Strength Exercises to Run Faster
Once you fall in love with running and embark on your journey of training for races, it is natural to aim to run faster. When you are a beginner, the improvement in speed is a consequence of the quantum rise in endurance. This is because the gains are initially faster and taper off as you become a seasoned runner. Subsequent gains require you to add a variety of workouts to your training.
The two methods to become a faster runner are speed workouts and strength training workouts for runners. The former is an essential component of speed training and focuses on developing your cardiovascular system to deliver oxygen and clear metabolic waste. Speed workouts include intervals, tempo runs, and repetitions. However, we are not going to focus on them because they are a staple of speed training in any case.
The latter aspect pertaining to strength is often neglected. However, it is this factor that activates muscles to develop power for speed. If we analyze the biomechanics of running, two facets stand out. These include the forward drive with the knee and the push-off with the ball of the foot. Do note that these actions need to be powerful.
The forward drive requires the hip flexor to be strong. The push-off is a combination of the entire chain, which includes the calves, hamstrings, and glutes, providing propulsive power. You need to build some specific body parts to increase your running speed.
Here are a few types of bodyweight strength, gym strength, and high-speed running exercises to help you run faster over a period.
Forms of bodyweight strength exercises: Step-by-step guide
Listed below are some bodyweight strength exercises for runners that you may consider taking up:
1. Single-leg squat
The single-leg squat works the calves, thighs, glutes, and abdominals. This exercise is important for developing leg strength and helps in a larger ground reaction force at push-off. So, this leg workout for runners aids in increasing your overall stride length.
- Start by standing on your right leg. Now, lift the other leg off the ground and either extend it at 45 degrees in front or bend it at the knee. Keep your arms in front of you to stabilize your body.
- Engage your core and move your butt back to slowly lower yourself until you are either at a half squat position or deeper if your leg strength is in a good enough posture
- Squeeze your abdominal muscles and glutes, as you push off the ground to come back to your starting position. Keep the left leg off the ground through the sequence.
- Start with five repetitions (reps) and build up to 10. Do three sets for each leg.
2. Box jump
This workout targets the calves, glutes, and thighs. It helps develop explosive power in these muscles. Choose a box that is about 14-inch to 20-inch high. Use a height that works for you when performing this workout. It helps in an explosive push-off, which allows you to run faster when a speed workout demands it.
- Keep the box about one short step away
- Stand with feet shoulder-width apart
- Sink down into a squat with your arms swinging back at the same time
- Explode upward by pushing off the ground with your feet. While doing this, your Achilles tendon and calves will generate force. Use your arms to now swing forward and upward to add momentum to your movement.
- Ensure you land on the box with your knees bent and have a soft landing
- Step off the box
- Perform about five to eight reps and two to three sets. Make sure to recover well between each jump.
3. Walking lunges
The walking lunge is one of the best core exercises for runners. It closely mimics the functional muscles used in running. It strengthens the quads, hips, and core. This exercise will help stabilize the body during the stance and push- off phase of running, allowing you to maintain posture at faster speeds.
- Stand tall with your hands on your hips and step forward with your right leg; place the foot firmly on the ground
- Sink your hips while keeping your torso upright and bending your right knee. The left knee will come close to the ground in a lunge.
- Pause and feel the quads of the right leg contract to hold you in position isometrically
- Ensure that your right foot is planted firmly in place. Now, rise and make a smooth transition by stepping forward with the left leg.
- Sink your hips and bend the left knee
- Repeat by alternating legs, as if you were walking forward with each lunge
- Do 10 to 12 reps on each leg. Perform two to three sets.
4. Split jumps
This workout plays a pivotal role in core strength training for distance runners. It takes the standard lunge to the next level by helping you develop explosive power. It builds the hips, glutes, and core, helping you develop stability and balance. This aspect is imperative when running fast because balance and stability will help you maintain biomechanics.
- Stand tall with the right foot placed about 2ft–3ft in front of the left foot. This is called a staggered stance. Keep your arms by the side.
- Engage your core and keep your torso upright. Lower into a lunge with the right thigh reaching parallel to the floor and bend your knees. The left knee will come close to the floor.
- Swing your arms up to gather upward momentum while jumping up explosively
- Switch your legs while you are in the air so that your left leg comes forward and the right leg swings back
- Land softly into a lunge with your left foot bent at right angles and your right knee coming close to the ground
- Continue alternating legs in an explosive manner
- Perform a total of eight to 10 reps. Do two to three sets.
