It’s only natural as a runner to want to run faster, to shave off seconds or even minutes from your PR, and to cover more miles in less time. And while the need for speed is common—whether you’re just starting out or you’ve been running marathons for years—it’s not exactly easy. Sure, you can push yourself to just go faster when you're on the road, but it takes a little more training than that. You also need speed exercises.
Adding speed exercises to your weekly workout schedule comes down to one technique: strength training. Picking up weights will not only build your size and strength, but doing so will also builds more powerful muscles that help you stay strong as you pick up your stride. To translate your gains into speed, you just have to choose the right moves.
“Runners should concentrate on building power—how fast you can use the force you’ve built up,” explains Jay Dicharry, M.P.T., a physical therapist and author of Running Rewired: Reinvent Your Run for Stability, Strength, and Speed. “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, by the way, showing that plyometric exercises will help you run faster, particularly in shorter distances.
How to use this list: While there are plenty of speed exercises out there, here, Dicharry shares four go-to power exercises you can work into your training routine. Each exercise is demonstrated by Dennys Lozada, certified fitness trainer and coach at Fhitting Room in New York City, so you can nail the perfect form. Perform these speed exercises 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, try these beginner exercises instead.
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How: Face a sturdy box, aerobic step, or a weight bench. Stand with feet about hip-width apart. Send the hips down and back into a squat, then quickly jump up and onto the box, landing as softly as you can, with control, and with both feet on the box. Step back down, one foot at a time. Repeat. Do 3 sets of 8 reps.
Why: Explosive jumps will train your leg and core muscles to “turn on” faster during a run. Start with a low box, then slowly increase the height.
Bulgarian Split Squat With Rotation
How: Stand facing away from a box, bench, or chair. Place the top of your right foot onto the box about three feet behind you. Place hands on hips then bend left leg to lower down into a lunge until right knee taps the floor. Keep back straight, chest lifted, and left knee over toes. Then, drive through left foot to stand back up. At the top, rotate from the torso 45 degrees to the right, back to center, and then 45 degrees to the left. That’s 1 rep. Perform 2 sets of 8 reps, then switch sides.
Why: Single-leg exercises like this one strengthen your hips for better balance and stability during push-off. The rotation challenges your core.
How: Place a heavy weight such as a kettlebell or two dumbbells on the floor in front of you. Stand with your feet on either side of the weight. Hinge at the hips, maintaining a flat back and slight bend in your knees, and grab the weight. Keeping your core engaged, drive your feet into the floor, squeezing your glutes to stand back up. You should feel this along the backs of your legs and your glutes—not in your low or mid back. Reverse the motion to lower the weight to the floor. Repeat for 2 sets of 8 reps.
Why: Deadlifts develop propulsive force in the glutes and hip extensors, which will help your push-off as you increase your pace.
Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch
How: Step forward into a lunge with right foot and lower left knee to the floor so that both knees form 90-degree angles. Keep your upper body straight and your chest lifted as you shift your hips forward and squeeze your glutes to feel a stretch in your left hip. Hold for 1 minute. Then switch sides. Repeat 3 times on each leg.
Why: Thanks to sitting and running, we all tend to have tight hip flexors. Regularly stretching them will improve the range of motion in the hips, which is an important part of building speed.
Images: Julia Hembree Smith