Improving Aerobic Ability: The Easy Run

Runners marching forward in a 2.1 mile fun run.

Not every run can be flung off at a heart-shattering intensity. Some runs need to feel calm, like bliss. Similar to the feeling some would get from sitting next to a river and watching it gently flow downstream. Everyone needs a break from hard workouts, otherwise you’ll burnout.

This is where your relaxed runs come in to allow your body some time to rest, while also preventing detraining from occurring. An easy run is just for this. However, though it may be called easy, and it may be at an easy pace, it drastically improves you as a runner.

Easy does not mean less effective. Your slow-twitch muscles improve, so every breath of air becomes even more precious as it becomes easier to use all of the oxygen. Easy runs give you the aerobic base, which without you can’t safely progress to the more intense runs. Simply put, without the base klicks provided by your easy runs, you can’t continue on to the bigger challenges in training, leading to decreased race performance. This is especially important when it comes to running a long-distance race such as a half-marathon or full-marathon; if you don’t have much volume racked up beforehand, your body will be shocked and incredibly prone to injury. This doesn’t sound like much fun to me.

Relaxed runs target your aerobic energy systems in your body, increasing mitochondria size and amount, along with improving heart stroke volume and oxygen intake. That’s not even the full list of benefits. Easy runs allow you to improve your endurance.

Don’t doubt the power of an easy run. They should not be neglected.

The easy run:

Most of your weekly volume (65%-85%) should come from your easy runs. Like the long run, these are not just empty klicks or a waste of time. An easy run, in general, is run at an easy pace. This is completely up to you, and how you feel. This easy pace could vary day-to-day, depending on a wide range of influences. Weather, temperature, emotions, diet, and soreness all play a factor. In general, avoiding a goal pace and instead running at however you feel like you should is what you should do. It’s all about what you feel like you want to put into the day – as long as it’s relatively easy.

If you don’t have much volume racked up beforehand, your body will be shocked and incredibly prone to injury.

The more days of the week you run easy, the more time you have to recover and work on your endurance. Blood flow from the running helps keep your muscles pliant and prevent them from going stiff, flushes waste products out quicker, and also carries carbohydrates to your muscles to revitalize them. In fact, running more every week can reduce the physical soreness you feel after hard runs, making it easier to continue training. The more runs you do, the less sore you will feel.

Although before you start pumping out an easy run every chance you get, keep in mind that running 7 days a week has more injury risk than running 4 days a week. Another note to consider is that hard runs and long runs still play a key role, no one type of run is perfect for covering all ground.

Easy runs target your aerobic energy systems. The focus is purely on slow-twitch and on intermediate muscle groups. If you like numbers, easy pace should be around 1-2 minutes off of your 10k pace. Don’t have a 10k yet? Two minutes off of your 5k pace works just as well, in fact that pace is a great training pace for 5k races.

If you like numbers, easy pace should be around 1-2 minutes off of your 10k pace.

However, pace isn’t always king. Run whatever feels comfortable. Perhaps you’re feeling ill, or your legs feel like logs, and you just have to slow down. Or maybe you feel great and can push ahead a little faster with the same effort. As long as you’re listening to your body and feel comfortable, you’re stellar.

Choosing the distance:

For those looking to reach their first 5k run, we recommend taking it a bit at a time. All of your training should be easy runs, take it one step at a time. Push yourself every few days, and remember to allow yourself to recover.

After the 5k milestone, an ocean of possibilities opens up. First of all, easy runs can be anywhere from 4k-10k, or even more, depending on what you’re training for. In general, a good goal is to make the easy run last at least 30 minutes to really rack up the benefits. If you run easy at 8:00/km, then 4k-7k is right for you. If you run easy at 5:00/km, 5k-8k would be something more beneficial for a speedier runner.

For track athletes: Every athlete needs an easy run, even those who mostly use fast-twitch muscles. Anywhere from 5k-8k will benefit a runner on the track, and those dedicated to mid-to-long-distance events might hang around close to 8k for the aerobic benefits.

For 5k runners to half marathoners: Easy runs should be at least 4k and push up from there. Therefore, more experienced 5k runners should set goals for their easy runs to be around 8k. Half marathoners should try for at least that as well, since half marathoners will find a lot of benefit from running 6k-9k for their easy runs.

For marathoners: Similar to half marathoners, marathoners should run easy for distances around 7k-9k. Both half marathoners and marathoners require a huge amount of endurance and easy runs provide the aerobic training they need.

Run and realize the benefits:

The easy run is a treat. It’s at an easy pace, it allows you to relax, and provides many improvements to the aerobic system. These runs are short enough that they can be done one after another without too much damage. Here are the benefits:

  • Strengthens the slow-twitch and intermediate leg muscles.
  • Aids pace control.
  • Improves aerobic efficiency.
  • Increases the heart’s stroke volume.
  • Increases capillary growth in muscle fibers.
  • Aids in the speed of recovery.
  • Raises mitochondria numbers and size.
  • Flushes waste products out.
  • Increases running economy through volume.

Quite a few of the benefits are similar to a long run, though the long run has a greater magnitude of these benefits. The problem with the long run is the great amount of damage it causes – and an easy run helps the body rebuild.

Easy runs are the foundation of every runners aerobic base and training, and with good reason.

Caleb Thompson is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to,, and other Amazon stores worldwide.

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