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Usain Bolt makes sprinting look easy. It's almost as if he doesn't have to try. But we'll let you in on a little secret: Sure, the eight-time Olympic champion is more of a natural runner than we are, but he still has to work at it in order to keep himself in top form.
Even better news? There are tons of steps you can take to run faster, smoke the competition, and maybe even set a new PR.
1. Nail good form
The key to running at any speed is to practice proper running technique. This means keeping your upper body tall yet relaxed, striking the ground with your mid-foot landing under your hip, and swinging your arms forward and back (not side to side) at low 90-degree angles.
2. Try interval training
Short on gym time? Try interval training. This means exercising with periods of high and low intensity to build speed and endurance - and burn major calories in less time too!
3. Don't forget to sprint
There's a reason you see all those “real runners” doing short sprints before the big road race. Strides are a series of comfortable sprints (usually 8 to 12, between 50 and 200 meters each) to improve acceleration technique.
4. Make the treadmill your friend
The treadmill's belt assists with leg turnover - also known as stride frequency - so it's actually easierto run faster. Plus, you have the power to push the pace right at your fingertips. Just make sure you get on the machine before turning up the dial.Share on Pinterest
5. Stretch daily
The jury is still out on static stretches. According to a 2014 literature review of 11 studies, it's unclear if they really prevent running injuries. Lewis, J. (2014). A systematic literature review of the relationship between stretching and athletic injury prevention. DOI:10.1097/NOR.0000000000000097 But leaders of the pack know stretching daily - especially targeting those hip flexors - increases flexibility for better strides.
6. Switch up your pace
Fartleks is a funny Swedish word meaning “speed play.” Yes, our inner 10-year-olds find this hilarious. By alternating jogs and sprints, you can gradually build up speed and endurance.
7. Jump rope
Take a lesson from boxers and add jump rope workouts to your routine. Boxers know that fast feet means fast hands. But for runners, fast feet just equal fast feet.
8. Trade up for lighter shoes
We're not saying you need to embrace barefoot running, but sneakers are getting lighter and lighter to mimic your foot's natural movement and improve your stride. Try a minimalist pair to see if less weight means more energy for faster feet.
9. Work out your core
Stronger core muscles, especially lower abs, allow runners to tap into more force out on the road.
The best part? Just 15 minutes of core work a few days per week is enough to help you speed up, according to a 2009 landmark study on the relationship between core strength training (CST) and athletic performance. Sato K, et al. (2009). Does core strength training influence running kinetics, lower-extremity stability, and 5000-M performance in runners? DOI: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e31818eb0c5
And that's not all. A 2019 study on male college athletes found that an eight-week ab training program may improve core endurance, which safeguards the spine during exercise. It may also enhance running economy - the energy required to maintain a consistent running speed. Kwong-Chung H, et al. (2019). Effects of 8-week core training on core endurance and running economy. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0213158
10. Change how you breathe
Learning how to breathe while running at faster speeds takes practice. Use both your nose and mouth while inhaling and exhaling to get the maximum amount of oxygen to the muscles. Also, try belly breathing - fill the diaphragm, not the chest, with air on each inhale.
11. Head for the hills
Yes, we know it's the worst. But running on an incline outdoors or on a treadmill is a form of resistance training. You'll build solid muscle in your quads, hamstrings, glutes, and calves - all the same muscles needed to sprint across that finish line.Share on Pinterest
12. Skip the sweets
Junk food guarantees a sugar high and slows you down. Stick to whole grains and pasta before runs, which provide longer-lasting energy - without the crash.
13. Play with resistance
Try a running parachute behind you for added resistance (yes, it's exactly what it sounds like). Or if your budget allows, see what it's like on the other edge of the resistance spectrum with an anti-gravity treadmill.
14. Lift weight
Stronger, leaner muscles will help you get to the finish line faster. And while runners shouldn't take up bodybuilding, a 2016 study showed that two to three strength training sessions per week can go a long way in improving your speed. Balsalobre-Fernández C, et al. (2016). Effects of strength training on running economy in highly trained runners. DOI: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000001316
15. Lose weight
On the other hand, research shows that shedding the pounds (fat, not muscle) can help runners shave time off the clock - cutting an average of 2.4 seconds off your mile time for every pound you lose. Zacharogiannis E, et al. (2017). The effect of acute body mass reduction on metabolism and endurance running performance. //www.abstractsonline.com/pp8/#!/4196/presentation/10828
Of course, not everyone has the weight to lose, so remember to consult a physician before starting any weight loss program.
16. Look ahead
Looking down at your feet or turning your head to check out the competition can waste precious time. Instead, focus on what's directly in front of you - about 10 to 20 meters in the distance - and keep those eyes on the prize.Share on Pinterest
17. Go for a spin
Indoor cycling gives your hips a workout while forcing your legs to get comfortable moving from slow leisurely rides to all-out sprints. The same goes for running. So, hop on a bike and get ready for some cross-training.
18. Pay attention to your toes
The whole body plays a role in speed - from your head to your toes! Try dorsiflexion (arching your toes up toward you shins) while running. That way less of your foot hits the ground for a quicker stride turnover.
19. Keep it steady
Slow and steady may win the race, but fast and steady builds speed! A tempo run (30 seconds slower than your 5K pace) challenges runners to find a “comfortably hard” speed and hold it for a 20-minute period. Just don't burn out before the run is over like that silly little hare!
20. Drink coffee
Turns out, drinking caffeine before running may increase athletic performance even in low doses, though more research needs to be done in this area. Spriet LL. (2014). Exercise and sport performance with low doses of caffeine. DOI: 10.1007/s40279-014-0257-8 More good news? It's a totally legal performance enhancer.
21. Do mountain climbers
Here's how to do the exercise: Start in a plank position and engage your core. Run your knees straight up toward your chest, alternating between right and left legs. The combo of moving your feet quickly while assuming a plank position will make you crazy fast.
22. Try yoga
Get a leg up on fellow runners by adding yoga to your training plan. A 2016 study on male college athletes showed that twice-weekly yoga sessions increased flexibility in the joints and improved balance in ten weeks. Polsgrove MJ, et al. (2016). Impact of 10-weeks of yoga practice on flexibility and balance of college athletes. DOI: 10.4103/0973-6131.171710
23. Get enough shut-eye
Studies show well-rested athletes have better reaction times and clock faster finishes. Watson AM. (2017). Sleep and athletic performance. DOI: 10.1249/JSR.0000000000000418
And think about it - the faster you run, the more time you have to kick back and relax!
24. Strip down
When it's finally race day, take it off! The extra layers and fuel belts, that is. The less clothing and gear on your body, the faster your time - which is why the pros practically get right down to their skivvies to run.