Runners are in constant pursuit of a big PR. While outside factors like weather and terrain can play a role in the numbers on the clock at the finish line, the lion’s share of improvements are the result of good old-fashioned hard work. Tweak a few aspects of training and you’ll see those times creep downwards.
The key is to know what exactly to change in your workout routine. For someone training for a 5K, it may be foot speed. For marathoners, however, strength and endurance are often more important to focus on. Regardless of the race distance, optimizing all three skills will elicit better running performances for just about any runner.
Fortunately, there is a wide body of research to help guide you in your training as you strive to run faster, stronger and longer. By implementing some of these workouts into your training regimen on a regular basis, you’ll likely see a boost in performances over a training cycle. Since you won’t be able to fit in every single one of these workouts on a weekly basis, step back and consider your particular weaknesses and goals to decide which to focus on.
HOW TO IMPROVE SPEED
Sprint Interval Training: While distance runners may chafe at the idea of doing speed work, adding just one fast interval workout each week can elicit results over the long haul.
Research has shown that sprint interval training improves muscle function and thereby speed. In a study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, participants were assigned to a sprint interval group that ran all-out 10-50 meter sprints, a plyometric group that did a variety of jumping exercises, and a control group which continued with their regular activities. At the end of 10 weeks of either interval or plyometric training three days a week, both showed significant improvements in sprint speed over the control group.
Plyometric Drills: Rely on a plyometrics routine that also employs form drills to improve not only your speed, but also your overall efficiency.
There is plenty of other research to back up the fact that it too improves speed. Some experts suggest that it may be a result of improving contact time with the ground. The thinking goes that by improving your agility and power by which you push off the ground with each footstrike, the less time your feet spend on the ground, which makes you faster.
HOW TO IMPROVE STRENGTH
Resistance Training: Whether you go to the gym to pump iron or do a series of bodyweight exercises in your living room, strength training 2-3 times per week can help you make in-roads as you chase a PR.
Running economy is all about the amount of oxygen you consume at your top speed. Improve your economy and you’ll be able to run faster and longer at the same effort level. Research has revealed that running economy is likely more important than VO2max when it comes to race performance. The fact that it has been suggested that improvements in running economy are strongly linked to improved neuromuscular characteristics highlights the importance of including resistance training in any running regimen. Not only will this improve strength (which will lead to stronger running), it’ll also help bulletproof your body from some of the most common overuse injuries.
Explosive Strength Training: Explosive moves help teach your muscles to fire more efficiently. Even a small amount of this type of training can lead to major results.
Not only can your run-of-the-mill resistance routine make a difference in your strength as a runner, so can more explosive strength-based moves. Offering similar improvements to neuromuscular characteristics as other forms of strength training, research has demonstrated that by replacing a small fraction of your normal endurance training with explosive strength training for as little as 9-weeks, muscle power surges and 5K times improve.
HOW TO IMPROVE ENDURANCE
Training Volume: Some athletes can handle more mileage than others, so be sure to listen to your body and scale back the time on your feet if you’re running into injuries. Also, be sure not to up your weekly mileage by more than about ten percent from one week to the next in order to fully allow your body to adapt to the increased training.
There’s no substitute for mileage when you’re looking to boost endurance. Increasing the numbers of miles you run is yet another proven way to improve your running economy, which will allow you to run faster and longer at the same effort level as you were able to muster prior to training.
Long Interval Training: Different types of intervals work different systems. Relying on a mix can help contribute to your pursuit to run faster, stronger, and longer.
While short sprint intervals are a proven method by which you can gain speed, exercise physiologists have discovered that longer intervals can assist in improving endurance by boosting VO2max. Longer intervals usually involve harder bouts of running that last between 3-5 minutes with easy jogging recovery between each.