I used to think I hated running. Where was the enjoyment, I thought, of running endlessly outside under the hot sun, in the cold wind, or on the mind-dulling treadmill? In college I competed as a high jumper, and kept my running workouts to short sprints. College days over, I looked elsewhere to get my endorphin fix and grudgingly decided to give distance running a try. And, well...now I'm hooked!
Whether you're a distance runner or a sprinter, whether you run for recreation or are looking to gain speed for another sport, speed workouts will vastly improve your performance and enjoyment of running. With a new spring in your stride you’ll be able to hold a faster pace for longer. You will dominate the run instead of the run dominating you.
Note: few people actually compete in sprinting events outside of high school/college, but sprinting drills can be vastly useful for people training for other sports such as basketball, soccer, ultimate, etc...
1) Run Uphill
With all of these drills, start with a 10 minute warm-up jog. You will pull something otherwise.
Pick a steep hill. Run up it. Fast, like as if you were trying to catch a bus. Jog back down and repeat 3-5 times. Wave to the neighbors who are all watching jealously.
Sprinters pick a hill you wouldn’t want to bike up, preferably for a 50 to 60 meter stretch.
Distance runners can choose slightly less precipitous hills but with a longer stretch to go - about 150 meters.
Hint: In all of these drills, aim for no more than 2 minutes of rest between the finish of one repeat and the start of the next, particularly if you’re a distance runner. You want to keep your heart rate up! Learn to love the burn - it’s a sign that progress is being made.
2) Run intervals or “fartleks"
Sprinters: Intervals are typically done on a track where you can measure distances precisely.
Run a 400m or 800m at 80% (100% being the absolute fastestyou could run this distance). Walk or jog for 200-400 meters and repeat 3-5times.
Distance runners: Fartleks (a Swedish word meaning “speed play”) are used by distance runners to incorporate segments of high speed into their non-track runs.
Run at a comfortable pace interspersed with periods of higher speed. The higher speed segments can be measured by distance (even “I’m gonna race to that mailbox”) or time (30 seconds to a minute of higher speed is typical).
3) Run downhill
Pick a not too steep hill and run down it. Don’t “catch” yourself with each step, instead incline forward slightly at the hips (which should always be your running posture) and let your legs cycle through faster and faster. This is what it should feel like when you’re sprinting: being on your toes careening forward. Getting a faster stride turnover is key to increasing speed.
Squats are magical exercises. My coach used to say that if you were only going to do one strength training exercise, it should be squats of some form. Even if all the experts don’t agree with that statement, squats still hold the key to immense strength, and strength leads to speed. Squats work the entire leg, back, and core muscles.
Sprinters: you’ll want to do fewer repetitions at a higher weight. Three sets of six or eight repetitions is typical. The last two of each set should feel really difficult.
Maxing out for intense muscle building
Now and then if you’re really serious, you’ll want to “max out.” This is where you put so much weight on the bars that you can only do one repetition. Be sure to have a spotter standing behind you who can grab the bar if you can’t get up! It will push your body to its boundaries.
Distance runners: you’ll want to squat a much lighter weight for longer. Rather than a certain number of repetitions, try seeing how many squats you can do in a minute. The distance runners on my college team frequently did “circuits,” such as a minute of squats followed immediately by a minute of bench press by a minute of jump rope, etc...then repeat the circuit 2 or three times.
5) Eat a protein and carbohydrate snack within 30 minutes after your workout!
Okay, this is not a drill, but it’s highly important and should be treated as part of your training.
When you work out you break down muscle tissue, and it’s the rebuilding of this tissue that makes you stronger and faster. Protein is the building block needed for muscle repair. You also have used up your storage of glycogen - the carbohydrates stored in bodily tissue and used for energy. That “hitting the wall” feeling comes from depleting your stores of glycogen.
Sports scientists have found that the sooner after your workout you eat (it doesn’t have to be a meal - it can be a quick protein and carbohydrate snack like peanut butter and banana), the better your body can rebuild muscle and replenish the glycogen storage. You’ll feel refreshed for your next workout, and will make steadier improvements than if you fasted for hours afterwards.
As a college varsity athlete, I noticeably saw the improvements in my performance (and my body’s muscle tone) once I started implementing this post workout snack. Even if you’re exercising to lose weight, the post workout snack is not something to miss!
