Get Fast Now
You don’t need to be born fast to have finishing power. Here’s how you can develop it
A simple plan to up your pace without the strain
KICK- STARTING YOUR KICK
Developing that second reserve means training your body to recruit as many muscle fibres as possible, and learning to use them when you are tired.
Building more muscle recruitment, and thus pure speed, starts with powerbased workouts and explosive moves such as all-out sprints of 20-100m, hill blasts (short, steep hills approximately 25m long) and plyometrics. This kind of work is taxing – it needs to be done in a refreshed state at the beginning of the workout and with full recoveries between each repeat. This isn’t aerobic conditioning; you shouldn’t be breathing hard before starting another sprint. Aim for one day a week dedicated solely to your speed development.
A plyometric routine (see Fast-finish Moves, right) can be done two or three times a week, after one of your hard workouts, but not on recovery days. You want to keep everything hard on one day so you can have true recovery days. Lance Walker, global director of performance with Michael Johnson Performance, recommends single-leg hops and the split-squat jump. He’s also a fan of what he calls ‘reactive-response plyometrics’, aimed at reducing the foot’s contact time with the ground; examples are dynamic A-skips and pogo jumps. After speed is developed through these methods it’s time to move on to workouts that mix speed with fatigue-inducing elements. TRY THESE:
500s AND BOUNDING:
Do 4-6 x 500m repeats, with the first 200m at 5K pace or faster, straight to 100m of bounding – exaggerated long strides, driving off the back leg and lifting the front knee as high as you can – then a 200m kick finish. ‘The bounding increases force requirement and thus muscle-fibre recruitment, and then you’ve got to use that during the final kick,’ says Magness.
Run 4-6 x 800m with 3:00 rest. For each rep, run the first 400m at 10K pace, the next 300m at 5K pace and the last 100m at mile pace.
GOING UP A GEAR
Coster’s workouts focus on developing a gear faster than race pace. Athletes perform race-pace workouts for distances one or two events shorter than their goal race (eg, marathoners aim for 10K race pace during 800m-to-one-mile repeats). Similarly, spending a training season aimed at a race a step faster than your usual goal will improve your kick. Coster’s 5000m runners focus on 1500m training for a period of time, either a full season or as a tune-up race before their 5000m event.
An advanced option is to combine strength and plyometrics with running in a circuit-style workout – for example, run 100m of strides between sets of squats and lunges. ‘Doing the strength exercises forces muscle recruitment and then you learn to use it when running,’ says Magness.
Athletes wanting to run faster toward the end of a race often try to force a kick. This causes them to tense up, change their gait and slow themselves down. In order to run faster, try to relax. ‘Shake it out,’ says Magness. ‘One of the best things you can do is to just drop the arms, open up the hands and shake them out for a second.’ The neck, shoulders and jaw are areas liable to harbour tension; take a deep, yawning breath with your mouth wide open and make sure your neck isn’t craning forward. Keep your breathing controlled, don’t let yourself overstride and aim for faster turnover.
Instead of obsessing over times and splits, move your focus to sustaining the effort, remaining calm and controlled, and envisioning your legs pushing off the ground and exploding with each stride. Staying relaxed when fatigued is a skill that, just like any other, needs to be practised. Many runners find that after putting all the ingredients together, the kick comes naturally when the time comes to use it.