Is it better to run faster or longer? Fitness experts weigh in

‘Each running style, sprinting or long distance, has its place in fitness’ (Picture: Getty)

The arrival of spring has made lots of people want to take their exercise routines outside – and, for many, this will mean heading out for a run.

Maybe you’re a long-time runner who is eager to get out in the sunshine and try your first 10K, or perhaps you’re new to running and are wondering how to start out.

Either way, you may be pondering an age-old question about the activity.

In terms of fitness, is it better to run faster or longer?

There’s no denying running is a great form of exercise – it gets our blood pumping and encourages different muscles to work hard together.

But should we be doing 2K as fast as possible, or is it better to try longer running stints?

Well, it seems experts say there’s a place for both types of running – and that, actually, a combination of the two is best.

Jessie Jones, a personal trainer at OriGym Centre of Excellence, tells ‘Each running style, sprinting or long distance, has its place in fitness. 

‘Variation is key to promote all the different benefits whether that’s burning fat, building muscle, or improving cardiovascular health and stamina. ‘

Jessie explains that the two types achieve different things – depending on what you want to get out of them.

She continues: ‘Running faster is better for burning fat, improving your metabolism, and using up more calories.

‘While you’re burning fat you’re also helping to build muscle in its place, so sprinting is great for increasing muscle mass, too.

‘The main benefit of running for longer is improved cardiovascular health. You’re improving that entire system by improving blood flow throughout the body. Longer distances will also increase lung capacity and endurance.’

woman running on road

Get your running shoes on (Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

So if you’re running to get into shape and burn calories, running faster might be a better option. Whereas if you’re looking to improve your cardiovascular health, longer is a good choice.

As a result, many experts say that neither one is ‘better’.

Will Goodge, the head coach at Puresport Run Club, says: ‘Running faster, for shorter periods – be that sprints/intervals/tempo runs – builds a threshold for holding greater speeds over all distances. 

‘You are literally testing your cardiovascular system to get used to working at a higher capacity. Holding your heart rate in the higher zones means that when it comes to race day – be that a 5K or a marathon – when things get tough and you’re pushing your limits, your body will be more acclimatised. Your heart racing, lactate building and breathing elevated. Shorter and faster runs bring you to this place a lot quicker.

‘But running longer is building your engine. You can’t expect to hit short run sessions hard and suddenly be comfortable at running longer distances, you would also be at a higher risk of injury with the amount of impact you are constantly putting through your joints. 

‘Adding strong base miles builds a great foundation to then improve your times over all distances. If you know you can run a 10K with any kind of ease, then the 5K Park Run race doesn’t seem so scary.

‘It’s a great confident booster when you know you can run any race distance, the only question you then have to answer is how well you’re going to run it.’

What’s the best formula?

Experts say that variation with your runs is key to promoting all kinds of benefits – whether it’s burning fat, building muscle or improving cardiovascular health and stamina. 

‘It’s important to combine both short/faster runs (interval training) with longer/slow paced runs (5K, 10K) because they both complement each other,’ explains trainer Lewis Akpata from BLOK.

‘Longer runs also improve cardiac base and will help to improve your faster runs. Faster runs then give you the ability to run harder for longer while building the will power and mental strength along the way. This will in turn make longer/slower placed runs, way easier to manage.

‘An ideal run split would see you doing more longer runs to build cardiac base, while not putting too much strain on the body, mixed in with some interval sprint training – and then maybe trying to go for a 5K personal best once a week to gauge overall improvement.’

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