Updated: Mar 27, 2021
Running fast is great. It’s impressive on Strava, Nike Run and at Races, you get Personal Bests, you look better to the people around you and you get to pass people. Why wouldn’t you want to run fast? It's better than running slow in every way, right?
Not so fast. The pace at which you run is a tool. If you think of speed as a spectrum from slow to fast, every notch between the endpoints has different advantages. It’s easy to see the pros for running fast, but what is the trade off. Remember that speed is a range from slow to fast and to the degree that you get faster the pros and cons become more impactful. So know what you're giving up when you go faster and know what you gain when you go slower.
Pros and Cons of Fast and Slow
I like to think in terms of analogues, so let's think about doing lunges for 60 seconds. What happens when you go fast is you:
Increase the number of lunges you do in the time frame,
Increase your likelihood of falling over, it becomes harder to practice great form the faster you go,
Breathe faster which means you increase your effort and HR, and
Burn (slightly) more energy (your weight stays the same, but your speed increases).
So what happens when you go slow for the 60 seconds is you:
Do a lower number of lunges,
Are more stable (although at an extreme slow you become unstable again),
Maintain moderate breathing,
Burn less energy,
Are able to be more mindful of the exercise, noticing micromovements and aches and pains as they come up,
Are able to adjust your core mid-movement with less fear of falling,
Have more mental capacity or focus for form, as it is not being taken away by speed,
You enjoy it more because you’re not exhausted (See the blog on effort for full explanation)
I love running fast, but I also love going slow. I think it's clear why anyone likes running fast, but for slow, it provides benefits that are often overlooked.
Go Slow to Improve Technique Faster
Think about learning a new dance move. The faster you go the worse you’ll be at first. There are caveats for seasoned dancers and this is the same for people with high levels of attunement with their body as they run. The general principle is, you go slow, get the movement, then speed up. As you speed up, you have to concentrate on the movement, but eventually it becomes natural.
Broken down, here are some of the benefits of jogging slowly:
Higher Control of Quality - Whenever you try to do a task fast, you literally have less time than doing that task at a slower pace. This means that you have less moments to focus on high quality form and efficiency. Said another way, when you go fast, it's harder to control the quality. If you want to build the skill of listening to your body, you’ll get more high quality practice doing it at a slower pace.
Better Focus and Awareness of Your Body - When you go fast your mind is being drained by high rates of exhaustion, mental noise and fatigue. This was discussed more in the last blog on effort. By going slow, you have a greater capacity to focus on your body, which also improves your Body Listening.
Better Adjusting - If you are getting higher quality time and better body listening, you have more focus and more time to make adjustments and listen for more feedback. Slow running is great for improving your form. This goes back to the three principles I talked about in the Perfect Form blog: Listen to your body, understand the feedback and make adjustments.
Build Your Secondary Muscles - Just like doing a plank, the longer you go for, the more it works your core. If your Primary Muscles (generally quads and calves) continuously get exhausted before the endurance of your Core gets tested, the secondary muscles (your core and stabilizing muscles) won’t be given the stress to build and become stronger.
So be mindful of what you’re trying to accomplish on this run. Are you working on your speed or are you working on your form? If you have a slow run scheduled anyways, pick one or two form tactics to play around with. Running slow is just as important as running fast.
Remember that the better your run form, the more efficient you will run which means you have more energy to push harder or run longer. Working on form can have tremendous long term benefits.
Your speed is a tool that you can adjust depending on your desired outcome
Going slow allows you to focus on technique
When your pace is slow you can focus on your ability to listen to your body, understand the feedback its giving you and then adjust your form to that feedback.
As your form gets improves you will run more efficiently in the long run
As you learn to slow down and work on your form, one of the key aspects to running efficiently is having a stable core: