When it comes to running, speed and strength go hand-in-hand. After all, it takes a lot of muscle power to propel your legs—and the rest of your body—forward at a rapid rate. And if you haven’t yet developed the muscle strength necessary to supply that power, jumping right into a speedy workout is pretty much a one-way ticket to injury city. So, before you go sprinting through any airports—or around any tracks—get your muscles prepped to fire on all cylinders with these explosive strength-building exercises:
1. Jump Squats
As the name would suggest, this exercise is similar to a normal squat, but with a kick—er, a jump. Standing with your legs shoulder-width apart—and keeping your back straight—bend your knees and lower your bum to the ground. Once you’ve gone as far as you can without breaking your form, bring your arms back behind your body and swing them forward as you explode upward. Keeping your motion controlled, try to land as softly as possible before straightening your back and launching into your next repetition. Try to do 10 jumps in a row, but if you feel your form slipping, stop and take a breather before finishing out your set.
2. Dynamic Split Squats
Like jump squats, dynamic split squats are basically the plyometric version of their classic lift namesake. Assume the split squat position, with your front leg bent at 90 degrees, your back straight, and your back leg stretched out behind you. In one smooth, rapid motion, jump vertically while switching the positions of your front and back legs. Land softly and immediately spring into the next rep. Try for 10 reps total (five on each leg) at first, with a goal of getting to 20 jumps in a row.
In its most basic form, a step-up involves—no surprise here—stepping onto a flat surface (like a stair, bench, or bleacher seat). Whether you alternate legs or perform multiple consecutive reps on the same leg, speed is the key to making step-ups worth your while. Once you’ve mastered the baseline step motion, try adding a “pop” at the top. That is, step all the way up and use your calf muscle to push off the top of the stair to get a little vertical air. Aim for 10 to 20 reps on each leg.
4. Tuck Jumps
If you’re a seasoned track and field spectator (c’mon, I know I can’t be the only one), then you’ve probably seen many a tuck jump at the starting line of the sprinting events. But this nifty little plyo move is good for more than a quick pre-race warm-up; it also gets your legs used to the explosive bursts of power necessary to achieve—and hold—your top speed. Standing with your toes pointed forward and your legs shoulder-width apart, keep your back straight and—without lowering your body and knees for leverage—bring your thighs and knees up to your chest in a quick, controlled tuck motion. (Pro tip: Hold your arms straight out in front of your body, parallel with the ground, to help maintain balance.) Work up to 10 consecutive tucks.
5. Single-Leg Hops
Want to strengthen the muscles and connective tissues in your feet and calves? Well then, hop to it! No, seriously—single-leg hops are great for building lower-leg strength and power. Try doing short, fast, “staccato” hops for speed. To focus more on strength, jump for height. Go until fatigue—or at least until you feel the burn—but be careful not to overexert yourself, as that could lead to injuries like Achilles tendonitis.
Many runners train under the false perception that fast running is the only thing that’ll make ’em faster. But to avoid injury, runners should round out their speedwork with a strength training routine that incorporates dynamic exercises like the ones I’ve listed above.
Already sidelined with a running-induced ache or pain? A physical therapist can help you get on the route to recovery. To find one in your area, check out our handy PT search tool.