For faster times with fewer miles, try incorporating plyometrics into your training.
If you’re one of those athletes who doesn’t react well to high running mileage, researchers in Japan have a possible solution. In their study, published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning, they explored the effects of plyometric training on running performance. First, participants ran a 5K time trial to get a baseline time. They then split them into two groups, giving each a different training plan.
One group did run training only, two to three times each week. The other group ran, but also did body weight plyometrics. After eight weeks, both groups significantly improved their 5K times. The kicker: The plyometric group ran 25 percent less mileage than the run-only group to get the same results—while also improving their reactive leg strength and jumping power.
These results are likely related to the muscle recruitment patterns activated via plyometric training. Since you utilize mostly slow-twitch fibers in distance running, plyometrics teach your body to also rely upon fast-twitch fibers. When you maximize muscle recruitment, you’re able to turn your legs over faster and push off harder. This means increased economy and faster times.
If your body can’t handle all the pounding (or you just don’t love running), working in plyos twice a week could conceivably cut your mileage by a quarter. After warming up, give these exercises a shot and you may just find that when you drop mileage, you also drop time.
Begin in the lunge position with one foot out in front and the other behind your body. Both knees should be bent at 90-degree angles. Make sure your front knee is directly over your front ankle and not pushed forward over your toes. Jump upward from the lunge position and switch legs in the air, landing in lunge position on the opposite side. Do 20–30 reps, totaling 10–15 on each side. Illustration: Oliver Baker
Begin by hopping in place on one foot 15 times. Then hop side to side on that foot 15 times. Follow that by jumping forward and backward 15 times. Illustration: Oliver Baker
Bound in the forward direction, exaggerating your running form and jumping with each step for about 30 meters. Turn around and go back. Repeat 2–3 times. Illustration: Oliver Baker
Begin by standing in front of the bench with both feet on the ground. Rapidly alternate tapping the top of the bench with each foot, springing off the ground with each step. Move your arms in the running motion as your feet tap. Do 20–40 taps. Illustration: Oliver Baker
Choose a box that is 1–2 feet high. Standing on the ground, squat downward and leap onto the box, swinging your arms forward for momentum. Jump backward off the box, being careful to bend your knees and land softly. If you have Achilles issues, step off the box. Do 10 reps. Illustration: Oliver Baker
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and bend down into squat position. Touch the ground with your hands and explode upward with your arms stretched over your head. When you land, make sure your knees are bent as you go right back into the squat. Do 10–15 reps. Illustration: Oliver Baker