efficiency. Ensure you do it sparingly, though, or you might end up retiring your running shoes altogether!

Ultimately, the best approach will depend on your individual needs and goals. It’s essential to listen to your body and consult a trainer or coach to determine your best strategy. Finding a regimen that includes both methods will be the most beneficial.

Incorporating Both Approaches

So, now that we know that, like most things in life, balance is best, what running plan or method should you follow to combine fast and slow running into your training plan? We have just the method for you!

The 80/20 Running Method

One of the best ways to incorporate both methods is using the 80/20 running method. This method is a popular training method for runners of all experience levels. It involves running at a leisurely, steady pace for 80% of your training time and running at a faster, more intense speed for the remaining 20%.

The idea behind this method is that by running at a slower pace for most of your training, your body becomes more efficient at using oxygen, leading to improved endurance and better overall running performance. The fast-running component helps you build power and strength.

The 80/20 method is considered one of the best ways to incorporate running both fast and slow because it allows you to build a strong endurance foundation while still challenging yourself to improve your speed and power.

Overall, the 80/20 running method is a great way to incorporate both approaches. It is a safe and effective method for runners of all levels. It is a great way to improve your running performance and a fantastic way to avoid getting injured or feeling burnt out.

Advocates of the 80/20 Method

  • Jack Daniels, a renowned running coach and exercise physiologist
  • Dr. Phil Maffetone, a physician and coach who specializes in endurance training
  • Matt Fitzgerald, a running coach, author, and journalist
  • Joe Friel, a coach, author, and triathlon expert
  • Lydiard foundation, the official foundation of Arthur Lydiard, a pioneering running coach and exercise physiologist.

Should I Run Fast or Slow?

Ultimately, the most effective training method depends on an individual’s fitness level, performance goals, and susceptibility to injury. Some coaches emphasize the importance of building a solid foundation through consistent, easy-paced miles. Others believe pushing yourself to run faster is essential for improving your speed.

Both approaches have pros and cons. The best method may vary depending on the athlete’s fitness level, performance goals, and injury history. Ultimately, the most effective approach to improve your running will likely involve a balance of high-volume and high-intensity training – such as the 80/20 method.

Author Profile

Thalia Oosthuizen

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Thalia started running during the the pandemic as a way of getting out of the house. The running bug bit, and now much of her life revolves around everything to do with running - videos, podcasts, studies, books, articles, and interviews. She's also done several courses on running nutrition and mechanics to aid in her training and advising others.
Thalia Oosthuizen

Revel SPorts Contributor

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