Tips for safe speed work

Noel Thatcher gets you up to speed with some training tips...



by Noel Thatcher - MBE, British Paralympic runner, Physiotherapist

Summer is traditionally the time when we move away from marathon and cross-country training and thoughts of that elusive 5k/10k PB loom large. I’m sure like me, that when you see Mo turn on the after-burners Jonnie Peacock tearing up the track, you think that you have to be born with that speed. And you may be right but you can definitely run faster than you do at present, I guarantee it.

I believe that we are all born fast. Watch any two-year-old rocket around the living room and you’ll see what I’m talking about. Unfortunately we slow down dramatically when we leave school or college and, as we get older and spend more time sitting, getting tighter and deconditioned so those fast twitch fibres rarely get a chance to show their stuff.

Yet some very simple changes to your current running can re-activate them and give you that extra gear and, as an added bonus, help reduce some running related injuries at the same time.

First you need to re-condition dormant fast twitch muscles that are hardly getting a look in under the office desk and on your long slow runs.

These are the muscles of the posterior chain, running from your back down the back of your leg, glutes, hamstrings and calves. The ones that you can’t see in the mirror (without some serious contortionism).

Try the following three exercises, three sets of 8 to 15 repetitions, three times a week:

1. Split Squats.

 Remember to keep your knee behind your toe on the leading leg and “push up” through your glutes as you come up.

2. Hamstring rollouts on a swiss ball.

3. Calf raises, knees straight and knees bent.

Start the exercises slowly to ensure good form and control, then, after a couple of weeks try to speed up until you are close to running velocity - remember, we’re trying to get faster.

Next, add the following drills to your pre run warm-up. Do each three times over a distance of around 30 metres.

1. Fast feet.

Running on your toes and as quickly as possible, try and get as many foot strikes in as possible in the 30 metres. Aim for 180 steps a minute.

2. High knees.

The key here is to lift the leading knee upwards and forwards and get up onto your toes on the rear leg. Think light and tall with you arms relaxed and driving back.

You can progress both the above drills by doing them faster. Remember that these exercises, as with any new training should be gradually introduced over six weeks.

If you have any pre-existing injuries/niggles be sure to check with your physio or coach before you start. Speed work introduced too quickly or too aggressively will, at best make you sore but, as seen at many a Dads race on Sports Day, can lead to tears and strains.

As I said, any and everyone can improve their speed regardless of age or experience and strengthening these muscle groups and improving your technique may reduce your risk of incurring some injuries. Personally, as an athlete having that extra gear always came in handy and, coming down the Mall at last year’s VLM, helped me outkick the guy in stockings and suspenders....PHEW!

Noel Thatcher bio. 


Previous article
Six Physio Q&A with Matt Todman
Next article
The lowdown on sports massage

injury prevention, running physio, squats, hamstring, calf, noel thatcher, Speed work
TwitterStumbleUponFacebookDiggRedditGoogle

Discuss this article

We'd love you to add a comment! Please login or take half a minute to register as a free member
Smart Coach
Free, fully-personalized training plans, designed to suit your racing goals and your lifestyle.