Shot of a young male athlete training on a race track. Sprinter running on athletics tracks.
It is interesting how instantaneous everything is in our current society. If you want a burger, just pull up GrubHub. Need internet? It’s only a click away. Feeling like you want a date? Swipe right.
We are used to getting everything on demand. When we want it, we want it now. Unfortunately, the same is not true for getting faster.
As an Olympic sprinter, I can say there is no microwave for speed. There is no elevator for getting faster. You have to endure the daily grind and take the stairs to get to where you want to be. When it comes to speed training, you’re going to have to stick with the process and put in a lot of work before you see gradual results. The reason most people never get faster is because they get frustrated with a lack of quick improvement. With that in mind, here are four things you must do, in order of their importance, before you can see significant improvements in your speed.
1. Slow Down
The biggest problem people face with trying to get faster is that the first thing it requires is slowing down. How can slowing down ever lead to running faster?
The secret is in understanding that to get faster, you need to change and make improvements. These changes can’t be immediately implemented while running at full speed. A lot of times, you have to learn new motor patterns at slower speed first. Think if this was basketball; you’re not going to try to learn a new shot with someone’s hands in your face or rushing to beat the buzzer! Those situations can only be practiced after you’ve ingrained the proper fundamentals and mechanics at slower tempos.
A great place to practice new techniques or mechanics at a slower pace is during your warm-up. Mindlessly drudging through your warm-up isn’t going to get it done. The warm-up is no longer a thing to get through; it is a chance to improve at slower speeds. When you master the slower speeds, it will make doing things right at faster speeds much easier.
2. Make Technical Improvements
Once you’ve figured out how to slow down, it’s time to get more technical. What, specifically, do you need to work on to improve your speed? The key technical points you want to get right when sprinting include:
Limited Neck Movement
Piston-Like Leg Action
Dorsiflexion of ankle
There are some finer details, of course, but if you get these six things right, you will have some very solid sprinting technique.
If you have problems doing these things at slower speeds, you’re never going to get them right while sprinting at full speed. If you have poor posture while simply walking around, for example, your posture is going to be a disaster when you sprint.
Once you identify your problem areas, you have to tackle them one at a time until you create new instincts and muscle memory. That means that when you do sprint all-out, these new techniques will become second nature. This is where a lot of people give up on getting faster, because making something second nature takes a long time. The results take time because building new habits takes time. You may think you have changed, but a lot of times, we don’t allow that change to truly take hold before we put it to the test expecting faster times.
3. Get Stronger in the Weight Room
Many people prioritize this third step before the first step. Male athletes, in particular, love to make getting stronger their first step in getting faster.
Think about this for a second. If strength is all you need to be fast, then why are the strongest athletes in the world not also the fastest? Does Usain Bolt also have the world record for the Squat? Of course not. The reason being that you need more than just raw strength to run fast.
Strength certainly helps, but it will not help as much as being technically sound will. The weight room can become a drug because it’s a place where your numbers can keep improving, but you also need to have an athletic purpose in the weight room.
If you rush to get stronger without having a body and a running form that is technically sound, you put yourself at greater risk of injury. A lot of horsepower on a car with mechanical issues is not a good thing.
Depending on the person, some people can make getting stronger their fourth step to getting faster. It depends on the type of runner you are. If you are more of a powerful runner, the weight room can be step three. If you are more of a bouncy runner, the weight room part can probably be layered on last.
4. Run Fast, Run Right
Going out and running as fast as you can is ultimately what you need to get faster. The problem with making this step one is that despite your best efforts, you won’t run any faster until you check off steps 1-3 first.
The process sucks. No one wants to go through it because it sounds much more appealing to just train fast for two weeks and then magically clock significantly better times. But the key to running faster is patience. Increased speed will come only after you’ve earned it. That means months of training and doing the little things right before you see real improvements in your sprint speed.
Once you’re capable of running faster, you’ll need to practice it so your nervous system can get used to moving at new speeds. That is what getting faster is all about. Neurologically, your body is setting a new standard of fast. But getting to this point takes a lot of time and energy.
Putting it all Together
The four-step process for getting faster starts with slowing down, which is the hardest part. It may feel count-intuitive, but slowing down allows you to focus on doing things right at more controllable speeds. Then you move into the technical phase, which is where you use your heightened awareness at lower speeds to become a more efficient runner. Once you have locked in your new habits with time and repetitions, you move into the strength phase, where you can work to add some horsepower to your new optimized machine. Then and only then should you speed everything up and allow your body to adapt to your new top speed. It may be a long process, but if you stay the course, it will be well worth it.