How to Use Your Mind & Body to Train for Speed

How to Use Your Mind & Body to Train for Speed. What is speed? If we’re opening the dictionary, it’s a measurement of the rate at which someone or something can move; it also means to move quickly. Speed is both relative and concrete. It’s both an exact measure and a feeling with wholly different meanings depending on the context.

Speed is inexorably linked to time: seconds, minutes, mile splits, and PRs. It can be easy to forget the idea of being fast, the heavy breathing, wind-through-your-hair, quad-burning sensation in which runners know they are hitting the ground but feel as if they’re floating.

Fast is relative. It’s always good to keep that in mind. Fast is a feeling, one that maybe can’t be associated with time for all athletes.

The world’s fastest 800m runner is David Rudisha, who holds the world and Olympic record set in London in 2012 with a time of 1:40. That effort broke his own record, set in 2010. Before that? The record was set in 1997 by Wilson Kipketer (who broke his own record several times). And before that? The record was set by Sebastian Coe in 1981. This is interesting when compared to marathon records (broken every few years) and 100m world records (broken even more frequently).

This is all to say that fast doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It depends on things like distance, event, output, and maybe most importantly for the casual runner, personal goal: a number, denoted in time, less than your previous run.

We are not Bolt or Kipchoge. But we share a desire to run faster, whatever that may mean to you as a runner.

Mental Techniques

Running faster is something that must be achieved through physical ability–the body is what propels us forward. But now more than ever, the mental aspect of endurance exercise is being considered a powerful tool to push the body to extreme lengths.

The body and mind are linked; while we’ll explore physical aspects of technique and pacing, we’ll also address mental strategies to employ while on the road or the course.

Welcome the Pain

Motivational techniques for runners point to embracing pain as a way runners can push themselves to log miles every day. The same is true for running faster. There’s an element of discomfort that must be welcomed to increase the pace.

This is especially difficult for runners who are just starting because they’re not used to the feeling of pain. During workouts like speed training, the pain will come–it’s about being ready for it, anticipating it, and eventually, embracing it.

The pain will lessen with training. Crossing the lactate threshold is the point at which the body cannot recycle the lactic acid accumulated in the blood–it’s then that the body begins sending pain and nausea signals to make you slow down and thus recycle all that lactic acid. But you can train to increase that lactic threshold and decrease the pain.

With training also comes knowledge of your body and an understanding of pain, remembering how it feels and at what point in the run it’ll hit.

Positive Thinking

The power of the mind can’t be understated–being aware of your thinking, and how those thoughts make you feel, can have a positive or negative impact on performance outputs. Sometimes telling yourself “you’re great” is the first step to actually making that happen.

One meta-analysis concluded the strategy of self-talk facilitates learning (so it can also help training) and enhance performance. Since self-talk has an impact on performance, it’s important to make that self-talk positive.

Cindra Kamphoff has a PhD in performance psychology, and says, “The negativity is going to come, the disempowering thoughts are going to come because you’re pushing your body. You don’t have to believe them.”

Many runners reach a flow state of zen or a meditation-like experience. This happens during the run, but its power can be harnessed while off the trail. 

The ability to harness the connection between body and mind may lead to better results.


Breaking a casual run or race into chunks can help–especially for longer runs. This technique can help by making the total mileage feel less daunting. For a marathon distance, a popular way to break it down is into two 10-mile runs and a 10k.

Even on a smaller scale, chunking can be similar to gamifying the run. If you’re running in a city, you might push yourself to the end of the block.

Breaking down a run into smaller sections may help increase speed incrementally, which will likely lead to a better overall time.

Training Smart

Training is like juggling. Breathing, form, power–all these things are on your mind with each stride. When one is dropped, the others tend to follow. But it’s during this training process that the best habits are built. And remember, it’s a process.

Things like intervals and tempo runs can help. It’s also important to track your progress: keep a training log to see how you’ve been able to increase speed after all that hard training.

The Best Workouts to Get Faster

If you’re not continually giving your body a new or progressively challenging stimulus by changing or ramping up your training, your progress can stall.

For this reason, when you’re trying to do workouts to run faster, make sure you’re including enough variety in your exercise routine to ensure your body never gets too accustomed to what you’re doing that adaptation taper off.

The 6 Best Workouts To Run Faster

Some of the best workouts to run faster are running-specific workouts. Examples include the following:


Intervals are set distances you run at specific paces as a form of speed work, so they are usually run at a race pace, slightly faster, or VO2 max pace, depending on your goals, the race distance you are training for, and the distance of each interval.

For example, you might run an interval workout of 12 x 400 at a goal 5k pace or slightly faster.

Fartlek Runs

A fartlek run involves varying your pace as you run by adding bursts of fast running interspersed into your run without stopping after each “on” interval.

For example, you might do a 4-mile fartlek run where you do 10 x 90-second surges at your 5k pace during the run.  In between each of these surges, you would resume your normal training pace or slow your pace just a tad.

Hill Sprints

Hill sprints are one of the best workouts to get faster.  Applicable for distance runners and sprint athletes alike, hill workouts involve sprinting up hills using good form and a quick turnover.

