By Nike Running
Little tweaks to how you breathe, where you train and what you think can be all you need to pick up your pace.
No matter how quick or slow you are, how strong or competitive, you can get speedier. With a little imagination, hard work and these expert-approved and science-backed strategies, you can find your new fastest fast.
01. Make Time to Run Long
"True speed always starts with endurance", says Nike Running global head coach Chris Bennett. "It's the difference between being fast and being fast when you want to be fast". (You know, during the last 100 metres of that 5K.) The less endurance you have, says Bennett, the more speed you'll have to use up in the early portion of a run. "It's very difficult to run fast at the most important times", says Bennett. "Endurance is what will get you to that point". To build yours, run at least once a week at a comfy speed and further than you normally do. This will help condition your body to do more without getting tired.
02. Be Smart About Sprints
There's no way around it: To run faster, you have to, well, run faster. This is part of the principle of specificity: The closer your training routine is to the requirements of your desired outcome, the better the outcome will be.
That doesn't mean you should be dropping a minute off your mile time overnight. A good training plan will build your speed gradually through a variety of workouts. (For a roadmap, check out the training programmes in the Nike Run Club App.)
No matter which plan you use, you'll likely be doing interval training. Intervals, which intersperse faster efforts with slower recovery, improve how efficiently your body uses oxygen (a key marker of aerobic fitness) more than moderate-intensity workouts do, according to research published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. And once you start to bring up your speed for short bursts of effort, your overall pace during longer distances should start to improve too. These workouts can be as simple as alternating one minute of hard running with one minute of easy running.
Intervals, which intersperse faster efforts with slower recovery, improve how efficiently your body uses oxygen.
Typically, you should be doing true sprint work—say, all-out 200-, 300- or 400-metre repetitions—only every other week, says Jason Fitzgerald, a USA Track & Field-certified coach, head coach of Strength Running and the host of The Strength Running Podcast. That kind of workout is one of the more stressful parts of your training, so you need more time to recover, he explains. On your off weeks, he adds, you can do longer intervals, like 800-metre or mile repetitions, to keep making speed and endurance gains.
03. Take Advantage of the Treadmill
Running on a machine can be ideal for interval and sprint sessions because you can lock in an exact speed, incline and mileage. This makes a treadmill perfect for testing how well you can handle a race pace, be that for a 5K or a marathon, says Nike Run Club coach Jessica Woods.
"The tread lets you hone in on those specific paces", says Woods. "It's like muscle memory; the more familiar you are with that exact pace, the better you'll be able to hit that same feeling outside".
While you likely get a little less muscle activation on a treadmill because of the way the belt pulls the panels beneath your feet, Woods, who manages the treadmill studio Mile High Run Club in New York City, says that setting the incline to 1 percent can help counteract the effect.
04. Roll Out Your Workouts
To help avoid the potential injuries that can come with intensifying your training, make time to foam roll after a run or gym session. "Rolling your muscles with a foam roller can help work out specific tight spots, flush your system of metabolic waste after a workout and break down scar tissue that develops from the micro-trauma caused by running", says David McHenry, a Nike physiotherapist and strength coach who works with elite athletes. If you have time for only a few key spots after a run, McHenry recommends focusing on your quads, calves and glutes.
05. Consider Featherweight Footwear
For faster workouts and races, a lighter shoe can help, says Bennett. After all, even milligrams can make a difference when you're looking to shave seconds off your time. And if you use separate shoes for only your speediest runs, those shoes should hold up longer. If you're sprinting on the track, says Robyn LaLonde, an NRC Chicago coach, you might even want to invest in shoes with spikes, which dig into the turf and help you maintain your grip on the ground. "Racing flats can also give a runner great track-feel while offering the ability to go off-track", LaLonde adds.
Before you pull the trigger on racing flats or spikes, make sure you test the fit. "Shoes have to be comfortable", says Bennett. "If they're not comfortable, it doesn't matter what they're built for—they're the wrong shoes for you".
06. Build Some Brawn
"Strength training is speed work in disguise", says Bennett. Lifting weights is also crucial for strengthening your bones and connective tissues, including your tendons and ligaments, which reduces your risk of injury and improves your overall running form, says strength and conditioning coach Janet Hamilton, the owner of the Atlanta-based company Running Strong. And the stronger you are, the easier it is to carry your body weight over any distance, and the more resistant you'll be to fatigue, adds Hamilton.
