Speed is a vital component in most sports -- most obviously during track and road races but also in sports as diverse as soccer, baseball and tennis. Increasing your speed can give you an edge on your opponents, whether you’re racing them to the finish line or chasing a loose ball on the field. Several activities can help you improve your foot speed, and you can vary your workouts by trying more than one method.
Improve Your Form
Ordinary running is a fairly natural motion, but you must use correct form to maximize your speed. ABC drills are classic running exercises that work on different aspects of your form. To do the “A” drill, walk or skip forward while lifting your front knee to about hip level. Pump your opposite arm forward and bend your elbow 90 degrees. The “B” drill is similar, but instead of simply lifting your bent knee, you extend your calf forward until your entire leg is nearly parallel with the floor -- without locking the knee -- and then you bring your lead foot down directly below your body. Do the “C” drill by kicking your heels up toward your butt with every stride. Do each drill for five minutes, twice per week.
Sprinting for Speed
Running a series of sprints is a common way to increase speed. Run as hard as you can for 30 to 50 yards, rest for three minutes and then run another sprint. Work up to 10 repetitions, and focus on running with your knees high and your arms pumping in straight lines, forward and backward, rather than crossing in front of your chest.
Running up hills is a functional form of strength training as you work your muscles against gravity while also improving your stride length and frequency along with your overall coordination. To develop speed, run up short hills, emphasizing a high-knees running style while you pump your arms aggressively. Find a hill you can climb in about 30 seconds or less with a slope of 5 to 15 degrees. Run up the hill and walk down to complete one repetition, and perform eight to 10 reps. Sprinters should run shorter distances -- about 50 yards -- while distance runners should climb 150 to 200 yards.
Strengthening your running muscles -- the quads, hamstrings, calves, hip flexors and core -- can increase your speed. Perform exercises such as bodyweight squats, single-leg squats and deadlifts, planks, torso rotations, leg presses, body-weight dips and bench presses. Fitness author Wayne Westcott recommends doing 12 to 16 reps of each exercise. Use 60 to 70 percent of your one-rep max -- the most weight you can lift one time -- for weighted exercises. Perform two to three strength workouts weekly, but not on consecutive days. (refs 3, 5-7)
Plyometric exercises involve explosive movements to develop strength and improve your athletic performance. Activities such as box or hurdle jumps, lunge jumps and bounds can improve your speed. To perform forward bounds, for example, push off with your left foot as you extend your right leg forward, land on your right leg and immediately bound forward again, pushing off with your right foot while extending your left leg. Continue for 30 to 40 yards, and repeat the exercise two more times.