03 Apr Develop Speed With The Best Power Exercises For Runners!
If you’re a runner, you understand the importance of lacing up the shoes, putting in the miles, building up that base, and getting in a few days at the gym. While this is certainly a recipe for success, it’s not always the best recipe for success. Why? What’s the magic ingredient we are missing? Well let me ask you, when is the last time you hit the weight room and more importantly, when is the last time you lifted with an emphasis on power training to improve your speed? I stumped you, huh? Power is often that missing ingredient from a runner’s perfect training plan to improve speed and get you to the finish line quicker. Check out this blog for the best power exercises for runners to develop speed. And from this point on it’s speedy miles and podium finishes!
Why Focus on Power for Speed?
When you go out for a jog, you are loading your body with 2-4 times the force it requires for you to simply go for a walk (1). Think about that number for a quick second. That is a lot of extra load to your body even if it is just a quick 20 minute lap around the block. Unfortunately, with all of this force comes the “I” word…injuries, and guess what? Well over 50% of runners get injured each year (2). In my opinion, that is about 50% too many injuries. Studies have shown that typically 50-90% of runners will experience one injury within a year, with shin splints being the most prevalent injury (3). We often see the onset of stress related injuries, such as shin splints, because these athletes have not developed the appropriate strength and power needed to support heathy movement patterns and withstand the applied load to the body with running. So, why is power so important? Let’s break down what exactly power means and how this applies to speed. Power is defined as work/time meaning that the quicker we can perform a controlled forceful movement, the more power we produce. When you recognize that speed is performing work in as little time as possible…power is huge! As runners, we need to be able to produce power quickly and efficiently to get us to that finish line faster than the person next to us. So how the heck does our body produce power? I want you to go pick up a rubber band you have laying around, and let’s talk through it.
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A lot of people think that you can just grab a pair of shoes and start running, which can be true. However, failure to prepare may set you up for failure. “You don’t run to get fit, you have to be fit to run.” Without proper training, education, and an understanding of healthy running hygiene habits, issues may arise that can keep you from running. The Running [P]Rehab Program will teach you the best cross-training routine for runners and education to help you maintain optimal running health. Learn more HERE!
Why Elasticity Matters
Speed is produced when we produce power from stored elastic energy in our body. This elastic energy is generated as soon as our foot hits the ground. When our foot strikes the ground during initial contact, our gastroc/soleus complex (calf muscle) is lengthened and is eccentrically loaded at the muscle-tendon unit. Think of this eccentric loading of the calf muscle almost like pulling that rubber band in your hand taut (yep…go ahead and give it a pull). That taut rubber band now has stored energy that needs to be released. This release of energy comes as our foot rolls through the gait cycle to mid-stance and then into the push-off phase (this is your cue to release the rubber band). That once taut rubber band you had in your hand just released a given amount of power, similar to how the muscle-tendon unit in the body releases stored power during push-off. Let’s remember that equation for power. Power is equal to work/time. So when we create that elastic power, than we create speed! Science is cool, huh? When looking at the ankle, research shows us that there are two stages in which power is heavily produced during running. The first being during early stance or “absorption” in which that elastic energy is heavily stored at the gastroc/soleus complex and that rubber band is pulled tight, and the last is during push off where that rubber band is released and roughly 800-1500 Watts of power is produced (4). That’s enough energy to light about four strings of Christmas lights, someone give Clark Griswold a call (5).
When Should I Introduce Power Into My Running?
I often get the question from my runners as to when they should introduce power into their running and training program to improve their speed. It’s a great question and my answer is typically “as soon as your body can handle it and when it best fits into your individualized training program.”
It’s important to recognize that you need to build strength and stability before introducing power and speed work. If we think of the human body as building a house, we can’t have the “powerful” winds blow on the frame under the structure UNTIL the “strength” of the frame is built in place.
Learn The Secrets to Running Faster With Power Exercises For Runners!
With this being said, it’s important to work on generalized strength training during “off-season” or “base training.” Often times this phase of training begins 2-3 months before the beginning of your season. As you progress into your preseason and competitive season, power should be gradually introduced into your training program. Power helps to develop speed as a runner because it further develops both your glycolytic and phosphagen systems in your body, these are the systems that supply you with the energy to sprint to the finish line. When we focus on further developing these systems during your competitive season, this conditioning will better translate over utilizing these systems efficiently during racing. A study by Kraemer and colleagues showed that women who focused on resistance training and aerobic training had greater overall aerobic performance than those who focused on simply aerobic training alone (6). Understand that power and speed is an important component of your training during your preseason and competition season, but it’s also important to develop the foundational strength to appropriately perform power based movements correctly. Check out these exercises for runners to build up that foundational strength during your off season, and then let’s move on to the good stuff, the best speed exercises for runners.
What Muscles Produce the Most Speed for Runners?
There are so many muscles that have to do their part when you go for a run to keep you upright, moving forward, and balanced in that mid-stance phase of gait. The quadriceps muscle on the front of your leg play a large roll in helping you not to collapse to the ground, your gluteal muscles help with propulsive forward movement, and your ankle and small foot intrinsic muscles work overtime giving your body appropriate proprioceptive input of where your foot is at in space. While all these muscles must work together, some of the most important power generating muscles we use while running are our gastrocnemius and soleus muscles, also known as our calf muscles. While running, this muscle complex serves as our power house to keep us moving forward at a speedy rate. Fun fact: the soleus alone is loaded with 6-8 times our body weight when in mid-stance. If you are a runner, no matter your level of experience, you should be strengthening both the gastrocnemius and the soleus muscle to generate the most power! Need some inspiration? Check out these videos below!
