Monday, April 2, 2012

Get Faster Running Speed by Improving Technical Skills

You can improve your running speed no matter who you are! Work hard to improve your technical skills and I guarantee you will run faster.

The running mechanics are important to improve straight-ahead speed. Practice these mechanics every day! Strengthening your body (core included) will also help make you faster.

Here are 7 Tips to help you Run Faster:

1. There is one running technique that is often overlooked. One way to run faster is to apply more force to the ground with your feet. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. The more force you apply to the ground, the more the ground will "give you power."

When you run, don't lift your knee past your "thigh being parallel" to the ground. This way, you will use your "power center" (glutes and hamstrings) to apply force to the ground instead of the less powerful hip flexors. In other words, running "with high knees" is not the best way to run. Also, step over the opposite knee and drive the foot down into the ground to create maximum force.

2. There is another running technique that is often overlooked. MAKE SURE YOUR FEET LAND UNDER YOUR HIPS (your center of gravity)! And, when the foot leaves the ground, it should follow a path straight up to the buttocks. It should not flail from side to side.

One of the most common running mistakes is over-striding. When you over-stride, your heel lands first with your foot well ahead of your body's center of gravity. This causes "braking" and slows you down. Its also a good way to get injured. The heel should never touch the ground when you run.

3. This may sound elementary (and it is) but pump your arms as fast as you can (with control) when you run. If I see 10 athletes run on a given day, chances are that all 10 will not be pumping their arms correctly. And, some will not be pumping their arms at all! Pumping your arms allows you to use your upper body to run faster with more power. And, when you get tired, pumping your arms can help you maintain your speed.

Use your shoulders (and not the elbows) to pump your arms as fast as possible. Your hands should be relaxed in unballed fists with the front hand rising up to about nose level and the back hand passing the buttocks.

Move each arm as one piece with the elbow bent at 90 degrees (drive elbows down and back). Arm action should be straight forward, up and down and never flailing side to side. Drive the lead arm (same as front leg) up as you begin your sprint (this helps acceleration).

4. This is a real tough technique to master when it comes to running faster: RELAX!! That's right, relax and you will run faster. Actually, you will do any activity better if you will just relax. Here are some pointers to help you relax your running style:

a. Do a dynamic warmup before your workout or game. A dynamic warmup will prepare your body best for practice or games. Do static stretches after your workout or game (when muscles are warm) to increase your range of motion.

b. Make sure your "power center" is flexible. An athlete's "power center" consists of the glutes, hips, quadriceps and hamstrings.

c. Your hip flexors need to flexible. Tight hip flexors cause many problems, including problems with your glutes and hamstrings.

d. When you run, remember to relax your face, shoulders, arms and torso. You want your body to work like a "well oiled machine."

5. You have to train fast to get faster! This might sound simple but how many times have you seen coaches have their players run "sprints" after practice. That IS NOT speed training---that is general conditioning!

You can only run full speed when your body has recovered. That means you need adequate rest between sprints in order to run each one at full speed. About 1 minute of rest is needed for every 10 yards sprinted. Coaches, instead of having your players run sprints after practice, make sure that they practice at full speed during practice and drills.

And, a better tactic would be to run sprints before practice when your player are fresher (they would still need adequate recovery between sprints). Metabolic training and speed endurance training is also important for athletes.

The same holds true for plyometric exercises such as squat jumps. These drills need to be done at full speed with adequate recovery time between sets. Drills like squat jumps help improve speed and power.

6. You need enough lower body strength to enhance your speed and power. Here are a few tips:

Strengthen and condition your hips, glutes, thighs and hamstrings. These groups make up your athletic "power center."

"Powerize" your running with exercises like power step ups and squat jumps. Other single leg exercises like lunges are great because single leg exercises use the same pathways that it takes to run.

Make squats, deadlifts, good mornings, glute/ham drops and hang cleans regular exercises in your routine.

Strengthen your core every day. Exercises like planks, side planks and bridges can be done every day. A strong core is important for speed endurance.

How much lower body strength do you need to develop optimum power and speed? A male should be able to squat his body weight 8-10 times and a female should be able to squat about 75% of her body weight 8-10 times. If you are not able to squat, then you should be able to leg press about 1.5 times your body weight 8-10 times.

It doesn't help you to continually get stronger if power development is not there also. Power, or speed strength (how fast your muscles can produce force) is one of the best physical predictors of success in sports.

7. Core training is critical for improving your running speed. Here are the basics:

a. Slow to Fast
b. Known to Unknown
c. Stable to Controlled to Dynamic
d. Low Force to High Force
e. Correct Execution to Increased Intensity

You can start at the highest level of core stabilization training that you can control.

The dimensions of core stabilization training are:

Stabilization - The core exercises at this level involve little joint motion and are designed to provide optimum neuromuscular control. An example would be the plank on elbows:

Strength - At this level of core training, isometric exercises are replaced with dynamic, multi-planar and multi-dimensional exercises with the full range of motion. An example would be the ball back extension:

Power - At this level, sport-specific core exercises are used in all 3 planes of motion with the entire contraction velocity spectrum (different speeds). An example would be the medicine ball throw:

Many times, its practicing the "little things" that make you faster and better!

Be sure and download your Free Dumbbell and Medicine Ball Metabolic Fat Burner Workouts and start shaping your body faster!

Mark Dilworth, BA, PES
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