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5 Awesome Speed Drills: Exercises to Run Faster

I used to think I hated running. Where was the enjoyment, I thought, of running endlessly outside under the hot sun, in the cold wind, or on the mind-dulling treadmill? In college I competed as a high jumper, and kept my running workouts to short sprints. College days over, I looked elsewhere to get my endorphin fix and grudgingly decided to give distance running a try. And, well…now I’m hooked!

Whether you’re a distance runner or a sprinter, whether you run for recreation or are looking to gain speed for another sport, speed workouts will vastly improve your performance and enjoyment of running. With a new spring in your stride you’ll be able to hold a faster pace for longer. You will dominate the run instead of the run dominating you.

Note: few people actually compete in sprinting events outside of high school/college, but sprinting drills can be vastly useful for people training for other sports such as basketball, soccer, ultimate, etc…

Dartmouth Women's Track and Field
Dartmouth Women’s Track and Field | Source

1) Run Uphill

With all of these drills, start with a 10 minute warm-up jog. You will pull something otherwise.

Pick a steep hill. Run up it. Fast, like as if you were trying to catch a bus. Jog back down and repeat 3-5 times. Wave to the neighbors who are all watching jealously.

Sprinters pick a hill you wouldn’t want to bike up, preferably for a 50 to 60 meter stretch.

Distance runners can choose slightly less precipitous hills but with a longer stretch to go – about 150 meters.

Hint: In all of these drills, aim for no more than 2 minutes of rest between the finish of one repeat and the start of the next, particularly if you’re a distance runner. You want to keep your heart rate up! Learn to love the burn – it’s a sign that progress is being made.


2) Run intervals or “fartleks”

Sprinters: Intervals are typically done on a track where you can measure distances precisely.

Run a 400m or 800m at 80% (100% being the absolute fastestyou could run this distance). Walk or jog for 200-400 meters and repeat 3-5times.

Distance runners: Fartleks (a Swedish word meaning “speed play”) are used by distance runners to incorporate segments of high speed into their non-track runs.

Run at a comfortable pace interspersed with periods of higher speed. The higher speed segments can be measured by distance (even “I’m gonna race to that mailbox”) or time (30 seconds to a minute of higher speed is typical).

3) Run downhill

Pick a not too steep hill and run down it. Don’t “catch” yourself with each step, instead incline forward slightly at the hips (which should always be your running posture) and let your legs cycle through faster and faster. This is what it should feel like when you’re sprinting: being on your toes careening forward. Getting a faster stride turnover is key to increasing speed.

4) Squats

Squats are magical exercises. My coach used to say that if you were only going to do one strength training exercise, it should be squats of some form. Even if all the experts don’t agree with that statement, squats still hold the key to immense strength, and strength leads to speed. Squats work the entire leg, back, and core muscles.

Sprinters: you’ll want to do fewer repetitions at a higher weight. Three sets of six or eight repetitions is typical. The last two of each set should feel really difficult.

Maxing out for intense muscle building

Now and then if you’re really serious, you’ll want to “max out.” This is where you put so much weight on the bars that you can only do one repetition. Be sure to have a spotter standing behind you who can grab the bar if you can’t get up! It will push your body to its boundaries.

Distance runners: you’ll want to squat a much lighter weight for longer. Rather than a certain number of repetitions, try seeing how many squats you can do in a minute. The distance runners on my college team frequently did “circuits,” such as a minute of squats followed immediately by a minute of bench press by a minute of jump rope, etc…then repeat the circuit 2 or three times.


5) Eat a protein and carbohydrate snack within 30 minutes after your workout!

Okay, this is not a drill, but it’s highly important and should be treated as part of your training.


When you work out you break down muscle tissue, and it’s the rebuilding of this tissue that makes you stronger and faster. Protein is the building block needed for muscle repair. You also have used up your storage of glycogen – the carbohydrates stored in bodily tissue and used for energy. That “hitting the wall” feeling comes from depleting your stores of glycogen.

Sports scientists have found that the sooner after your workout you eat (it doesn’t have to be a meal – it can be a quick protein and carbohydrate snack like peanut butter and banana), the better your body can rebuild muscle and replenish the glycogen storage. You’ll feel refreshed for your next workout, and will make steadier improvements than if you fasted for hours afterwards.

As a college varsity athlete, I noticeably saw the improvements in my performance (and my body’s muscle tone) once I started implementing this post workout snack. Even if you’re exercising to lose weight, the post workout snack is not something to miss!

Some good carbohydrate/protein snacks:

– banana and peanut butter

– chocolate protein shake or even just chocolate milk

– greek yogurt with fruit

– bowl of high protein cereal

Get Motivated

Finally, let’s talk about motivation. When you do these speed drills I personally find it useful to have something to motivate me other than “it’s good for me” or “I’ll run that 5K faster.” Some people imagine an old coach cheering (or yelling) them on. I find it useful to run with very fast paced pump-up music. Or try this: imagine that a crush of yours is watching. And zing! Works every time.

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