So, you want to get faster – but you don’t want to sacrifice any of your hard-earned strength and muscle. Is it possible? Can you really be big, lean, strong, AND fast? Absolutely! Ignore the naysayers who claim you’ve got to pick between strength and speed. Just look at any great sprinter, and you’ll see an amazing combination of muscularity and explosive power. Here are a few of the best ways to improve your sprinting speed while maintaining – or even gaining – maximal strength.
Up Your Squat!
Forget that nonsense about big legs making you “muscle-bound.” If you’re decently built and want to run fast, you’ll need some seriously strong legs. If you don’t believe me, just take a look at the training programs of the top Olympic sprinters. Chances are you’ll see squats, squats, and more squats. And while single-leg variations may have their uses, you want to keep focusing on the king of exercises: the barbell back squat.
You’re probably already squatting hard, heavy, and often, but now might actually be the time to ramp up your frequency. Train your bench, deadlift, military press, and other lifts enough to maintain, and hammer your squat as often as your recovery abilities will allow. If you can improve your squat without gaining weight, you’re almost guaranteed to become faster and more explosive.
Ditch the Distance
You’re trying to run FAST, right? If you’ve been going on long, drawn-out, boring jogs, stop it right now! Not only is distance running a poor way to improve your top speed – it’s a GREAT way to burn away your muscle mass. And while not everyone has joint problems, almost every big dude I know gets seriously achy knees and hips when he runs more than a mile or two at a time.
Instead of jogging, practice the thing you actually want to improve: sprinting! Find a track, a field, or just a long stretch of sidewalk, and sprint all-out for periods of ten or fifteen seconds. Follow up with a minute or two of rest, and repeat for eight to ten total rounds. This is called interval training, and it’s the perfect way to get faster AND torch body fat.
Get on the Hill
Flat-ground running is fine, but hill sprints are a real man’s challenge. They’ll strengthen your legs, heart, and lungs, and they’ll make “regular” running feel like a breeze in comparison. To find a big enough hill, just search the internet for sledding spots and reservoirs in your area. I was able to find a decent hill in flat-as-a-pancake Kansas, so you should be able to find something close. Head on over, bring a pair of cleats, and run up that thing as fast as you can. Repeat for a few rounds, come back a few days later, and do even more. Just like lifting, constant progression is they key to getting faster.
Another great thing about hill sprints is that they can actually be easier on your joints and ligaments than regular running. The angle might not feel too great at first, but your feet don’t have nearly as far to fall after each step. Plus, you’ll probably be running on grass, which is a lot easier on your ankles than concrete or track rubber. This may not be an issue for you smaller guys, but for those of you who weigh 200 or more, it can be a lifesaver.
Speed Work: Do You Really Need It?
Weight room speed work has become a controversial topic, especially with the growing popularity of the Westside / conjugate method. Frankly, I don’t think it has that much merit for becoming a faster runner. Can dynamic box squats make you a more explosive squatter? Sure. Are they going to add anything to your running speed? I don’t think so, especially if you’re already squatting heavy and sprinting hard.
That said, you ALWAYS want to move the weights as fast as you possibly can, at least when you’re training for maximal strength. Whether you’re working with 60, 80, or 100 percent of your max, you want to push (or pull) on that bar with everything you’ve got. The idea is to get all of those fast-twitch muscle fibers activating as quickly as possible, even if the bar itself is moving slowly.
Drop Your Dead Weight
Here’s the simplest – and perhaps the hardest – way to get faster: lose some fat! Even if you’re relatively lean, you almost certainly have another ten or fifteen pounds of fat you could drop. Your muscles are what make you run, and every ounce of fat is just another ounce of dead weight that’s holding you back. If you’re going to focus on your running speed, you might as well take the opportunity to get lean.
In fact, as long as you retain all of your strength, fat loss is a foolproof way to gain speed. If you lose ten pounds of fat, and your squat stays the same, do you think you’ll be able to sprint faster? You bet your ass you will! So unless you’re already ripped to the bone, combine your speed training with a cutting diet for the best, fastest, most efficient results.