If you have been working on improving your running speed and were still disappointed with your speed during your last race, then don't give up. There are many ways to increase your speed that you may not have tried yet, and one great way is to incorporate the right strength exercises into your training schedule. Here are the best ways to increase your leg and core strength to help you run faster.
1. Add Hills into Your Runs
As you likely know, stronger legs can propel you faster. However, you want to make sure you use the right strength-training techniques to target specific leg muscles that will help you most during your runs. One way to increase the strength of the specific muscles in your legs that you use most while running is to start running on a path during your training that includes hills. As you run up the hills, not only are you working those muscles, but you are also working to improve lung strength and overall cardiovascular health that will help with your endurance. If you are new to running on hills, then add a couple of small hill climbs into your routine just once a week, and begin incorporating them more often as you build strength.
All muscles need time to heal and repair themselves after being worked hard, so resist the urge to include them every day. Overworking muscles can be just as bad as under-working them. If you typically run indoors on a treadmill, then you can replicate the effect of running on a hill by increasing the incline on the treadmill for 30 to 60 seconds several times during your run.
2. Try These Traditional Leg Strength-training Exercises
Once you have included hills into your runs and no longer find them challenging, then you can add some traditional strength-training exercises into your routine. Don't just walk into a gym and hit every machine, because you need to focus on these specific exercises that hit leg muscles you want to work most:
- Squats. Squats are more difficult than they appear to be, so starting with just your body-weight is best. To perform them, simply spread your legs until your feet are about as wide apart as your hips. Then, lower your buttocks to the "sitting" position with your bottom about 90-degrees to the floor. Perform them slowly and only perform 8-12 squats. When they become challenging at body-weight, you can slowly add weight by holding light barbells in your hands or using a squat-rack that allows you to add weight. Squats work your glutes, quads, calves and hamstrings the most, which are muscles you use most while running. They also work virtually every other muscle in your legs to a lesser degree.
- Lunges. Walking lunges not only improve leg strength, but they also help increase your coordination and balance, which are both important to runners. To perform them, also start with your legs hip-width apart. Step forward with just one leg while lowering your glutes until your active leg is parallel to the floor. Pause, and then proceed to perform the same motion with the next leg. You can also start lunges with just body-weight and slowly increase resistance by holding a barbell in each hand. One set is when you complete about 20 steps total, alternating legs. Start with two sets and increase to three before adding weight.
Other good leg exercises for runners include dead-lifts and single-leg squats, but start with these two basics that will work your legs completely before adding more weight-training exercises to your routine. As with hill-climbs, do not do these exercises every day. Doing them just twice-a-week is all you need, even after you become more experienced doing them and have added more weight.
3. Add Core-strengthening Exercises
Your core helps stabilize your entire body, and a strong core is cannot only increase your running speed, but also help you prevent injuries that can make you put the brakes completely on your training. Your core includes your entire mid-section, including your abs, hips, and lower back. Resist the urge to just start doing sit-ups or crunches that only work a small section of your core.
Instead, try core exercises that work all of your core muscles, including planks. Planks are done by lying on your stomach and then raising your body off the floor while supporting your weight on your toes and forearms. Simply stay in this position for 30 seconds for a good beginners' core-strengthening session. Gradually increase your time as your core becomes stronger and can support your weight for extended periods of time.
If you were not impressed with your last race time, then you can improve your running speed by performing the right strength-training exercises. Don't just walk into the gym and start using the first machine you see, but instead form a workout plan tailored for runners. There are also systems you can purchase that are specifically targeted to help increase running speed.