Track speed workouts: Improve your speed

Whether you are a weekend warrior or someone who enjoys going out for a run, we all have one thing in common – wanting to run faster. Track speed workouts are one way to increase your speed and are easy to add to your running routine and weekly workouts.

There are several types of fun workouts you can do on an outdoor track that will help you regardless of your fitness levelbeginner runners to advanced runnersand they offer the added benefit of mixing up your training routine.

woman running on ladder track workout

What are types of speed work for runners?

Hill repeats

Hill repeats will help you get stronger and faster and will improve your running form all at the same time. 

Running up a hill encourages good running form because you’re forced to get up on your forefoot, lift your knees and drive your arms to push yourself forward. 

While there are a variety of hill workouts that runners can mix into their training schedules, start with sets of short, quick repeats in the range of 10–60 seconds on a moderate grade with an easy jog or walk back down the hill for recovery. 

How to do it:

  • For the hill repeats, run as fast as you can up the hill for 8-12 second bursts.
  • Between each sprint, turn and jog slowly down the hill, allowing your body active recovery time.
  • Begin with five hill sprints and add one more sprint each week.
  • When you get to 10, drop back to five and increase the running uphill interval session.

Fartlek workouts

This is a Swedish term that means speed play. A Fartlek workout is simply unstructured speed bursts throughout the workout.

This type of speed workout can be done on the roads, trails or a treadmill. They are great beginner-friendly speed workouts for runners that can be added to the end of an easy run.

How to do it:

A great way to start is sprinting from one lamp post or telephone pole to the next while running outside.

If you prefer a little more structure, set your watch so your pickups are of a predetermined duration.

woman running track intervals

Speed intervals

Intervals are short, intense periods of short sprints with a short recovery time between them.

How to do it:

A great way to introduce interval workouts is to work into the faster speed by doing a workout like the following:

  • Warm up for 5 minutes at an easy to moderate effort.
  • Work interval 30 seconds: Sprint all-out, as fast as you can.
  • Recovery interval 1 minute: Return to your recovery interval effort.
  • Repeat work and recovery intervals five to seven times.
  • End with a cool down for 5 minutes at a slower pace.

As you get used to the hard efforts you can decrease the recovery interval rest period or increase the number of working intervals.

  • Intervals can be done in time or distance
  • Intervals can be as short as a 30-second sprint to miles at a marathon pace
  • The harder the effort the shorter the interval
  • Ensure you are taking enough time to recover with a walk or jog between intervals to do the next one at the same pace and with good form.


Tempo runs are a staple for long distance runners. Whether you’re training for a half marathon or marathon or 10K race, tempo runs will make a big difference in improving your running speed.

How to do it:

  • To complete a classic tempo run, you’ll want to start with a 15 minute warm up at an easy pace.
  • After your warm up, complete 1-6 miles at tempo pace.
  • Finish with a 15 minute cool down at an easy pace.

Track repeats

Similar to fartlek training, you will run periods of effort followed by a recovery period. Adding track repeats into your running workout will help you keep a close eye on your pace and give you an accurate idea of what you’ll be capable of on race day.

When adding repeats to a track session, warm up with a mile at an easy pace before getting into the repeats.

How to do it:

  • Pick a distance you want to repeat throughout the workout – 400-meter intervals or 800-meter intervals. It is common to run 400-meter repeats.
  • Run hard for one lap and then run a recovery lap before starting again.

Your running effort should not be full out but should be significantly faster than your usual running pace (somewhere between mile pace and 5K pace) and hard enough that you feel winded by the end of each repeat.

If you’re new to track workouts, start with four repeats (4 x 400m). You can add an additional speed interval every week or two as you increase your endurance.

Ladder workouts

They’re specifically aimed at maximizing your speed and making your running economy and sprinting form more efficient.

A ladder workout for runners is an interval workout where the interval distance starts out short and you get longer distances as you go “up the ladder,” then after the midway point, the ladder goes back down to short intervals.

Here’s how to do it:

  • A sample ladder workout on the track may include a warm-up, 200 meters of fast running, 200 meters of recovery running, 400 meters fast, 400 meters jogging, 800 meters fast, 800 meters of jogging to recover, 400 meters fast running, 400 meters slow jogging, and then back down the ladder to end with running 200 meters fast, followed by a slow recovery 200 meters and a cooldown.

Pay attention to your form

Poor form can keep you from hitting your top speed. Here are a few things to think about:

Avoid heel strike: Every time you heel strike (when your heel hits the ground first) it’s like you’re hitting the brakes. Heel striking not only slows you down, it can waste energy.

You should try for a midfoot strike that keeps your foot directly under your body.

Relax your shoulders: For most people, one of the first places to noticeably feel tension is the shoulders. First, take a deep breath and let it out. This should automatically drop your shoulders.

Control your breathing: Your breathing rhythm should be in line with your running.

FAQs about speed workouts

Plan your speed workouts at least two to three days before your weekly base runs. Your legs need a full recovery before a track session.

You don’t need complete rest days after a speed session, but you do need adequate recovery before another hard session or long run.

Start with just a few repeats of your chosen distance once a week and work up from there.

Most speed sessions are not done at 100%, in fact very few are and none should be done this way when starting to include speed. It’s an easy way to get injured.

Any runner interested in running a faster pace should incorporate speed training into their training program. New runners should consider starting slowly to avoid the risk of injury.

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