Tempo Running: What It Is and Why It’s Beneficial 

A female jogging in the bank near the river in Kyoto, Japan.Women in early 20s

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Long-distance runs, interval training, hill runs, and recovery runs are all effective forms of cardio to have in your repertoire. But if your sights are set on smashing that 10K, attempting a marathon, building on your running speed and strength, or simply introducing variety into your workouts, tempo runs may a worthy addition to your workout routine.

Performed at a steady effort level, tempo runs can improve your running endurance without overexerting yourself. Read on to discover exactly what tempo running is, the benefits, and how to get started.

What is Tempo Running?

The goal of tempo running is to build up your speed in order to run for longer stretches and at a faster pace. This type of running should not feel intense, rather it's a slightly slower pace than your race day goal. The goal is to inch toward reaching your lactate threshold, meaning your effort level is somewhere between aerobic and anaerobic metabolism.

Simply put, tempo runs should be performed at a pace that you can sustain slightly easier than the pace you're aiming for on race day.

Benefits of Tempo Runs

Tempo runs are helpful when training for an upcoming race or if you want to improve your running speed and distance. Research has also found tempo running to have mental and physical benefits.

Improves Mental Endurance

Running can have its barriers and challenges for many, but evidence suggests that overcoming these obstacles builds mental endurance. A review of literature on the relationship between running and mental health found that the sport plays a positive role in depression and anxiety disorders, as well as boosting mood, which can enhance your mental endurance in the longer term.

Some of the studies found that runners with higher self-identity had lower levels of depression, suggesting a positive association between self-esteem and psychological coping.

Increases Overall Speed

An accumulation of lactic acid in the muscles can cause fatigue and soreness, leading to a reduced speed or exercise output. Tempo running helps you develop a higher anaerobic or lactate threshold, which in the long term will help you run faster due to less of a build-up of lactic acid slowing you down.

Builds Cardio Endurance

Tempo runs can help your body adapt to the demands of cardiovascular exercise, with research finding an increase in aerobic capacities for those following a specific program, over an extended time.

By improving your endurance, you will also increase your VO2 max, which measures the maximal level of oxygen your body can utilize during exercise. When your VO2 max threshold rises, so should your level of endurance—an indicator of overall fitness.

Can Improve Focus & Mood

Even short spells of exercise can boost mental endurance and toughness, so imagine what a 20-40 minute tempo run can do for you? Running to clear your head is a real phenomenon, backed by a recent study on the benefits of moderate running. It found this type of workout not only has mood-boosting effects and enhanced arousal levels compared to a non-running control group, but also promotes cognition.

Tempo runs are also helpful for developing the mental toughness and stamina needed for racing, as you will have practice running at a pace that's outside of your comfort zone.

How to Start Tempo Running

Whatever race or distance goal you have in mind, tempo runs are an essential part of any training program, especially if you want to set a personal record on your race times. Remember, Tempo running is about improving your VO2 max by increasing your lactate threshold, to build up your endurance and speed over time.

Your tempo run should feel difficult, but not impossible, sticking to a steady rhythmic speed.

Here's a simple guide to get you started:

  • Warm-up: As with all workouts, make sure your muscles are warmed up before increasing your speed. Aim for 10 to 12 minutes or about 1 mile of easy-paced running.
  • Speed it up a notch: After you’ve warmed up, increase the speed to your tempo running pace; your breathing should remain even and consistent.
  • Tempo run: The tempo-paced running portion of your workout should last about 20 to 40 minutes, and should feel natural as you settle into a rhythm.
  • Cooldown: Bring your pace and heart rate down by slowing to a light jog and then a leisurely walk for about 10 minutes. You can add some stretching or yoga after your run for a thorough cool-down.

A few tips to consider are tracking your running speed for a better indication of your pace and to set a benchmark for improvement.

Studies have also found that listening to tempo music can positively influence your training load, especially for endurance training and low-intensity exercise. This is due to the effect of music on the entire brain, including emotional responses, coordination, and a rhythmic pattern that can help to organize your movements.

Tempo runs can be mentally challenging, so try some of these tips for digging deeper to get through.

Safety Tips

Whether you're pounding the treadmill inside or running in the great outdoors, safety and injury prevention is crucial. Make sure you know where you're headed at all times and keep your cellphone handy in case you need to change the route. On uneven terrain, watch your footing for loose rocks or slippery surfaces that can easily cause an ankle twist or sprain.

It's also essential to dress appropriately for the weather, layering up when it's cold and dressing in cooler clothing, such as shorts and t-shirts, when it's warmer—as well as applying the SPF if the sun is out. It's also important to avoid becoming dehydrated by running during peak hours of the day in summer when sun rays are strongest.

If you feel faint, dizzy, experience a stitch, or simply are out of breath during your tempo run, stop immediately, coming to a walking pace to cool down the muscles and ease back into a steady heartbeat rhythm. Tempo runs should feel challenging, but not too intense—use common sense if something feels off.

A Word From Verywell Fit

Tempo running can help improve your endurance, speed, and distance over time, and is an effective form of cardio with both mental and physical benefits. Most important is to listen to your body and stop the workout if you experience any aches and pains. Avoiding injury, regardless of the type of running you practice, is the key to progressing in your workouts.

If you do suffer from a running-related injury, speak with a health care professional for the best advice on a treatment plan and moving forward.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is a good tempo for running? 

    Start by calculating your running time for one mile at a comfortable pace. From there, you can save a playlist that mimics this pace as beats per minute (BMP). As an example, a 10-minute mile would require workout music at 150 BMP. Many music apps offer set playlists for various running speeds.

  • Do tempo runs make you faster? 

    As your VO2 max improves, so will your anabolic threshold, which will help you run faster in the long term. There are many ways to run faster, but for tempo runs, it's all about the pace. You want to maintain a comfortably hard speed, whilst remaining in control of your breathing. Your body will soon adapt and become capable of running faster over time.

  • What is the difference between tempo and threshold? 

    The terms tempo runs and threshold are often used interchangeably, but they are different from one another. Tempo runs help your body clear out lactate as fast as it produces it, meaning you can run for longer. Your threshold pace, faster than a normal steady run, is when your body is unable to clear the lactic acid as quickly as it builds. Therefore, tempo runs can improve your VO2 max which helps more oxygenated blood reach the muscles.

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6 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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