It’s the one question many runners want the answer to… “How do I improve my speed on the
road/track or trails? "The truth is, there isn’t one simple answer, but rather a range of factors which all contribute to better running form and enhanced leg speed and acceleration."
Stride Length and Cadence
In the book, Developing Speed by the National Strength and Conditioning Association, the authors discuss two factors that determine running speed, which are “…Stride cadence (the number of strides taken per second) and stride length (the distance travelled by each stride). ”An effective stride length is generated by pushing off the ground and propelling forward, rather than reaching forward with your legs to pull yourself forward. When it comes to achieving optimal stride length, as well as maximal speed- the way you push off the ground is important.
It’s also noted, that to improve your cadence and leg speed, the focus should be on shortening
ground contact (the time spent on the ground with each stride), rather than focusing on just cycling the legs faster.
In addition to your stride length and cadence, there is a lot you can do to run faster and reach your full potential, and no, you don’t have to have Usain Bolt's genetic makeup!
Here are 6 more ways to improve your SPEED
Work on your running form
A few simple exercises, also known as running drills, can help to improve the connection between your brain and legs and make you a more efficient runner. Running drills have also been shown to help improve balance, agility, and coordination.
Some great running drills to do before a race or hard effort include:
US-based physical therapist, life-long runner and running coach, Douglas Wisoff believes that the hips are the powerhouse in running and play a crucial role in correct running form and efficiency. To be the source of the power and to help minimise the risk of inury, the hips must be mobile within a proper range and stable, to not lose efficiency, he says.
Watch Douglas’s 5-minute video on Running With Your Hip Power to understand why it’s important to get your hips mobilised and engaged when you run.
If you’re unsure how to engage your hips when running, chat to your Fitness From Africa running coach for the best tips and advice on improving your running form.
One of the best ways to improve your leg speed is to run up and down a flight of stairs a few times a week. Choose small stairs so that you have to concentrate on using a quick cadence to run up and down.
Another bonus of stair running is that it offers a high intensity workout- as it accelerates your heart rate rapidly. This helps to boost your VO2max- the amount of oxygen you can take in during an intense exercise session.
Don't forget about strength training
Fitness From Africa’s running and trail running coach, Brendan McBirnie, who has his Honours in Sports Science, says that specific strength training will help to develop speed by increasing stride length and improving running economy.
In fact, in a study published in the British Journal Of Sports Medicine, researchers note that resistance workouts should be completed 2-3 times week to improve endurance, running economy and sprint speed.
Some of the best strength exercises for runners include:
The study concludes that runners should allow more than three hours of recovery time between running and resistance sessions and 24 hours of recovery after strength training before a high intensity running session.
Practice short hills
You don’t need to spend an hour on a hill to reap the benefits of hill repeats. Short hills, around 50-100m are ideal for speed training. Not only do hill repeats improve physical strength and speed in the legs, they also help to build confidence and mental toughness. Because it’s a fact that if you can master those hills, you’ll automatically improve your race and/or time trial results, as you’ll speed up when others slow down!
Prioritise Interval Training
“To get faster, you need to train faster, and interval training is key for this,” says running coach, owner and founder of Fitness From Africa, Marcel Viljoen (who of course is a passionate runner himself).
What is interval training? This is where you alternate between short, high intensity bursts of effort with rest periods in between. The sooner you can recover between high intensity sets, the better.
Although these sessions are tough, the good news is, you don’t need to do more than 1-2 sessions per week for optimal results. Another way to practice interval training and to get your legs to move faster is to include time trials in your training. This means focusing on a maximal effort for a sustained distance such as 1km, 3km or 5km.
Remember: with these types of hard efforts, recovery is just as important. “Your body requires more time to recover after a speed session where you’re performing intervals. Too many speed sessions per week is counterproductive,” he adds. You want to bank those gains.
Focus on short distances
“I always tell marathon and Comrades runners that it’s just as important to do well over short distance races as it has a direct impact on marathon and/or Comrades times,” says Marcel.
“The elite runners are all good examples of that – the top men at Comrades can run 10km under 30 minutes and the top ladies run 10km in 35 minutes or faster. You can’t run your best marathon if you don’t have the basics in place,” he adds. And to master the basics, you need to be comfortable running shorter distances such as 5km, 8km and 10km before expecting to run the bigger distances
10 km Challenge
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