Running for fitness

Running is a great way to build your fitness. You can start at whatever pace you feel comfortable, and it's easy to measure your progress - by pace, time or distance. Sometimes forgotten in the myths surrounding 'fat burning zones', running expends calories - and that's the key to losing weight and becoming more toned. So how do you get the most out of running?

The key is to set achievable targets. Don't worry if you take a step back once in a while because fitness is a long-term goal. Steady running will increase your fitness, tone your muscles, and help condition your body ready for a faster pace. Running the same session or pace all the time can be counterproductive, so once you're comfortable at a steady pace, include 'tempo sessions' or brisker speed sessions in your training. Short and medium increased pace sessions will help burn calories quickly, and also increase your metabolism so you'll carry on burning calories after you stop training.

Go long

It's all about calories. You'll burn more calories by covering three miles at a slow pace, than you will covering two in a faster time - and then having to stop because you're tired. So set achievable targets, and try to run steadily over a good distance. Take short walking breaks if you need to and try to extend the length of your run over time. A few hundred yards every other week will soon build up the level of calories you're burning.

Pick up the pace

Once you're comfortable with a steady run, try running 'tempo speed' sessions once a week (see below), picking up the pace for a short period of time. If you need more than a minute or so to rest between each leg of the session, you're running too hard - but a brisker pace does burn more calories.

It's also a great way of boosting fitness, so these sessions will help improve the length of time and pace you can cover in your steady runs. Running faster also means your muscles have to generate more power, so they're given an extra workout.

Feel the speed

To start with, try including blocks of 30 seconds to 3 minutes at a faster pace with a walk or slow jog as recovery. Finally, once you're confident, add some shorter, faster bursts of running to one session a week (see below).

Suggested sessions

Don't forget - you should only start these sessions after a proper warm up, and make sure your warm down includes jogging and stretching.

Tempo sessions
Basic
  • 2 x 5 minutes at tempo, 1 minute rest
  • 3 x 5 minutes at tempo, 1 minute rest
  • 10 minutes at constant controlled speed
Intermediary
  • 2 x 10 minutes at tempo, 2 minutes rest
  • 4 x 5 minutes at tempo, 1 minute rest
  • 5 minutes at tempo, 1 minute rest, 10 minutes at tempo, 2 minutes rest, 5 minutes at tempo
  • 15 minutes at constant controlled speed
Advanced
  • 5 minutes at slightly slower than tempo speed, 5 minutes at a slightly faster speed, 5 minutes at slightly slower than tempo speed, 5 minutes at a slightly faster speed (no rest between sections), 20 minutes at constant controlled speed.
Anaerobic speed sessions
Basic
  • 8-10 x 30 seconds fast, 1 minute rest
  • 6 x 1 minute fast, 2 minutes rest
  • 4 x 90 seconds, 3 minutes rest
  • 4 sets of (30 seconds fast, 1 minute rest, 1 minute fast)
  • 2 minutes between each set
Intermediary
  • 2 sets of (8 x 30 seconds fast, 30 seconds rest)
  • 5-8 minutes between sets
  • 10 x 1 minute fast, 1 minute rest
  • 3 sets of (1 minute fast, 30 seconds rest, 1 minute fast, 30 seconds rest, 1 minute fast, 30 seconds rest)
Advanced
  • 6 x 3 minutes fast, 2-3 minutes rest
  • 3 x (2 minutes fast, 2 minutes rest, 3 minutes fast)
  • 1 minute fast, 1 minute rest, 2 minutes fast, 2 minutes rest, 3 minutes fast, 3 minutes rest, 4 minutes fast, 4 minutes rest, 3 minutes fast, 3 minutes rest, 2 minutes fast, 2 minutes rest, 1 minute fast, 1 minute rest

Don't forget the essentials

Don't forget - the 5 minute legs shouldn't be run too hard: all tempo running should be at a controlled pace, not flat out, and rest legs can always be jogged or walked. After a brief pause to get your breath back, try to keep moving. This will keep more blood flowing through the muscles and stop you tightening up between efforts. Always run at your own pace, based on your current level of fitness. For an explanation of pace, and more information about getting started, read 'Fundamentals of running'.

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