perceived exertion

How to Add Speed to your Training

Adding a speed workout is one of the most effective ways to drop time off your race pace.  Speed workouts are often performed on a track – where distance is easily measured and it’s flat, consistent and unrelenting. If you can't get to a track, don't fear! You can still get a butt kickin’ speed workout in even if you don't have a track nearby.

One of our favorite high intensity speed workouts, the speed pyramid, requires only a watch and a route free of stoplights and crosswalks to complete.  Unlike your typical track workout, this type of speed pyramid is a high intensity, fast paced interval workout based on time rather distance.  For this workout, gradually increase set amounts of time run at a high intensity speed increases while maintaining the same level of aerobic output throughout each of the speed intervals.  Follow each fast paced speed burst with a recovery time equal to the high intensity interval you just completed. 

We recommend the following pyramid set for speed newbies: 15, 30, 45, 45, 30, 15.  Run hard for 15 seconds, followed by slowly jogging for 15 seconds; run hard for 30, slow jog for 30; run hard for 45 seconds, slow jog for 45 seconds, etc. Repeat this set 2x. Add in 1-2 mile warm up jog and 1 mile cool down.

You don't need to know your 400 meter or 800 meter pace for the pyramid set. Instead, we recommend that you go by the perceived exertion (PE) scale. Ultimately, you want to learn how to feel your pace and know when you are going too fast and when to speed things up. Here is a how we describe the PE scale to our clients.

  • Level 1: I'm reading on the couch (no exertion)
  • Level 2: Walking slowly, leisurely; I'm comfortable and could maintain this pace all day long
  • Level 3: Fast walk; I'm still comfortable, but am breathing a bit harder and starting to sweat
  • Level 4: Slow Jog; I'm sweating, but feel good and can carry on a conversation easily, consciously slowling myself down until it feels slowwwwww
  • Level 5: Jogging; I'm just above comfortable, sweating but still talking in full sentences (normal exertion)
  • Level 6: Running; I can still talk, but I wouldn't call it a conversation and I have to take a breath every 4 to 5 words (hard exertion)
  • Level 7: Fast Running; I can get a few words out here and there, but I don't really want to and they sound more like grunts - can maintain same pace for 20 minutes continuously
  • Level 8: Sprint; I can't talk an only keep this pace for a short time period - at the end of a race (Very hard exertion)
  • Level 9: All Out Sprint; I can't maintain this pace for more than a few seconds (extremely hard exertion).
  • Level 10: I'm running for my life (Maximum exertion).

Aim to run your speed sets at a level 7. Your goal is consistency throughout the entire workout.  Maintain the same exertion level throughout each individual speed interval while still being able to jog slowly at the end of each speed set without needing to stop and walk. If you feel as if you have to stop and catch your breath, you ran faster than your body could handle. Gradually begin increasing the time of the pyramid sets (example 1: 20, 40, 60, 60, 40, 20) (example 2: 30, 60, 90, 90, 60, 30).

You will be a speed demon in no time!