Because you are having to contend with the incline of the hill and gravity, hill sprint workouts are like resistance training and speed training combined into one. Using a quick cadence and driving with your arms makes hill repeats one of the best exercises to run faster.

Accelerations or Strides

Accelerations or strides involve running 75-100 meters or so, building up from a fast pace to an all-out sprint. They allow you to work on your turnover and drive, which helps you run faster.

Speed Training With Resistance 

Speed training with resistance is one of the best exercises to run faster.

This type of training involves sprinting with some form of resistance, such as a parachute, weighted sledge, or against a resistance band or tethered partner.

Whether you’re doing a sledge pull, pulling against the wind resistance of a parachute, being restrained by another runner, or otherwise, when you sprint as fast as possible against resistance, you build up your strength as you build your speed. Then, when the resistance is removed, it becomes that much easier to sprint, helping you run faster.

Tempo Runs

Tempo runs involve running for at least 20 minutes or so at a pace that’s right around your lactate threshold. 

Tempo workouts are designed to improve your lactate threshold or the point at which your body is no longer able to clear lactate from the muscles as quickly as it is being produced. 

When you run faster than your lactate threshold pace, you will rapidly fatigue, and your legs will start to feel heavy and tired. Therefore, tempo runs help to condition your body to handle running faster before hitting anaerobic efforts.

Your lactate threshold is around 83-88% of your VO2 max, so your tempo run pace would be the pace you are running at 83-88% of your VO2 max according to your lab results or roughly the pace you could hold at max effort for an hour of running. 

This is a “comfortably hard pace.” For most runners, the tempo run pace is about 25-30 seconds per mile slower tthe than the 5k race pace.  For example, if you are training to run 5K in 27 minutes (8:40 pace), your pace for threshold workouts should be around 9:05-9:10 per mile or 5:35-5:38 per kilometre.

8 Exercises to Run Faster

The following are some of the best exercises to run faster:

Explosive Step-Ups

Step-ups are a fantastic exercise to run faster because they strengthen the key muscles that are involved in running and sprinting, such as your glutes, hamstrings, quads, calves, and core muscles.

Use dumbbells for added resistance, explode upward on the step-up portion, and slowly step down backwards. The explosive power should come from your glutes, which will help drive your leg forward when you run.

Bulgarian Split Squats

Rear foot-elevated split squats, or Bulgarian split squats, are a good unilateral strength training exercise for runners. They’ll strengthen your entire lower body and core.

For maximum effectiveness in terms of using this one of our exercises to run faster, perform the eccentric phase (lowering down) as slowly as possible and then explode back up.

Single-Leg Romanian Deadlifts

This is a great exercise for running faster because it isolates each leg at a time, mimicking the unilateral demands of running. You’ll strengthen your glutes, hamstrings, and core.

Instead of performing each rep slowly, reach down slowly with the weight and then explode upward back to the starting position. This will help develop the power you need to run faster.

On-Box Jumps

Jumping up onto a plyometric box with two feet builds explosive strength that can translate to running faster. Gradually increase the height of the box you use as you get stronger.

Jumping Rope

Jumping rope is a great way to get in some footwork and increase your cadence. Jump as low to the ground and as quickly as possible to really improve your turnover. Keep your core tight and glutes engaged.


Few exercises to run faster and get stronger are complete without squats. Like the other exercises here, perform the eccentric phase slowly and then focus on accelerating upwards as fast and powerfully as possible.

Depth Jumps

This tough plyometric exercise is great for developing explosive speed for running faster.

Because you start on a raised box rather than the floor, this exercise has a strong eccentric (lowering) muscle action. Therefore, you get the true stretch-shortening cycle necessary to fully activate the central nervous system. This, in turn, increases muscle firing rates and increases the force the muscles can generate.

Start on a plyo box that’s 6-30 inches high, depending on your experience level.

Medicine Ball Burpees

Regular burpees can certainly be useful in your workouts to run faster, but adding a medicine ball takes everything up a notch.

You’ll perform the same basic burpee (squat, down to push-up, then explode up to a vertical jump), but all while holding onto a medicine ball. The medicine ball makes the squat and vertical jump more challenging because you have added resistance. 

Driving your arms straight overhead while holding the medicine ball helps build power in your glutes, which can help you run faster. Moreover, you’ll get a killer core workout and will really challenge your upper body with the push-up portion.

Try to do the push-up with your hands on either side or the top of the medicine ball. By reducing your base of support and placing your hands on an unstable surface, you’ll really have to activate your core.

For each exercise, perform 3 sets of 6-8 reps. Focus on good form, high resistance, and power.

Between the running workouts and the strength exercises, as well as a commitment to keep your training program varied, it should be possible to run faster.

Running Fast: a Personal Pursuit

With countless ways to measure and track and compare and share statuses, it’s important to remember that on a run, it’s just you and the road. You should want to improve. You should want to get faster. You should expect to work to get there.

Running isn’t about taking shortcuts, if you want to get faster, you have to train. Aspire to some of the world’s best runners, and use that as motivation each time you lace up your shoes to run.


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