Some good carbohydrate/protein snacks:
- banana and peanut butter
- chocolate protein shake or even just chocolate milk
- greek yogurt with fruit
- bowl of high protein cereal
Finally, let’s talk about motivation. When you do these speed drills I personally find it useful to have something to motivate me other than “it’s good for me” or “I’ll run that 5K faster.” Some people imagine an old coach cheering (or yelling) them on. I find it useful to run with very fast paced pump-up music. Or try this: imagine that a crush of yours is watching. And zing! Works every time.
Leave a Comment: Hubbers, what motivates you to run faster? What's your favorite post-workout snack? Please leave a comment should you feel inspired!
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
jcsales on July 27, 2015:
Informative hub. I am an avid runner and I find this hub useful to improve my running speed. Thanks for this.
Kristen Howe from Northeast Ohio on May 30, 2015:
Love your tips for sprinters and runners on how to pick up your speed, no matter what level you're in. Voted up!
Jake Epley from College Station on December 11, 2014:
Currently training for my first marathon! What motivates me to run faster is running with my buddies. One of us will pick up the pace, and the others will match it, and then someone else will pick it up even more. We just continually push each other in this way, and we have been seeing fantastic results in our mile times!
Laura Gross Smith from Sheffield, Ma on September 12, 2014:
I am motivated to run faster after I race! I keep track of my times on the backs of my bibs, so hopefully, the next year I run that same race I will beat the time...who knows.
Kelly Kline Burnett from Southern Wisconsin on July 01, 2014:
Very practical advise and presented very concisely. Voted up! I agree with Simone Smith - one of the best articles on running I have read. And the new word of the day is reminiscent of my days with Toastmasters. Thank you for serving to motivate us to run for our health!
Samuel R Gordon from Orlando, Florida on April 27, 2014:
Hi my daughter is 11 years old she has been running since she was in 2nd grade starting with her schools cross country team. Her best event in track and field is the mile and 1500 meter. We have been practicing on weekend for years now I don't try to push her too much because I know she is still growing into her body. She currently runs mile in 6:37 and 1500 in 6:04 I know if she was with actual team and practicing everyday her times would be much better. She also loves to play soccer and that also takes up a lot of time. I think this is a good level to be at right now but I am not sure. She has made continuous progress from year to year. How do you think I should guide her for future success? She is a good student and I figure either academics,track, cross country or soccer she can get a scholarship.
Casey Johnson from Sanger, Texas on October 17, 2013:
Great Hub! Very informative. A lot of people don't really understand that you can force your body to run faster overtime with patience and knowledge. Voted up.
Tara McNerney (author) from Washington, DC on August 04, 2012:
I can see why it would seem that way CyclingFitness. But actually, though squats are "slow" movements, they still build up enormous "pop" power as my coach would say. Your legs get much stronger, giving you more power to your stride. Squats were also used by the jumpers on our track team to improve their vertical/distance jumping events.
Liam Hallam from Nottingham UK on August 03, 2012:
I would have thought heavy squats will actually slow your running as you're training your muscles to fire at a slower rate?
Val Smith from Alameda on March 16, 2012:
Wonderful Hub, Tara! I'm inspired!
Jennuhlee from Pennsylvania on March 14, 2012:
Very useful and original hub!
Simone Haruko Smith from San Francisco on March 14, 2012:
Heheheee!!! I just fartleked!!!
Tara McNerney (author) from Washington, DC on March 14, 2012:
Fartlek is a great word! Imagine being able to say "I just did a fartlek" (or, "I just fartleked"?). One more point of motivation to do this exercise.
Those Carnation Instant Breakfasts are good! You have to choose your flavors carefully though - I'm not a fan of the strawberry one for example.
Simone Haruko Smith from San Francisco on March 14, 2012:
This may be the best article on running I've ever read (OK, so maybe I've only read about 75 or so, but still!!). Your advice is accessible and fun- plus super practical. Even as a totally sucky runner, I know exactly what to do- and I'm kind of excited about it! Hmm... maybe once this rain stops, I'll give outside running another go.
By the by, Fartlek is, like, TOTALLY my new favorite word.
Robin Edmondson from San Francisco on March 12, 2012:
I like the varying workouts for sprinters and distance runners; that's really useful. I've heard that Michael Phelps drinks a Carnation Instant Breakfast after every workout because of the balance of carbs and protein. It's a great reminder to do that after my workouts.