You’ve been running steadily for several months, you’ve taken part in numerous running events and now, you want to take it to the next level. We’re talking about performance and speed because we all want to be the next Usain Bolt, right?
1. Speed Work
The obvious thing to do if you want to run faster would be to throw in speed work into your training sessions.
They improve your VO2 max – the maximum volume of oxygen that your blood can deliver to your muscles when running at high speed.
Higher VO2 max > More oxygen delivered to working muscles > Increase in the production of ATP > Greater muscle contraction > Run Faster
Running puts a certain amount of stress on the body. Thankfully, humans are highly adaptable and we are able to learn and change to better handle that stress in the future. Remember how hard it was when you first started running – your breathing was all over the place, your heart felt like it was going to explode and your limbs had a mind of its own – but you continued anyway? And then a few weeks later you realised that running is the easiest thing in the world. That is because your body adapted to the “stress”.
It applies to speed work as well! Runners improve most when they occasionally overload their system and train at a particular speed. Your neuromuscular system, heart and lungs adapt to allow you to run efficiently at higher speeds.
Take Note: Start by Adding One Session A Week
Adding too much too soon is always a recipe for disaster. Instead of adaptation, your body enters the exhaustion stage and you will burnout, develop injuries and fail to recover. Start by adding one speed session a week to your normal training. For the regular runner, 3 speed sessions per week is enough to get you that much faster!
- Try 5 x 400m at interval pace.
- Rest for about 1-2 minutes in between each bout.
- Interval pace is hard running and talking is almost impossible.
- It is about 90-100% effort.
2. Plyometric Training
When you think of running, the last thing that comes to mind is probably strength training and plyometrics. However, these two have been known to enhance running performance. Plyometrics include high intensity, high impact drills like jumping and hopping.
Plyometric training improves what is known as the Stretch-shortening Cycle (SSC). The SSC is the transition between the eccentric and concentric muscle contraction and how elastic energy is harnessed to help with force production.
Running is a series of eccentric and concentric contraction. What you want is the concentric contraction to follow closely after the eccentric contraction. If there is a long pause between the two contractions, the captured energy is loss.
What You Need To Know
Plyometric training > Quick SSC > Less energy and oxygen is needed to produce the same level of force > Run Faster
Take Note: Do Once A Week
Plyometric training comes with a relatively high risk of injury. Novice runners are not advised to attempt these drills. Unless you are very experienced, plyometrics should only be done once a week. Never do them on days of high volume training.
1-2 sets of:
- 15-20 box jumps
- 15-20 jump squats
- 15-20 jump lunges
- 15-20 single leg hops
- 5 sets of 50m hill sprints
- Consult a fitness/running professional before attempting any of these drills.
3. Get Rid of That FAT
No doubt runners come in all shapes and sizes. Take a look at the elite pack and you will see a variety in physical proportions. However, they all have one thing in common – nearly all of them have a low body fat percentage. In other words – lean.
A study done in 2006 demonstrated that body fat is a good predictor of athletic performance . The best runners have the leanest legs!
Not all fat is bad fat, but storage fat is “dead weight”
Our bodies have storage fat and essential fat. Essential fat is the kind that is needed to sustain life. These are stored in the vital organs, the bone marrow as well as muscles and tissues of the central nervous system. Storage fat is stored in adipose tissue, found around the abdominal area, buttocks, hips and under the skin. The more we eat, the more fat we store and it becomes our energy reserve. However, storage fat is not essential for health and too much of it increases the risk of certain diseases.
When we talk about running, storage fat is considered “dead weight” which would only add to the energy cost of running.
Finding The Right Amount of Fat
Determining your optimal body composition is a tough one. Having too much or too little of fat can be detrimental to health. Thanks to our modern lifestyle – increased accessibility of food coupled with our sedentary lifestyle – it is unlikely that we have too little fat for optimal performance. You can gauge your optimal fat percentage by tracking performance. Your body composition at your peak performance is likely to be your optimal body fat composition.
What You Can Do
Move more and eat sensibly > Lower Body Fat Percentage > Run Faster
4. Be Feather Light
If you are having trouble with lowering your body fat, your best bet would be to lower the weight of everything else that you have on you when you run!
