The 6-Ingredient Recipe You Need To Get Faster At Running

Good news: you don't have to do intervals 24-7 to get faster at running.

the 6-ingredient recipe you need to get faster at running

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Shaving seconds (or minutes!) from your race splits, beating your bud at an upcoming event, and traveling further in the same amount of time all come down to one common goal: Run faster.

But how do you run faster, exactly? The answer probably isn’t what you think. Most people believe that the only way to run faster is to sprint. “But that couldn’t be further from the truth,” says running coach Kayla Jeter, an expert with Hyperice, a tech company that prioritizes recovery. Instead, seeing results will require a combo of strength training, tempo runs, a whole lot of recovery, and, of course, some speed work, she says. And this stands whether you’ve got a 100-meter dash, 10K, marathon, or even an ultra in your future.

Ahead, your in-depth guide for becoming faster on your feet. Plus, all the health and fitness benefits you’ll see by increasing your capacity to speed.

The Benefits of Becoming a Faster Runner

If you have neither a race in your calendar nor a competitive bone in your body, you might assume becoming a faster runner has no added value for you. But actually, the benefits of running fast(er) don’t start and stop with race day PRs, podium finishes, and bragging rights.

Running fast requires that all the muscles in your lower body (glutes, hamstrings, quads, calves, etc) become stronger and more powerful, says certified running coach and personal trainer Alysha Flynn ISST, founder of What Runs You, a company dedicated to helping women run. More specifically, she says that running fast forces the body to call on a particular portion of the lower-body muscles called the fast-twitch muscle fibers. Structurally larger and more dense than the other types of muscle fibers in the muscles (like slow-twitch, for example), your fast-twitch fiber muscles can produce a tremendous amount of power. As they get stronger, you can produce great power throughout your body, says licensed physical therapist and certified breathwork practitioner Kate Crawford PT, CEO of Korē Breathwork, a company committed to helping individuals manage their pain through a combination of breath and movement. This will carry over to other explosive physical activities, too, she says, like Olympic lifting.

Running faster will also help improve your VO2 max, says Jeter. VO2 max is a measure of how much oxygen you can take in while you exercise. The higher your VO2 max levels are, the less hard your ticker and lungs have to work during exercise and day-to-day life, she explains. As such, higher VO2 maxes are correlated with greater endurance and are generally used to indicate an individual's cardiovascular fitness and health.

Running fast is also more challenging cardiovascularly than running slower because the body has to pump more fuel (oxygen and nutrients) to your muscles—which includes your heart, says Flynn. “Over time, this improves blood circulation, enhances overall heart function, and reduces the risk of heart diseases and related conditions,” says Jeter.

Being able to sprint will allow you to dodge a car that blew a stop-light, get to your toddler who is about to step into danger in time, or run to the bus so it doesn’t take off without you. “You can also cover greater distances in less time,” notes Flynn, which means you’ll be able to see more scenes and sights during vacation runs.

6 Steps For Becoming a Faster Runner

Check out these six evidence-based, expert-recommended suggestions for increasing your running speed.

1) Lift Weights

The trail and treadmill may be your favorite places to exercise, but if you want to run faster, you’ll need to spend some time in the weight room, too. “Developing strength in both the lower and upper body through strength training can help you run faster,” explains Jeter. Strengthening your lower half will allow you to travel further per stride, while stronger arms will enable you to get the most out of each and every arm pump, she says.

Running is essentially a single-leg sport, as only one leg hits the ground at a time. So, strengthening your legs through unilateral lower body (aka single-side) exercises will give you the biggest pain for your sweat buckets, says Jeter. She says that single-leg exercises help correct any pre-existing muscle imbalances between the two sides. Most people have one leg that is slightly stronger than the other because they have a dominant foot that they always kick with or initiate movement with. While slight strength differences between the two sides are normal and NBD, huge strength differences can interfere with running form and run path.

In particular, Jeter recommends movements like single-leg Romanian deadlifts, Bulgarian split squats, pistol squats, single-leg glute bridges, and forward and backward lunges. “[These] will also help runners establish the muscle pattern necessary for hip flexion and extension,” she explains, the movement pattern used for every stride.

The number of reps and, therefore, the amount of weight you use will depend on your specific goal. To become a faster short-distance sprinter (think 100 to 400 meters), you’ll want to improve absolute power by doing heavier weights for fewer reps. Meanwhile, if you want to run faster for much longer distances, you’ll want to improve muscular endurance by doing lower weights for more reps.

2) Cross Train

No doubt, you’ll need to lace up your running shoes to move and groove your run-specific muscles. However, you actually can get better at running by hopping on the elliptical or stationary bike, diving into the pool, or rolling out your yoga mat instead. This is known as cross-training, which is the practice of using multiple training modalities to enhance the performance in one, explains Jeter. Here, running.

