7 exercises that will make you run faster

If you’re struggling to get faster, it could be that you need to focus on plyometrics – explosive, energy-honing exercises that, alongside your normal miles can help you shave seconds off your PB time.

These movements help runners cover more ground with each footstrike, reinforce minimal ground contact and promote full extension with every stride. According to strength and performance coach Adam Rosante, “Plyometrics involve a fast, high-intensity and involuntary eccentric contraction of the muscles and tendons, followed by an immediate, powerful concentric contraction.”

Related: 5 reasons why you can't run faster

Yet it’s far more than squats and box jumps. In order to fully understand this principle, personal trainer Kenny Santucci explains: “It’s based on the strength-shortening cycle: when a muscle tendon is placed in an involuntary forced stretch, it will contract with greater force.”

Think of an elastic band: if you pull it tight, then quickly let go, it will fly extremely fast. In order for a move to be plyometric, it has to be executed in less than two-tenths of a second. The key to plyometric exercises is to do a small number of good, strong reps.

And it works. In a recent study in The Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, 24 men added plymoteric exercises to their programme, training three times a week. After a month, they’d slashed seconds off their sprint and agility times.

For a plyometric workout that will help you increase your speed, try the following 7 exercises. Remember, do the exercises at the start of a strength-training session or before a run, not after, then give your body a 48-72 hour break from plyometrics – your body will need it to fully recover.

Depth jumps

Stand on a raised platform such as a box or bench, with your toes on the edge. Step out and drop straight down – do not jump from the box. When you hit the ground, immediately jump back up. Remember to land softly.

Do 6 to 8 reps

Hurdle hops

Set up four to six hurdles (25-30cm in height) in a straight line. Leave about a metre of space between each one. Lower into a quarter-squat and explosively jump over each hurdle, making minimal contact with the ground and moving as fast as possible. Once this gets easy, increase the difficulty by moving the hurdles closer together or further apart.

Do 4 to 6 reps

Depth jump to medicine-ball throw

Stand at the edge of a raised platform, holding a medicine-ball with an under hand grip. Step off the platform and drop straight down. As soon as your feet hit the floor, jump back up and throw the ball as high and far behind you as possible - if you're in the gym, please be careful. 

Do 6 to 8 reps

Multidirectional hurdle hops

Set up five low hurdles. Stand behind the first hurdle, lower into a quarter-squat and perform a series of forward and lateral hops over the hurdles as fast as possible, making minimal ground contact. Clearing the five is one rep.

Do 4 to 6 reps

Ankle jumps

Stand tall with both feet together. Bend your knees slightly and jump straight up. While in the air, pull your toes towards your shins, emphasising flexion (movement up and down) at the ankle. You won’t jump high, due to limited knee involvement.

Do 6 to 8 reps

Reactive medicine-ball throws

Stand with your knees bent, prepared to catch a medicine-ball. Ask a training partner to drop the ball directly into your hands from two feet above. Catch the ball and immediately jump up, throwing the ball as high and far forward as possible - again, be careful not to hit your partner!

Do 6 to 8 reps

Running leaps

From a standing position, take a few approach steps, keeping your body as low as possible, then leap off your left leg. Land on your right leg and immediately push off again as quickly as possible (it should look like exaggerated running form). That’s one rep.

Do 6 to 8 reps

5 plyometric mistakes to avoid:

1. Skipping stability work

Before you can leap on one leg, you have to be able to stand on it, says personal trainer Kenny Santucci. Otherwise, there’s a good chance you’ll get injured. That’s why, before starting a plyometric programme, he recommends adding balance moves such as single—leg dead lifts and lateral lunges, with and without weights, into your workout. Once you have mastered those moves, you can start adding plyos.

2. Thinking every jumping exercise is plyometric

Squat jumps, for example, are not in the plyometric camp. Your feet are in contact with the ground for too long, meaning the muscle tension dissipates and you have to generate force to jump. Perform depth jumps instead.

3. Doing a million reps

More doesn’t always mean better. Going all out on your rep count means you’re probably overtaking type II muscle fibres – the ones used for fast, explosive moves such as sprinting – which will actually make them less effective at firing.

4. Sticking with the same four exercises

Make sure you’re constantly changing exercises, reps and rest periods as after four to six weeks, there isn’t much gain from performing the same moves.

5. Taking on too much

Just because you can easily do weighted step-ups doesn’t mean you’re ready for weighted hurdle hops. If you’re completely new to plyo, start skipping and build from there.