Types of gym strength exercises
Here are a few forms of gym workouts that can be beneficial in strength training for marathon runners:
It is a compound exercise, which targets the major body muscles, such as hamstrings, quads, glutes, core, shoulders, lower back, and upper back. You may perform this workout with a barbell or use dumbbells as an alternative. You will develop propulsive force at the hips and glutes, which will translate into a harder push-off from the ground.
- Choose an appropriate weight for the barbell and place the equipment on the ground such that the forefoot is under the bar. Keep your feet shoulder-width apart.
- Bend forward with a straight back and grip the bar with an overhand grip (the palm should be facing toward your body), a little more than shoulder-width apart. To do this, squat down a little bit and bend your knees. Your head should be in line with your spine.
- Think of the hip as a hinge and lift the bar off the ground by straightening up. The knees and hips will extend smoothly and the shoulders will push back as the bar reaches the thighs. Remember that if the transition from bending over to straightening up is done in proper form, the bar will graze the shins and knees on its way up.
- Lower the bar slowly, ensuring you keep a straight back again
- Perform six to eight repetitions. Do two to three sets.
2. Seated calf raises
The calves are constantly being worked when running. They are a major muscle group that comes into play for the push-off. This muscle group has two muscles. These include the outer calf (gastrocnemius) and the inner calf (soleus). The seated calf raise targets the soleus in a focused way while also working the gastrocnemius. With strong calves, you are likely to become a faster runner.
- Sit upright on a bench with your feet flat on the ground
- Ensure that the bench’s height is such that your hips are more or less in level with your knees
- Grab two dumbbells and place them on your knees
- Tighten your abdominal muscles and slowly lift your heels off the ground while keeping the ball of the feet planted firmly
- Make sure to lift the heels to the highest possible level so that your calves feel a full contraction
- Lower your heels back as slow as possible
- Perform 10 to 15 reps. Do two to three sets.
Kinds of high-speed running exercises
Here are two high-speed running workouts to include in your training schedule:
1. High-intensity Interval Training (HIIT) or Tabata sprints
In this high-intensity form of running training, the heart rate reaches 95%-98% of your maximum heart rate for a short period. It works the anaerobic system and provides a boost to the neuromuscular system that trains the legs. You need to develop power and fast feet when executing this workout. So, you get trained for speed, which makes a transition into your submaximal runs, such as the half and full marathons. This training also improves running economy, which is a measure of how much oxygen you use at a certain submaximal speed.
- Begin with a warm-up by jogging gradually for 10–15 minutes
- Choose a track or a straight and level road with no obstructions or uneven surface
- Start a sprint and build as much speed as you can within 20 seconds
- Slow down and walk or jog for 10 seconds
- Repeat this eight times to get a 4-minute workout
- Do only one set if you are a beginner
- Rest for 90 seconds and repeat this activity for two to three sets if you are a seasoned runner
Also Watch: What Is Tabata Training?
2. Hill sprints
Hill sprints help you develop a combination of leg strength and speed. They are also easier on the legs because the pounding you take is much less than running on a level surface. Apart from being useful in preparing you for hills in races, this exercise develops faster running ability since you are working against your body weight on an incline.
- Start with a warm-up by jogging with ease for 10–15 minutes
- Choose a hill that has an inclination of 8%-12% with no obstructions or uneven surface
- Burst up the incline in a sprint for 10–15 seconds
- Slow down, turn around, and walk back down the hill
- Ensure you have recovered well and your heart rate has dropped
- Repeat this six times. Add a repetition every week to reach 12 reps.
How do you incorporate these workouts into your strength training regime?
Let us take a typical schedule for beginners to intermediate runners. There will be one day for a speed session and two strength-training days. Do the strength-training workouts on the days you do strength and perform the high-intensity sprints on your speed session days. Here is a tabular representation of what can be your strength training for runners plan during the first three weeks:
|1||Rest||Easy run||Strength Training||Speed workout||Strength Training||Easy run||Long run|
|2||Rest||Easy run||Strength Training||Speed workout||Strength Training||Easy run||Long run|
|3||Rest||Easy run||Strength Training||Speed workout||Strength Training||Easy run||Long run|
Also Watch: When Is the Right Time to Workout?
These exercises will help you build and train your body to run faster. However, always listen to your body because some of these workouts will require you to recover more than other exercises. In the case of sprints, it is important to understand that your heart rate is substantially elevated. Also, consult your medical practitioner before starting these exercises. If you feel too much soreness, then make sure to recover adequately before getting into your workouts. If you feel discomfort during the workout, it is best to stop immediately.