Three Indoor Workouts for Winter

Wed, 10 Oct. 2012 - 2:09 a.m. MT
Credit: ARA Staff - American Running Association

Just because it’s icy and cold outside doesn’t mean you can’t work now to improve running performance—and hit the ground that much better off when spring rolls around. Here are three treadmill workouts that you can undertake starting from almost any fitness level, which is perfect whether you’re tackling a New Year’s resolution from a detrained state or taking a VO2max assessment to prepare you for the racing season of a lifetime in just a few months. 

Base running of a moderate intensity will likely, and in any case should indeed, make up the majority of your indoor treadmill runs this winter. However, part of what many runners find distasteful about this time of year is the potential for training to become rather mundane and repetitive. By mixing in these three wide-ranging variations, you’ll see great gains while staying interested enough to literally stay on track.

1. Steep uphill walk. In an interesting study, researchers placed subjects on a treadmill and asked them to walk or run and then gradually increased the incline. They found that at very steep inclines, the biomechanics of walking and running become indistinguishable. Essentially, walking at high intensity on a steep gradient is running, except that the impact forces are much lower than they are in level-ground running. For this reason, steep uphill walking makes a great recovery run. By walking for 20 to 40 minutes at a comfortable intensity on a 12 to 15 percent treadmill gradient (angles between 7 and 8.5 degrees), you get neuromuscular running practice without much impact, so that your muscles and joints can recover from previous running. Plus this activity, unlike treadmill running, is well suited to reading. The jostling is far less and if you own an e-reader, page turning is easy—at the touch of a button every minute or so—and there is no need to prop or manually hold a book open.

2. Long slow distance. Many runners are taught, incorrectly, to avoid gray-zone training by either running very hard or running very easy during any given day of training. While gray-zone training—meaning too hard to fully recover for the next day’s bout but too easy to experience any real adaptive training—is bad, this rule of extremes, known as the hard-easy rule, is a gross oversimplification. Run readiness, as we’ve explored multiple times in this publication, is a far better metric of whether you are working out at an appropriate exertion level on any given training day. Consequently, there is certainly a place for moderately hard workouts, and the marathon-pace run, aka long slow distance, is a good one to incorporate on a semi-regular basis. 

Warm up with one mile of easy jogging and then run at your ideal marathon pace for a distance of between six and 15 miles (depending on where you are in the training process). Doing this workout on a treadmill enables you to lock right onto that pace and stay there, which for the reasons explained below is the key to the effectiveness of this workout.

The primary beneficiary of your long slow distance workouts is your biological mechanism for increased stamina. Stamina differs from endurance in that the latter reflects your ability to hang tough at increasing levels of discomfort for the duration of your race; stamina refers to your ability to run long and slow without much exertion—maximal heart rate should never rise above 69 percent during these workouts. This is essential to marathon training, because by increasing the time you can run just under your anaerobic threshold, you’ll help tremendously to avoid hitting the Wall late in your race. 

How does this type of long-duration, light-exertion running help? The body relies heavily on fat burning in the later stages of endurance events—after about one hour of running, the ratio of energy derived from fat burning to that derived from carbohydrates (glucose and glycogen) is three to one. It is not the triggering of the fatty-acid metabolism that causes the onset of the Wall. It is exercising above your anaerobic threshold. Without oxygen, the body requires a striking 18 times the amount of glucose to derive the same amount of ATP as it can aerobically. And fatty acids generate a particularly large portion of the energy in the aerobic system. The anaerobic system relies only on glucose. It's entirely possible, then, to run out of glycogen and continue to produce ATP aerobically. This is the desirable state of affairs in marathoning, and is known as running just below your anaerobic threshold. 

 It’s therefore very adaptive to perform these stamina-building runs at an exact pace, both to feel what that pace is and to experiment with it over specifically preordained times and distances. And the machine designed to provide you with this information with the greatest precision is, of course, the treadmill. 

3. VO2max test. Finally, when you feel you’ve held down a solid mileage base for four weeks or more, simulating a VO2max test can be a powerful fitness-building tool. There are many workouts that measure maximal oxygen consumption. Here is one favored by triathlete-turned fitness journalist Matt Fitzgerald and editor of the Ironman magazine Lava Brad Culp. 

Start on the treadmill running easy for five to 10 minutes. Next, increase the belt speed by 0.5 mph and run for one minute at that speed. Now increase the belt speed by another 0.5 mph, hold the new speed for another minute, and continue in this fashion until you feel unable to run any faster. Reduce the belt speed and cool down for at least five minutes. Note the maximum speed you attained and try to beat it when you repeat the workout in three or four weeks.

 

Running Competitor, “Improve Your Running Indoors This Winter,” by Matt Fitzgerald and Brad Culp, http://running.competitor.com/2011/11/training/improve-your-running-indoors-this-winter_19551

 

 5K and 10K Training by Brian Clarke, Human Kinetics, Champaign, IL, 2006, pp. 33-40

 

The Complete Guide to Running by Earl Fee, 2005, Meyer & Meyer, New York, NY, pp. 17-37, 93-97, 152

 

RapidTables.com, Arctangent Calculator, http://www.rapidtables.com/calc/math/Arctan_Calculator.htm

 

(RUNNING & FITNEWS® November / December 2011 • Volume 29, Number 6)





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