Every season of CW’s The Flash series finds the eponymous super-powered speedster up against an enemy he simply can’t defeat. And the great solution to defeating this enemy? The Flash needs to go faster. Every villain. Every season.
Barry Allen’s frustration at always needing to get faster is understandable (and admittedly, his nephew Wally is much faster than he is), and maybe you can sympathize. Runners are constantly dealing with a desire to get faster. Unfortunately, that’s a wall that’s difficult to climb. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. In this article, we’re going to cover everything you need to know about increasing your speed, no matter on what terrain you choose to run.
The Speed Limit
There is a myriad of reasons why you may not be running past a certain speed. There are obvious culprits: running form, poor dieting (this includes under and overeating), training (running too long or not long enough), and the actual running itself (pace variety is important). Some of this may seem like basic or even common-sense reasons, but even the most experienced runners are capable of making mistakes either through human error or getting too focused on one set of factors rather than another.
Running is a lot more mathematical than it seems—there’s also some detective work involved when attempting to identify what needs to change in order for you to break through whatever problem you have.
But there are solutions.
This is the worst part, isn’t it? You learn to eat things you probably never would and sacrifice most (if not all) of your favorite treats, and yet, it still might be your diet keeping you from your goals.
Now, you just might be lucky on this one. Perhaps your problem isn’t the sprinkles on your ice cream; maybe it’s an undereating problem rather than an over-eating problem. Undereating can involve something as simple as not getting enough carbohydrates (starches, sugar) or not drinking enough water.
Dehydration is a frequent problem for most people—especially the athletic.
However, dehydration isn’t something runners tend to suffer from. You tend to crave water more than anything during and after a run. If you find that you’re hydrating yourself well enough, check your iron levels if you’re feeling lethargic.
Now for the Nitty Gritty: The Best Exercises to Help You Run Faster
If it’s not an iron deficiency or a dietary problem stifling your attempts at accessing the Speed Force, it could just be a good old-fashioned exercise issue. Runners often indulge in numerous warm-up and cooldown exercises that serve to aid muscle growth and health. Since runners tend to be a very passionate and focused bunch—never call them joggers—cardio-based exercises tend to get their attention the most.
However, focusing on more intense leg exercises might do the trick, including lifting weights.
Now, we know how this sounds. Muscle weighs more than fat and added muscle mass tends to slow you down but hear us out.
Nobody’s asking you to look like Schwarzenegger in the 70s. These intensified workouts are meant to support your running, not replace it. Consider them a new brush to paint with, not a new painting.
No, this is not related to how cats jump into boxes and make it their home. Rather, for this multi-joint exercise, you’re going to find a sturdy, level box and jump on it.
Find an appropriate box (Rogue makes great game boxes; tall and sturdy, they can be used for multiple exercises).
Stand on the ground with your feet shoulder-width apart.
Set yourself into a quarter squat position and extend hips.
Keeping knees and toes in-line, propel yourself onto the box with full hip and knee extension.
Do 6 sets of 3 reps each.
Squats can easily be done as part of your warm-up and cooldown exercises. Squats are probably the single best exercise you can do to improve your speed. They increase knee stability and power. The more power to those knees the more output potential when you run. Well-developed muscles mean better oxygen use, which means your endurance will increase and fatigue will decrease.
Stand with your feet a little more than shoulder-width apart.
Hands on your hips with your shoulders pulled back, tighten your abdominal muscles.
With your knees, lower carefully into a sitting position. Do this without leaning too far forward and without too much discomfort.
Carefully straighten your legs again.
Do 3 sets of 10 to 15 reps.
Deadlifts are the ultimate utility exercise. It works virtually every muscle from your knees to your upper back.
Deadlifts are usually done in weight training but have great utility for runners looking to up their speed. They come with a risk of injury if done incorrectly, so make sure you know what you’re doing. If new to the exercise, make sure you have a spotter.
Please also note that it is best that your hands are dry (chalked, gloved, etc.). A weight belt to keep your posture straight would also be optimal.
Set your feet under the bar mid-foot.
Squat down, shins toward the bar, grab the bar with your grasp shoulder-width apart.
Flatten back, lift chest, pull shoulder blades back.
Hold your breath and stand with your bar.
Hold the weight.
Use your hips and legs to lower the bar down again.
Do not bounce the bar.
Rest for a second or two in that squatted position.
