3 Simple and Effective Running Workouts To Get Back Into Running Shape

At one point or another, all of us were beginning our running journey. Whether you’ve yet to take your first run or you’re coming back from some time off, all runners should be looking for some tips to “get back in shape” and do it as smart and safely as possible.

Coach Marc stretches with his daughter before a hill workout
Use these 3 running workouts to get back in shape

The 3 workouts I’m going to outline below are amazing for all levels of runners. For brand new runners, the upside is tremendous! These workouts are stress free, easy to run, and really good at building confidence.

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How to Master These Simple Workouts

For more experienced runners coming off of some downtime, these workouts are equally as beneficial to you because they are run by feel – so you don’t have to worry about what your GPS watch tells you. These workouts are great because they are effort-based and in the early stages of running, they will give you a boost in fitness while also building a great running routine.

New runners can improve their running by doing these 3 simple workouts spread throughout their running. These workouts are foolproof and can easily be done with little to zero hassle. With very little prep work, these workouts can be done to get in shape for racing.

Couple these workouts with some easy running and cross-training and you’ll find yourself in really good shape in no time.


Benefits of Simple Workouts

I absolutely love these three workouts for anyone coming back to running after time off. Again, this could be a beginner runner (someone who is really new to running), someone coming back after time off due to injury, or a runner who took time off after a peak race.

Why do I love these workouts so much? Let me tell you why!

These three workouts are no pressure workouts. A no-pressure workout is one in which the only goal is to improve your fitness. Times and splits don’t matter, running distance doesn’t matter, the only thing that matters is that you put some quality effort into the run.

These workouts are all about running by feel. Running by feel is based on your rate of perceived effort. This essentially throws times and paces out the window. There isn’t a set goal for how fast you should run or really even how far you should run. The goal is to run a certain effort level and if you do that, the workout is a success.

OK – so here are the three workouts. After I mention them, I break them down into how you can run them and why you should add them into your training.

Workout # 1: Fartlek Running

Fartlek is Swedish for “speed play”.  Fartleks can be unstructured or structured – the choice is yours!

Unstructured fartleks work something like this: Warm up with 10-20 minutes of easy running, then pick spots to which you’ll run hard to. It might be a parked car, tree, or lamp post. Run at a quick pace to your object, then recover until you run past the next one. Continue in this fashion until you’ve decided you had enough. Finish with a cool-down run.

Structured fartlek is very much the same, however, in this case, you can use a watch as your guide. An example of a structured fartlek might be 1 minute quick, 30 seconds at a recovery/floating pace. The great part about structured fartleks is that you can pick any amount of time to run hard for and any amount of time to recover after each one. For a structured fartlek of 1-minute on/:30 seconds recovery, you might try this 8-12 times depending on what kind of runner you are. Either way, you’re getting in some faster running and taking a break in between each one.

Coach Marc using fartlek running to get back into shape
Use these 3 easy workouts to get back in running shape

Workout # 2: Hills

Hills are another great workout for runners. Long, short, steep or gradual, it doesn’t matter all that much! Hills are fantastic for runners who are just getting back to running. Whether you run repeats of the hill (up, down, up, down) or you just run a hilly course, hills are amazing for getting your running form back into focus and helps propel you to more structured workouts later in the season.

For early season hills, I suggest doing longer hills at a steady pace (think 10k to half marathon).  As you get into your season, you can switch from longer & steady to shorter & faster.  This will help generate power and speed that will propel you to faster times.

Runners using simple workouts to get back in shape
3 Effective Running Workouts to Help You Get Back in Running Shape

Workout # 3: 400s

400 meter repeats are another great workout for early season running and/or someone new to running. Why do I love them so much? You can find a track just about anywhere and do anything from pure speed work to more controlled workouts like threshold & tempo runs.  

Below are the three main types of workouts you can do that are 400 meters in length. While any runner can run any pace around a track, these three paces below are considered the most widely-used paces and are easy for a runner to figure out what their pace is.

Coach Marc uses fartlek running to work on running by effort
Fartlek running is a very simple running workout to get back into shape

400’s for Pure Speed

During these speed sessions, you’ll want to make sure you are taking ample amount of recovery after each repeat you do. Early in the season, they’ll feel really fast because you probably aren’t used to running that fast – it’s okay. Be patient and err on the side of caution when determining how many repeats you complete. As a rule of thumb, your speed work should be between 5-8% of your weekly running mileage.

400s for 5k Fitness

Interval workouts (5k paced workouts) should be done at near 5k pace and require roughly the same amount of recovery as the repeat took.  It’s really easy for you to run your first few repeats too quickly because 5k pace is fast, but not all out. Don’t run your first few repeats too quickly!!

For example, if you do a 400 in 80 seconds, you should recover (jog) between 70 and 90 seconds.  The amount of interval 400s you do depends on the number of miles you run in a week with the general rule being no more than 8% of your weekly mileage.

400s for Building Endurance

Threshold workouts are the primary workouts for most, if not all, runners who are running workouts. If you’ve never heard of a threshold workout, it’s a pace somewhere between 10k and marathon pace.  If you don’t know either your 10k or marathon paces, don’t worry, you can easily find your threshold through running by feel. Threshold running is a comfortably hard pace with not a lot of rest because the pace isn’t all that fast or taxing.  Typically, for every 5 minutes of threshold work you do, you take 1 minute to recover.  As with speed and interval, threshold work should be done, but with no more than 10-15% of your weekly mileage.

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Personally, when I’m coming back to running after a break – usually after an injury has forced me to take time off or when I’m getting back in shape after a natural break post-peak race, I look to these three types of workouts to bridge the gap from totally out of shape to racing shape.

Regardless of when you actually started running, these 3 running workouts are great for when you’re just starting to get into running again. After any break from running, these 3 types of workouts are great for runners of all abilities, all levels, and all stages of a running career.

Just getting back into running? Try these 3 workouts to boost your fitness with little to no prep work! #TrainwithMarc #RunCoach

Whatever type of runner you are – middle distance to ultra-runner – fartlek running, hill repeats and/or 400s should always be a staple in your workout routine.  They are three great ways to build strength and stamina that will prepare you to run fast in your next race.

Did you find this article helpful? Let me know by leaving a comment below or join the conversation on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook.

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Dr. Jack Daniels VDOT & USATF Certified Running Coach
Dr. Jack Daniels VDOT & USATF Certified Running Coach

Marc is a USATF Track and Field & Dr. Jack Daniels VDOT O2 certified running coach. I have more than 19 years of experience running and more than 10 years of experience coaching runners. Click for more information!

Marc is a middle school teacher and coach but also works with distance runners online. I help distance runners around the globe by providing support, writing customized training plans and designing workouts to help them reach their racing goals. I write for my blog every Wednesday morning and newsletter every Friday morning.

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