I will gladly run almost anywhere on Earth, except the track. It brings back horrible memories of high school, days when running was ridiculously hard for me and I always felt like I was missing something.
How were those other people finishing our never ending mile without huffing and puffing?!
Interestingly, I could run laps in the gym as part of the Varsity volleyball team without issue (ok lots of complaining, but doable). The track and I are just not pals, which clearly means I’ve got a mental block.
But you don’t need a track for speed workouts.
Luckily, you can do pick ups, fartleks and tempo runs anywhere, which means none of us with a bad track memories need to fear that being required. But running faster isn’t the only thing you need to actually get faster. Especially if you want to do it and not get hurt.
Here is the happiest I’ve ever been on a track :)
How do you improve speed?
It’s a two pronged approach:
- Speed drills to improve muscular endurance
- Speed workouts to increase fast twitch muscles
It’s important to know there is a VAST difference between sprint speed and improving your speed over 13.1 miles.
Sprinters are going to throw their arms hugely up and down, while distance runners are focused on a smaller swing to conserve energy. But in both cases the speed of your arms can influence the speed of your run, which means it’s important to train!
Mostly, I’m noting this here to ensure you know the following exercises to improve speed can help both, but are largely focused on the endurance runner and not those aiming for a 400 meter dash.Time to run faster without the sprints! Speed drills to get stronger and run faster! Click To Tweet
Why Speed Training Drills?
One of the things we too often do is dive in to faster running without considering the muscle strength or even mobility needed. Of course running faster, does involve a process of pushing your pace in specific workouts, but without the appropriate structure, muscle strength and body integration those faster paces often lead to poor form.
Poor form over 13.1 or 26.2 miles or even done week after week, leads to imbalances, which leads to injury! As does asking your body to push beyond it’s limitations without providing it strength. This is why I’m so often preaching the need for hip strength and glute strength exercises.
Let’s look at what these running drills are designed to do:
- build leg strength
- improve foot turnover
- power off the ground
- turn on your glutes and psoas, often inhibited from sitting
- single leg moves to address imbalances
- improving muscle efficiency
- activating our type II or fast twitch muscle fibers
- ensure you’re creating equal power from both legs
- repetition of good form prior to running to ingrain it in our brains
Bonus points because these drills will create strength, which makes your easy runs feel easier!
Speed Drills for Runners
If you’ve been asking what exercises make you run faster? I’ve got a set of exercises to make you run faster detailed in the video below and of course you can Pin the image to remember them later.
The following speed training drills for runners can be done as a group once a week, or you can simply pick one to do prior to every run.
I’ve found that integrating little things like one move is much easier than reminding yourself to do an additional workout to your entire week of already packed training.
Don’t feel like watching the video, no biggie! I’ve also detailed each of the running drills here, so you can quickly read them too. Repeat each speed drill 10-15 times per leg.
Single Leg Stand up
This is one of the first progressions to being able to do a pistol squat. Sitting on a bench, place one foot at 90 degrees and the other straight in front of you lightly on the ground. Your straight leg should bear as little weight as possible and as you progress remain off the floor. You’ll need to engage your quad, calf and core to stand up and then lower yourself back down with control.
Single Leg Step Up
Place one foot on a sturdy bench and engage your quad and glutes to pull yourself up on to the bench. Tap your toe then return it to the ground with control, you aren’t fully standing up on the top of the bench or pausing on the ground.
Skips of nearly every type are great for promoting speed. In this case, we’re focused on high forward skips. The goal is to get used to the feeling of your entire foot, ankle and calf working together to push off the ground with force.
The arms are so overlooked as part of our speed! (Read this post on runner upper body training for lots more ideas). Here we are holding a light weight of about 3lbs in each hand, creating a stable base with core engaged and then running those arms. Keep them at 90 degrees and move them fast!
This is a practice that will help you to quickly pick your foot up off the ground. We know that faster running isn’t about a longer stride, it’s about a quicker foot turn over. This gets you used to hitting with your full foot and quickly retracting.
How to do sprints without injury? This is it!! You have to practice the process of picking up your knees, instead of trying to lengthen your stride. We know that over striding leads to injury and this is going to ingrain in our brain a different pattern.
With the band around your waist, you’ll do a pattern of 1,2,3, hold. You’ll run hard for 3 steps and then on 4 hold the knee up for a second before repeating the process by ending with the other knee held high.
Now as noted, you can’t just do the exercises to improve speed and voila you’re faster.
You also need speed workouts.
But these drills will help to ensure that as you pick up the pace, you don’t lose your form and become injured. They’ll also provide you with more power to make your speed sessions more effective.
What is a speed workout?
When most people talk about speed workouts, they aren’t thinking about the drills noted above. They are focused on hitting the track for 8 x 400 repeats or following a training plan that includes running various distances at 5K pace or 10K pace.
If you’re looking to start adding in speed workouts, please read this beginner speed workout post. It’s got workout ideas and most importantly notes on adding in speed without injury.
While we understanding not going from running 3 miles to running 10, we often like to push our speed from a 10 minute pace to a 6 minute pace because that’s what a plan says. Then I get the emails about IT Band Syndrome and knee pain, and I don’t want that for you!
Do you love track workouts?
What other speed drills do you do?
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