Effective sprinting is essentially a combination of stride length and frequency, i.e., the distance you cover with each step and the amount of steps you can take in a period of time. To sprint faster, you want to work on both of these aspects.
Your running form is also incredibly important, although many sprinters overlook proper form in favor of strength and agility training. Proper form requires practice and some muscle strengthening. To practice your upper body form, for example, you can simply retract your shoulder blades and push your chest out slightly while sitting, standing and walking throughout the day.
Ways to Improve Speed
Below are some simple exercises that work on these three areas: stride length, stride frequency, and proper form. You can combine these in any order to customize your own workout.
Squats are pretty straight forward, but make sure you maintain the proper form for the maximum benefit. Keep your back straight as you lower into the squat until your knees are at a right angle and your thighs are parallel to the ground.
You can also try plyometric frog jump squats where you jump straight up from a squat with your arms extended straight above your head. This will help strengthen the quadriceps you need to explosively extend your legs as far as possible with each stride.
Running in place with high knees helps work out your core and full leg muscles for maximum reach.
Simply run in place bringing your knees up to a 90 degree angle with your thighs parallel to the ground. Your heels should not make contact with the floor during this exercise, so keep the spring in the ball of your foot. Don’t forget to pump your arms! Do as many high knees as you can in 20 seconds, rest for a minute and then repeat for another 4 reps.
The lunge is great for strength and flexibility in the hips and knees for increased range. Step forward with one leg and lower your hips to the floor until your front knee is at a right angle. Then slowly rise up as you return your front leg back to the starting position.
You can also do this with a backwards lunge. Place one foot behind you and lower into the same position, then bring the back foot forward as you rise up. This motion in the back works a different group of muscles, so try to mix up the two varieties.
Aim for at least 5 reps on each leg in sets of 3.
A simple exercise developed by the NFL helps focus on rapid and properly formed arm movement. Standing still, preferably in front of a mirror to check for good form, pump your arms as fast as you can for 20 seconds. Do 5 reps with one minute of rest in between. To up the difficulty, you can increase to 30 seconds or add a small dumbbell in each hand.
A good heel raise works the calves and strengthens the tendons in the ankle for better flexibility. This flexibility allows you to take off from the ground more efficiently.
Stand with your feet a few inches apart behind a chair or counter top at waist height. Place your hands on the object in front of you to help maintain your balance, but don’t support your weight with your hands. While keeping your knees straight, rise up on your toes for 10 seconds and then slowly lower back down. Repeat this motion for 5 to 10 reps.
Hip Extension & Flexors
Your hips drive a bulk of your momentum, so it’s important to keep them loose and flexible for the longest stride.
One effective way to target this area is to lie on your side with your hand supporting your head. Raise your top leg (your right leg if you’re on your left side or your left leg if you’re on your right side) about 3 inches up. Bend your bottom leg toward your back at a 90 degree angle while keeping it on the floor. Then swing your top leg forward and back as far as you can go. You’ll have to use your core to keep your leg up. Make sure to work both sides and push yourself a little farther each time to increase your flexibility. Perform 5 to 10 reps on each side over 3 sets.
Combined with increased stride length and frequency, proper form will give you the most power and can even help keep you more aerodynamic. Never underestimate the value of maintaining good posture, efficient arm swings, and proper angles!
Be familiar with the form required for each phase of a sprint from the start, drive, stride and lift phases.
During the start phase (the first 5 meters), your body should be at a 45 degree angle to the ground.
When you hit the drive phase between the 5 meter and 30 meter mark, your shins should remain at a 45 degree angle as your body slowly starts to rise. Keep the shoulder blades back but relaxed.
In the stride phase from 30 to 70 meters, you want to keep high knees. Your momentum will come from pushing off the ball of your foot with each stride.
In the lift phase, your knees should continue to come up high. Your speed will necessarily slow down from the first two phases, so focus on keeping your feet off the ground as much as possible to help maintain a quick stride.
For a visual of these phases, check out Sports Fitness Advisor.
The placement of your shoulder blades is vital for proper form. Again, keep them back but relaxed. Avoid holding tension in this area by working on exercises focused on your upper back muscles, like bent over dumbbell rows.
To perform a dumbbell row, bend at the waist (and slightly at the knees) with your torso parallel to the ground. With a dumbbell in each hand, let your arms hang straight down. Lift the weights up by contracting your shoulders and upper back muscles.
Remember that when you practice keeping your shoulders back throughout the day, it will begin to occur naturally. That means one less thing to worry about when you sprint, so keep good posture at all times.
Proper arm motion helps stabilize the torso to conserve energy produced by the hips. When the hips are able to transfer energy efficiently, your velocity and acceleration are maximized. Keep your arms moving in a straight line in rhythm with your legs, making sure to bring your hands back to your buttocks.
Keep your elbows at a right angle and drive them in a straight line for the maximum power. You can focus on arm movement and elbow drive with the NFL Fast Arms exercise above.
To get maximum power, you want to keep your shins at a 45 degree angle. This gives you the spring position that allows you to push off the ground with forward momentum.
You can work on your shin angle by performing a high knee run with your hands resting against a wall.
Other Useful Techniques for Sprinting Faster
Using resistance bands
You can increase the energy your muscles exert in simple exercises by using a resistance band. For instance, use a resistance device like a Kbands around your thighs. With your body weight supported by your hands on a wall, raise one knee as high as possible for as many reps as possible in 15 seconds. Follow up with 15 seconds of unresisted reps, and then repeat on the other leg.
To workout with another form of resistance, you can run on an incline. Find a hill in your area to sprint up and walk down. Maintain proper form to get the fullest benefit. If there are no hills in your area, you can try a treadmill on an incline.
This may sound counterintuitive, but you want to try to keep your hands, face and other non-essential muscles relaxed while you sprint. A lot of sprinters inadvertently clench their jaw, ball up their fists, squeeze their eyes, etc. This tenseness takes energy away from the areas that need it. Relax and let your core muscles do what they’re trained to do.
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