Run faster with explosive strength moves

  • This was printed in June of 2015 in The Madera Tribune, a newspaper in Madera, California. This was the 106th installment of my weekly column, Mind Over Miles.

It’s the question that I get asked most often regarding running: how do I get

faster?

I have read dozens of articles over the years in Runner’s World magazine

alone on the topic, including “How to run faster”, “Two training techniques

to get faster” and the most recent “Three ways to get faster in a single

season.”

I even offered these four steps to running faster in a January column: Make

your hard training days harder, make your easy training days easier,

incorporate surprise speed work during moderate-paced or long runs, and

rest.

Something happened last week that made me revisit the topic. A woman

— who had a baby just three months ago — joined our running team and

left every last one of us in her dust.

The mom of two, a professor in her late 30s, recently moved to Fresno and

is a member of the San Francisco-based Impala Racing Team, an all-

women’s elite group that competes in track, cross country, road and trail

races.

A moderate training pace for “Impala” is easily faster than 7 minutes per

mile, which leaves me and even the fastest men on our team trailing

behind her. When she cranks it up a notch for speed work, she disappears

from our view.

I am thoroughly excited to have someone to chase, because I know it’ll

only make me faster as I try to shorten the gap between us.

In addition to my tips from earlier this year, I’m going to incorporate specific

exercises to improve my cadence and stride length. Here’s my plan:

1. Increase cadence

Speed is a combination of cadence (how often your feet hit the ground)

and stride length, according to experts. To get faster, a runner must

increase one or both.

The average runner has a cadence of 150 to 170, meaning they take that

many steps per minute. Elite runners touch the ground 180 times or more

per minute.

To determine your cadence, count the number of times your right foot hits

the ground during a 30-second run. For example, an elite runner might

count 45. Double it (90) figure out how many times the right foot would

touch the ground per minute, then double that (180) to account for the left

foot’s steps.

My nifty Garmin Forerunner 920XT GPS watch measures my cadence for

me — usually 175 steps per minute.

To increase one’s cadence, practice makes perfect. Experts recommend

running for 30-second intervals at the goal cadence, focusing solely on

quick leg turnover. Increase the number and length of intervals, and

gradually your normal cadence will speed up to your goal cadence.

2. Increase stride length

I’m 5-foot-2 and have short-ish legs, but I can still increase the length of

my stride, or the equivalent of two step lengths.

Stride length isn’t just picked up in front of you, experts say, but also in how

far your legs kick back behind you. Reaching your legs forward and

landing in front of your center of balance can actually cause injury.

So how do you lengthen your stride? Put as much ground behind you while

“in flight,” or when both feet are off the floor.

To “fly” farther, you need to increase the explosive strength that will propel

you forward (not upward), while decreasing the amount of time your foot

spends on the ground with each strike.

3. Incorporate explosive strength drills

Working on explosive strength doesn’t just come from running, but from

conditioning muscles and tendons through drills to make them more

powerful.

I plan to start with 10 minutes of jumping, squatting and skipping exercises

two days a week to get my legs ready for a longer stride length and faster

cadence.

See my “explosive strength workout” at right, but take caution; trying these

moves before you’re in good condition can cause injury.

Farin Montanez is a 27-year-old ultramarathoner and mom of two who runs

for the San Joaquin Running Team. With her column she hopes to inspire

others to lead healthy, active lifestyles. She can be reached at

farin@maderatribune.net. Follow her on Instagram @mind_over_miles.

Explosive Strength Workout

10 jump squats: Start in a squat position, jump as high as you can, both

feet coming off of the ground, then land with knees soft and lower quickly

into another squat for one rep.

One minute of high skips: Skip, focusing on propelling yourself upward.

One minute of distance skips: Skip, focusing on propelling yourself

forward.

One minute of speed squats: Squat so that thighs are parallel to the

ground and back is straight, then stand, squeezing glutes. Repeat as

quickly as possible while maintaining form.

One minute of speed calf raises: Stand on a step a few inches high, on the

balls of the feet. Raise up onto toes, then lower until heels dip below the

step. Repeat quickly.

Repeat all moves, for a total workout of about 10 minutes.

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