We are all looking for ways to make this our best running season yet, especially now that in-person races are back in full swing. Whether you are training for a mile race or marathon, take heart: you really can improve your personal best with the right training. Using these eight simple steps, you will be well on your way to your best performance yet on the track or trail. So let's get started — it's time to run faster!
Prepare Well - Warm Up and Stretch
One of the first things you can do to improve your running speed is to prepare properly. This is doubly important since safety should always be a top priority when increasing your running speed. Start with a warm-up jog, dynamic stretches, and even drills like high-knees — these will help wake up your muscles and get them ready for the run. See this great article by Mario Fraoli on the best warm up routine for speed days. Additionally, it's important to stretch after completing your run; this will reduce the risk of injury while helping you stay flexible and improving performance. The Run Experience gives a great and simple stretch routine that is easy to accomplish and can get you on your way in less than 10 minutes.
Work On Your Technique
If you’re looking to increase your turnover and running speed, pay attention to improving your technique. This includes things like body posture, stride length, and arm motion — all of which play into how quickly and efficiently you move when running. Focusing on keeping your back straight and tall, driving with your arms, and focusing on proper foot strike will help ensure that each step you take moves you closer to your goal.
While technique may be something you can improve on your own, your best bet for improving your running technique is to work with a certified running coach or physical therapist who has expertise in running form. You can find some great coaches and PTs on Training Block, or, if none are in your local area, email us at the “Find Me An Expert” link on our home page and we will find the best person for you in your area.
Take It Easy: Run Your Slow Days Slower
It might sound counterintuitive, but running your slow days slower is instrumental for ultimately getting faster. This is because running slower builds the aerobic system, promotes capillary and mitochondrial development, and, most importantly, allows your body to recover and ultimately prepare for the next speed session or race. We recommend aiming to run easy by feel: meaning, you do not look at the pace you are running but instead focus on running at a conversational pace.
When in doubt, remember this: it is nearly impossible to run an easy day too easy, but all too often athletes run their easy day too hard and lose the gains they could have made. So turn that watch around on your easy day and focus on a nice leisurely pace.
But Add In Strides!
Strides are a quick and easy add-on to regular run days that ultimately pack a big training punch. Aim for 5 - 10 strides at the end of your run, sprinting up to 10 - 20 seconds at a time with a couple of minutes of recovery in between. These strides should not feel taxing, but instead give your legs some turnover and a nice reminder of speed that will serve you well on race day.
Increase Your Leg Strength
Leg strength and power contribute to how fast you can run. Leg strength can be worked on in the weight room or with exercises like squats and lunges. You should focus specifically on exercises that strengthen the hips, glutes, quads, calves, and hamstrings. Stronger legs means more power and a higher top speed. Practicing good form is key — make sure you’re using proper posture and breathing when lifting weights to get the most out of your exercise time. We recommend lifting heavier weights 1-2x a week.
A strength coach who has running expertise is a great person to work with. There are some strength coaches that will work with you one on one, and others that provide comprehensive online plans. Find what works best for you, but make sure to regularly lift those heavy weights.
Mix It Up – Train With Intervals, Fartleks & Hill Sprints
Interval training is a great way to run faster in a short amount of time. Interval training involves alternating between high-intensity running, like sprints, and rest or recovery periods. Fartleks are a type of interval with less structure – as you run, you pick up the pace for a certain distance or length of time ahead before returning to your regular pace. Hill sprints are another great way to improve speed — use an incline (or hill) to build strength and power as you work your way up and repeat several times. Finally, tempo workouts – or intervals at moderate speed – can also help increase leg turnover and speed.
Add Plyometrics to Your Routine
Plyometrics are explosive, jump-based exercises that can help improve coordination and agility, as well as increase speed. They involve quickly moving from a deep squat or bent knee position to an explosive jump or hop. Plyometric exercises can be done with just your body weight, require no equipment, and won’t take long to complete — making them a great way to squeeze in exercise when you’re short on time. Popular plyometric exercises include box jumps, single leg jumps, tuck jumps and clap pushups.
Work With Experts
Lastly, we believe that when you work with experts, you will see the best results. While that means a running coach, it also means other experts that can help you get faster, in surprising ways! Here are some lesser known truths of training:
Mental toughness is the largest, yet most undertrained, component of training. This video does a great job of talking about what truly limits us: our muscle or our mind. We recommend everyone work with a mental performance coach or sport psychologist to work on mental toughness and self-regulation during performance. Of course, you can find one on Training Block.
Use these tips to make this your best training cycle yet!