Calf Muscles Anatomy
Runners Single Leg Calf Raise-Captain Morgan
- HOW: Get set-up into a football Heisman position using a wall and a swiss ball between your knee and the wall. While maintaining this position and pressure into the ball against the wall, lift up on your toes with the leg that is on the ground. As you do this, lean into the wall and push into the ball as hard as you can with your other leg. Return to starting position and repeat.
- FEEL: You will feel your calf, thigh, and butt muscles working on the leg that is in contact with the ground. You will also feel your hip and butt muscles on the side that is pushing against the ball against the wall.
- COMPENSATION: Do not drop the ball, do not lean away from the wall or lean back, try to not let your knee bend on the side that is performing the heel raise.
Runners Squat at Wall Knees Bent
Runners Eccentric Heel Raise Leg Straight
Runners Eccentric Heel Raise Knee Bent
The Need for Speed
Ready to introduce power into your training routine to improve your speed? Let’s make it happen! Below are some excellent exercises to develop speed for runners! Implement these exercises into your strength training to become a healthier and more rounded runner! It’s important to remember that within your training, power exercises and multi-muscle group strengthening exercises should be performed at the beginning of your workout with focus on smaller muscle groups towards the end of your workout. Give these power exercises for runners a try, you won’t regret it.
Posterior Lunge to Shoulder Press
This is one of many challenging power exercises for runners and if you are fatigued afterwards, that means you did it correctly! Focus on core stability and pressing through that front leg in the lunge position to gain that propulsive forward momentum needed for running. Once you master this, try driving up into a single leg stance with an opposite knee drive to further imitate running. This is definitely one of the best power exercises for runners, which makes it a tough one, but we don’t become better by doing what is easy!
Runners Speed Step Up with Hop
This, my friends, is where we develop that reactive power for speed when running. Your heart rate will get up there, you will feel the burn, but you will also reap the benefits at that next race. I’m hearing top three in your age group, yeah?
Runners Speedy Reactive Power Box Hop
A great way to train power is to work on reactive feedback with a box jump exercise . With this exercise, it’s important to control the descent, and as soon as you hit the ground, perform the side hop movement with speed and POWER! Remember that rubber band we were talking about? Well here it is in action! Get after it!
Appropriate strength training that implements power based exercises can be the difference between an injury free season and a season where you are hitting personal bests every race. If you continue to get injured from running, be sure to seek medical consultation from a trusted healthcare provider or physical therapist. There is a systematic way to introduce power based exercises into your strength routine as a runner, and hopefully after giving these best exercises to develop speed in runners a go, this introduction leads to a healthier and happier you! Can’t wait to see ya on the podium!
- Nilsson, J., & Thorstensson, A. (1989). Ground reaction forces at different speeds of human walking and running. Acta Physiologica Scandinavica, 136(2), 217-227. doi:10.1111/j.1748-1716.1989.tb08655.x
- Running Injuries. (2019, November 19). Retrieved January 25, 2021, from https://www.yalemedicine.org/conditions/runninginjury#:~:text=But%20there%20is%20one%20disadvantage,but%20more%20often%20from%20overuse.
- Lopes, A. D., Hespanhol, L. C., Yeung, S. S., & Costa, L. O. (2012). What are the Main Running-Related Musculoskeletal Injuries? Sports Medicine, 42(10), 891-905. doi:10.1007/bf03262301
- Winter, D. A. (1983). Moments of force and mechanical power in jogging. Journal of Biomechanics, 16(1), 91-97. doi:10.1016/0021-9290(83)90050-7
- Ingraham, C. (2019, April 29). Analysis | What your Christmas lights will do to your electricity bill. Retrieved January 25, 2021, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2017/11/24/what-your-christmas-lights-will-do-to-your-electricity-bill/
- Kraemer, W. J., Volek, J. S., Clark, K. L., Gordon, S. E., Incledon, T., Puhl, S. M., … & Sebastianelli, W. J. (1997). Physiological adaptations to a weight-loss dietary regimen and exercise programs in women. Journal of Applied physiology, 83(1), 270-279.
About the Author
Dr. Lauren Lynass is a Colorado girl at heart. While she grew up skiing, snowshoeing, and building snowman, she has traded in her snowy mountains for California beach life and currently lives with her husband and dog in their travel trailer “The Burrito.” As a physical therapist, Lauren has experience working with pediatrics, runners, geriatrics, athletes, and itty bitty newborns. She is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, Level 1 Certified Running Gait Analyst, Dry Needling Certified, and uses her expertise to host sport specific strength and conditioning classes for local high school athletes. When Lauren isn’t treating patients, you can find her running along the Cali coast, hiking with the pup and husband, or simply swinging in a hammock lost in a good book. She considers herself a life long learner and loves that being a physical therapist provides her with the opportunity to do so! She enjoys being a part of the [P]rehab Team as it allows her to collaborate with some of the very best in the field and empower others to take charge and ownership of their wellbeing.