This basically means that the weight of the shoe could add to the energy cost of running. This does not mean that you have to become a barefoot runner overnight in order to improve running performance. Just opt for light weight shoes.
As for running apparel, go for technical wear that wicks sweat away from your body. Normal cotton tops absorb sweat and can add to the weight when you run.
In short, go light >run faster
5. Get A Caffeine Fix
This is probably what all coffee addicts want to hear – YES, coffee is a legal performance enhancer! Many elite athletes rely on their morning cuppa, so there is good reason why you should too!
Coffee has been known to give you that mental boost, improves mental alertness and reduces a runner’s perception of effort. When you’re able to focus coupled with the fact that running faster would feel easier, you can be sure to finish with a new Personal Best!
Physiologically, caffeine enhances neuromuscular coordination – the speed at which nerve signals are sent to the muscles from the brain – and reaction time. With more signals firing at your muscles, you will be more efficient, running faster with more force and less effort.
The benefits of caffeine have been proven out on the field. One study found that runners who took caffeine before a 5KM run performed better than running without caffeine .
How Much: 400mg or 4 Cups
Before you start chugging down on a giant cup of coffee, there is such a thing as caffeine overdose. Although coffee can be part of your healthy diet (as they are rich in antioxidants), moderation is always key.
According to the FDA, a safe and healthy amount of caffeine a day is about 400mg or 4 cups.
People react differently to caffeine (tremors, palpitations, stomach upset, irritability etc), so experiment with it during your training before you attempt to take caffeine on race day! Caffeine is absorbed quickly and it can last pretty long. You can take it 30-45 minutes prior to toeing the start line.
Whether coffee is used to get you out the door, out of bed or make you run that much faster – it works!
Drink a cuppa > Run faster
6. Strengthen The Core
The core is the center of the body which holds everything in place and it includes all the muscles which help you to maintain posture. These muscles are found on the abdomen, back and around your hips.
The Problem: Postural and Muscle Imbalances
The thing about runners is that we tend to neglect strength training. Most of our time is spent logging in the miles. Over time, we develop postural and muscle imbalances. These occur between the muscles that we use all the time (lower body) and the muscles that remain idle (upper body).
Weaker muscles/muscle imbalances may force other muscles to compensate for their lack of function, leading to injury (lower back, knees) and pain.
Why It Matters: Helps Hold Proper Running Form
A strong core would mean that you are more likely to hold proper running form for a longer period of time. This is especially useful when it comes to distance running. Also, by strengthening these muscles, weight stress from the upper body on the legs can be evenly distributed and reduced. This will then reduce the risk of injury, allowing you to run longer and harder.
A strong core keeps you in place, preventing unnecessary swinging/swaying which goes to improve your running economy = faster times.
What You Need to Do: Strengthen Your Core
With this in mind, what you need to do next is to strengthen your CORE. Stretching and strengthening the muscles overall can restore muscle balance.
The Basic: Plank
If you have absolutely no time and are extremely lazy, the plank would be your best bet. It works nearly every muscle in your body from your arms to your core right down to your legs.
- Keep your back straight
- Keep your elbows below your shoulders
- Suck your belly in, keep it tight
- Do not let your hips sink
- Plank every day for 1 minute and then move on to 2, 3, 4… and see how long you can hold it without compromising on technique!
Strengthen core > Run faster
7. Believe That You Can Do It
And if all else fails, just believe that you can do it! The brain is the ultimate conductor, regulating running performance in response to the signals that it receives from the body. The brain always acts in your favour – to protect your body. It does so by slowing you down before you hurt yourself due to loss of homeostasis or from becoming prematurely fatigued.
However, you can change the decision made by the brain in response to these inputs. This is where motivation, expectation and the simple belief that you can do it come into play. For example, you will most likely tolerate a greater degree of discomfort if there is an incentive (money, fame, PB, medal etc).
At the end of the day, physiology still wins. You have to be capable physiologically before you can psychologically believe yourself into better running performance. You are able to psychologically push yourself to the max, accessing all available reserves till the point that is just before death. If you haven’t pushed yourself or ran till you felt like dying, it is likely that you have not unleased your ultimate running potential.
In short, Motivation and Belief >Usain Bolt
Before your next big running event, try these “faster running” tips and see how it goes!