Athletes and coaches often ask me questions about how to run faster. Because I’ve written a lot about the subject, I understand why they’re asking, but the answer can get a little complicated. Some athletes spend years working on speed development, and there are so many factors that it’s difficult to answer the question quickly. If a person wants all the details, I love getting into the science behind speed development. But, most of the time, they just want simple tips on how to run faster instead of reading a research literature review and going through a 6-week program.
If you want some simple tips on how to run faster, here are the top 3 easiest ways to get it done:
1. Get off your heels and strike the ground through the ball of your foot.
I see athletes with messed up mechanics all the time, and there are plenty of things to mess up – arm swing, knee drive, foot placement, body lean, etc. But, the most common mistake in kids who are slow is that they run on their heels.
It sounds very simple to run on the ball of your foot, but it’s not always an easy correction to make. Patience and coaching are required here because it’s going to
take some time to adjust to this new style of running. A lot of athletes start running on their toes when they hear this coaching cue, so you have to be very clear on what part of the foot to land on. The heel will only be a couple of millimeters off the ground, so the weight is on the ball of the foot, not the toes. In this position, the ankle should be “locked” or “cocked and loaded” so that it’s rigid instead of loose. If the ankle is rigid, all of the force produced by the hips can be transferred into the ground. If the ankle is loose, all of that force will dissipate through the foot/ankle before it goes into the ground.
The reason this is usually the best correction is that running on the ball of your foot usually forces a better knee drive as well. The knee drive allows you to travel farther on each step, increasing your stride length. It also allows you to take advantage of the strength you’re going to gain in tip #2.
2. Get stronger
This doesn’t mean that the strongest person in the world is the fastest. It’s not even close. But, most people who ask how to run faster are weak, especially in the glutes and hamstrings. Hitting the weight room is usually a great place to start if you want to increase your speed. Like I said, this is not ALWAYS true, but it’s usually a piece of the puzzle that’s missing.
I don’t typically recommend spending a ton of time lifting because you also need to focus on running, but a solid total-body workout only needs to take 45 minutes, 2-3 days a week. Don’t turn this into a quest to squat 600 lbs. or anything. If your goal is to run faster, then do what it takes to get stronger without taking away from your other training.
Be sure to develop your posterior chain (glutes, hamstrings, calves, low back) with exercises like the glute/ham raise, Nordic hamstrings, back extensions, RDLs, hip thrusts/bridges, etc. in addition to more traditional lifts like a squat or Bulgarian split squat.
3. Run fast and jump high.
If you want your body to run faster, you have to run fast. What the heck does that mean? I can’t tell you how many times I hear someone ask how to run faster, then they tell me they mainly do technique drills. Technique is a huge component of speed, but you’re going to have to run as fast as you can fairly often if you plan on improving. You’ll typically want to run at top speed 2-3 days a week with long rest periods between sets. You don’t have to do a million sprints either. 5-10 shorts sprints, with long rest periods, is sufficient as long as the intensity is high. Most people can get away with 10-20 sprints if they are in good shape. You just want to make sure you’re able to perform all of your high-speed sprints at high speeds. Once you feel yourself getting tired or slowing down, it’s time to shut that portion of the workout down for the day.
The jumping portion of this one is referring to plyometric training. Plyos (like running fast) train your muscles, but they also train the nervous system to contract those muscles harder and in a more beneficial sequence. Of course, you need to be using good mechanics for plyos and sprints, but the key message here is that you need to be doing some fast, explosive work to optimize your nervous system and take advantage of the strength your building in the weight room.
These are simply some basic tips on how to run faster, and they are a good starting point when planning a training program. Once you have these three components covered, you can move on to more advanced programming considerations. Just be sure not to rush your training. Everyone wants to get faster immediately, but it’s well worth the time to take a couple of steps back to correct some things. In the end, you’ll enjoy great benefits and the result will be you running faster than you’ve ever run before.