“Cross-training can be a great way to improve overall running efficiency, power, and volume while simultaneously giving your body and mind a break from the particular stress of running,” she says. The high-impact nature of running puts greater stress on your connective tissues (joints, muscles, cartilage) than lower-impact options like elliptical or bike. Some stress isn’t bad and is associated with a reduced risk of joint issues like osteoporosis. However, too much can lead to overuse injuries and even overtraining syndrome.

If the activities you’re adding to your routine get your heart rate up, you’ll get the same or similar cardiovascular benefits as you would while running while also continuing to work on your VO2 max, says Jeter. Meanwhile, if you start doing activities like pilates or animal flows, which require a greater range of motion, then you’ll have the added benefit of improving your overall mobility, she says.

For runners, mobile ankles and feet are especially important, as movement restrictions in these areas can impact gait and foot placement on the ground, says Flynn.

3) Try Tempo Runs

Tempo runs are hard runs, but not comfortably so, says Flynn. They involve going at an 8 out of 10 on the perceived exertion scale for an extended period. Usually, anywhere between 20 and 60 continuous minutes, depending on your current tolerance. During these runs, you can expect your heart rate to be hanging out in zone 4, which is 85 to 90 percent of your max heart rate, she says.

Generally faster than your other run-workouts, tempo runs condition your body to run faster for longer periods, which supports the physiologic symptoms you need to run fast, she says. More specifically, they strengthen your body's ability to circulate blood to your heart and muscles, as well as remove lactic acid,” she says. Lactic acid is a metabolic byproduct (aka waste) that the body naturally creates when you’re training hard. When lactic acid accumulates in your muscles, it creates a painful burning in the meat of your muscles that forces you to slow down. Because they are hard, “these runs build mental strength which will aid you on race day,” adds Flynn.

According to Crawford, how far or long you go during your tempo runs will vary based on your current fitness level and training age. A beginner, for example, likely won’t be able to throttle three miles, while a seasoned marathoner can probably go for a full hour off the bat due to their experience running for that amount of time. As a general rule, however, you should stick to doing tempo runs no more than twice per week, she says. Hit too many of these high-intensity runs and you’ll strain your body to a greater degree than it can recover from reasonably. It's not ideal for anyone looking to run fast for many years to come.

4) Do Speed Work

While tempo runs entail running at fast speeds for medium distances, speed runs involve running at even faster speeds for much shorter distances. A run-specific type of high-intensity interval training, speed workouts involve working hard for a short period of time, then resting long enough that you can repeat the effort, explains Jeter. They are usually done in a 1:2 or 1:4 work-to-rest ratio.

Going all-out multiple times in a single workout is hard, yes, but doing so will lead to serious speed gains. Your body taps into your anaerobic system when you sprint, explains Flynn. She explains that rather than using oxygen for fuel, your body uses creatine phosphate or sugar, both of which are stored in the muscles, for energy. The more you use this system, the faster the call-and-response time is between needing fuel and getting it, she says. As a result, you are naturally able to move faster.

To be clear: While speed workouts involve running for short distances, the benefits will express themselves during longer distances. “The power, force, and strength developed from speed workouts will also translate to aerobic (or endurance) runs,” says Flynn.

She says that one speed workout per week is generally more than sufficient for improving overall fitness and running speed. One option is to join your local run club for a track workout, but you could also run hills or tackle treadmill sprints.

5) Focus on Recovery

You don’t get faster at running as soon as you press the stop button on your watch or put your weights back after your last deadlift or squat. You get faster after your body properly recovers from your workout, says Jeter—whether it involves speed work or strength training. Each time you run and lift, you create tiny tears in the fibers that make up your muscles. She explains that it isn’t until the body has time to repair these damaged fibers that you have officially reaped the rewards of your hard work.

One of the best things you can do to support these efforts is to prioritize nutrient-dense food throughout the day, as well as immediately following training. “Immediately after exercise, you want to try to eat a snack with a 3:1 carb-to-protein ratio,” says Flynn. Your body will break the protein into amino acids, which function like super-glue, repairing the muscle fibers. Meanwhile, the carbohydrates will be used to replenish the glycogen stores that were depleted during your workout, she explains. Post-workout snacks aside, eating calorie maintenance or surplus, consuming at least 1.2 grams per day per pound of body weight, and opting for vitamin-rich foods are key, she says.

“Prioritizing sleep, staying adequately hydrated, doing soft tissue work, and managing stress levels will help with recovery, too,” says Jeter.

6) Take Rest Days

Don’t let the fact that there are so many different ways to get faster at running trick you into thinking that you need to be all gas, no breaks. Even if you are eating and sleeping optimally, running or otherwise exercising every single day will keep your body from fully recovering from life and training, says Crawford. “Rest days allow your body to focus on rebuilding your muscle fibers, clearing waste products, and repairing the damage it endured from training,” she says. “Taking one to two per week is your secret weapon for working towards your goals.”

The Takeaway

Ready to go from reading to racing? Jeter recommends combining the above tips to create your run schedule. Lace up for one tempo run, one speed workout, two lifting sessions, and one lower-impact cardio workout each week, and you will likely see great improvements in overall speed. On your marks, get set, speed!

Read the original article on Shape.

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