So when was the last time you worked on yours? High school? College? Why so long? Being fast enough to catch “greased lightning” –— as Mick once lovingly suggested to Rocky — translates to domination in nearly every other physical pursuit. Want to add size? Training your hips, quads and glutes to fire more explosively engages more fast-twitch muscle fibers, which are the ones that can grow bigger. Want to burn more fat on the treadmill? Having a stronger sprint will allow you to run at higher intensities for longer. Want to get open more in your weekly flag football game? Having a sprinter’s core strength will allow you to earn a rep as a “one-play drive” kind of guy with your breakaway speed.
The bottom line is that training for speed is one thing that benefits any athlete, giving you the right to sport the shirts bearing some of those timeless tee slogans. Chris Phillips, CSCS, a California-based performance coach and owner of Compete Performance, offers his five best tips for working on your “fast.”
1 Think on one leg
And exercise on one leg. Seriously. “When is a runner ever on two feet?” Phillips asks … and answers: “Never. You have to train each leg separately.” To maximize the power output each leg can generate, Phillips often supplements sets of higher, 2-foot, 36-inch box jumps with shorter, 6- to 12-inch single-leg box jumps. “Building dynamic strength with one leg gives you the stability that you need to be faster.”
2 Focus on your hips and core
Shakira knows what she’s doing with her hips. But so does Olympic sprint freak Usain Bolt. “Big-time runners, when they get hurt, nine times out of 10, it’s the hamstring,” Phillips says. The muscles of the core (see below), quads, hamstrings and glutes work together not only to forcefully extend the hips but also to stabilize them. “That allows the legs to do what they are supposed to do,” he says. In other words, training the muscles that cover your hips makes you a more efficient — and injury-proof — runner. Phillips recommends simple “anywhere” exercises like single-leg bridges or single-leg Romanian deadlifts in addition to your usual diet of squats and lunges.
3 Lift for speed
Phillips doesn’t believe in the theory that you can get faster just by running. “You really have to get the leg strength,” he says. “I think you have to train with weights. You don’t get it by just sprinting. USA Track and Field guys will do squats, cleans, some snatches and maybe some split squats. It’s all to build explosive power out of the blocks. Runners who we train always tell us that they notice they can go uphill with speed, confidence and power, which they didn’t have before. That’s because of weights.”
4 Vary loads and rep speed
The traditional, slower cadence of weightlifting is great at helping you add muscle but does little to stimulate speed. “Train slow, be slow,” Phillips says. Still, with an eye toward the strength aspect of speed building, Phillips recommends mixing things up. “One day, we’ll work a bit more on quickness and speed with less weight, higher reps and faster rep speeds. Then we’ll go with higher weight and fewer reps, slower rep speeds.”
5 Work on abdominal strength
A lot of people think that abs are just for show. But those who run sub-10 100s on the track will tell you that the abs are far more about function than form. “If the legs are strong but the table is soft, it’s gonna buckle in between,” Phillips says. “When you sprint, you’re on one leg and you have to be able to keep your pelvis stable and strong. Your abs provide the base of power for your legs.” But crunches won’t cut it if speed is your goal. Phillips suggests woodchoppers and medicine-ball work to add a synergistic effect.