Whether you just took up running, or you’re prepping for your first marathon, at some point, you’re going to want to improve your running speed. That’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 welcome change to your training program. What’s not to like!
In this post, I’ll unravel four training strategies to help you unleash your full running speed. Incorporating these into your workout program will help you improve your top-end speed and endurance.
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 can be best described as 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 to do interval runs
Start with a proper warm-up to prepare your body. Do 5 to 10 minutes of cardio-based movements, such as jogging or spinning, to get your heart rate and body temperature up. Next, perform a series of dynamic exercises for another 5 minutes. Think inchworms, squats, lunges, leg swings, arm swings, etc.
Once you’re warmed up, sprint at 85 to 95 percent 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 5-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.
Sure, this might not be your favorite thing to do, but here’s what you stand to gain by tackling more hills:
- Build a more 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 joints thanks to working against gravity
Here’s how to do hill reps right
Find a hill that’s roughly 100 to 200 meters 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 warm-up on flat terrain.
Once you’re ready, sprint up the hill at 85 to 95 percent 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.
Pace & form also matter. Run 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—avoid starting at your feet nor 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 gradients and lengths.
Go Plyo To Improve Running Speed
Also known as explosive or jump training, plyometrics are another great way to target your fast-twitch muscle fibers and build your explosive speed.
Plyometric exercises consist of fast and powerful movements starting with an eccentric action—muscle lengthening and ending up with a concentric action—or 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 plyo exercises for six weeks improve their 2400m race results by roughly 4 percent.
That might not seem like much, but it might also be the exact thing you need to improve your running speed and achieve your next PR.
Here are examples of plyo exercises that work very well for improving speed:
- Box jumps
- Power cleans
- Squat jumps
- Standing long jumps
- Med ball tosses
- Frog jumps
- Plyometric pushups
- 2-Leg bound
- depth jumps
- box squats
Start by choosing a few of these exercises and adding them to either your post-run routine 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 filming yourself, so you look for any mistakes.
Listen To Your Body
As a general rule, follow your hard workouts—think intervals and hills reps—with least one—and likely two—easier training days. Then, take a full day off training at least once a week.
Don’t chew more than you can swallow.
To know when you need rest, you need to know the signs. Here are a few:
- 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
There you have it. All it takes to increase your running speed is to 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. The rest is just details, as the saying goes.
Do you have any favorite speedwork tips? Please feel free to leave a comment below to share with others.
In the meantime…
Keep Training Strong
About the author:
David Dack is an established fitness blogger and running expert. When he’s not training for his next marathon, he’s doing research and trying to help as many people as possible to share his fitness philosophy. Check out his blog Runners Blueprint for more info.