Running on the track can be a demanding exercise but if you’re training seriously then track time is both essential and invaluable. Elite and pro runners depend on the track to get race ready and work on their strength, speed and endurance. With a little variation, you can make your track workouts interesting as well as prepare your legs and mind for racing challenges. Using ladders is one way of maximizing your track workouts that comes highly recommended by runners and coaches. Let’s take a closer look at what this entails.

What are track ladders?
Essentially an interval workout, ladders comprise a series of increasing or decreasing intervals with periods of active recovery thrown in. These intervals can be time or distance-based and can be tweaked as per your training plan. For example, time-based ladders can be convenient when you’re travelling or when you don’t have a marked track at your disposal. You’re basically training to run hard for a given amount of time rather than by distance, and can even complete this on a treadmill. Such workouts are good for beginners or pro runners who are not training for an immediate race but looking to keep their running form up. Distance based ladders on the other hand can be more intensive, but crucial for determining goal pace and gauging your fitness level before a race. These workouts entail running intervals of a specific distance at an optimum pace, with gradually increasing or decreasing distances to ensure that you pace yourself consistently across the range.

Types of ladder routines
There are no preset routines that provide the best results and like everything else in running, it is up to the runner to determine where his fitness levels are at that point and adopt a suitable training plan. A simple ladder workout could include intervals of 100, 200, 300, 400, 300, 200, and 100 meters run at target pace, where a 100-meter jog separates each interval, and 3 minutes of recovery separates each set. The permutations are limitless; as long as the intervals demonstrate a systematic progression, you’ve got a ladder. For example, if you’re training for a marathon, you could start with ladder intervals of 200, 400, 800, 400, and 200 meters. As the training progresses, you can double the distances so the longest interval is 1600 meters.

Similarly, time-based ladder progressions involve running at your goal race pace for a predetermined interval – say 1-2-3-4-3-2-1 minutes of 10K pace with active recovery through jogging after every repetition. A simple and tested recovery guide is to halve your interval time: so, after the 1-minute interval, jog for 30 seconds, after 2-minutes, jog for a minute, after the 3-minute interval, jog for 90 seconds and so on. Depending on your fitness, you can increase the time intervals as you progress, or alternatively, focus on a faster pace within existing intervals.

Benefits of ladders
Ladders are particularly useful because they provide specific, running-based training that is directly related to your endurance and speedwork. Even if you’re not training for a marathon, interval training has been shown to enhance cardiovascular fitness and the body’s ability to burn fat, even after returning to workouts of lower intensity. Descending ladder workouts that decrease in interval length but increase in pace, for example, teach your body how to maintain pace and change gears late in a session.

Ladders also help break up what may seem an impossibly long race into easier manageable bits that your legs and brain are familiarized with during training, adding a great deal of confidence to your run. With a little experimentation and practice, you can try out a world of progressive interval routines to make workouts fun and challenging and get the most out of your track time.

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