How to run faster? It’s a conundrum most runners will hit upon, once the couch to 5k has been smashed and the marathon has been booked. There’s fartlek, the Swedish art of speed play where you increase and decrease your speed or intensity throughout your runs, pushing that top speed to the max in the process. Beyond that? Well, it might be time to take a break from the road and get yourself to the gym.
Strength training is often maligned among certain sections of the running community where any extra bulk is seen as an unnecessary hindrance. But when approached in the right way strength training and running can be the best of workout allies.
According to systematic reviews, completing a resistance training session up to three times a week can enhance your running economy — oxygen and energy use in other words — by two to eight percent, as well as time trial performance by around five percent. Sure that might not seem much, but when marginal gains are everything, a properly thought-out strength training programme could cut down your 10k time by a good couple of minutes, and some.
“If you’re looking to run faster, improve coordination, and prevent injury, then strength training is going to be your number one go-to when it comes to backing up those runs,” confirms Lillie Bleasdale, a running coach and founder of Train Passa. Here Bleasdale explains exactly how strength training in the gym can help you run, in the words of Kanye, “harder, faster, better, stronger” along with some of the best gym exercises to help you shave down those running times.
Strength Training And Injuries
If you want an idea as to how much force goes through the body every time your foot hits the pavement then simply times your bodyweight by around three. We call this the ground reaction force (GRF), the cumulative pressure put onto your joints, ligaments and tendons with every stride. All this pressure is how injuries are caused, and by strength training, we can increase stability, stiffness, and muscular endurance, to help prevent this from happening.
Working The Gym Into Your Weekly Running Routine
Ideally, you want to be working through at least one strength session per week. If you’re short on time then breaking these down into three shorter sessions can still work well. When it comes to strength we care about the quality rather than quantity. Work out how you can get the most out of your sessions and build your schedule from there.
Ideally, strength training will take place after an easy or relaxed recovery run and not on the day before a speed or tempo session to have the least effect on running. When you first start with strength, ease this in bit by bit in order to avoid any delayed onset muscle soreness, aka the dreaded DOMS.
The Best Exercises For Those Looking To Run Faster
When it comes to running faster, we’re looking to build muscular strength and power. Think low reps and heavy weight, plus explosive and dynamic movements.
Exercises such as box jumps and deadlifts are good examples here.
Technique: Grab a box and place it one step in front of you, standing with your feet shoulder-width apart. Bend your knees slightly and drop down, bringing your arms out behind you. Using the momentum from your quarter squat, propel yourself upward as you jump onto the box, swinging your arms out in front of you as you do so. Land softly on both feet with a slight bend in the knees. Step down and repeat.
Top Tip: Taller folk, as in those 5ft 9 and above, will want to use a box 16 inches tall and over, while those under this height will be better off with a 14 inch box.
Technique: The ol’ classic. Standing with your feet shoulder-width apart, grasp the bar with your hands just outside your legs. There will be lines on the bar to help guide you. Lift the bar by driving your hips forwards, keeping a flat back as you do so. Lower the bar under control.
Top Tip: Remember to keep your core braced throughout and squeeze the bar as hard as you can as you lift the bar off the ground.
The Best Exercises For Those Looking To Run Further
When it comes to building distance, you want to support the body from GRF by building muscular endurance.
Think moderate weight and reps with exercises that involve running specific movements. Here’s four great exercises to get you started.
Lateral lunges With Calf Raise
Technique: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, and take a wide step to one side. As your outside foot hits the ground, lower your body by pushing your hips back and bending the knee. Keep your inside leg straight and foot firmly planted. Pause when your outside thigh is parallel with the ground, and then powerfully push up into a calf raise by raising your heels until you are standing on your toes. Come back down and then go right back into the side lunge again and repeat.
Top Tip: Make sure your lead knee is pointing in the same direction as your foot throughout the lunge.
Technique: Step forward with your left foot and enough distance to be able to bend both legs equally. As the left foot hits the ground, bend the left knee, and descend towards the floor. Bringing the hip forward and down with a slight forward tilt on your torso. You need to keep your back engaged and spine straight as you lunge. Drive-up from the left heel and stand up stepping forward. Now, go straight through and step with the right foot repeating the movement.
Top Tip: Try adding some added weight up top, like a sandbag, to recruit even more muscles into the move.
Single Leg Deadlift
Technique: Grab either a barbell, dumbbells or kettlebells using an overhand grip. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent and one leg raised off the floor. Without changing the bend in your knee, keep your back naturally arched, bend at your hips, and lower your torso until it’s nearly parallel to the floor. Hold before squeezing your glutes, thrusting your hips forward, and raising your torso back to the start.
Top Tip: If you’re new to this exercise, try practising without weights so you can get used to the movement while retaining your balance.
Technique: Standing side on to a cable machine, grasp a standard handle in both hands and hold it against your chest, and then step away so the cable becomes taut. Engage your core and press the handle out with both hands, extending your arms out in front of your chest. Hold this position, resisting the pull of the cable for up to 10 seconds then bring the handle back in to your chest. Repeat the same move on your other side.
Top Tip: If the cable machine is busy, or you just don’t have time to get to the gym, then you can do this exercise with a resistance band tied around a pole.