Want to Run Faster? 5 Exercises That Improve Your Speed

The best professional athletes attain peak performance thanks to hard work and a relatively generous gift from the genetic gods. Try as you might, it’s unlikely you’ll ever be able to best Usain Bolt in a 100-meter dash. Chances are his muscle makeup is a lot different than yours.

To better understand what makes some folks so speedy, it’s time for a quick lesson in human physiology. Our bodies include three main types of muscle fiber: slow twitch, intermediate fast twitch, and fast twitch. About Health explained slow twitch muscles contract more slowly and take a long time to fatigue while fast twitch contract quickly and exhaust much sooner. While most people are born with about 50% of each type, some folks are vastly skewed one way or the other. According to Competitor.com, the best sprinters have as much as 85% fast twitch, and the best marathon runners have about that amount of slow twitch.

Exactly how much you can change the balance isn’t known, but there’s evidence to suggest you can convert slow twitch to fast twitch if you employ the proper type of training. Basically, you have to work with what you’ve been dealt. Get started today with these five exercises, including everything from intervals to strength training. These workouts can benefit guys hoping to score a faster time on the track, those looking to up their skills on the football field, and everyone in between.

1. Agility dots

jumping, beach, agility

Agility dots | Source: iStock

High school and college athletes spend a fair bit of time working agility drills into their practices, yet few really give the exercises their full effort. Football players are more interested in playing football and runners are more interested in racing. They’re only cheating themselves, though, because these drills can make a huge difference in athletic performance. Consider a 2011 study from the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, which analyzed how incorporating speed and agility training benefited soccer players. The results found athletes who worked on agility drills significantly improved their performance in short sprints and some jumping exercises.

Agility training may also give you a mental edge over your competitors. A 2013 study from the same journal found a program including these types of exercises boosted cognitive performance, including visual vigilance and continuous memory, as well as physical fitness. Since every type of competition requires a fair amount of concentration, agility training could make a pretty big difference.

This hopping exercise a great choice for working on fast footwork since you don’t need any special equipment or a partner. It also helps build your ability to change directions quickly, which is particularly good for football, basketball, and soccer. For this exercise, it’s helpful to mark four dots on the ground, forming the corners of a square with 1-foot-long sides. Start at the bottom left corner on one foot. Hop to the bottom right corner, then the upper left corner, then to the top right corner, and finally back to the bottom left. Repeat the pattern several times, working to move as quickly as you can without getting sloppy or missing the dots, then switch feet.

2. 15-second sprints

male runner

Sprinting | Source: iStock

Interval training, often called high intensity interval training (HIIT), is a great way to burn calories and improve your speed. These workouts increase your VO2 max, which measures how efficiently your body uses oxygen. The higher your VO2 max, the faster you’ll be able to go. Best of all, the intervals don’t have to be particularly long to enjoy the benefits.

Muscle & Fitness recommended a workout where you sprint for 15 seconds, then walk for 45 seconds. Before you get into the core of the workout, the article suggested taking the time to thoroughly warm up with some dynamic exercises, then break into a light jog for about 1 minute. From there, go right into a sprint. Since these intervals are just a short 15 seconds, you want to focus on moving as quickly as possible. Once you hit 15 seconds, decelerate until you’re walking. After 45 seconds, it’s time to go again. Aim for 15 total repetitions. Once you’re done, do a brief cool-down jog and finish with some stretching.

3. Single-leg half squats

leg exercise, one leg

Single-leg half squats | Source: iStock

Strength is another critical component of speed, so you need to concentrate some of your gym efforts on your legs. Instead of heading for a heavy barbell to do standard squats or lunges, try single-leg half squats. Runner’s World likes this move because it’s more specific to the mechanics of running. You’ll build strength and work on balance, which will help any time you’re on uneven ground or land at an odd angle.

To perform this move, stand on one leg and keep your hands on your hips. In a slow, controlled movement, squat down about half the distance you normally do when using two legs, then push straight back up. Runner’s World recommended starting with three sets of five repetitions, eventually building to 10 repetitions per set.

4. Isometric Hamstring Bridge

stability ball, hamstrings

Isometric hamstring bridge | Source: iStock

You don’t always have to move faster to get faster. Isometric exercises are a perfect example. Breaking Muscle explained these holds are particularly useful for building speed because you can make them intense enough to target your fast-twitch muscle fibers without the same injury risk as certain plyometric exercises. You just have to make sure the move is challenging enough, so additional weight may be necessary.

Your hamstrings are key players in sprinting, so you’ll want to target them with isometric hamstring bridges. Grab a stability ball and set your heels on top. Your back should be flat against the floor and your knees bent at a 10- to 20-degree angle. Keeping your knees in the same position, push your hips up until you form a straight line from your knees to your shoulders, then lower yourself back down. STACK said it’s important to go right into the next bridge without resting on the ground. The stability ball will likely make the move challenging enough, but you may eventually need to hold a dumbbell across your lap.

5. Hill sprints

hill sprints

Hill sprints | Source: iStock

Take your sprint speed to the next level by doing your interval workout on a hill. Running up an incline shifts the focus largely to your glutes, which generate a significant amount of the force behind your stride. Nerd Fitness also pointed out running uphill replicates the same form you use when sprinting on flat ground.

Though hills can be phenomenal for conditioning when you go for slightly longer intervals, keeping things short is better for working on acceleration. Livestrong recommended finding a hill with a 10- to 15-degree incline that’s at about 40 meters long. Keeping your feet quick and your body in good alignment, sprint 30 to 40 meters as fast as you can. Once you get to the top, walk back down and, waiting at least 90 seconds total before performing the next one. Six to eight repetitions is a good place to start.

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