The best way for competitive runners to train to run faster is to strengthen their leg muscles by running very fast in practice, running up hills and perhaps using strength training machines.
There are two ways to run faster. You can move your legs at a faster rate, called cadence, or you can take longer steps. A video at the New York City Marathon showed that the top 150 runners had the same cadence, taking 92 to 94 steps a minute. The difference between the top runners and the others was that the best runners took longer strides.
Trying to lengthen your stride slows you down(1). Your most efficient stride length is determined by what feels most comfortable to you. Your heel hits the ground with great force. The tendons in your legs absorb some of the energy and then contract forcibly to help you regain about 60 to 75 percent of that stored energy. When you try to take a stride that is longer than your natural one, you lose a great deal of this stored energy and tire much earlier in a race.
You will run faster in races by strengthening your leg muscles so they drive you forward with a longer stride. Competitive distance runners strengthen their legs by running very fast in practice two or three times a week and by running hard up and down hills once or twice a week.
1) RG Eston, AB Lemmey, P McHugh, C Byrne, SE Walsh. Effect of stride length on symptoms of exercise-induced muscle damage during a repeated bout of downhill running. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, 2000, Vol 10, Iss 4, pp 199-204
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