Are you interested in becoming a faster runner? Do you have a road or obstacle race coming up that you want to dominate? Whether you’re a beginning, intermediate, or advanced runner, you can definitely train to increase your speed.
As a competitive decathlete and strength coach, I’ve spent years experimenting with different methods to improve my running speed and those of my students. I’ve found that targeted strength training focused on developing underused muscle groups can be very effective at improving running speed and power.
Get ready to kick up some dust with these speed-building movements.
Strength training can improve your power, muscle size and strength, neuromuscular control, efficiency of recovery, and kinesthetic awareness, all of which result in you being a faster runner with more control, higher quality of movement, and decreased chance of injury 1.
Here’s more info on each benefit:
1) Power refers to the explosiveness of the muscle, which is trained using speed-driven movements such as plyometrics, Olympics lifts, and specific kettlebell exercises 2. Examples include cleans, hang cleans, medicine ball throws, and kettlebell swings.
2) Muscular Size and Strength – High intensity muscle contractions during strength training and/or sprint training (anaerobic exercise) can increase both muscle size (diameter) and quantity of muscle fibers (myofibrils) 3. Building maximal strength in specific exercises has been found to improve short-distance sprinting speed 4.
3) Neuromuscular Control – Strength training contributes to development of speed because it increases your level of neuromuscular control 5. Improving your neuromuscular control simply means increasing the communication between your central nervous system (CNS) and your muscles. The more neuromuscular control you have, the more movement proficient and injury resistant you can become 6.
4) Efficiency of Recovery is enhanced by a well-structured training program that gradually increases training stress. In combination with a healthy lifestyle that includes enough quality sleep and nutrition, you can increase the ability of your CNS to quickly recover from your training load. Over time, you’ll be more fatigue-resistant with improved cardio-respiratory, endocrine, digestive, and immune function!
5) Kinesthetic Awareness refers to a sense of timing and an awareness of your body as you move through space. It’s something that can be trained and learned at any ability and age, and can benefit you in any sport and at any level of proficiency. Examples of athletes with elite levels of kinesthetic awareness are dancers, martial artists, gymnasts, and Olympic athletes.
Having more power and speed when you move, having muscles that fire at greater rates and produce greater amounts of force, and having a more advanced and conditioned central nervous system is a serious recipe for running personal bests 7. By incorporating specific strength training exercises in a well-designed program, you can absolutely improve your running times.
The muscles on the front of your body (anterior) and muscles on the back of your body (posterior) have different jobs when it comes to running. Running fast places high demands on your hip, thigh, knee, ankle, foot and torso. Most people have dominant anterior muscles, and weaker posterior muscles. This means that the posterior muscles, which include your erector spinae, glutes and hamstrings are more important to train for running speed than the anterior muscles including quadriceps and pectorals 8.
Strength training using a full range-of-motion and sufficient resistance can help by correcting imbalances between the anterior and posterior muscles. Focusing on exercises that engage your posterior muscles can build the stability and power of your hips while improving your posture 9. This is what can ultimately help you run faster.
These exercises are compound movements (meaning they involve more than one joint or muscle group) that specifically target your hamstrings and glutes, the biggest power generators in your body. They’ll help to build power, strength, and stability in your hips, knees, and ankles, thereby helping you become a stronger and faster runner with improved posture and a rock hard core.
Hinge: Deadlift, Single-leg Deadlift, Kettlebell Swings, and Kettlebell Snatches.
When performed with proper form and technique, hinging exercises are safe to train with weights, and are great exercises to use for heavy lifting. To properly do a hinge movement, pull your hips back to load your glutes and hamstrings while keeping your knees over your ankles, your spine straight, and your core tight. At the top of the movement, stand tall with your hips under your shoulders as you squeeze your glutes.
Hinging benefits running because it trains your posterior chain (meaning your back muscles, glutes, and hamstrings), improves running posture, increases body awareness, and builds a solid posterior!
Make sure you have perfect deadlift form before incorporating this exercise into your routine.
SLS Variation: Lunge, Bulgarian Split-Squat, Pistol Squat, etc.
Squatting on two feet can lead to large strength gains, but placing the emphasis on one leg can lead to more explosive power and muscle recruitment, increased coordination and stability, and specificity towards running and sprinting.
Bar speed is crucial to optimizing the benefits of Olympic lifting, and perfecting these moves can build serious power. Cleans and snatches are a some of the most complex movements in strength training, so beginners should start with a wooden dowel or PVC-pipe before going to a moderate or heavy load. Remember, when movement efficiency and stability are trained and perfected, strength will follow.
In case you need more motivation to add Olympic lifts to your strength routine, check out the fastest man in the world Usain Bolt doing hang cleans in his workout.
If you’re not familiar with Olympic lifting, I highly recommend that you work with a coach or personal trainer who can help you learn and master these advanced lifting exercises.
Below are a few sample workout routines (that you’ll notice are short) to help you maximize strength and minimize fatigue. Routines that are comprised of too many exercises and sets may not help you boost strength and may even drain your performance.
Choose the level below (beginner, intermediate, or advanced) that’s most appropriate for you right now. For each exercise, select a weight that’s challenging but that still lets you complete each exercise with perfect form. Do 3 sets of each exercise, resting for 1-2 minutes between each set, before moving on to the next exercise. After the Olympic lifts (barbell clean & snatch), you should consider resting for 2-3 minutes between sets to allow yourself to fully recover.
|Dumbbell Reverse Lunge||3||10, each side|
|Single-leg Deadlift||3||10, each side|
|DB Bulgarian Split Squat||3||10, each side|
|2-Hand Kettlebell Swing||3||15|
|Pistol Squat||3||10, each side|
Progressions should be based exclusively on form and technique. When in doubt, start with the beginner workout exercises and lighter weights. During each training session, whether you’re running or lifting, try to make each and every repetition as perfect as possible. The patient lifter who focuses on learning proper technique can rapidly gain strength.
You may be able to see strength gains and improvements in your running after just a few training sessions. If you are an advanced lifter, strength gains may come more slowly, but you can still see major improvements in your running speed. A good model to follow with strength training is work, rest, recover. Give yourself at least a day of rest between strength training sessions to allow your body to fully recover.
Depending on your goals, lifestyle, and preferences, your results may vary.
Being injury resilient is a choice, so choose strength training!
If you try any of these workouts, let me know how it goes in the comments below.