It’s not all about distance – these tips will have you building explosive power in half the time.
Whether you’ve just taken up running or you’re prepping for your first marathon, improving your running speed is going to be high up the list. It’s a common goal among runners from all backgrounds and training goals.
If you normally log miles for distance, trying to increase your overall speed is going to be a VERY welcome change to your training program. Prepare to enjoy.
Here we go.
Once reserved for top athletes, interval training is now the go-to training option for everyone, from newbies to elite fitness buffs.
Interval training consists of mixing bursts of intense exercise and intervals of lighter activity as recovery. This training method is best described as a series of peaks and valleys – you go hard at the peaks and slow it down at the valleys.
The typical interval run is a mix of sprinting, jogging, and/or walking for recovery. The length and intensity of each period depends mainly on your fitness level and training goals.
For example, beginners should start with shorter sprints at mild intensity, whereas elite runners may design an interval routine that fits with their specific racing goals. How?
Start with a proper warm-up to prepare your body
Do five to 10 minutes of cardio-based movement, such as jogging or spinning, to get your heart rate and body temperature up. Next, perform a series of dynamic warm-up exercises for another five minutes. Think inchworms, squats, lunges, leg swings and arm swings.
Once you’re warmed up, sprint at 85-95% of your maximum power for 30 seconds, then jog or walk for one minute to recover.
Repeat the cycle for 15 to 20 minutes then finish it off with a five minute cool-down jog.
Want to build explosive strength and speed? Head to the hills.
The extra resistance of going up and down hills places a much higher demand on your body than running on a flat surface. I hope you’re ready.
Sure, this might not be your favourite thing to do, but here’s what you stand to gain by tackling more hills:
- Build better economical form
- Build more power than running on a flat surface
- Improved VO2 max.
- Increased stride power
- Improved running economy and efficiency
- Reduced impact forces on your muscles and joints thanks to working against gravity
You in? Here’s how to do hill reps right.
Find a hill that’s roughly 100-200m in length. Make sure the incline is hard but not too challenging that you won’t be able to keep good form throughout the climb.
Before you tackle the hill, perform a 10 to 15 minutes warm-up on flat terrain.
Once you’re ready, sprint up the hill at 85-95% of your maximum effort, then jog or walk down for recovery. Repeat the cycle eight to ten times, then finish it off with a 10-minute cool-down jog or walk.
But pace and form also matter on this one:
Try running up the hill at your 5K pace, or slightly faster, shooting for the amount of exertion throughout the climb. Make it your goal to push yourself out of your comfort zone, but don’t let your form go south. Keep a consistent effort up the hill.
Focus on the ground roughly 15 to 20 feet ahead of you – and avoid staring at your feet or gazing way up to the top of the hill, especially on steep inclines. This will help you keep your eyes on the prize.
As you get fitter, try tackling more challenging hills with a wider range of grades and lengths.
Also known as explosive or jump training, plyometrics are another great way to target your fast-twitch muscle fibres and build explosive speed even a Lamborghini driver would glance twice at.
Plyometric exercises consist of fast and powerful movements starting with an eccentric action – muscle lengthening – and ending up with a concentric action – muscle shortening. These are key for any speed training program.
And I’m not just talking out of anecdotal evidence—research actually backs this up, too.
A study, reported by the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, revealed that middle and long-distance runners who performed plyometric exercises for six weeks improved their 2400m race results by roughly 4%. That’s huge.
It might not seem like much, but it might also be the exact thing you need to achieve your next PB.
Use this list of examples (but this is entirely not exclusive) of plyometric exercises that work very well for improving speed:
- Box jumps
- Power cleans
- Squat jumps
- Standing long jumps
- Med ball tosses
- Frog jumps
- Plyo pushups
- 2-leg bound
- Depth jumps
- Box squats
Start by choosing a few of these exercises and adding them to either your post-run ritual or as part of your cross-training workouts.
Plyo training is technically more challenging and demanding, so it’s even more crucial that you perform them correctly to avoid injury and wasting your time.
I highly urge you to hire a coach or personal trainer to assess your technique or to film yourself, so you catch any mistakes.
Listen to your body
Training hard is key for success, but so is paying attention to your body and taking plenty of recovery when recovery is needed. Otherwise, you‘re asking for injury and burnouts.
As a general rule, follow hard workouts – think intervals and hill reps –with at least one or, ideally, two easier training days. Then, take a full day off training at least once a week.
In other words: Don’t chew more than you can swallow.
To know when you need rest, you need to know the signs. So, here are a few of the most common:
- Persistent aches and pains
- Chronic fatigue
- Irritability and mood swings
- Elevated heart rate.
- Loss of appetite
- Undesired weight loss
- Chronic dehydration
- Loss of performance
- Lack of sleep
- Sickness and the common flu
And that, folks, is it.
Your guide to improving your running speed. Incorporate these speedwork guidelines into your workout plan, then it’s a matter of time and practice. Just remember to keep track of everything and remember not to do too much too soon.