There’s a sneaky secret that can help make you faster — whether you’re a beginning runner or a pro marathoner. “Sprints can help any runner improve,” says USA Track and Field-certified running coach Carl Leivers, creator of Running Coach Carl. “They improve the coordination between your brain and muscles, creating more efficiency with your movements. And that efficiency helps you run faster across the board.”
SPRINTS VS. SPEED WORK
Not to be confused with speed work — which is the type of training that involves longer pace variations like mile repeats and tempo runs, and also builds the body’s fitness over time — sprints, or what Leivers calls, “strides,” involve 10–20 second bursts of speed, usually at the end of an easy run, to improve your neuromuscular coordination. “This isn’t about all-out sprinting,” he says. “In fact, you have to run relaxed — as fast as you can while staying relaxed — to get the maximum benefits. You’re teaching your body a new way to activate your muscles in an efficient way, and the body learns new skills when it’s not tired.”
To start, Leivers recommends adding two 15-second bursts of speed at the end of your run. It’s best to wait until you’ve finished your run, so your muscles are completely warmed up. Rest for a minute in between sets (or as long as it takes for you to catch your breath), and build up to performing 4–6 post-run strides. “You don’t need to do these more than twice a week,” Leivers adds. “And you can start by doing them on just one day per week until that becomes easy.”
Once your strides feel like second nature, you can turn them into a speed workout, swapping them with a tempo run day, or mile repeat workout. “Try them at the track, striding the straights for eight laps, and jogging the curves. That’s 16 strides, which is a hard run for two miles,” Leivers says.
If you’re not quite there yet, stick to speeding up at the end of your runs. You’re simply teaching your body and brain to feel what it’s like to run faster — and it will remember. “Your brain is learning what to do — and your legs moving faster triggers that efficiency,” Leiver says.