"Strength training is speed work in disguise"
Chris Bennett, Nike Running Global Head Coach
You don't have to be a gym rat or lift massive weights to get these benefits. Try to strength train at least twice a week, incorporating core-building exercises, like planks and bicycles (an eight-week core-training programme was shown to improve running economy, among other things, in university athletes, according to research published in PLOS One), and single-leg movements, like lunges and split squats, which mimic the movement of running. For more ideas, check out the workouts in the Nike Training Club App.
07. Schedule Your Sleep
You've just ripped through a killer sprint session. Your body will absorb some of that work—and improve your speed—after your run, when it rebuilds broken-down muscle fibres to adapt to the increased stress you just put it under. A key time for that recovery is while you sleep. To help ensure you notch at least seven hours, the minimum amount experts recommend, set an alarm for 30 minutes before you need to be in bed. "Scheduling a sleep time is one of the most helpful shifts for a lot of my athletes", says Cheri Mah, MD, a physician scientist at the UCSF Human Performance Center and a Nike Performance Council member. "They build it in, just like they do other aspects of their training".
08. Fuel Your Speed
To get faster, you don't need to follow a high-fat, low-carb diet—or a low-fat, high-carb one. You don't need to obsess over macronutrients or give up sugar. Simply balance the meal on your plate.
"Think of it as one or two palm-sized portions of protein, like poultry and fish, or beans and tofu if you're plant based; one or two fist-sized portions of veggies, trying to get a wide variety of colours; one or two handfuls of carbs, like fruits and whole grains; and one or two thumb-sized portions of healthy fats, like avocado, nuts and olive oil", says Ryan Maciel, RD, the head performance-nutrition coach for Precision Nutrition.
Use this combo as a starting point for meals and you'll give your body what it needs to perform (and recover) at its best, says Maciel.
09. Breathe Like This
As you run, concentrate on taking deep breaths that puff your belly out on the inhale and contract your belly back in on the exhale, says Belisa Vranich, PsyD, a clinical psychologist and the author of Breathing for Warriors. This helps open up more space in your lungs for oxygen. "The densest, most oxygen-rich part of your lungs is at the bottom of your ribs", explains Vranich.
This belly-breathing method helps you breathe more efficiently—you can get the same amount of oxygen in one breath as you would from several shallow breaths—and gives you more pacing choices, says Vranich. When you take deeper inhales and exhales, you're delivering more oxygen to your muscles when they need it most, which allows you to maintain or pick up your pace.
"Concentrate on taking deep breaths that puff your belly out on the inhale and contract your belly back in on the exhale"
Belisa Vranich, Clinical Psychologist and Author of Breathing for Warriors
10. Try Something New
Athletes tend to do the same thing every day, says Bennett, but that's not how you improve. "You want to mix your running up to keep things exciting", he says. "That's what's going to lead to consistency". And consistently lacing up is how you develop the strength and endurance to fly down the road.
Variety doesn't have to be just about how long or fast you run, he adds. Try running with music. (Or without it!) Take your usual route in the other direction. Go up the hill you always avoid; run on dirt, grass or sand; ask a friend to join you. What makes even tiny changes effective is that they help you experience running in a different way, says Bennett. And that's what will encourage you to keep going.
11. Train Your Brain
No matter how hard you work, you'll run only as fast as your mind is willing. "Fast is scary", says Bennett. "But it should also be fun. It should add a little excitement to your routine".
Visualisation can help you get into the right headspace and gain the confidence you need to hit your target pace. "Imagine you're on a track, you're running smoothly, it's a nine out of 10 effort", says Bennett. "You feel a little dangerous, but you're smiling". Picturing that effort helps you get to "know" a pace, he says. And once you know it, it's no longer scary.
And don't forget to talk yourself up. Using compassionate language not only feels good, it can also translate into physical benefits, like more energy and a lower heart rate, according to research from the journal Clinical Psychological Science. One tip: Tweak your pump-up mantras from I can do it to You can do it (cyclists who addressed themselves in the second person instead of the first person rode faster in a time trial, according to a study published in the Journal of Sports Sciences). We'll join you in saying, You've got this.