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How to Run Faster: Using HIIT and Tabata to Increase Your Speed

So you want to run faster. Great! Now the question

The short answer: To run faster, you have to run faster.

"Hmmm..." you say. "If I could do that, I would. Care to elaborate?"

Sure, Read on for details:

For the sake of having a coherent example throughout this post, I'm going to use the example of decreasing your time on a 5K or 3.1 mile foot race.

Let's assume you have perfect running form and a fairly decent aerobic base (you can jog about 30 minutes at a time without stopping) but you can't obtain the speed you desire due to muscular and cardiovascular inhibitions (your muscles and your lungs give out on you anytime you speed up).

The best way to start increasing your speed is to do high intensity interval training or (HIIT) workouts. This includes Tabata training.

What the heck is Tabata Training?


  • Aerobic energy system: the energy system you use to complete tasks greater in length than a few minutes (oxidative on the chart). Oxygen is converted into energy your body can use to complete the task.
  • Anaerobic energy systems: when performing a task that requires a lot of power or speed, and can only be performed for a few seconds to about 60 seconds, you use your anaerobic energy systems (phosphagen and glycolytic on the graph) . This energy does not require oxygen and therefore is finite but can be improved with training.
  • VO2max: the amount of oxygen your body can bring into the lungs and convert to useful energy via the aerobic process. The fitter you are, the higher your VO2max will be.

Tabata training denotes a particular work to rest ratio of 20 seconds work: 10 seconds rest. This work to rest ratio was made popular after the 1996 study performed by Izumi Tabata et. al of the National Institute of Fitness and Sports in Kanoya City, Japan was published in The American College of Sports Medicine Journal. The study was actually two protocols:

Protocol 1: Six weeks of moderate intensity (70% of VO2max) endurance training performed on a cycle ergometer, 60 minutes a day, 5 days a week.

Protocol 2: Six weeks of seven to eight sets of high-intensity interval training (170% of VO2max)performed for 20 seconds with 10 second rest intervals performed on a cycle ergometer, 5 days a week. Intensity was increased when the subjects could complete 9 sets without reaching exhaustion.

The results found that only aerobic capacity improved with protocol 1 (moderate training) but BOTH aerobic and anaerobic capacity improved with protocol 2.

So, the question is, do you want to perform 60 minutes of exercise everyday to only get half the gains? Or would you rather perform 4 minutes of exercise a day and get double to results?

Any HIIT will do.

The Tabata protocol is popular because it is easy to remember and it is effective. But any work to rest ratio of 2:1 or around there is fine (as long as you are working in your anaerobic energy system. My suggestion, don't go above 40 seconds of work as you will most likely reach exhaustion before you complete all 40 seconds of your exercise. Staying around 30:15 or 24:12 is probably a good idea.

Remember, the intensity is HIGH!

For these protocols to work, you really need to work hard. 170% of VO2max should induce exhaustion pretty quickly. Don't plan on doing a bunch of other exercises in the same workout session!

Okay, I've done all this. How can I get EVEN FASTER?

If you've already trained like a beast and you just can't get any faster, now it's time to look at your running technique and implement drill against resistance or with assistance. Find a local running coach to help you with your goals.

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