Want To Run Faster? Skip To The Hills

Skipping up hills is a good way to increase your cadence — and therefore run faster. Photo: www.shutterstock.com

If you want to run faster, just get stronger. It’s that simple — and that hard.

While Evolution Running, Chi Running and Pose Running all claim to be able to improve your speed and reduce injuries (all desirable outcomes), there is no research proving that any of those programs actually accomplish those outcomes. There are many people who believe one or all of these approaches is the way to improve your running. I am not one of those people. I’m old (fashioned).

So, here’s what I recommend. These methods are not supported by research either, but they have been around a lot longer and are a lot simpler (and cheaper).

Turnover

Every runner has a “natural” turnover rate (measured in strides per minute). As we gain strength and run faster, that will increase. I don’t think it is wise to use some average or elite number of strides per minute as your goal. Measure your turnover and track it as you train and as your speed increases. I believe you’ll find that your turnover increases — that’s good. But many world-class runners are turning over in the 90 footfalls-per-minute range. If many of the rest of us tried to do that we’d either get slower, work harder or get injured.

Fast feet do yield faster running. But they come from explosive power. The more force you can apply to the ground in the shortest period of time, the faster you will run. There are two ways I’ve had success with increasing people’s speed (and turnover).

RELATED: Make A High Stride Rate Work For You

Skip up hills once a week (or twice if you can handle it). The hill should be considered a steep hill and it should take you between 4 and 8 minutes to skip to the top. You can get a bit fancier and also use Lydiard’s Bounding and Springing along with skipping. Don’t emphasize knee lift and don’t try to move forward fast. Focus on getting your feet off the ground and over the rope, and not just that, but also try to get your heels up to your butt. Move up the hill at a slow pace, explode off the ground and snap your heels up to your butt. Keep your knees low.

Also, do plyometrics, or explosive jumping. Plyometrics is hard — really hard — but it will make you strong. When you get strong three things happen. First, you can apply more force in a shorter period of time — hence your foot comes off the ground faster and you move forward faster. Second, your turnover increases. Third, your stride length increases.

Again, this isn’t easy, but it is simple. Get stronger and you’ll run faster. To run really fast though, you need to develop better neuromuscular coordination. But that’s another topic.

Pillars Of Strength

Evolution, Chi and Pose all focus on the technique and a lot of drills. Neither emphasizes building strength as much as I believe is necessary.

RELATED: Essential Drills For Speed And Efficiency

Example No. 1
A group of 50- to 60-year-old women I coach started doing hill skipping a few years ago. Every winter we go to a hill in Central Park once a week and skip up the hill. Repeatedly. The incidence of injury among these women has gone down. They are running faster than they ever have (or at least faster than in the past 10 years, in the cases of those women who have been running for a long time). One has set a PR in each of the races she’s run in the last two months.

Example No. 2
My wife is in her mid-50s. She’s not done a lick of speed work since I met her (1997). For the past few years she’s been doing hills — skipping and running them — two or three times a week. After the first year she ran PRs from February through October. She just kept getting faster, placing overall or in her age group in every road race and triathlon she entered. She ran a five miler at a sub-7:00/mile. She doesn’t do anything special, she just loves hills!

While turnover and stride length have a correlation to running speed, I’m not certain it’s a causal relationship. I do know that the stronger you are as a runner, the faster you will run. It’s simple, but it’s hard.

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About The Author:

Neil Cook is the head coach and program manager of the Asphalt Green MultiSport Club in New York City.

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