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Kick Your Way To Better Race Times

  • By Matt Fitzgerald
  • Published Nov. 18, 2013
  • Updated Nov. 19, 2013 at 2:36 PM UTC
Developing a kick to use as you approach the finish line will help you finish faster. Photo: www.shutterstock.com

It’s important to work on your finishing sprint even if you aren’t trying to win races.

Races are often decided by a finishing sprint. Take the 2011 Boston Marathon, for example. Kenyans Moses Mosop and Geoffrey Mutai ran side by side at the front of the race all the way to the homestretch on Boylston Street. They remained side by side until they were within 100 yards of the finish line, when Mutai unleashed a kick that was too much for his countryman to match, and Mutai won by 4 seconds.

Mutai is living proof that the strength of a runner’s finishing kick can be the difference between winning and losing at the highest levels of competition. But is a strong closing sprint really so important for you? The answer to this question is a resounding yes, but the reason may surprise you.

Let’s face it: Even if you are a highly competitive age-group runner, the two or three seconds you might gain from improving your kick will seldom, if ever, determine whether you achieve or fall short of your race goals. However, the efforts you make to become a faster sprinter will also make you a faster runner in general, and that certainly will make a meaningful difference in your outcomes.

A 2006 study by New Zealand researchers proves it. Twenty competitive runners were separated into two groups. One group continued to do their normal run training, while the other group replaced some of their running with workouts designed to improve their maximum sprint speed. All of the runners performed tests of maximum speed and 5K performance before the study started and again after six weeks. Compared to the runners who continued with their usual training, those who trained for a better kick increased their maximum sprint speed by 1.8 percent — and improved their 5K time by 1.2 percent.

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How does training for a better sprint improve distance-running performance? Other research suggests that it works by improving running economy. Specifically, sprint training enhances a stride characteristic known as leg stiffness, which allows the legs to function as more efficient springs during running, even over long distances.

Training to improve your kick (and with it your running economy and overall running performance) is simple and doesn’t require much time. In fact, it’s important not to spend too much time on this type of training, because it’s fairly stressful and could cause injury or overtraining fatigue if overdone.

The runners in the New Zealand study improved their kicks by performing workouts combining explosive single-leg jumps and repeated, short, uphill sprints on a treadmill. They completed these 30-minute sessions of jumps and sprints every four days. You’ll find it more efficient and manageable to add jumps and short sprints to workouts you’re already doing.

Incorporate three sets of 20 explosive single-leg jumps per leg into your strength-training sessions. Also do 10 uphill sprints lasting 10 seconds each once a week after completing an easy run. Recover after each sprint by walking back downhill. Ease into these types of training by starting with just one set of jumps and three or four sprints.

Use a standardized sprint test such as a timed 100-meter dash to determine whether your kick-building efforts are working.

RELATED: Develop Speed Without Lactic Acid Buildup

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About The Author:

Matt Fitzgerald is the author of Iron War: Dave Scott, Mark Allen & The Greatest Race Ever Run (VeloPress 2011) and a Coach and Training Intelligence Specialist for PEAR Sports. Find out more at mattfizgerald.org.

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