Regular runners are constantly clocking their running stats. And if you are someone who loves to run or are doing it to keep fit, you know how important it is to know how far you can run and how fast you can run. Entire businesses like Fitbit are built around the growing passion for running. But what happens when you simply can’t seem to break the ceiling on your running speed? Is there a safe or right way to work up to a better pace?
Not Built For Speed?
According to researchers, human beings as a species aren’t really built for great speed. That’s why sprinting isn’t second nature to most, while long-distance running that tests endurance may actually be easier. Some suggest that this capability for endurance running might have developed millions of years ago and played a role in how the human body evolved as well. What is also clear is that we are nowhere in the league of quadrupeds when it comes to sprinting.1
Get Your Technique Right
How you run is just as important as how fast your legs move. Performance enhancement coaches like Vern Gambetta who coined the famous acronym PAL (short for posture, arm action, leg action) suggest focussing on these three aspects of running to improve speed and performance.2
- Don’t slouch or hunch – this kills momentum and slows your speed.
- Getting the right arm action is important, so be sure to keep elbows at a 90-degree angle with the hands coming up to your face as you run. When you lower your hand, let it go down almost like you mean to tuck it into your trouser pocket.
- Stride length has been identified as a key factor, and short quick steps which may seem like they are helping you go faster are actually counterproductive. Aim at maximizing power and force as you hit the ground with longer strides. Feel the extension on your back leg from the hip down to your ankle and use that to drive yourself forward faster. If you try to stretch further using that front leg, you may end up hitting the ground in front of your center of gravity and will lose speed.
Build Up Muscle Strength
The strength of your muscles plays a key role in determining how fast you can run. One study of male sprinters investigated the force-time characteristics at the acceleration stage of the beginning of a sprint. The findings showed that the speed with which the sprinters ran at the start was heavily influenced by the muscle strength of the runner.3
Don’t Focus On Faster Leg Movements, Focus on Ground Force
Another interesting insight for those trying to build running speed is that you get to a faster top running speed by increasing ground force. Surprisingly, it is not quicker leg movements that can help you run faster. When you run, you apply a certain amount of force to the ground, and this is what can make the difference to pace, not how quickly you are able to bring your feet and limbs back up in the air.4
Exercise to Help Improve Speed
Trainers suggest three to five sets of heavy sled drags over distances of 10 to 15 yards as a good way to improve acceleration. Drive your front knee forward as powerfully as you can, while ensuring the back leg sees triple extension (hip, knee, and ankle plantar). After this, drive the front foot into the ground downwards and push yourself forward using a propelling force rather than having to pull yourself. Be sure to take three-minute rests. You can also get your hip extension going by doing a few sets of standing triple jumps.
Do eccentric and isometric exercises like bent knee hip thrusts with a bench or ball for building hamstring strength. About 10 to 15 reps done in three sets is ideal. Ham raises or glute raises are also a good exercise to add to your workout.
|↑1||Bramble, Dennis M., and Daniel E. Lieberman. “Endurance running and the evolution of Homo.” Nature 432, no. 7015 (2004): 345-352.|
|↑2||Patel, Brijesh. “Greased lightening.” The Boston Sports Medicine and Performance Group (2010).|
|↑3||Mero, Antti. “Force-time characteristics and running velocity of male sprinters during the acceleration phase of sprinting.” Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport 59, no. 2 (1988): 94-98.|
|↑4||Weyand, Peter G., Deborah B. Sternlight, Matthew J. Bellizzi, and Seth Wright. “Faster top running speeds are achieved with greater ground forces not more rapid leg movements.” Journal of applied physiology 89, no. 5 (2000): 1991-1999.|