How to get faster
Jogging with minimal yet dynamic contact with the ground feels like flying: the less time spent in contact with the ground, the faster your speed. What sounds so simple in theory is anything but. The following three exercises will help you minimise your contact time with the ground and increase your running speed. One training session a week is all it takes to see results!
The amount of time spent in contact with the ground is crucial to a fast running pace. The less time the foot spends on the ground, the faster you will theoretically run. There are numerous causes for spending longer in contact with the ground: lack of muscle strength, weak joints, tight muscles and tendons plus limited joint mobility. To create powerful muscle fibres (type 2), either high resistance or high speed is required during strength training. These exercises are based on fast repetitions. Coordination and balance exercises such as standing on one leg on a wobbly surface is a good basic exercise for improving joint stability. Tight muscles, tendons and joints particularly benefit from greater flexibility. You can achieve a good combination with the following practical exercises.
Knee raises with forward step
A fast jogging technique starts by positioning the top of the foot directly underneath the body and ends with the hip outstretched behind the body. Explosive knee raises build up the necessary flexibility and alignment in the leg axes and allow you to focus solely on the push-off phase. Dynamically pushing off from a stepping position improves tissue flexibility in the leg.
Here’s how: In front of a mirror, take a stride, keeping both feet facing forwards and the pelvis straight. The back leg should be outstretched with the heel touching the floor and tension felt in the rear leg muscles. Keep the upper body straight with a slightly arched back. Position your arms at a right angle as though you were running.
While briefly holding this position, actively feel the (initial) tension in the body and prepare for the fast transition. To do this, quickly push off the back leg, lifting it forwards and upwards to a raised knee position. During this movement, shift the weight from the entire foot of your supporting leg towards the ball of the foot (forefoot). Hold this position for a moment, then return the leg back to its starting position and press the heel of the supporting leg back into the ground until you feel tension in the leg again.
Take note: Don’t let the hip of your supporting leg sink during the transition. Keep your upper body straight and rotate it in the opposite direction, keep your head straight and gaze looking forwards.
Repetitions: 3 sets of 10 repetitions per side.
Heel raises using a step
Coordinated footwork, balancing exercises on different surfaces and good foot anchoring are essential for running. The more extended the calf, the less power that is usually available. It is therefore worth building up muscle strength in this extended position. This will also benefit the Achilles’ heel, as improved strength and flexibility in the calf muscles support the muscles around the Achilles’ heel.
Here’s how: Stand on one leg with the forefoot placed on a step. Keep the knee of the main leg straight and raise the supporting leg up in front of you. Keep your upper body straight and look forwards. You can also use a wall for a little extra support if needed.
Now, slowly lower the heel as far as possible in a controlled manner. Then, powerfully lift it again to return to the ball of your foot. By moving the foot, the entire body will move up and down. Keep the knee joint straight at all times.
Take note: The ankle must remain stable throughout the exercise. The foot should not tilt inwards or outwards. This is the key starting point. Strength in the calf muscles and Achilles’ heel must also be built up first. As the muscles get stronger, the heel will also become more flexible.
Variation: Increase the speed! If you already have a good level of strength, you can now up the ante and perform the raises as fast as possible. However, keep the lowering movement slow and controlled.
Repetitions: 3 sets of 10-15 repetitions per side.
One-legged clock hops
Hopping is the most natural way to get fast leg muscles. One-legged hops not only require a great deal of strength but also fast control. Good coordination is therefore essential.
Here’s how: Using adhesive strips, mark out an analogue clock on the ground measuring around 40 cm in diameter (four strips for the hours 3, 6, 9 and 12 and the centre is fine). This is your hopping area. The aim is to hop between each hour until you reach 12 o’clock. Always keep your body and feet facing forward towards 12 o’clock. Each hop starts and ends in the centre of the clock. To begin, start in the middle and hop to 12 o'clock, then back to the centre, then to 1 o’clock, then centre, then 2 o’clock, then centre, then 3 o’clock, etc. until you make it all the way round to 12 o’clock again. Hop and regain your balance for each hour. A stable landing and good coordination are key with this exercise.
Take note: The accuracy of the hops often leaves much to be desired when starting off but this is extremely important. Keep the foot and leg axes straight. There should be no buckling of the ankle, knee or hip. Keep the upper body stable, straight and still. If you find yourself getting tired, take a break halfway round.
Variation: Increase the speed! Once you've managed to cleanly hop around the clock with good coordination, you can up the ante. Make an explosive hop each time without taking a break to regain your balance. Keep the contact time with the ground as short as possible. To make things even harder, you can increase the diameter of the clock. The greater the hopping distance, the harder it is to execute the hop cleanly.
Repetitions: Alternate between 5-7 repetitions per side (1-12 o’clock).
Roman Koch is a sports physiotherapist and passionate endurance athlete. At regular intervals, he takes a close look at an everyday sports problem and uses simple practical exercises to show how to fix and avoid it.
More about Roman Koch
This may be of interest for you too