Any treadmill work is excellent for cardiovascular fitness – but if your aim is to make your feet fleet and improve your running speed, adding some new twists to your treadmill workout can soon help you pick up the pace.
Speed is dictated by three factors, says Canyon Ranch in Tucson exercise physiologist Eric Alikpala: “Endurance, cardiovascular fitness and efficiency.” By focusing on these three aspects when you hit the gym, you’ll soon shave minutes off your time, he says.
If you run at your usual pace for 30 minutes or so, you’re bound to get faster, right? “Not necessarily,” says Eric.
Increase your endurance by adding 10-15% to your workout time per week. To increase your speed, you need to challenge your body and build up your cardiovascular fitness. “By overloading your system a little beyond comfort level, your body will adapt.”
Mix it up a little
Adding intervals of walking may sound like slacking off, but it can result in a workout that’s more challenging – and you’ll improve your speed and fitness in the process. Here’s how it might work:
Let’s say your current steady speed is 5 miles per hour. Run three miles and you may feel exhausted, but you’re no faster than when you started. And it’s pretty boring, too.
Intervals allow your body time to recover, and your “fast” running lasts only one minute to start – a far easier goal than a long, grueling haul. Try increasing your speed or duration every few intervals. For just one minute, you may be able to maintain 7 miles per hour. With a few minutes to recover afterward (you can walk), it’s more than doable – and at the end of your workout, that 5 miles per hour feels positively leisurely. Keeping track of your intervals holds treadmill boredom at bay, and you’ll boost your cardio fitness – and your speed – at the same time.
Also, try “jog/run” intervals. After warming up, start by jogging your normal pace for 4½ minutes, then running slightly faster than usual for 30 seconds. Each week, increase the time you run faster by 30 seconds more and decrease the time interval at your usual pace by 30 seconds. Soon your entire run will be faster.
Improve your technique
Your speed is determined by the length of your stride. If you want to get your body working optimally, aim for 90 strides per minute, no matter what your speed, says Eric. “Biomechanically, it’s been found to be the most efficient rate for runners of any ability and pace.” One stride means both feet have landed once – so count only when either your right or your left foot hits the ground. “It’s the same as when you’re bicycling,” he says. “One time around the pedal crank with your foot equals one revolution, and cyclists aim for 90 revolutions per minute.”
Those running intervals become a cinch if your mind’s occupied in counting from one to 90 – even when you pick up the pace a little. And running occasional faster intervals helps to override the speed limit your mind subconsciously sets as you fall into your usual pace for that daily jog. “It’s like changing gears,” says Eric.
It’s important to maintain good running form at all times. “Only run fast as long as you can run well. If you can’t run without holding on to the treadmill, you’re going too fast. You lose form if you run to exhaustion, and risk injury.”
For treadmill workouts, vary the incline level. A one to two percent setting is equivalent to running on flat ground. When running outside, maintain 90 strides per minute and vary your stride length to adapt to changes in terrain.
Whether on the treadmill or outside, you’ll run faster if you move efficiently:
- Maintain a neutral head position, with shoulders relaxed.
- Keep your body tall and straight, without crouching.
- Keep your arms swinging straight ahead, not moving from side to side.
- Don’t overstride: Make sure your feet land directly beneath you. If your foot lands ahead of you it acts as a brake, decreasing energy efficiency.