A recent study showed that regular speedwork will increase the level of human growth hormone in the blood, which will aid in recovery from strenuous workouts. Runners should start with short speed intervals and gradually increase them.
Human growth hormone is a chemical secreted by the pituitary gland that repairs bones and muscles for quicker recovery and helps break down fat for greater lean body mass. Some track runners inject it to gain that all-important edge—illegally. Now University of Virginia researchers have found that you can boost your natural levels of human growth hormone (HGH) simply by running fast. And it works.
In their study, 16 healthy, virtually untrained women gradually increased their training from 5 to 40 miles per week over a year’s time. Nine women ran six days per week below the speed at which large amounts of lactic acid begin to accumulate in the blood. The seven remaining women also trained six times per week, but three of their sessions were track workouts in which they ran intervals much faster.
After a year of training, both groups had increased their amounts of lean body mass. But by far the most impressive result of the study was a marked difference in HGH production between the groups. The training carried out by the first group didn’t affect their human growth hormone levels, whereas the runners who did speedwork nearly doubled the amounts of HGH in their blood. Their pituitary glands, which release HGH in sudden pulses or surges, were spitting out more growth hormone with each successive pulse.
Given these results, the scientists postulate that endurance runners who sensibly increase the quantity of their training at slower paces will increase lean body mass and metabolize fat more effectively. But doing sessions of speedwork will increase their HGH levels. This should help these runners recover more quickly from strenuous workouts and races. Older runners may even be able to fend off age-related declines in bone mass, because HGH stimulates the formation of new bony tissue.
Contrary to traditional theory, doing speedwork wouldn’t increase your risk of injury. In fact, faster runs could prevent injuries over time as the greater amounts of HGH produced by your pituitary gland might fortify your bones, muscles, tendons and ligaments that much more. Speedwork causes problems primarily when it is combined with high mileage or when it is added to a training program too quickly. Controlled doses of speed are another matter entirely.
To add speedwork to your training schedule, start off by inserting very short intervals within your normal training runs. Gradually increase the length of pickups to 30 seconds and do this three times a week. If you routinely do speedwork once a week, add pickups to two other training runs within the week. Insert several 100-meter surges into a steady-state run, for instance. Throw a couple of quarter-mile surges at 10-K race pace into one of your easy runs. Or replace an easy 3-mile run with a 2-mile warmup, two 400-meter intervals at 10-K race pace and a half-mile jog to cool down.
It’s all perfectly legal–and should prod the pituitary to produce more human growth hormone. What more could you ask for?