The Running Physio

TRP's Running Blog

Injury management, nutrition, training and running tips.

Need for Speed - How to Get Faster


One of the beautiful things about running is that within a single sport, there are many ways to change up your goals, workouts, or mental focus. While some people love running long, others may choose to challenge themselves to see how fast they can do a shorter distance. One of our favourite distances to play with is the 5k. This spicy, quick, but not-quite-a-full-on-sprint is arguably even harder to train for and to race than a longer race - primarily because the degree of mental grit and resilience required to push hard for that duration of time is TOUGH. 5k is also a great distance for newer runners as it serves as a wonderful milestone and accomplishment. It’s almost like a “gateway drug” to wanting to do longer races, like 10k or maybe even a half marathon.

Regardless of your goals or skill level, there’s a good chance that you’re trying to improve your speed as a runner. Aside from training modifications you’ll need to make in your running schedule, it’s important that you are incorporating some strategic supplementary strength exercises in your training as well. Running for speed is all about increasing muscle power as well as speeding up the “message” that your brain sends to your muscles to contract and move more quickly though space. Remember - your body is only as good as your brain. So it is also helpful to train your mental grit through practicing exercises (and runs) that often make you feel uncomfortable or out of breath. For those sick and twisted minds out there that love to push boundaries - training for a mega fast 5 k is right up your alley.

Take a try at our Top 3 Exercises to help improve speed, and for even more info, check out our three-session Resilient Runner Need for Speed program.

1) Explosive Knee Drives

This exercise challenges power through the glutes, quads, hamstrings, hip flexors and quads (so, everything!) and is fantastic for working on the high knee (or what we call the “A”) part of the gait cycle. For this exercise, as well as the next ones, a key focus point is to keep the movements crisp, clean, and symmetrical. Oftentimes you may find that one side is easier than the other, or feels more natural. This may be something to chat with your physio about as major asymmetries can reduce efficiency or potentially lend themselves to injury. We suggest doing all of these exercises by time instead of reps - so start with two to three rounds of 30 seconds per side and build from there. Remember - the point is to expend some effort here - you should be working pretty hard - but without pain if you’re dealing with an injury. Keep in mind that you can also use a lower step or bench to decrease the difficulty.


Fire it up.

#2) Speed Feet

Can you keep up? This exercise is great for improving the brain-leg connection to say, “MOVE FASTER!” Alternate a small explosive (but controlled) forefoot tap onto the step in front of you. This can also work well with a dexterity ladder if you’ve got access to one of those babies. Pair a powerful arm swing for extra core engagement and upper body co-ordination - think about driving the elbows back quickly and swiftly. As with the previous exercise, start with two or three rounds of 30 seconds, and note if you have a slower or more sluggish side as this may indicate an imbalance that can be worked on. Key point - speeding things up often brings out our “weak spots”.

Are those feet even touching?

#3) ABC Speed Skipping

Bring out that old skipping rope from the box in the attic! With the rise of fancy exercise classes, spin classes, and gadgets for absolutely every ailment under the sun, we often forget about just the basics. While you can do classic ABC drills sans rope, the added challenge of a quick rope moving under you is a fantastic way to improve focus, co-ordination, and fast-twitch muscle firing patterns. Work through this one as:

  • “A” patterning - high knees skipping

  • “B” patterning - slightly higher knees and over-exaggerated

  • “C” patterning - butt kicks with slight forward lean

This can be tricky to time, but you can always practice the components separately, and then bring them together. And of course, if you’re not into fancy footwork, plain old skipping is a great way to build calf strength and endurance!

She makes it look easy.

Give these guys a try and let us know how you make out. And if you’re interested in learning more about how you can specifically hone in on those speed goals, it never hurts to #getassessed.

Happy Racing!