Speed Training – Know Your Muscle Types

We are approaching the winter when runners will one of two things:

– sit back unwrap a box of mince pies and put away the trainers until the January sales are over.

– or think ahead to next spring’s pb and what your off season’s training goal should be.

If you’ve circled option one then chances are you are still new to this sport. Unlike footballers, basketball players and other team sports, we don’t exactly get time off to chill. As little two weeks of no running can cause a slide in our running ability. Although our ‘season’ tends to be March to October the committed runner can find a race in any month. Anybody who’s run 5k in a Santa suit at Christmas will tell you that!

So what am I up to this winter? Last year I was training like mad to run a marathon. My goal was distance. This year I’m going for speed. Mostly because I am no longer content to devoting most of my day to running/training for a marathon. Get up, run, shower, eat, go to sleep was pretty much my normal Sunday last winter. I would like to be quick enough to be able to squeeze an episode of Friends in there as well.

Why Am I Slow?

There are three types of muscles in the body, type 1, type 2 and type 2a. They each last for different amounts of time, and come in different ‘strengths’. How many of each we have affects our ability to do various sports. Now a lot of this is down to genetics, so you can blame your parents, however training encourages more of the right sort to be recruited.

We’ll ignore type 2a as they are reserved for people that throw stuff, jump and Usain Bolt. (You can train for them using plyometrics aka jumping, but since they for work ten seconds max as a distance runner, why bother?)

Type 1 muscles are the ones that make us do things for a long time. HOWEVER they don’t have a big energy output, so whatever we do we can’t do it very hard or very fast. Distance runners, walkers and swimmers LOVE these types of muscles as they give us our stamina. The only way to get them is to train between 60-80% of your maximum (ie so your heart rate is up and you are breathless but can still talk), in the gym you may have seen this called as the aerobic training zone.

You also have to train for a decent period of time (20 mins plus), continuously or using farlek work best.

This is basically my profile of training for EVERY SPORT I DO EVER. Because I’m pretty chilled out when I train, but I’m quite happy to go forever I have a developed a great set of type 1 muscles. Its also the reason why marathon runners (for the most part) make rubbish 800 meter runners and vice versa. Distance runners lack the numbers of type 2 muscles of our sprinter cousins because of our regimes.

So What Do Type 2 Muscles Do?

Well if you need to kick at the end of a race, blast up a hill, go over an obstacle in a steeplechase, or get through that last mile when your tank is empty these are THE ONES. Type 2 muscles are all about WORKING HARD! They only hold out for a few minutes but they give you that extra boost you need. They are your nitros baby!

However they come with a price, the burn of lactic acid. Like a car the more you upgrade the less exhaust and the more power, so with training you get less burn and more speed.

If we’re sticking with car metaphors then my type 2s look like this

 Type 2 muscle fibres

How To Train For Type 2 Muscles.

These babies only come out to play when you are working anaerobically, (so above 80% of maximum). This means you have to get a serious sweat on.

They also only work for a few minutes, so the idea is to work hard and for a short time, giving yourself rest/lower intensity periods in between to teach the body to deal with the lactic acid build up.


My first 5k, even back then I wasn’t a fan of a quick mile.

I like my nice gentle runs where I get to look at the birds and squirrels, singing to myself in a Mary Poppins- esque voice (as all British people do) etc. Forcing myself to sprint up a hill, with sweat dripping down my face; running until I feel like I’m going to throw up isn’t as pleasant an afternoon. But it does work.

There are a few classic methods:


This is basically a fixed period of high intensity followed by a fixed period of low intensity/rest. For example same quarter mile stretch at top speed and then walking back and repeating.


So called because the exercise is commonly inflicted teenage sports teams ( High School Basketball players will know what I am talking about here)and the kids, once grown would rather kill themselves than perform them as an adult. Its my theory that high rates of depression in professional athletes is because of this sadistic drill. Suicides, just say no. The only time I’ve ever vomited through over exertion was because of this little torture method.


Hill sprints

Sprinting……up a hill.

HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training)

HIIT is the newbie but is fast becoming a favourite with serious runners, and is extremely useful if you are a regular gym goer.

I’ll use a treadmill for an example. Say you are running at a leisurely 11.38 mile min. (after a massive warm up) you would then put the treadmill up as HIGH as you could without falling off for

60 secs. You would then return to your leisurely pace for 75 secs. You then repeat this until you feel like you want to die. It improves your VO2 Max (how much oxygen your body can hold) as well as recruiting type 2 muscles, a double whammy for those looking to improve speed. It’s also handy for those 10k & 5k runners.


For speed work you HAVE to warm up, cool down and REST. Don’t perform speed work everyday, its not the type of thing you streak. Because you are working at maximum you need to take extra care otherwise you will almost certainly get injured. Speed work should be done 1-2 a week.

 *Apologies for not blogging for a while, I’ve been a little bit busy setting up my own business. If any of you care a hoot about what I get up to in real life, take a look at the link below

Hands On Therapies

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5 Responses to Speed Training – Know Your Muscle Types

  1. jmlol says:

    Supper informative. I’m almost to that place where I need to pick up speed. For me, it is going to be form for the most part, but I was thinking of creating a run track (I have legal music producing software from when I had too much money and time on my hands) specifically for interval running. Gave me something new to think about for that. I always push harder for the first 30 secs of any new song when I run to work on anaerobic muscle groups, so that’s a thought.

  2. I wish you had taught all my classes in school. Life would have been much more entertaining.

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