Proper speed work is essential to endurance training and it’s probably not what you think it is.
TriSteps | Liz Elliott
What is “speed work”? How do I know what speed I should be holding, on what sets, and on during which part of the season?
Speed work for endurance athletes, or really for anyone just wanting to be fit and get faster, is not “work out at top speed for as long as you can every day.” It’s also not, “run a long distance and that same distance at the same pace everyday.”
Neither of those helps your fitness or performance over the long haul.
Speed work is about finding your different speeds, and varying your speeds in every workout, every phase, and every season. It also refers to finding and working within your speeds. Like a car has different speeds, so do you for swim, bike and run. How you get faster overall is by: 1) finding your “speeds”, and 2) working at every speed through your training program. Each “speed” works a different “system.”
As a swimming example, say you are doing 12 sets of 100-yard lengths and the time frame you’re working under is 1 minute, 30 seconds. Do you do a 1:15 each 100, or a 1:20, or just try to get two second rest?
A good training program will have test sets that help you find your threshold. The test sets will help set the times you should hold for repeats at different distances. The test sets are only as good as how fast and hard you do them! If speed work is new to you, you will have to do a test set several times before it accurate.
Based on a test set, you may find that consistently swimming 1:01s is your “threshold. A 12×100 set can have a very different purpose early in a workout, early in a season. This is as opposed to later in a season or later in a workout. Working above or at your threshold should be done later in a workout and later in the season. And in conjunction and alternating with with other speeds in every workout.
So in that same 12×100 set, you would do four at an easy speed for you, four at a fast speed, four at a moderate speed and then four at your threshold. Although you will be swimming slower or faster, all will be on the same interval time. Wait to do your hardest effort at the end of a set and/or practice. Your body (lungs and muscles) are fully warmed up, and you will be slightly fatigued, so you will get the most benefit.
Confused? This is the biggest reason to join a club or train with a coach. Coaches know what speed, when and why.
Mix strength exercises into your aerobic workouts for the best results. A few, focused strength exercises each day is better for your body and overall performance than doing a couple days a week in the gym.
Liz Elliott was an All-American collegiate swimmer and is the head coach at Tri-Valley Triathlon Club.