Improving 5k time can be a challenge. We put together some tips on how to improve your 5k time. All around me I see a lot of people enjoying the sport of distance running. Everywhere I go I see a new running store and they all have their own 5k race. When many of us first start running our goal is to finish a 5k after that we might start thinking about how to finish the race faster. Here are some tips to help you get faster 5k times.
One of the best things you can do to lower your 5k time is to increase mileage. Running more than 3.1 miles when training for a 5k might sound silly but it’s what the pros do. Many professional runners will log over 70 miles per week just to improve their time on this short distance. The reason is that running long distances at a low intensity will build up your aerobic energy system which tends to use more fat to fuel your runs.
When you’re doing these longer workouts it’s important to set the right intensity. Focus on training in heart rate zone 2 during longer runs which is 70-80% of your max heart rate. A basic way to measure your max heart rate is to take 220 and subtract your age. There are some more detailed formulas out there like the Karvonen heart rate formula. You can use this calculator to find out your zones.
How to do long runs
When you head out to do your long run block off about 60-90 minutes of time because this is what you’ll need to see major changes in your aerobic energy system. The goal is to keep the heart rate lower than a 5k pace and it’s best to use a heartrate watch to keep track of how hard you’re working. Try to get in a couple of long runs each week and you’ll see improvements in speed at lower heart rates which will make the 5k feel much easier.
After you’ve set aside some time for long runs it’s time to focus on speed. To get faster guess what? You need to run fast. Doing intervals or repeats can help your body adapt to running at a high speed and will give you that extra gear that you need to crush your personal best in your next race. When you add speed work into your training your muscles will become adapted to higher speeds, your lungs will take in more air and your heart will get stronger. Basically it’s the same as adding extra horse power to your car.
When starting out I recommend that you focus on ¼ mile intervals about 30-45 seconds faster than your 5k pace. At the end of your interval you should feel out of breath. After a few weeks of this you should see some improvement in your ¼ repeat times. After a few weeks of ¼ repeats go back to your original pace that you started with and do ½ mile repeats. This will push your body a little bit harder. This will help you bridge the gap for that new best 5k time.
How to do intervals
The best way to do intervals is on a track but many of us don’t have access to a track so I like to use a treadmill. The reason I like the treadmill is that it makes controlling the speed very easy. You can also do repeats while running on a street or trail, but this can become challenging with stoplights, hills and people walking in front of you.
When doing the workout do 8-12 rounds of hard intervals paired with 8-12 rounds of rest intervals. Start with a round of rest pace to warm up and end with one to cool down. If you want to walk during your rest time go for it, studies have shown that getting a complete rest between sprints can be even better than jogging.
When putting these workouts in your program try not to do them back to back days because this can cause burnout and will slow down the benefit of doing them in the first place. Start with 2 days a week and try working up to 3 mixing up workouts from ¼ mile repeats to ½ mile repeats.
If you’re carrying more weight it makes it harder to run and this will slow you down. Having more muscle is better than having more fat but it still will slow you down a little. The great part about training for a 5k is that it will help you lose the weight. Just remember because you’re running doesn’t mean that you can eat whatever you want, you’ve heard the saying you can’t our run a bad diet, right? Well that’s because it’s true.
Losing weight is a hard as you want to make it. If you eat mostly processed food, then it will be a lot harder to hit your goal. Instead try building a diet using whole foods that are plant based as your foundation. This will provide you with many of the nutrients you need to keep your body fueled during your program. I’m not saying that you need to go vegan just focus on making plants the largest part of your diet.
Next thing you need to do is track calories and you can do this using a scale and measuring cup. Download a app like my fitness pal and get to work it’s easy and the app does most of the work for you. You just need to be honest and measure the food that you’re eating.
After you have your energy intake in check you need to focus on macronutrients. For a runner this is important because one macronutrient is the fuel that will make you go fast during your race. That macronutrient is carbohydrates and no carbs don’t make you gain weight eating too much and moving to little does that. The best macronutrient split for runners is 50% carbs, 30% fat and 20% protein. I enjoy a nice protein shake packed with veggies and berries after running to help repair the muscle tissue.
Lastly building stronger muscles is a great way to improve the force of the legs. Sprinters, NFL players and other athletes spend a lot of time on this for good reason because building strength improves force production, and this will get you moving faster. Don’t skip upper body because these muscles will keep your upper body from drooping forward when you get tired during the race.
I know a lot of you have heard that strength training will slow you down because it will make you big and bulked up. This is not true because if you’re watching what you eat that’s not possible. Actually lifting weight is the best way to lose body fat because it makes your metabolism go up more than running.
How to start a strength program
If you’re new to strength training you might want to hire a personal trainer to help you get started because there is a risk of injury when doing it wrong. The benefits are well worth the cost and the lessons learned will stick with you for a lifetime.
Your strength program should focus on compound lifts like squats, deadlifts, bench press, shoulder press and pull ups. All of these lifts put stress over the entire body and will help you to see changes faster.
Here is a great read on how to get started with a strength program.
I hope that you enjoyed my tips to help you with your 5k time. If you need any help with your training feel free to reach out to us and we would love to give you a free personal training session if you live in the Washington D.C. area. Sign up here.
Check out our personal trainers guide to running faster