Posts Tagged ‘interval training’

How to increase running speed has been a concern of both professional and recreational runners for probably as long as there has been the sport of running. To that end, many runners have tried many techniques to increase running speed. Probably the most popular such technique-and the most obvious one-is to run faster by moving the legs faster.

But science has proven that technique to be a myth.

Caster Semenya’s Amazing Run

In the recent 800m World Athletics Champoinship in Berlin, South African runner Caster Semenya proved that she did not have to move her legs faster to win the gold medal. A careful analysis of the tape of her winning run gives an instructive lesson on how to win a foot race – and it is not by running faster!

During the last two laps of the race, lead runner Semenya kept a calming pace. Her strides seemed to be long and calculated in comparison to the runners who followed close behind her. The Italian runner, position directly behind Semenya, seemed to move her legs repeatedly in an attempt to catch up with Semenya’s long, almost leisurely strides. But no matter how fast the Italian runner’s legs moved, her running speed did not increase.

Although Semanya, herself, may not have known how she won this race with fewer strides, researcher Peter Weyand does understand the underlying science.

The Harvard Study
In 2000, researchers at Harvard University tested the science behind top running speeds. For this study, they enlisted the help of 33 runners. They then instructed these runners to run at different speeds while the researchers monitored their “swing time” (the time it takes, between steps, for the legs reach the desired position). The researchers made a startling discovery-at top speeds, the swing times of all the runners were almost the same.

This part of the experiment proved that faster leg movements do not equate with faster running speeds. Further analysis of the runners’ strides revealed that it is the foot striking the ground that is responsible for faster running speeds-not faster leg movements above the ground. When a runner’s foot hits the ground, a greater force pushes back up, which propels him or her forward.

The results of this study led the researchers to conclude, “[m]uch of the work of running is done through passive mechanical processes, in which tendons and muscles act through elastic rebound, much like springs uncoiling, the uncoiling delivers the power to swing your legs.”

As counterintuitive as this seems, to increase running speed, a runner should run harder-not faster.

Hit the Ground Harder and Increase Running Speed

Contrary to popular belief, increasing the length of one’s stride is not an effective way to increase running speed. Such an unnatural stride throws the body off balance and actually has a slowing effect.

A better way to increase running speed is to apply a greater force to the ground with each step. When this greater force is applied, the runner springs up (and forward) and the effect is increased speed. This move is called a sprint.

Becoming a Faster Runner
To become a faster runner by using the ground forces, one must develop the leg muscles with resistance training. Such resistance exercises as squats and lunges while holding weights will effectively work the requisite muscles which include: the quadriceps (in front of the thighs), the hamstrings (in the back of the thigh), the glutes on the back and sides of the hips, the secondary hip flexors and extensors, and the muscles of the calves.

One’s anaerobic capacity (which is strength without the requirement of oxygen) is also an important factor in applying enough force to the ground to increase running speed. There are many running techniques that improve both anaerobic capacity and speed. Some of these techniques are:


Sprinting can be practiced on a treadmill to good effect. While timing yourself (to monitor progress) start jogging at a moderate 3-5 miles and then break out into a sprint for a mile or less. Repeat two more times during this running session.

This type of exercise effectively builds the anaerobic capacity which is, as mentioned previously, the power produced without the requirement of oxygen. The greater the anaerobic capacity, the greater the oxygen debt can be during hard exercise. This will add power to the run, enabling you to hit the ground harder and increase running speed.

Tempo Running

Tempo running involves running as close to your top speed as possible. Once the body becomes accustomed to running at this higher range, the overall running speed will increase. Physical and mental determination and endurance are also improved by tempo running.

Continuous Running

Running continuously while manintaing a specific pace might seem difficult for some people. However, it is not difficult for the motivated athlete. This running technique improves endurance, determination and stamina. It also increases running speed while allowing the runner to work on form, stride and strength.

There are two approaches to continuous running. One of them is running continuously at a low speed for a long period of time. The second approach is running faster than race pace as long as possible, or running as fast as you can for as long as you can.


This technique involves a number of running bursts performed on a running track or on a treadmill. It involves determining preset distances and paces before you start running. The running burst must be performed at the highest running speed the person can achieve; running at this pace is possible because of the recovery intervals.

An interval program looks like this:

30 seconds @ 100% / 60 seconds @ 65% x 10 = 15 minutes

Running 30 seconds at full speed and then lowering this speed in intervals also helps develop endurance, anaerobic capacity and increased running speed. Unlike continuos running, it allows the runner to run at full speed with recovery time.

The ability to increase running speed will ultimately depend on your own strengths and weaknesses, as every runner exhibits different physical capabilities. But every runner can increase his or her running speed with a little bit of knowledge, a significant degree of determination-and by following these tips.

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