Tracks aren’t just for racing: By varying your pace and adding drills, you’ll banish boredom and increase strength and calorie burn. Get to know the basics, then try these fun routines.
Taking your workout outdoors has benefit: Fresh air, greenery and water improve mental well-being and even elevate self-esteem, according to studies published in Environmental Science & Technology.
Ready to lace up and explore new terrain? Emma Coburn, the Olympian and three-time USA Track & Field outdoor champion shown here, will inspire you to try one of these six track and trail workouts designed to improve speed, rev your metabolism and tone muscles. Happy trails!
Get Faster: Straightaways & Curves
Sprinting trains your legs to turn over (a running term for move) faster, which improves overall speed and efficiency on longer runs. Plus, working those fast-twitch fibers gives your legs better overall definition. This 2-mile routine is ideal for the track, because you’ll know where to start and finish: Warm up with a one-lap jog followed by four 100-meter strides, then run six laps at varying pace: Sprint the straightaways at an intensity level of 9 out of 10, and jog or walk the curves at level 3 or lower. Add this drill to your routine twice a week to get speedier and boost metabolism for hours. “Sprint workouts can help decrease body fat, too,” says personal trainer Laurie Villarreal, founder of HouseOfRunning.com.
Torch Calories: Speed Play
This workout, also known as a fartlek, can help you run farther than you thought you could by distracting you with constantly changing speeds. After a two-lap easy warm-up, pick an arbitrary benchmark—every lap, every lightpost or every jogger you pass, for instance—as a signal to speed up or slow down, experimenting with different paces. Switching it up each time you hit your mark will increase the overall calorie burn of your workout, Villarreal says. Aim for 20 times around the track; that’s 5 miles and 500 to 600 calories burned!
Tone All Over: Running Drill Mash-up
Joe Friel, founder of Training Bible Coaching and author of Your First Triathlon, recommends this dynamic track workout that combines running, plyometrics and resistance training: For your first lap, run the curves at level 5, then do walking lunges, butt kicks, squat jumps or side shuffles on the straights. On lap two, jog at level 3 until you hit a line or number in the lane (every 100 meters), then do 5 burpees. Do a tempo run for all of lap three, then head to the bleachers for 3 sets of 10 elevated push-ups—hands on the first row, feet on the ground. For an extra challenge, turn around and do decline push-ups.
LEARN THE LINGO
Running a short distance (50 to 100 meters) at 60 to 90 percent of full speed. They’re a popular warm-up drill and are often done on the straight parts of the track.
A comfortably difficult pace, somewhere between what you’d run for a 10K race and a half marathon. Aim for an intensity level of 8 on a scale of 1 to 10.
Swedish for “speed play.” During a fartlek run, vary your speed continuously (from easy jogging to all-out sprinting) at random time or distance intervals—your choice.
Shorter segments of a long run—for example, each mile or other checkpoint along the way. To “negative split” is to run the second half of a race faster than the first.
KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
We decode what all those lines and numbers really mean.
Most outdoor tracks are 400 meters around, so four laps is slightly less than a mile. Older tracks are 440 yards long, and four laps is exactly a mile. (Indoor tracks vary.)
Each straightaway on an outdoor track is 80 to 85 meters; the distance is marked with white lines and, occasionally, numbers.
A track’s distance is measured by the inside of the track. As you move outward, each lane is about 10 meters longer.
On a crowded track, it’s standard protocol to run counterclockwise, so you’re always turning left.
Slower joggers should use outside lanes and reserve the inside one for faster runners. If you need to pass someone, it’s easier (and safer) to do so on a straightaway rather than a curve.