Do 5 sets with 5 reps.
Kneeling Hip-Flexor Stretch
Hips are too often overlooked and underappreciated in running and exercising. Want to get faster while also decreasing the likelihood of breaking your hips when you get older? Try this.
On a padded surface (your knees will thank you)
Kneel with your right leg outward and bent like Captain Morgan.
Left leg behind with the heel facing upward.
Do not arch your back.
Tuck pelvis and keep gluts and abs tight.
Lunge forward slowing until you feel the stretch in your hip and thigh
Hold the stretch for 30 to 60 seconds.
Three stretches on each leg.
While also considered a core exercise, hip raises are, to the surprise of no one, great for the hips. The more range of motion you have in your hips the more range of motion you’ll have for your run.
Lie faceup with your feet on an exercise ball or stable, elevated surface.
Legs at full extension, arms at your side like Raquel Welch in that Seinfeld episode.
Lift your hips off the floor, aligning your heels and shoulders in a diagonal line.
Hold for a count of one.
Do 2 sets of 12 reps each.
This is not to be confused with Bret Hart’s Russian leg sweep. For this exercise, you will need an exercise/stability ball.
Lie face-up on the ball.
Knees bent, feet planted.
Keep hips still.
Extend arms toward the ceiling and touch hands.
Do 2 sets of 12 reps each.
There are many variations of back extensions. For this one, we’ll go with the easiest home-version. You’ll need a flat surface—your floor will do.
Lie straight face down on the floor.
Lay your hands under your chin, one hand on top of the other.
Keep your head and spine aligned.
Keep your abs flexed and tight.
Raise your upper body (an excessive range of motion is not necessary; go to your limit or until you feel a stretch).
Do 2 sets of 12 reps.
There are many variations of crunches, and any of them would be perfect for core development. In this situation, however, we’ll just go with ball crunches. Naturally, you’ll need an exercise/stability ball.
Lie faceup on the ball, knees bent.
Feet flat at roughly shoulder-width apart.
Hands behind your head like an arrest.
Do the crunch.
Do 2 sets of 25 reps.
Like any grifter will tell attest, you should work smarter not harder. Working out has a similar philosophy. Unfortunately, there are mistakes we make that keep us from getting in the shape that we want. In the case of running, consistency and is a major problem.
The inconsistency of a running schedule and the consistency of pace can be damaging your speed.
Church of the Sunday Long Run
The big run. The main one you do once a week. While especially important for beginners, the fundamentals are not something to be eventually discarded. Sunday Long Runs (or whenever you manage to schedule yours) is, of course, the longest run you’ll do that week. It’s usually five miles (if you’re starting out, don’t worry if you can’t complete it—over time and with consistency—you’ll get there).
Long runs will energize your body and bring you higher endurance and stronger muscles. In time, that means speed.
We cannot overstate how important doing this long run on a consistent weekly basis is. Progress is hard to obtain but easy to lose.
A common misconception is that keeping the same pace during a run is optimal for fitness and increasing speed. Vary your speed for different runs a week. Not every run needs to bring you to the edge of exhaustion. Consider them like themes: jogs, long runs, distance runs, etc.
Then, there’s also Fartlek sessions.
“Fartlek” is Swedish for “speed play.” It is a continuous exercise regime involving periods of faster and slower running over a set time or distance.
Usually, the speeds vary between walking and jogging (with maybe faster speeds scattered within) for beginners or jogging and sprinting for the more initiated.
There are plenty of variations on the Fartlek, but there are only two specific versions: structured and unstructured.
The Structured Fartlek
Structured Fartlek uses varying speed intensity over several minute intervals. A standard structured Fartlek looks like this:
4 minutes at a grueling pace
2 minutes recovery jog
2 minutes at a strenuous pace
1-minute recovery job
1 minute at a steady pace
Do 2-4 sets of these with a 5-minute recovery jog between sets with a 2-mile cooldown.
The Unstructured Fartlek
This is the “classic” Fartlek. In its unstructured (and original form), this session is going more with feeling than a specific, regimented series of measured goals. Let’s say:
You run until you reach the next lamppost, then you decrease to a jog.
At the next STOP sign, increase speed until you see the next streetlight.
At the next streetlight, you walk until you see the next crosswalk.
At the crosswalk, start running until you reach the next lamppost.
