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Okay, maybe not Usain Bolt fast, but something the majority of runners aim for in our training is to run faster. I set myself the target of shaving five minutes off my average 5k time (currently 32 minutes) and ten minutes off of my 10k this year (currently around 64 minutes). The main question is how do we get faster? What can we do to shave off a single minute per kilometre?
We need to become comfortable with pushing it a little bit in our training by increasing our intensity. Something that will make breathing a little harder, our muscles to feel like they’re burning, and we may even feel like we hurt all over. If higher intensity training is not the norm, the normal reaction from our brain (especially mine) is:
“Woah! What are you doing? STOP!”
The good news is that with practice, we can make our bodies more comfortable with those levels of intensity and can now push that pain barrier out. To do this, we could just practice running faster, but if like myself, you’re new-ish to running, running faster for extended periods of time can seems quite daunting and can make the run less enjoyable. To get over this mental hurdle, try these three key exercises, which can be done anywhere and at any time during the day.
Best of all, the first two at least do not include any running whatsoever and can be done in a quick session, so these can be incorporated into your daily routine no matter how busy you are. Even performing these exercises a minimum once a week will reap the rewards.
1. Burpee/Squat Jumps Workout (5 minutes).
To start, we’re going to alternate between two non-running movements. Each movement will last 20 seconds, followed by a ten second rest. One set is one complete circuit of one minute.
- Burpees (20 seconds)
- Rest (10 seconds)
- Squat Jumps (20 seconds)
- Rest (10 seconds)
Repeat this set four more times for a total of five sets totaling five minutes.
If you are new to some of these moves, I will go through each of the movements in a little more detail below.
From a standing position, drop into a squat with your hands on the ground just in front of your feet. Then kick your feet back behind you, keeping your arms extended so you are in a raised plank position.
At this stage, the more adventurous (that’s us right?) can throw a press-up into the mix, which really ramps up the intensity and difficulty. In the basic burpee, you remain in the raised plank and jump your feet back towards your hands. Then round off the manoeuvre by leaping into the air with your arms straight above you, then repeat.
Coach Mag has a great article on performing the perfect burpee and its benefits.
For those who are new to burpees, one modification can be instead of kicking your feet back behind you in one go, is to extend one leg at a time out into the plank position.
Our abs, glutes, hamstrings, and lower back are triggered to perform the squat jump. To perform the squat jump, stand tall with your feet hip-width apart. Hinge at the hips to push your butt back and lower down until your thighs are parallel to the floor.
Press your feet down to explode off the floor and jump. Height is not the goal right now, but can definitely be a focus as you progress. Allow your knees to bend 45 degrees when you land, and then immediately drop back down into a squat, and jump again.
We can add a pause to work on developing more lower body power with an isometric version of the jump squat. Just hold the squat for a second or two before pushing off the ground.
Ideally, we want to go for time and aim for as many quality reps as possible within those times. Going through these movements for five minutes is going to make us feel comfortable with those high levels of intensity and will prepare us to handle that faster running down the road.
2. Box/Bench Jumps (2–3 Minutes).
Our next exercise will really help us to develop strength in our legs to increase our speed and run faster. We need to develop this power through our hips, and the way we do this is by jumping. Jumping will give us a triple boost in our ankle, knee and hip extensions, which will then translate into a more powerful stride.
The squat jump from the previous exercise is the best place to start. As we’re going for time and maximum reps, our feet are just coming up off the ground before landing and dropping into the next squat. To increase our power, we’re going to move to a max height jump.
This can be done by jumping onto a steady surface that is a good couple feet off the ground (a park bench or a box for example).
It’s up to you whether or not to jump or step down from the box, bench, or platform you are using.
For this round of exercise, we’re aiming to complete five sets, with each set consisting of five to ten box jumps. If we’re feeling good, let’s push it towards ten jumps per set. The goal is to jump as high as we can and really develop the power in our legs.
Take a quick breath in between jumps, or complete a set and take a short break before completing the next set. We need to listen to our bodies and let them decide how to take our breaks.
For higher platforms and beginners, I would suggest maybe stepping up to the platform, and then a step down back to the ground. We’re trying to make the body comfortable with this move, and once comfortable, then I would suggest moving to jumping up and down from the bench, box, or platform.
3. Fartlek Training (Open Session)
While it does sounds funny and ridiculous, this last exercise does involve running at pace and even at times quicker than race pace. I was first introduced to Fartlek training back in my teens when training with the Stockport Harriers during my track and field days.
I enjoyed it as it utilises periods of speed and rest of varying intervals, keeping the workout stimulating and challenging. I also really enjoyed sprinting, so I feel this had something to do with it as well, as well as active recovery which involved slower periods of running or walking instead of just stopping to take a break.
This can be done at the local track, or around the block, the park, the options are limitless. Below is an example of the last session I completed as part of my training with my run group:
- Gentle warm up run, something resembling our slow Sunday pace. For me, this would be in the 6:50 to 7:20/km pace for about one or two kilometres.
- Eight sets of alternating 50m sprints followed by 50m walk (or slow jog). Works out to be two laps of the 400m track.
- Four sets of alternating 100m sprints followed by 100m walk (or slow jog). Another two laps of the 400m track.
- Three laps (1.2km) medium effort run, followed by one lap walk (400m).
- Two laps (800m) slightly slower than race pace effort, followed by one lap walk (400m).
- One lap (400m) at race pace with a sprint finish for the final 100m
- Walk or slow run three laps or home (approx. 1.2km).
For the sprints, you can choose to go all out from start to finish, but typically I would start off running but build up my speed so that the final 20m or so would be at full sprinting speed.
By the time I had finished, the group had covered around 9km (as shown on Strava here), and we wouldn’t know it because of the variations in training and the switching of running fast and running slower.
Snapshot of Track Night from Strava.
The best part of Fartlek is that based on your ability, training can be modified and you don’t even need a track to run around. It does make it easier to measure distances, but a previous group I had trained with used telephone poles and/or street lights around a 2km loop around a park.
Another way to incorporate Fartlek training could be as simple as varying our speed based upon the terrain we’re running. Do we run faster or slower going up or down hills? That way you get multiple training objectives in one go (speed work and hills in this case). This is a technique practiced by many sport coaches who use game play style drills to teach multiple skill sets at once.
So have some fun with Fartlek as there are no rules on how to do this effectively. It really is just about alternating our speeds and intensities during that one session.
By adding a little intensity to the training be it five to ten minutes a day with the burpees, squat jumps, and box jumps, to incorporating Fartlek into your daily run, the benefits are far greater than not. Increasing your core strength and power in your strides will lead to faster running times, which is what we all wanted after all.
Thank you for reading this article, while I am new to Vocal, it is my goal to post more frequently about my journey, running as well as how it ties to mental health.
I am also raising money for three great organsiations who work within mental health. The Alzheimer’s Society in the UK, and both the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), and Team Unbreakable here in Canada.
If you would like to donate to any of these three incredible organisations, a donation link can be found here (through LinkTree).
Similarly, all tips received on my articles will also be donated to the charities throughout the balance of 2019.