For most amateur runners, it’s not all about speed. However, there is definitely a sense of pride in beating your previous time or in setting yourself a certain speed and then managing to stick to it. Lots of people wanting to improve their running speed simply train more and harder. Besides that, what else can a runner do to get faster? pjuractive has been pondering the challenge of running faster.
Running fast starts with the big toe
Let’s start with the feet – after all, they carry your bodyweight and so play an instrumental role in running. It can therefore be worth making your feet stronger. There are lots of different exercises that can help with this. Here are a few examples: Stand barefoot, feet pointing straight ahead and legs hip-width apart. Take a light dumbbell, a pilates ball, a rubber ball or something similar. Now reach upwards with your arms and stretch with your big toes and your calves, keeping your core abdominal muscles and pelvic floor tensed. Your feet and calves should do the work. This will help strengthen them. In another exercise, try to pick a hand towel, magazine or something similar up off the floor.
Besides the feet, the Achilles tendon is also important if you want to run quickly. To strengthen the Achilles, you can stand barefoot with the joint at the base of the big toe on the edge of a step, leaving the whole foot hanging over the edge behind. Hold on firmly to the handrail on both sides for safety. Then try to raise and lower the heel as far as possible, keeping the abdominal muscles tensed again. Repeat a few times, take a few steps and then do another two sets. To make the exercise more challenging, you can also place one foot behind the other calf and do the exercise on one leg.
The torso also deserves some attention for more speed
The core muscles and abdominal muscles also play a vital role in running and can even be the decisive factor for your speed. The stronger your core, the more power you can produce. You should therefore definitely work on strengthening your back. There are plenty of exercises for this and you should do these regularly. A few examples include forward and backward bends, or yoga poses and pose sequences (such as the sun salutation), as well as spiral stretches – either sitting or lying down. The caterpillar pose also stretches the lower back and the backs of the thighs. You can do the caterpillar pose either forward or backward: stand up straight and bend your upper body slowly forward until your hands touch the floor; then slowly walk your hands until you are in the push-up position, and from there walk your feet forward to meet your hands, taking small steps. All these exercises can help improve your speed.
A strong core helps your posture, while strong abdominal muscles and lower back muscles help with transmitting power. You should therefore train your abdominal muscles properly too, as well as training your core. There are nearly as many exercises for this as there are for strengthening your core muscles.
A flexible spine
The torso inevitably also includes the spine, and a flexible spine aids your mobility. To strengthen your spine, do the following exercises:
First, the pelvic lift: To do the pelvic lift, start by lying on your back with your legs hip-width apart and your belly button drawn in. Then, starting from the pubic bone, lift up off the floor one vertebra at a time, without go far enough to overstretch the thoracic portion of the spine. Then, on the exhale breath, start to lower yourself again slowly one vertebra at a time, leaving it right to the end to let your butt come back down to the floor. If you do this exercise with just one leg, it strengthens the gluteus and the rear thigh at the same time.
To mobilize the lumbar portion of the spine, lie on the floor with both arms outstretched and, keeping your legs together and bent at the knees, rotate your legs at the hips, first to one side and then to the other. You can twist your upper body in the opposite direction at the same time. Or rotate your hips to the right. Your left leg will then be on top. Now try to bring your left leg toward your right, outstretched arm and vice versa. You should also do some training on the thoracic portion of the spine. A fascia roll can be used for this and there are lots of different exercises you can do.
Improve your running posture and run faster
The mobilizing and strengthening exercises described here help you adopt a neutral position, achieve a straight posture and good alignment. As a result, you run more ergonomically and more efficiently and energy goes into propelling you forward rather than being used up in your joints. Don’t hunch your shoulders and do let your arms swing at your sides in synchrony with the opposite leg, not in front of your body as that slows your running speed. Keep your core muscles and extensor chain engaged and your feet tensed, especially the arches of your feet, and try to produce a nice, powerful push-off from the ground, keeping contact with the ground brief and landing softly. Some runners move to a long stride, while others increase the frequency.
And then there is… interval training
Try to get familiar with your own running speed and your pulse rate range. You should also try to do lots of basic running and endurance running, not just run at maximum speed all the time. To improve your speed, you can do some intensive interval running, alternating between sprinting at maximum speed and running more slowly in between. Repeat this a few times. It can also be a good idea to vary your running training. Some people set themselves time or distance targets. If you do what feels comfortable then that’s right for you.
For training to be successful, regeneration is just as important as the training itself. Listen to your body and respect it by working with it, not against it. That means not making it work constantly. It is essential to train at different intensities and do interval training, but it’s also vital to make sure you get enough sleep.
Anyone who works on themselves, sets themselves goals, tries to realize these goals and yet at the same time listens to their body will be able to improve their running speed. The exercises outlined here – and many others beside that work on the areas of the body discussed – can be valuable not just for runners but for all athletes.