Progression runs that end fast. Races where you cross the line with a kick. Long miles that get tougher the further you go. Many running experiences involve easing in – then finishing hard. But a study in the Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology supports flipping that format. Participants who eased down instead of building up as a workout progressed rated the experience more pleasant, says study author Panteleimon Ekkekakis, of Iowa State University, US. Some runners enjoy difficult efforts, but even they can benefit from an occasional easy-finish run. Here’s how to put ramping down into practice with some reverse progression runs.
1/ Everyday runs
A new running routine nearly always feels tough. Your muscles and joints ache until your body adapts to the regular pounding of your feet against the ground. And your heart struggles to shuttle oxygen-rich blood to your working muscles, leaving you huffing and puffing, says Greg McMillan, a coach and exercise physiologist.
Starting off with run-walk intervals decreases physical and mental strain, says Mary Jung, an exercise psychology researcher at the University of British Columbia, Canada. A ramp-down plan may trigger a surge of feel-good hormones earlier so you feel better during and after your workout, says Ekkekakis.
Try it: Warm up by walking for 10 mins. Then run for five minutes (or as long as you can without stopping) and walk for one minute. Decrease the running interval by one minute each time – so if you start at five minutes, you’re running for four, three, two and, finally, one minute, with one-minute walk breaks in-between. End with a five- to 10-minute walk to cool down.
2/ Interval workouts
Many interval sessions involve repetitions of equal length. But ‘pyramid’ workouts, which shift from short to long reps and then back down, add benefits by posing varied challenges to your body and mind, says Nikki Reiter, a biomechanist and coach. For instance, you may train your fast-twitch muscle fibres, hone your ability to focus at race pace and work on your finishing kick, all in one session.
Related: How interval training works
If you are new to speedwork or coming back to it following a break, try a ‘one-sided pyramid’, in which you decrease the distance while maintaining the same intensity. Over time, advanced runners can speed up as they decrease the length of their reps to reap more benefits.
Try it: Warm up with 10 minutes of jogging, then run the following repeats with one-min jogging recoveries between each: one mile, 1,200m, 1,000m, 800m and, finally, 400m. Cool down for five to 10 minutes. If you have not done any speedwork lately, keep all the reps at about your 10K pace (a speed at which you could speak only a few words, not complete sentences); if you’re more advanced, start at your 10K pace and gradually speed up, ending closer to your mile race pace.
3/ Tempo runs
Holding a comfortably challenging pace will train your body to better cope with the various metabolic by-products of faster running, so you can maintain harder efforts with less strain, says McMillan. These tempo runs feel more difficult as you fatigue, which is very useful if you’re training for a fast race – you need to be prepared to push hard when it counts.
However, a tempo run that eases up as you go can give you a confidence boost as your goal event nears (or any time you’re questioning your running ability). ‘Good mental vibes going into a race are very important,’ says McMillan. In the last two to three weeks beforehand – when most of the hard training is done – he might prescribe slightly shorter tempo runs that use gravity to make the final minutes feel easier.
Try it: After a 10-minute warm-up, run at a tempo pace – one you feel you could sustain for only about an hour – for two to four miles (or a distance slightly shorter than the longest you’ve run at that pace earlier in training). Finish the last part of the effort on a slight downhill so maintaining the pace seems less difficult.
4/ Long runs
The goal of most long runs is to boost your heart’s ability to pump blood and also to increase the number of mitochondria in your muscles; these adaptations will occur at fairly low speeds, says McMillan. Whether your long run lasts three miles or 23, maintaining a steady pace feels more difficult as you tire. But slowing down too much because of fatigue can cause you to run with poor form, increasing injury risk, says Reiter. Instead of altering the workout, tack on a cool-down to help you recall the run as less punishing than it really was.
Related: Essential guide to long runs
Try it: After your longest run of the week, walk for five to 10 minutes. If you’re with a group, this time can seal your running-buddy bond. If you’re on your own, focus on gratitude – McMillan says feeling thankful that your schedule and your body allowed you to log the miles can stoke satisfaction that will carry through to your next run.