Guest post by David Dack
Whether you’re a beginner runner or have been around the block for a few years, sooner or later, you’re going to want to improve your running speed. In fact, in the world of running, the fastest runners are often the most successful.
However, increasing running speed is easier said than done. It requires trying out different tactics and methods. That’s where today’s post comes in handy.
If you want to make yourself a faster runner, incorporate the following six training strategies to your training program, and see your performance improve as a result.
Are you ready?
Let’s lace up and dig in.
A form of high-intensity interval training, interval running involves short and intense bursts of running with jogging or walking breaks between. It can be described as a series of peaks and valleys, with more intense running at the peaks and jogging or walking at the valleys.
How hard you run depends on the interval length, but the rule is to push yourself as hard as you can without losing form for the duration of the effort. So if you’re doing 400m reps, you’re running at max effort for the entire length.
Here’s how to proceed. Kick off your interval run with a 10-dynamic warm-up. Jog for five minutes, then do a set of dynamic exercises, such as butt kicks, leg swings, inchworms, deep squats, lunges. This should get your heart rate up and body ready for intense exercise.
Perform your first interval at 80 percent of your max speed for 45 to 60 seconds, then recover for one minute. Repeat the cycle for 15 to 20 minutes, then finish it off with a 5-minute cool-down jog.
The added resistance of tackling the hills puts a much higher demand on your body than running on flat terrain, which translates to more fitness adaptations. Hill training can also promote more economical form, improve VO2 max, and build more power and strength than running on flat surfaces.
Here’s how to do them. Locate a hill that’s roughly 150 to 200m in length if possible with the incline enough to be a challenge, but not to the point where your form goes south.
Warm up properly by running on a flat surface for 10 to 15 minutes. Then, run up the hill for about 45 to 60 seconds at 85 to 95 percent of your maximum effort. Repeat the cycle seven to ten times.
Form matters, too. Stay relaxed as you climb while gazing straight ahead, keep your shoulders down, imagining that the road rises to meet you.
Also, shoot for the same effort as when you climbed up the hill.
Your running technique is a critical factor in determining your running speed and overall performance.
In fact, taking your speed to the next level may come to perfecting your form. Here are the main form of cues to help achieve a faster pace:
Improve your posture. Good running form involves keeping your back flat, head high, and shoulders down. Instead of staring at your feet or looking back to check the competition, gaze ahead with your head centered between your shoulders.
Keep it relaxed. Engage your core while keeping the rest of your body relaxed, especially your face, neck, shoulders, and hips. Move forward with ease.
Keep a quick and short stride. Avoid lengthening your stride—as in reaching forward with your foot, which can result in overstriding, which limits your speed and may increase injury risk.
Land right. Hit the ground with your foot landing under the hip. Keep your foot strikes soft and springy.
Although lifting weights may seem counterintuitive to most runners, research shows that it can actually help crank up the pace.
Here’s what strength training will do for you:
Improved force production. Improving strength reduces the relative intensity of muscle contractions performed during running. You’ll be able to stride with more power the stronger you get.
Improved technique. Strengthening your main running muscles, as well as your core, will help build and keep good form, which translates into greater efficiency.
Improved fast muscle fiber growth. Your fast-twitch muscle fibers are in a change of powerful and quick movement, such as kicking at the end of a race or sprinting up a steep hill. Research shows that these fibers are best to develop with strength training—the more intense, the better.
Reduced fatigue. Getting stronger will help you push through fatigue and fight off hitting the wall during the later stages of a race or a tough workout.
But you have to opt for the right moves. Here are the exercises you need:
- Back squats
- Front squats
- SB hamstring curls
Another important factor that determines your speed is your running cadence. Cadence, or leg turnover, refers to the number of steps you take in a minute of running.
A faster cadence, as research shows, can result in improved running economy, faster running, and time to exhaustion.
To determine your cadence, count how many times your right foot hits the ground in one minute then multiply that by two to get your total turnover rate. Beginner runners usually have a leg turnover of roughly 160 to 170 per minute. If that’s your case, then it’s about time to improve it.
Listen to your Body
When you run, especially when you perform high-intensity workouts, you create microtears in your muscles. The best way to get those micro-tears to heal is by rest.
Ignore your body’s needs of recovery, and you’ll run your it into the ground. Not only does overtraining take a toll on your athletic performance, but it also negatively impact your health and overall well being.
So how do you know it’s time for downtime? Experiencing the following symptoms should be a clear sign.
- Chronic pains and aches
- Chronic sickness
- Unwanted weight loss
- Irritability and mood swings
- Poor sleep
If you experience more than a few of the above symptoms, you might need a few days completely off the training wagon. Otherwise, proceed at your own risk.
There you have it. To improve your running speed, maybe even smoke the competition, try incorporating these speedwork strategies to your workout routine. Then it’s just a matter of practice. The rest is just details, as the saying goes.
What about you? Do you have any foolproof speedwork tips? I’d love to hear from you in the comments section.
In the meantime, thank you for dropping by.
David Dack is an established fitness blogger and running expert. When he’s not training for his next marathon, he’s doing research and trying to help as many people as possible to share his fitness philosophy. Check his blog Runners Blueprint for more info.