Lessons from Elite Track and Field Runners #running

running-advice-bugAs we gear up for the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, the fastest American runners are preparing to take on the world’s best competitors. At this past weekend’s USA Track & Field Indoor Championships, I got a glimpse of just how good, and how very fast, some of our talented American athletes are. Here are four ways they got so fast – and how you can boost your speed, too:

1. Build muscle.

Photo: Joe English, (C) 2016

Photo: Joe English, (C) 2016

The first thing you may notice about track and field athletes is that most look extremely strong and lean. You might think this is because they have to wear those tiny bun-hugging shorts; but in reality, their strength leads to their speed. A stronger body means more power. Sprinters, for instance, grip the track with spikes in the toes of their shoes, which pulls their front legs backward. Meanwhile, their back legs push their bodies into the air, making them literally leap forward. The greater the strength in their legs and cores, the more powerful these motions become. Generating more power means they go further with each step.

Coach Joe’s get quick tip: To make your legs and core muscles stronger, incorporate strength workouts – think weighted exercises, classes like CrossFit or hill running – into your running routine one to two times each week. By augmenting your runs with exercise to make your muscles stronger, you’ll be a more powerful machine when it comes time to push harder.

2. Quicken your cadence.

When you watch runners on a track, you may immediately notice how quickly they turn over their feet. In fact, most track athletes do so at almost exactly the same rate. However, unlike the cartoon character “The Roadrunner,” these runners’ legs don’t just disappear into a blur of dusty circles. That’s because there’s a limit to how quickly we as human beings can physically turn over our feet. High-level track and field runners tend to run at that limit. Almost all of the rest of us, meanwhile, could stand to improve in this area.

Coach Joe’s get quick tip: Focus on picking up the pace of your foot turnover during one to two runs per week. In order to quicken your cadence, you’ll need to shorten your stride a little – especially at first. Count your steps in a normal-paced run and focus on boosting that number when you’re running foot turnover drills. By increasing your cadence just a bit, you’ll improve your running speed quite dramatically.
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