As a runner, you probably only have one goal. Well, besides finishing the race, you are also trying to run faster to beat your last posted time in that 5K race or marathon. However, the chances are your body is used to running the same track or roads at the same speed every so often. And when you want to kick up your speed a notch, you find yourself stuck in the same gear. This is when speed training will benefit you greatly, allowing you to cut time off your run or get from point A to point B quicker.
In order to be able to run faster, your leg muscles have to contract quicker and the brain and nervous systems have to adapt to these quicker movements simultaneously, in an efficient manner. As long as you are performing some type of speed training consistently, your muscles and nervous system will remember that feeling of moving fast, so you won’t have to re-learn the process all over again.
The three main factors for improving your speed are interval running, strength work, and technique. As long as you continue to work on these on a regular basis, you should see an improvement on your running speed.
Implementing weight-lifting and plyometric exercises into your speed training will allow you to be explosive when you need to be during your run. Most of the exercises should only be done in small sets, around 2-3. Remember that good form is the key, and try not to do these more than twice a week to give yourself proper resting time. And if you do not have access to a gym or any weights, there are always alternative exercises you can perform that have the same benefit.
Deadlifts – Be sure to use the proper technique and form when performing deadlifts. Grab the bar with an overhand grip, and don’t bend your elbows. With knees slightly bent, bend at the hips and lower your torso until it’s parallel to the floor. Since you are not trying to gain muscle mass, aim to do 12-15 reps (not heavy weight).
Squats – Hold the barbell across your back with an overhand grip. Bend your knees, keep your head and chest high, and lower yourself until your thighs are at least parallel to the floor. Push back up to the starting position. If you are more advanced with squats, you can get lower during your rep to increase the intensity of the workout.
Box Jumps – Balancing yourself on one foot, pretend that you are jumping around an imaginary box as fast as you can. Jump to the left, then right, then forward, and lastly backward. You can swing your arms to help give you momentum and balance. After completed, switch legs and repeat the steps.
Tuck Jumps – Standing with feet shoulder-width apart and your hands out in front of you, jump as high as you can while bending your knees up to your chest. Try to make knee-to-hand contact while in the air. Repeat the jumps as fast as you can for about thirty seconds.
Concentric Box Jumps – Find a solid box or bench and put it about a foot away from you. From a seated position, throw your arms forward and jump onto the box with both feet. Step down and repeated the process.
Frog Squat Jumps – There is a reason why the word frog is in this exercise. Go into a squatting positions with your toes turned out, and chest up. Next, leap forward as if you were a frog, and try landing softly on your feet. The key to this is to try and leap as high as possible, and to repeat quickly.
Alternating Lunge Jumps – Start in a lunge position, and then jump as high as possible while switching to the lunge position with the other leg forward. Try to focus more on the height of the jump rather than speed.
Push-up To Squat – Begin in the pushup position, and quickly push yourself up using your hands. As you are rising, tuck your knees to your chest and land on your feet just under your body. You will be in a squatting position. Jump back down to push-up position and repeat.
Once you’ve developed enough explosion and muscle from strength training and plyometrics, it’s time to start running. When performing intervals, always be sure to warm-up and stretch first to prevent any injuries. Usually a half mile jog will help loosen up your muscles and keep your heart rate going.
Track – For starters, begin with two 100-meter runs that include 30 meters running at top speed. Also add about 2-3 minutes of jogging in between. As you get faster and build endurance, gradually increase the length of the run and the amount of times you run. For example, you can do later do four 150-meter runs with 50 meters of sprinting at full speed. Try to make your goal somewhere around 10 repeats of 300 meters, with only one minute of jogging.
Hills – Running on an incline will add more intensity to your workouts and make things easier on your knees. Try running up the hill at your normal race speed and then lightly jogging down it. Repeat this 3 times and then gradually build up. You only need to do this once a week, and try to mix up the hills you are running up, have some steeper than others.
An often over-looked aspect to speed training is perfecting your running technique. You should be constantly correcting yourself and focusing on your form. If you aren’t, then keep these pointers in mind the next time you are practicing.
Long Strides – Longer strides translates to faster running. Focus on turning your feet over faster and extending your stride in the rear. Your foot should strike under your hip and then extend out behind you, giving your steps more force. It is a misconception that the height of the stride is the key to being faster. The truth is, the more powerful your foot pushes off the ground, the faster your feet can move, therefore making you run faster.
Body Control – Make sure your head is upright and your arms are bent at about a 90 degree angle at your sides. Lightly cup your hands as if you were holding an egg. Keep your upper body steady and look straight forward while running. Let your arms swing from the shoulders. If you watch professional runners, you will notice that they are very stiff while running in stride. It takes upper body strength and control to keep your body in that position while running at top speed.
Breathing – In order to get the maximum amount of oxygen to your muscles, you should be breathing through both your nose and mouth while inhaling and exhaling. If you are not used to breathing in through your nose, now is the time to practice. Also, developing a breathing pattern will also help you run faster. For example, you can breathe in for one to two steps, and out for one to two steps.
Keep in mind that eating healthy is just as important as your fitness training if you want to be faster. Try not to over-exert your muscles as your body needs ample time to recover. Lastly, stay focused on your goals, push yourself, be consistent, and you should see results in the near future.