The 3-Speed Approach to Faster Running and Better Health

by Greg Dea and Mitch Rowe

How would you like to reduce your 2-mile or 3km running time by double-digit percentages in 7 weeks?

I think you’d probably like that very much, right?

Well, this kind of speed improvement has been proven possible, in trained runners, using a 3-speed running program. In untrained runners, the potential speed improvements are even higher using a 3-speed approach. `

In my experience, this approach works best once you are already comfortable running a kilometre or a mile. Mitch Rowe and I wrote a clear step-by-step guide to getting from couch to 1-mile or 1-km. Once you’re comfortable with a kilometre or mile, check out this 3-speed approach to get to 2 to 3 miles, or 3 to 5 km.

I’m going to give you the basics right away, then talk about the science later.

Run for 1 mile, 2 miles or 3 miles (depending on your experience and current capacity) and record your time. The kilometre distances you can run (if you measure in km and not in miles) is 1.5km, 3km and 5km.

Run slow for 30 seconds. Then speed up for 20 seconds. Then run fast for 10 seconds. This takes 60 seconds (1 minute). As soon as you finish the 10-second fast run, immediately slow down to a slow jog for 30 seconds—this will start the cycle again. Repeat 5 times. This will take 5 minutes. Then walk for 2 minutes. This 5-2 set can be done twice to start with, building up to 4 times in one session. Do 3 sessions per week for 7 weeks.

Repeat your run test (1 to 3 miles or 1.5km to 5km).

For example, if you run 7 minutes for the first 1-mile run test, then 6 minutes 30 seconds for the next 1-mile run test, convert this time to seconds.

7 minutes = 420 seconds.

6 minutes 30 seconds = 390 seconds.

To calculate the percentage improvement, subtract the second time from the first time, then divide this figure by the first time, then multiply the answer by 100.

For example, ((420-390) /420) x 100 = (30/420) x 100 = 7.14%.

I’ve often been asked how slow or fast to run those 3-speeds. Perhaps the best estimate for those who want an estimated speed is to run at 30%, 60% and 90% of your “maximum intensity.” In research studies, this has been calculated during an incremental running test. For those runners who don’t have any testing data, I find that describing the speeds as slow jog, easy run, and fast run is beneficial.

There is a second option for those who find this beyond them.

Halve the intervals.

Run at 15 seconds, 10 seconds and 5 seconds—at “slow jog, easy run, and fast run” pace.

Repeat 4 times. This will take 2 minutes. Walk for 1 minute. Repeat 3 times in the first week.

Add one extra 2-minute period each week so that by week 7, you will be running 9 rounds of 2 minutes, with each 2-minute period having 4 sections of 15-10-5 seconds.

The 3-speed approach is built into the return-to-sport run program found in my book Return to Field Sports Running Manual, available in paperback, kindle version, and iBook.

In the published studies about the 3-speed approach, there were multiple benefits reported, in addition to reduced run times. They included reduced fat mass, increased muscle mass, increased oxygen use, reduced lactic acid levels in the blood, lower total cholesterol and “bad-cholesterol (low-density lipoproteins – LDLs), reduced resting systolic blood pressure and improved bone mineral activity.

Both of the above 3-speed programs have been studied and reported on in scientific literature. See below for references [1, 2].

1.         Gunnarsson, T.P. and J. Bangsbo, The 10-20-30 training concept improves performance and health profile in moderately trained runners. J Appl Physiol (1985), 2012. 113(1): p. 16-24.

2.         Ravnholt, T., et al., High-intensity intermittent “5-10-15” running reduces body fat, and increases lean body mass, bone mineral density, and performance in untrained subjects. Eur J Appl Physiol, 2018. 118(6): p. 1221-1230.

For more like this, check out Greg’s book, Return to Field-Sports Running Manual, available in ebook format and paperback.