Mature athletes know that as a runner, speed and endurance are their main weapons. One cannot survive without the other. After all, what’s the point of having lots of stamina if you’re as fast as a tortoise? If you’re a frequent marathon runner and you want to improve your finishing time so you can compete at more prestigious events like the New York and the Boston Marathons, here are some strategies on how you can improve your speed without having the need to buy fancy and expensive training equipment.
Improving dorsiflexion in the ankle is one way to increase your speed and mobility. Kim McLaughlin of Invictus blog shares the seven simple steps to improving dorsiflexion.
- Start by performing a self-myofacial release with the help of a foam roller or kettlebell. Then, place your heel on the top of the foam roller or kettlebell handle and move your foot from side to side. Slowly work your way up your calf while moving your foot and leg from side to side until you hit both the lateral and medial parts. Be sure to do it for one to two minutes for each leg.
- Sit on the ground. Make sure to straighten our legs and flex your toes back toward your hips. Repeat this thirty times.
- Alternatively, you can place the ball of your foot on small five-pound plates with your heel touching the ground. Then, bend your knees forward and stay in this position for five to ten seconds before straightening up. Do this thirty times.
- Get down on one knee and place a PVC pipe vertically near the outside of the pinky toe of your foot that is still on the ground. Flex your ankle so your knee goes to the outside of the PVC pipe. Stay in this position for three to five seconds. Do this twenty times for each leg.
- To make the last drill more challenging, you can place the same kettlebell that you used for the myofacial release on top of the knee that is up. The added pressure of the kettlebell will help increase the dorsiflexion in the ankle.
- Wrap a monster band around a post and step into it so it will be at the crease of your ankle. Facing away from the post, place the ball of your foot on a 25 or 45-pound plate. Make sure to keep your heel on the ground while you do this. Then, extend that knee. You can also do the Drill #5 with the monster band around your ankle.
- Get on the ground on a bear crawl position. Then, walk your hands back behind your body so you end up in a crab walk position. Once you’re in the crab walk position, walk your way back into the bear crawl. Do this ten times.
Hip Flexor Stretch
Another way to improve your speed is to loosen up those tight hip flexors. You can do this by stretching them properly. When stretching hip flexors, make sure that you do it right, not the method you see most people do, where they just extend through their lower back (which defeats the whole point of the stretch).
According to Tony Gentilcore of T-Nation, a true hip flexor stretch doesn’t require crazy ranges of motion. All you have to do is get into the half-kneeling position and then squeeze the glute of the side of your body that’s on the floor. This will posteriorly tilt the pelvis. Then, scoot forward about an inch or two, making sure to move through your hip, not your lower back.
According to fitness experts, you can achieve top speed by maximizing your power production. You can improve your body’s capacity to produce power through plyometric exercises, especially when you do them effectively and efficiently. Here are three plyometric exercises that can help you improve your power production and speed. It is important to concentrate on your ankle dorsiflexion and hip flexor mobility before plyometric and explosive exercises. It is easier to increase your mobility and then add explosive strength to your increased and functional range of motion.
- Depth jumps to standing long jumps
To make this exercise more effective, make sure that you transition from landing to doing a long jump as quickly as possible. During that time, your heel should not make a lengthy contact with the ground.
Start by standing on a box or bench that is at least 12 inches above the ground. Step off and land on your both feet. Upon landing, quickly execute a standing long jump as far as you can. Do three sets of five repetitions.
- Repetitive standing long jumps
Your lower body and arm swims swings are responsible for your coordination and drive. This exercise will help you how to minimize ground contact time while maintaining your forward momentum.
First, perform a standard standing long jump. Make sure that you don’t stop when landing. Then, quickly transition to another standing long jump. Keep moving forward and make sure to stay on the ball of your feet, pushing off with as much force as you can. Cover a distance of 20 yards and repeat this drill three times.
- Forward bounds
In this plyometric exercise, your goal is to create forward momentum by doing alternate pushes that mimic the sprinting stride. Take long powerful strides and concentrate on driving off the group with as much power as possible. As you bound forward, make sure to maintain proper arm swing and position. Also, ensure that all foot contact remains on the balls of your feet and that you maintain full backside extension and front side knee flexion through each push. Cover a distance of 20 yards and repeat this drill three times.
Sprinters’ Explosion Exercises
Achieving top sprinting speed is well and good, but you mustn’t forget how you start because it is what sets you up for success during a race. To improve your start, you must develop your explosive lower-body power. Here are three drills you can perform to achieve this.
- Short hill sprints
Find a hill with an incline of about 30 to 45 degrees. Then, start in a two-, three-, or four-point stance. Sprint up the hill, while making sure to drive your legs down and back, as well as your arms through a full range of motion. When you reach the top, walk down the hill and rest for one minute before doing the next sprint. Repeat this for about six times.
- Sled drives
Start by attaching a sled harness to your waist. Then, assume the start position, making sure to keep your body at about a 45-degree angle. Then, propel yourself through your rear leg to begin the sprint while still maintaining a 45-degree angle with your body and keeping your heels low to the ground. Continue sprinting with a powerful arm and dleg drive. Rest for one minute before sprinting again. Be sure to cover a distance of 20 yards and repeat this drill six to ten times.
- Flat sprints
Straighten up and perform a falling start. Then, continue sprinting with powerful arm and leg drive. As with the sled drive, make sure to keep your heels low to the ground. Once you’ve covered a distance of 20 yards, stop and walk back. Rest for one minute before doing another sprint. Repeat this drill for six to ten times.
Once you were able to establish eccentric control, you can try doing a downhill run once. According to Debbie Woodruff, a USA Track and Field-certified running coach based in California, doing a downhill run causes the leg muscles to lengthen. She said running at top speed causes the feet to hit the ground harder, which generates more impact on joints, bones, and muscles. In contrast, training downhill allows your body to adapt and make it more efficient at repairing itself and becoming stronger.
To avoid injuries, it’s important to run downhill correctly. And as with most skills, this is best achieved through practice.
Improving Your Form with Proper Arm Position
How you swim swing your arm is important as it helps stabilize your body when running. It can also make significant contribution to your running efficiency, which in turn helps boost your speed. Here are the guidelines to ensuring correct arm position and movement when running.
- Swing the opposite arms and legs in sync.
- Pump your arms forward and backward with the direction of your movement. Ensure that your arms do not swing across your body. Keep your elbows pointing backwards, not outwards.
- Swing your arms from the shoulders, not from your elbows. Keep your elbows bent and drive them backwards.
- When running, maintain your elbows at an angle of about 90 degrees.
- Have your hands pass your body at about the height of your hip. Don’t hold your arms so high that they pass above your waist or so low they pass below your hips.
- Swing your arms with force through a range of motion. When sprinting or running uphill, your hands should move from the back pocket (or a bit further back) to chin height.
- Keep your shoulders and hands relaxed. Note that your shoulders should be down, not tight. Your hands, meanwhile, should be relaxed, but stable. You should neither clench them in a fist nor let them flop around.
Practice and training are essential to building your speed. As such, make sure to constantly work on your speed so you can significantly improve your finishing times.