Train slowly to build stamina
Once upon a time, when I was browsing through the comments to an article on running instead of filling in an urgent job application, I came the best cardio exercise advice hidden away in one of them:
“Always train as slowly as you possibly can”, it read.
With this I, who had been trying to run as fast as possible and had been completely demoralised because my fastest was so slow, had an epiphany.
This really was the best exercise advice I could ever have found for aerobic exercise.
It is the rock on which a normal person can build a long-running aerobic exercise programme. Pun intended.
Training slowly isn't as easy as it sounds
But simple as it is, that isn’t necessarily advice that’s easy to follow. For one thing, it’s counter-intuitive to train slowly. Why would you want to do that? Isn’t it demotivating to know it’ll take you an age to cover a kilometer if you’re moving more slowly than a snail?
It’s also not always as easy as it sounds physically. For one thing, you have to be pretty patient with yourself. For another, it can feel quite tough on the muscles. It can feel as if you’re expending more energy than you need to.
If you’re worried about What Other People Think (as most of us here are), the idea might also fill you with embarrassment. You look slow enough as it is, you might think, without trying to go even slower!
All in all, it’s difficult to see how you would resist the urge to go as quickly as you can, even if it is the best exercise advice ever given. But there really are some good reasons for aiming to slow it down.
Training slowly isn't new
Training slowly for aerobic exercise isn’t a new idea - particularly when it comes to running. Jeff Galloway has been promoting his run walk system since 1978, and there are plenty of people who claim to have used this system to do personal bests at half marathon and marathon events. The run walk system is what it says on the tin: you alternate running with walking. Calling this a “system” gives it a kind of legitimate air and suggests you’re not failing when you stop running and start walking.
There are thousands - if not millions - of Jeffers around the world who would probably agree that slowing it down a bit was the best exercise advice they'd ever been given.
The good old C25K programme is built on a progressive run-walk system. You start by walking more than you run and at the end you run a continuous 5km distance.
But beyond that, it’s absolutely fine if the running stretches are no faster than the walking ones. I can hear some of you asking: “what’s the point of running then, smartarse?”
If going slowly is so important, why run at all?
Well, because it brings variety into exercise is one answer. Also, when you run, you use different muscles (and use your muscles differently) than when you walk. You need to use your arm muscles and core muscles more when you run than when you walk. You get a different aerobic experience. You get some balance training and muscle training as well as getting aerobic exercise.
And running slowly has a few more physical advantages, too. A slow pace can help you focus on your running form. Good running for in turn helps you to avoid getting injured. That means you’re out of action less often, and therefore more likely to keep up a habit because you don’t have to keep starting that habit over again.
Mentally, trying to run slowly cushions you from the pressure of trying to beat your time. What’s not to like?
By running slowly, especially as a beginner, you can get miles under your belt on a regular basis. This is what really turns you into a runner. Once that base running fitness is there, well, the sky’s the limit!
In time, you’ll be ready to mix it up and add interval training sessions, hill training sessions and maybe even some speed sessions.
But follow the best exercise advice and keep that slow running in your toolbox and dig it out every fortnight or even once a week. It’ll help you keep variety in your programme, keep the pressure off and shield you from injury.
As for What Other People Think: this is about you, not them. They only see you for a few seconds and trust me, they won’t remember you. Your run, though, will be a part of your experience that you can build on.
So if you’re fed up of being a slowcoach, follow the best exercise advice, embrace it and get the most out of it. If you’re anything like me, it’ll take the pressure right off.