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The importance of speed workouts for distance runners

Speed workouts can help with increasing ground reaction force, improving stride efficiency, improving agility, and reducing injury.

As a Division 1 collegiate sprinter at Virginia Tech I was always aware of how important speed drills are in making me an overall faster runner, and it was pretty obvious that speed was what I needed as a sprinter. At the time, what I didn’t realize was how the speed drills that I was doing as a sprinter would years later also make me a more efficient and faster distance runner. 

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With graduating and transitioning into Physical Therapy school my sprinter days quickly came to an end but I wanted to keep running.  Distance running became my new forte and I attribute most of my success with distance running to all of my speed work.  Speed workouts are defined by a specific training regime including speed work drills, strength training, and running exercises, that help to coordinate arm and leg movement, with the goal of enhancing overall running efficiency for optimal performance. 

The clients at Rose Physical Therapy have not only gotten the upper edge in their races, reporting faster splits and overall time by incorporating speed workouts, but I have also seen quicker recovery times after workouts with overall less injury. These elements of training are easily incorporated here in Washington, DC.

The benefits of incorporating speed workouts for distance runners include:

  1. Improved ground reaction force production - Every runner from the fastest Olympic sprinter or distance runner to person just getting into running for the first time, has the same ability to quickly reposition their legs while in the air.  The advantage comes with what happens when your foot hits the ground.  The faster and more powerful you can rebound off the ground the longer your stride will be in the air, longer stride in the air means longer more powerful return stride when hitting the ground propelling you forward using little effort.
  2. More efficient running stride - when the foot lands connective tissue and tendons that make up a muscle unit store energy by stretching, this is called elastic recoil.  A fraction of a second later you release that energy in your stride.  More than 50% of the energy used comes from that elastic recoil.  Performing specific speed workouts to strengthen those muscle units will increase the recoil energy potential improving the speed of that process and making each stride faster and more efficient.
  3. Improved agility - training your muscles to be able to quickly respond to changes in running surface will help you navigate turns faster, quickly adapt to uneven surfaces or even jumping over rocks or off curbs with trail running.
  4. Injury reduction - speed workouts train overall muscles and muscle fibers that are important in protecting and stabilizing joints while running.  Improving flexibility and maintaining proper muscular balance also helps protect injury prone muscles, such as hamstrings.

Being a long distance runner myself I have experienced that great running community that Washington DC has to offer.  I have not only competed in races in Washington DC but have also treated clients’ in the community and have seen, first hand the benefits of incorporating speed workouts in your training. 

Washington DC has a variety of challenging running surfaces and races.  Long distance runners should be doing speed workouts for optimal performance outcomes.  Seeing a physical therapist at Rose Physical Therapy can help tailor your running program while attending to that nagging running injury. 

If you are having problems figuring out how to incorporate speed workouts into your training, and/or are having pain come in a see us for an evaluation. Remember to get that speed workout in for a one up advantage on your competition. And if you are having any questions about running form, schedule a running assessment at Rose Physical Therapy.