We’ve all been there before: your legs turn to lead, your lungs are burning, your heart is pounding and it feels like there is no physical way that your body can run any faster. When you cross the line and check your watch, you are disappointed with your time.
So how could you possibly run any faster? With the proper warm up, form drills, speed-specific workouts, strength and mobility work, recovery, and mental tactics you can increase your speed and reach new personal bests.
When you push your body to its limit, it reacts physiologically in defense response to the discomfort of running fast. These reactions can come in the form of oxygen deficit, inefficient muscle-fiber recruitment, a build-up of lactic acid, a feeling that your legs are on fire (!!!) and effort overload for your brain.
Though these are natural reactions for your body, there are ways to train the body and mind to handle the discomfort of reaching new speeds and adapting to harder efforts.
Improving your speed is not as simple as just running faster. There are many small changes that can be implemented into your training to run faster.
As with any run or hard effort, your body needs to warm up before asking it to run faster. There is a reason that the first rep of interval workouts sometimes feels the most difficult, and that is that your body needs to adapt to the increased effort by delivering more oxygen to your muscles.
With the proper warm-up, all of your muscles will be firing and ready to work on some faster running. If it takes you 10-15 minutes to feel loose and ready to go at the beginning of your workout, you most likely need to put in a little more prep work before your big effort. But if you do take the time to warm up before your run you’ll be that much more prepared for your workout.
Running at top speed requires a full-body effort. When your body gets tired, your form begins to fall apart, making your stride less efficient and slowing you down. Focusing on running with proper form will help you run faster and also prevent injury.
Proper running form goes all the way from your head to your toes. Your body should be aligned and your posture should be tall for an efficient stride. Your hips and shoulders should be working in conjunction to help you relax and allow all other parts to fall into place.
Once your body is aligned and activated, running faster will be easier and less likely to cause injury. Incorporate these running form drills into a warm up or during a stride-out session.
Let’s say your mileage is increasing and you are running every day, but you aren’t getting any faster. To be a faster runner, you need to do more than just run. Strength training is an often overlooked, yet critical component of any runner’s regiment. Having a strong core, strong glutes, mobile joints and overall body strength will improve your overall athleticism and lead to faster running.
Strength training goes well beyond heavy lifting or squatting a loaded barbell. By focusing your strength work on mobility and total body strength you can get stronger to run faster without putting on unnecessary body weight.
Jumping: Speed requires power. Jump Science research has shown that practicing jumping’ can positively affect overall athleticism and speed. Two great jumping exercises for gaining power are squat jumping and broad jumping. Squat jumps increase power in the hips, while broad jumps stabilize the feet, knees, and hips for forward motion.
Core: Strengthing your core will improve your form and posture, in turn opening up your lungs for more efficient breathing and faster running. The core is the center of gravity for your body. Runners often let their core slouch or twist when tired, which is why a strong core is essential when learning how to running faster.
Glute Strength: The glutes drive your stride and hold the power needed for speed. By targeting the glutes and working on making them stronger, you will prevent injuries and feel more efficient and powerful when running. Squats, step-ups, box jumps, burpees, and banded clamshells all work your glutes and will get them firing for your next speed session.
Incorporate these 5 speed-specific tune-ups into your training to improve speed.
To run at top speed, your body needs to be loose. Rolling out on a foam roller and stretching each muscle daily will prevent soreness and injury.
Focus on opening up your hips to allow for increased stride length. Speed is a combination of stride length x stride rate, so by opening up the hips, you are more capable of reaching top speed.
As always, sleep, hydration, and nutrition all play a role in keeping your body happy, healthy and primed to improve running speed.
Mental toughness plays a big role in running at speeds that are uncomfortable. When your legs feel heavy and the pace is uncomfortable it is easy to let negative thoughts creep in. Doubting your ability and wanting to back off the pace is tempting, but you often have more in the tank than you think and can run faster than you think possible.
Just as you need to build your physical strength to run faster, you also need to build mental strength. Mental toughness can be developed through the workouts and long runs in your training. Use these higher intensity runs as an opportunity to train your mind to learn how to run faster.