Many runners share a common goal: to run faster. It’s often why we’re training so hard on the road—we have our sights set on snagging a PR and every step we take gets us closer to success.
If you’re a runner who often skips out on strength, know that research proves the benefits of adding it to your routine. The evidence: A systematic review published in Sports Medicine in 2018 found that strength training improves running economy, time trial performance, and maximal sprint speed in middle- and long-distance runners of all levels. This research suggests doing two to three days a week of heavy resistance training and explosive or plyometric exercises (you’ll find a mix of those below).
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Keep in mind, most experts say that when combining weightlifting and race training, you can knock those strength days down to one to two times per week, but it’s smart to do it more often in the offseason.
How to Choose the Best Exercises to Run Faster
“Runners should concentrate on building power—how fast you can use the force you’ve built up,” Jay Dicharry, M.P.T., a physical therapist and author of Running Rewired tells Runner’s World. “Explosive movements help you activate your muscle power quickly during push-off.”
This, in turn, increases the speed of your turnover and the power of your stride. The result? Every step you take is quicker than before. Research backs this up as well, showing that plyometric exercises will help you run faster, particularly in shorter distances.
4 Speed Exercises to Help You Pick Up the Pace
How to use this list: While there are plenty of speed exercises out there, here, Dicharry shares four go-to moves you can work into your training routine.
Each exercise is demonstrated by Dennys Lozada, Nike master trainer and strength coach, so you can learn proper form. Do these exercises to run faster twice a week, preferably two days before or after a running speedwork session. You will need one heavy weight (a kettlebell is a great option), a sturdy box or bench, and/or a chair.
Explosive moves are recommended for advanced athletes and runners, so if you are just starting out, start with this dumbbell workout for beginners.
1. Box Jump
Why it works: Explosive jumps train leg and core muscles to “turn on” faster during a run. Start with a low box, and if it eventually becomes too easy, increase the box height.
How to do it: Face a sturdy box, aerobic step, or weight bench. Stand with feet about hip-width apart. Send hips down and back into a squat, then quickly jump up and onto the box, landing softly and with control, and with both feet on the box. Step back down, one foot at a time. Repeat. Do 3 sets of 8 reps.
2. Bulgarian Split Squat With Rotation
How to do it: Stand facing away from a box, bench, or chair. Place top of right foot onto the box with left foot about three feet in front, hands on hips. Bend left leg to lower into a lunge until right knee lightly taps the floor. Keep back straight, chest lifted, and left knee over toes. Then, drive through left foot to stand up. At the top, rotate the torso 45 degrees to the right, come back to center, and then rotate 45 degrees to the left. That’s 1 rep. Perform 2 sets of 8 reps, then switch sides.
How to do it: Place a heavy weight such as a kettlebell or two dumbbells on the floor. Stand behind it with weight between feet. Hinge at hips by sending butt straight back, maintaining a flat back, tight core, and slight bend in knees, and grab the weight. Keeping core engaged, drive feet into the floor, squeezing glutes to stand up. Hinge to repeat the movement, holding onto the weight. Do 2 sets of 8 reps.
4. Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch
How to do it: Step forward into a lunge with right foot and lower left knee to the floor so that both knees form 90-degree angles. Keep upper body straight and chest lifted as hips shift forward. Squeeze glutes to feel a stretch in left hip, tucking pelvis slightly forward and engaging core. Hold for 1 minute. Then switch sides. Repeat 3 times on each leg.
Images/gifs: Julia Hembree Smith