Proven Ways To Improve Your Running Speed:
Remember when you were a kid and you told all your friends that your new shoes made you run really fast? The real secrets to running fast are a bit more involved (though examining your shoe choice is a good place to start). The most important things to focus on are running form and sports conditioning exercises. There’s also a psychology to running faster that involves your attitude toward running.
- Choose The Correct Shoes For Your Run Conditions
Choose appropriate shoes for the terrain. Running on a racetrack requires racing flats, which are very light and quite flexible. Even distance runners will factor in the weight of a shoe during the last miles of an ultramarathon when they are fatigued and every ounce carried becomes a burden. But, the fact that the foot muscles fatigue and that they are racing on uneven surfaces may lead them to consider a supportive shoe with cushioning and heel lift for protection of the Achilles tendons.
Sore feet will slow you down, so consider the fit of the shoe, how light it is and whether you have a foot type that needs more construction in the shoe. For example, people with flat feet will be more comfortable in a shoe that allows them to wear custom orthotics or at least prevents hyperpronation through a built up medial sole and a stiff heel counter. Saucony and New Balance offer a variety of supportive shoe gear that comes in a choice of widths.
- Work on Explosiveness and Upper Body Strength
Cross training improves performance because it increases strength. But it also helps prevent overuse injuries by resting the major muscles used in running.
Years of research have proven that plyometric exercises provide the most strength gains in the shortest amount of time. Powerful, explosive movements are useful in race starts, in pushing up a hill, and in the kick as you head into the home stretch toward the finish line. Box jumps, burpees and skipping are examples of effective plyometric exercises. The idea is to quickly flex and extend at the hip and knees, as you would during running. Skipping can emphasize either the height off the ground or the distance travelled forward. Plyometrics will improve power and speed in the lower extremities.
Strength training should focus on the upper body and core. It is not necessary to do countless squats, lunges and calf raises to strengthen the leg muscles. These will be strong from running. You should be resting these large muscle groups when you’re not running. Crunches with slight cross over as you aim the elbow to the opposite knee and peel the shoulder blades off the floor are useful for building core strength that will improve running form. Arm running in a stationary position works the shoulders, upper back and core muscles. Elbows should be bent to 90 degrees and should move smoothly right next to the ribs without flaring. You can use light hand weights. This exercise increases the rate of your arm swing, which translates to faster foot motion, better stability and affects stride length.
For cardio strength training, try low or no-impact exercises such as cross country skiing, swimming, cycling (seated) and rowing. Even running in water is ok since the water provides buoyancy and resistance.
- Take Breaks
Olympian, multiple marathon champion and world-renowned running guru, Jeff Galloway, coaches people to marathon performances by encouraging them to take walk breaks. You don’t have to run a whole marathon to win the race—he’s proven it. Walking actually rests the large muscle groups used in running so that you can go farther for much longer with less pain and fewer injuries. The idea is to use walking as a way of saving your body so you can enjoy years of sports activity.
- Watch Your Running Form
Galloway coaches the importance of good form: keep the chest up, the hips forward and push off with power. Hips should not be behind you as you lean into running. If you imagine you’re a puppet with a string attached to your head, you don’t crane your neck forward; it relaxes the neck and shoulders. This also keeps you from overstriding, which tends to lock the knees, overstretches the hamstrings painfully and causes a breaking motion at heel strike. Popliteal swelling (behind the knee) can result from overstriding. So concentrate on keeping the knees bent slightly throughout your running gait.
Minimize the effects of gravity by staying low to the ground; in other words, don’t bounce up and down. It wastes a lot of energy (which should be used instead for forward propulsion) and it increases painful shock forces in the feet and legs that travel all the way up the kinetic chain.
Keep your arms close to your body and move them in one plane. In distance running, less upper arm movement prevents chafing and unnecessary shoulder strain. It also diminishes nerve irritation because there’s less jarring of the limbs. However, Kinetic Revolution running coach, James Dunne, states fast arms translate to faster feet. This is especially evident in sprinting. Emphasize the backward thrust of the elbow.
- Cadence is King
Fast runners tend to take more steps per minute. They have a shorter stride because of this. A short stride also tends to relax the calf and hamstring muscles, which allows them to run more comfortably for a longer period of time since the muscles don’t fatigue. “Fast up, fast down” was Olympic great Jesse Owens’ mantra.
Time your cadence by counting how many times your right foot hits the ground in one minute, then multiply that by two to get your cadence. Running to a metronome with a preset beat can help improve speed. That’s why many runners like listening to music at specific beats per minute. It helps set their running cadence.
Galloway notes that if you’re huffing and puffing and you can’t carry on a conversation while running, you’re probably going too fast.
- Time Yourself
The only way to know if you’re improving your speed is to time yourself on a given stretch of track, the way a speedometer would. A simple stopwatch works just fine with the help of a friend. It also works on a treadmill. But if you’re running a course that’s variable over a certain amount of time, then a wearable device (or a speedometer bracelet) that tracks your position and speed is a better option. Running watches will give you split times, lap times, distance, calories burned, heart rate, cadence and even vertical oscillation (depending on the watch). If you’re willing to carry your smart phone and wear earbuds, there are apps that will do the same things, such as Strava, Endmondo, Nike+, Runtastic and Runkeeper.
- Run With A Buddy
Running with others at the same fitness level not only provides camaraderie, it’s motivating. And when you’re motivated, you can do things you never thought were possible—like finish a grueling marathon or sprint up a hill. Friends who share your interest in running are instrumental in improving your performance. They boost your self-confidence, positively influence your mood and goals, such as improving your speed.