The Need for Speed

 photo cred: Jonathan beverly

photo cred: Jonathan beverly

 Agility ladder

Agility ladder

 nicole getting in 10 hill sprints after an easy run

nicole getting in 10 hill sprints after an easy run

 1 minute hill "sprints" (1500m pace)

1 minute hill "sprints" (1500m pace)

 Kettle Ball swings

Kettle Ball swings

 The barbell shoulder press

The barbell shoulder press

We are quickly approaching spring, and many people are preparing to race shorter distances. However, if you have been running marathons and half marathons all fall, you may have tried a faster workout recently and been shocked at how heavy your legs felt. So, how do you make the transition from long slow races to fast races? We asked our coaches how to quicken your turnover, and this is what they had to say. 

 Running Specific Work
by Brad Hudson

Drills help prepare the body and nervous system to get ready to run fast and also help with quickening your ground contact time. Some of our favorites are A skips, B skips, high knees and bounding. For more ideas and how to do these drills check out the Competitor Magazine (here) and Runner's World (here) articles. We also frequently do agility ladder drills before faster workouts in order to get our brains and feet in the habit of moving quickly. 

Hill Sprints

  • Sprint for 8-12 seconds at maximum intensity up a hill that is at least at an 8% grade.

The goal is to recruit 100% of your muscle fibers by running at 100%. Take at least 90 seconds of recovery. You can do these on an easy day after a run. Hill sprints help develop leg speed and strength to prevent injuries and prepare the body for more high intensity training. 

 Fast Sprint-Climbing

  • 8 x 300m hard hills

Do these at 1500m speed with 3:00 minute recovery. This workout develops speed and anaerobic power. In addition, you’ll get practice recruiting fibers for kick development.

Specific-Endurance with speed

2 sets of:

  • 1.5 mile progression:
    800m at 15km pace    
    800m at 10km pace
    800m at 5km pace
    ~3:00 minute recovery~
  • 6-8 x 200m's at 3km to 1500m pace with 100m jog recovery
    ~3:00 minute recovery~

This workout is a safe way to implement specific speed for your goal race while also developing aerobic power.  The idea is to do a longer interval with changing paces followed by some quick intervals, and then repeat. This helps the body change speeds, something very helpful during racing.

Short Intervals

  • 6 to 20 x 200m at 1500m speed with 200m jog recovery
  • Sets of 300m/200m/100m at 3km/1500m/800m speeds  with 200m jog recovery

These workouts can be done alone or to spice up any other workout to practice leg speed and neuromuscular fitness.

 Mechanical speed

  • 600m/500m/400m/300m/200m at 10km/5km/3km/1500m/800m

You can do up to four sets of this workout. Take a 2 minute recovery between intervals and 4 minutes of recovery between sets.

This workout teaches the brain and legs to run at different speeds.


Sharpening Speed/Race preparation    

  • 200 on 200 off, having the 200m “on” be specific to your goal race pace

This workout can be done continuous for 12 to 18 laps.

This is a sharpening workout that prepares the body to deal with faster paces and get in the habit of running at your goal pace.

Supplemental Strength and Speed Work in the Gym
By Randy Hauer

When it comes to developing speed and strength for track it is important to remember that specificity rules. If you want to be a faster runner, a certain amount of your training time has to be devoted to practicing running faster. Most of the speed improvements you will realize will be accomplished practicing your events, but getting into the weight room can provide an extra edge in speed, strength, durability and resilience not readily available through track practice alone.

Practice is a key concept here no less in the weight room than on the track. Strength and speed are both trainable skills and learning and perfecting those skills is, I think, better accomplished from a “practice” mindset more than a “workout” mindset. 

One of the big improvements we can make in our weight training practice is learning to volitionally recruit more of the muscle we already have. While many, if not most, people associate building bigger muscles as the purpose of weight training, almost all of the strength gains realized by beginning athletes is through improvements in neurological efficiencies: improvements in coordination within and between muscle groups and enhanced ability to recruit more muscle fibers/motor units.

We work on making these improvements via two strategies: 1) moving relatively heavy weight for low reps in strength exercises like squats, presses and deadlifts and 2) moving relatively light weights explosively for low reps in power exercises like snatches and kettlebell swings.

For athletes looking to get the most out of limited gym time, I recommend learning how to do the following 3 exercises: 

a)      Barbell Press
b)      Kettlebell Two Hand Swing
c)       Barbell Deadlift

Try doing these movements as follows a few hours, if you can wait, after your track practice. Always do your sports skill work first! Neurologically you want to be fresh for your sport practice. Do these workouts once a week with 2 to 3 days of rest between Day 1 and Day 2.

Day 1

Press: Five sets with a rep scheme of 5 reps, 4 reps, 3 reps, 2 reps and 1 rep. Start very light and try to add a little weight each set. Each week try to increase the weight you do for 1 rep.

Kettlebell Swings: 3 sets x 10 (about 20 seconds each set) these are done “Hard Style” which is to say, explosively, with a hip hinge ( not a squat motion) KB swings are the only weight movement I know of which simultaneously stretches and strengthens the hip flexors, which when short and tight are like having a brick under your accelerator! Enhanced glute activation (glutes are the runner’s power plant) core strengthening and explosive power are all benefits of swings.

Day 2

Deadlift: Five sets with a rep scheme of 5 reps, 4 reps, 3 reps, 2 reps and 1 rep. Start very light and try to add a little weight each set. Each week try to increase the weight you do for 1 rep.

Deadlifts really use everything you have. Set up tight with a flat back and tight core, initiate the drive with the legs (visualization tip: push the floor away from you with your feet rather than trying to lift the bar.) Butt, shoulders and bar all come up at the same time. When the bar is above the knee, finish standing up by driving the hips to the bar as you straighten your knees.

If you do not know how to do these movements properly, Randy Hauer is offering a free lesson to anyone who comes in to Barbell Strategy during an Individualized Programming time slot and mentions the blog post. Please create an account on and fill out a waiver before coming in.

We hope these workouts and exercises help you make the transition to quicker races and many personal bests! Good Luck to everyone in their spring races!