Most people approach speed training with the mindset that they've got to run, run and run some more to get faster. Although on-field sprints and drills are certainly important, they're not the only way to increase your speed. Your flexibility can greatly impact your running form and stride length, and ultimately a higher degree of flexibility will make you a smoother athlete. To help you get faster, we've compiled five stretches that, if done correctly, should prime your body for high-speed performance. Give them a try before your next workout to step up your speed and leave your competition in the dust.
Inchworm/Donkey Kick Combo
The Inchworm/Donkey Kick Combo is an extremely effective dynamic stretch. It not only targets the lower-body muscle groups associated with running, it also hits the upper-body muscles that are key to proper running technique.
"The Inchworm/Donkey Kick Combo is a great dynamic stretch to enhance range of motion for both the upper-body and lower-body muscles," says Jim Carpentier, CSCS and licensed massage therapist.
If you're short on time, the Inchworm/Donkey Kick Combo is a great way to stretch a large number of major muscle groups with a single stretch. "Athletes may mistakenly think they only need to perform dynamic stretches for the lower-body muscles when preparing for sprinting or running drills. But the upper-body muscles are also utilized during proper running technique, so dynamic upper-body stretching is also essential," Carpentier says.
- Assume the push-up position.
- Keeping your hands on the ground, walk on your toes toward your arms while keeping your legs straight. This is the Inchworm portion of the movement.
- Get your feet as close to your arms as you can, then pause and hold for two seconds
- Walk your hands forward to return to push-up position.
- Drive your left knee toward your right elbow, then kick it back and up as high as possible. This is the Donkey Kick portion of the movement. Hold for two seconds before returning to push-up position.
- Repeat the movement with your right leg before repeating the Inchworm.
Forward Lunges with Arm Circles
Similar to the Inchworm/Donkey Kick Combo, Forward Lunges with Arm Circles are a dynamic stretch that targets both the lower body and upper body. "This is another beneficial full-body dynamic warm-up stretch to perform before running or sprinting," Carpentier says. The ability to simultaneously and effectively move your lower body and upper body in concert is the major component of running, which makes this dynamic stretch a great inclusion to your pre-speed workout routine.
- Begin by simply walking and performing Lunges at a slow, controlled speed, alternating legs.
- While you're lunging, perform slow clockwise Arm Circles at shoulder height.
- Make small circles that gradually get larger.
- After 8-10 yards, switch to counter-clockwise Arm Circles while continuing your Walking Lunges.
Sets/Distance: 2x15-20 yards
How fast you run depends on how much force you can put into the ground. The more force you put into the ground with your feet, the greater forward propulsion you create.
Wall Drives work on driving your feet into the ground behind you and driving the opposite knee up. Extending one leg behind you while driving the opposite leg up in front of you is essential to proper running form.
"This is an awesome drill that trains athletes to maintain hip extension and glute engagement on the extended leg while the other leg drives up in a controlled fashion," says Kasey Esser, CSCS and certified personal trainer. "I love this drill because it puts you in a functional position that carries over to the track or field."
A favorite of elite athletes like Da'Quan Bowers, Wall Drives reinforce proper running form and increase your flexibility.
- Extend your arms straight ahead of you to a wall and lean your body at a 45-degree angle.
- Rise onto the ball of your right foot and explosively drive your right knee toward your chest
- Keep your toes pulled toward your shin and squeeze the opposite glute.
- Your opposite leg should be straight throughout the knee drive.
- Quickly drive your right foot back into the ground behind you while explosively driving your left knee toward your chest.
- Continue to alternate legs until the set is complete.
Leg Lowers with Kettlebell (or Dumbbell)
Your core plays a crucial role in your running form and overall athletic performance. Leg Lowers with a Kettlebell work on mobilizing the hamstrings and simultaneously engaging the core.
"Hamstring pulls are pretty common when trying to maintain max speed," Esser says. "But the answer isn't necessarily to statically stretch them. I like this leg lowering drill to actively mobilize the hamstrings while reflexively engaging the core. Holding the weight with your opposite arm more closely replicates how the body produces force."
Like some of the other stretches here, Leg Lowers with a Kettlebell target several muscle groups. Working a single muscle group at a time is not the best way to prepare for athletic performance. You're not going to use just a single muscle group at any point during the game, right? Of course not. Major athletic movements require the simultaneous, explosive use of muscle groups all over the body.
- Lie on your back and hold a kettlebell or dumbbell straight out in front of you with your right arm.
- Your arm should be straight and your wrist should be locked.
- Raise your left leg toward your torso while pulling your toes toward your shin.
- Raise your left leg until you can no longer keep it straight or feel a good stretch.
- Exhale as you slowly lower your leg back to the starting position. This will keep your lower back flat to the ground while engaging your core.
- Repeat for the specified number of reps, then switch arms and legs.
Sets/Reps: 3x10 each side
Spiderman Lunge with Hip Lift and Rotation
Spiderman Lunges are a good stretch on their own, but adding a Hip Lift and Rotation mobilizes the upper body and works on the rotational aspect of running. It also adds an extra element of dynamic stretching to the adductors and external rotators of the hips.
"Speed is often thought of as being all about the legs, but the upper body needs to be mobile to allow the arms to drive back and forth with full strength," Esser says. "This drill works on mobilizing nearly every important part of the body for running."
- Beginning in push-up position, drive your right knee to the outside of your right elbow and place your foot on the ground. Your left leg should be extended behind you. This is the Spiderman Lunge portion of the movement.
- Drive your front heel into the ground to push your butt toward the ceiling. This is the Hip Lift portion of the movement. Hold this position for one second before returning to the Spiderman Lunge.
- Take your right hand off the ground and slowly rotate until it is fully straight above you. Your eyes should follow your hand. This is the Rotation portion of the movement. Hold this position for one second before returning to the Spiderman Lunge position.
- Switch Legs.
Sets/Reps: 3x8 each side
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