Using time as a variation is similar:
Run for two minutes when you reach the STOP sign.
Jog for an entire block.
Walk for one minute.
For any variation on the Fartlek, it is suggested that you do a 2-mile cooldown at the end of the session.
How’s the Weather Up There?
Runners love to endure pain and obstacles, but sometimes the environment just won’t play fair.
If the general weather isn’t enough, also consider the elevation of where you’re running. The higher above sea level, the thinner the air is. The state of Colorado is the highest (ahem) state in the union with an elevation of 6,800 feet above sea level. The air is notoriously thin out there; travelers often complain about feeling faint and dizzy for the better part of a day before their bodies adapt to their new surroundings.
Air quality makes an incredible difference to how far and fast you can run. In short, the right air quality is like that thieving, entitled Goldilocks ripping off porridge from that poor, hardworking family of bears; too hot is bad, too cold is bad too.
Even non-runners know that cold weather isn’t the best exertion. Cold weather causes breathing troubles for anybody, and runners don’t make it easier on themselves by running in frigid temperatures. Ignoring hypothermia, frostbite, and declining visibility during snowfall, cold air is tough on the lungs and airways. Cold air can cause spasms and asthma attacks. It should be noted that even those who are not asthma-afflicted can fall victim to “weather-induced asthma.” Sufferers will endure wheezing and chest pains, along with all the other asthma symptoms.
While a bit dramatic—you probably know if the weather is generally too cold for major running—not everybody knows their limits.
It’s also worth noting that even if you don’t have full-on asthma symptoms, cold air is tougher to breathe and can wear you out much faster, and since running faster depletes your oxygen faster; you’ll be limited with how fast you can run and for how long of a period.
Then there’s running in hot weather. Professional runners will shake their heads and almost always agree on one thing: running in the heat is hell.
This time when we say you can’t beat the heat, it has nothing to do with the basketball team.
Sun exposure and high humidity are a recipe for disaster. Sure, the extreme sweating is great to lose weight in (I’ve been known to use it as a cheat from time to time), but that sweat is an important thing to lose. It means you’re dehydrating. That evaporating sweat is taking the heat with it, but on humid days that evaporation rate actually reduces since there’s extra water in the air. That means you’ll overheat sooner, you’ll slow down earlier, and you won’t be reaching your maximum speed potential.
It’s also important to consider your Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE). Your body’s temperature increases when you run (that’s why you feel the need to strip off layers even in the dead of winter). However, in heat—let’s say during a hellish summer run—your increased dehydration causes your blood to thicken causing your heart to work harder to maintain comfort. In the end, the heat outside your body combines with the heat inside your body, and your heart works overtime to work normally. The final effect makes it that much harder for you to do the simple task of maintaining your speed.
Hot weather runners also need to consider this: If you dwell in the city, the asphalt is going to absorb and reflect that heat back onto you. You know all those YouTube videos of people frying eggs on city streets in the middle of a blazing June? Yeah. You. Running on that for miles on end.
Here are just a few more bite-size suggestions for increasing your speed.
Sleep more: Yes, I’m excited for the return of True Detective, too, but it’ll still be there in the morning.
Mind your stress levels: Yes, I’m worried True Detective won’t be as great as it used to be, but we still have to function. If nothing else, have faith in Mahershala Ali’s acting.
Breathe Right: You know the old exercise: breathe in through your nose and out your mouth. Well, here’s the updated version: while running, use your mouth and nose to inhale and exhale. More oxygen for those muscles. Also, try breathing more fully; fill your stomach with your breath rather than your chest on each inhale.
Build resistance: incline running, wearing weights, try a running parachute. Resistance builds muscle.
Drink more coffee: Caffeine is good for a boost; Irish it up to your preference.
But most importantly, remember to stay safe and have fun.
- Runners World, Strength Exercises to Help You Run Faster
- Strength Running, 9 Reasons You’re Running Slow
- Youtube, How to Run Faster
- Runners World, Why Can’t I Run Faster?
- Greatist, 25 Ways to Run Faster
- Strength Running, Everything You Need to Know About Running in the Heat
- Run Keeper, Squats are a Runner’s Best Friend
- Greatist, How to Do the Perfect Squat
- Real Simple, How to Do a Squat
- Strong Lifts, How to Deadlift with Proper Form
- Competitor, Workout of the Week: Fartlek Session