Running is a skill that is required in most sports. And speed is a desired quality. Team owners in football, basketball, and rugby are always on the lookout on the next speedster on the market. Athletes are looking for ways to run faster in their sport.
Olympic sprinters such as Willie Gault, Renaldo Nehemiah, and Ron Brown had success in the National Football League (NFL). Recently, 8-time Olympic champion and “World’s Fastest Man” Usain Bolt signed a six-week contract to play for Australian A-League Team, Central Coast Mariners.
It’s not just in team sports.
World champion boxers like Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather Jr. have used their superior speed to overwhelm their opponents.
Tennis champion Rafael Nadal has amazing, explosive running speed that allows him to chase down every ball regardless of direction, velocity, or angle.
As the saying goes, “Speed Kills”. If you can develop faster speed, you have a big advantage over your opponent.
So how do you develop speed?
To understand what it takes to get faster, you must understand the science of speed.
The Science Of Speed: Keys To Running Faster
Running is one of the skills we learn early in life. Once we learned how to walk, running is the obvious next step. Sprinting is a whole new different skill. It is the ability to run at maximum speed for short distances.
The rate of speed varies from individual to individual. Some are born with the natural ability to run fast. You see it among kids at the playground. They can outrun others to the water fountain, the goal post, or the loose ball.
Your rate of speed is largely a by-product of your genetics. It is influenced by your body structure and the predominant type of fibers that make up your muscles.
Fast-twitch fibers are activated during explosive, powerful movements like sprinting and jumping. When your body needs to perform explosive action, the Central Nervous System (CNS) transmits motor units that allow your thick fast-twitch fibers to contract forcefully.
However, the contraction can only be sustained for a few seconds. As the level of force subsides, the endurance- specific slow- twitch fibers begin to takeover.
People who have a higher proportion of fast- twitch fibers are predisposed to have faster speed. They are ideal candidates for sports that require power and explosiveness.
In contrast, people with a higher proportion of slow- twitch fibers are ideal for sports that value endurance such as long distance running and triathlon.
The good news is everyone has both types of fibers. If you want to run faster for your sport, you have to find ways to develop your fast- twitch fibers.
5 Tips On How To Run Faster In Any Sport
While genetics play a key role in running faster, it should not prevent you from developing speed. You will just have to work harder and train smarter.
Work On Your Sprinting Technique
Proper sprinting technique will ensure that the right muscles are working to maximum capacity. It is one of the most important keys to running faster and will also reduce the risk of getting injured.
You don’t sprint with the same form or technique you use for long distance running. The mechanics are different as night and day.
Long distance runners utilize economy of movement – upright upper body position with minimal arm swing. The foot strike begins at the heel and rolls over to the ball or toward the toes.
Sprinting requires a forward lean to achieve maximum acceleration. Because a sprinter’s legs are so powerful, you have to aggressively swing your arms in order to maintain the forward lean.
Once the sprinter reaches top speed, he slowly transitions to a more upright stance in order to shorten ground contact time and reduce the level of hip sway. Unnecessary movements diffuse the amount of force generated by the sprinter.
If you notice how Olympic sprinters run, their shoulders maintain a squared position and the elbows remain close to the body. Even if they swing their arms forcefully, the shoulders and elbows do not get out of position.
Unlike long distance running, sprinting will have you moving on the balls of your feet. This allows you to propel yourself forward and maximize the use of the powerful muscles of the hips, glutes and hamstrings.
It would be advisable to hire a sprinting coach or an experienced sprinter to help you find proper form and technique. While YouTube videos have some value, nothing beats collaborating with someone who can point out your individual flaws in real time.
Develop A Sport- Specific Training Program
Speed is applied differently in sports. Going back to Rafael Nadal, tennis includes a great deal of lateral movement. Notice how fast Nadal covers ground when he moves laterally. He has enough time to set up his body to hit a forehand or backhand return in proper form.
To develop this kind of lateral speed, Nadal must be incorporating speed training exercises that allow him to move sideways faster than most tennis players.
Soccer players need to have dexterity and coordination integrated in their training program. An example would be to navigate the soccer ball in and around cones while running at top speed over short distances.
Boxers, MMA fighters, and football players who have to overcome resistance would be better off sprinting with loaded objects such as bands, chains, or a weighted sled.
Long- distance or endurance runners also have to develop sprinting speed. They need this to gain strategic position during a race or to improve their finishing kick as they head toward the finish line.
Multiple 400m intervals that alternate running pace with sprinting speed every 200m to 300m should help develop power for thelast few meters.
Incorporate A Sprinting Program In Your Training
For those who were not born fast, keep in mind that speed is a learned skill. Despite your genetic limitations, you can run fast. Like all skills, you have to put in the time and effort in order to become proficient in running fast.
It is not realistic to expect that you will learn proper sprinting technique overnight. Repetition leads to perfection. You have to repeat the technique several thousand times for it to be wired into your neural system. In short, how can you run fast if you don’t work on it?
Whether you are a long-distance runner, a tennis player, or a football player, if you want to get faster in your sport, you have to dedicate time in your training program for sprinting.
You don’t have to sprint every day. Two to four sessions every week for at least two months should result in dramatic improvements in speed.
Warm Up With Dynamic Stretches
There are two types of stretches: dynamic and static. Dynamic stretches are ballistic movements; short, bouncy, and repetitive. Static stretches are movements that are held for a prolonged period; often from 30 seconds to one minute.
A common mistake by people training to run faster is to perform static stretches before exercise. Static stretching relaxes the muscles and diminishes the ability of the fibers to contract as hard as possible. Maximum muscle contraction is necessary to generate optimum force.
Dynamic stretching primes the muscles for the workload ahead. You can say, dynamic stretching “wakes up” the fibers and gets them ready to fire at will when called upon by the CNS.
Start your workouts with dynamic stretching movements. It will get you warmed up and at the same time prepare your body for the demands of speed training.
Lift Weights – Train For Power and Strength
Let’s get this age old myth out of the way: Lifting weights will not make you slow. On the contrary, done properly, it is one of the most effective ways to get faster.
The fastest athletes in the world in any sport lift weights. Again, how they lift weights is specific to the needs of their sport. They don’t train like bodybuilders who use weights to build and shape their muscles for aesthetic purposes.
If you want to run faster for your sport, weight lifting is used to increase functional speed. The objective is to develop muscle fibers that can progressively generate greater muscular force contractions over time.
Compound exercises which involve large muscle groups are the key movements in a training program designed to make you run faster. A good weight lifting program should include deadlifts, squats, bench presses, overhead presses, barbell hip raises and power cleans.
Running by itself, will not develop your speed. Incorporating training sessions whereby you run as fast as you can will result in some improvement. However, your progress will not be sustainable.
In order to run faster for your sport, you need to adapt a holistic approach. You need a training program; not a running program, that is designed specifically to develop speed.
A holistic program is one of the best ways to get faster. It combines sport- specific training with customized training for sprinting and weight lifting.
Don’t let your genetics hold you down. As long as you put in the time and effort, you will run faster for your sport.