Leg Exercises to Improve Speed

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Whether you're a sprinter, mid- or long-distance runner, speed is likely important to you. Running speed is the interaction of stride frequency and stride length, which depend on strength, power and flexibility of the lower body. Several leg exercises can be added to your training program to target these areas and help you run faster.

Standing Leg Raise

Strong iliopsoas, or hip flexor, muscles are an important component of running speed, allowing for faster forward leg movement and upward knee drive. The standing leg raise exercise will help strengthen and develop this muscle group. Stand with your back toward a low-cable machine. Attach the cable ankle cuff to your right ankle. Step forward with your left leg so that your right leg is pulled back. Grasp a sturdy object for balance, straighten your back and contract your core muscles. Pull against the cable by flexing your hip to bring your right knee toward your chest. Slowly extend your hip and return to the starting position. Complete the desired number of repetitions then repeat the exercise with your left leg. This exercise can also be performed with a resistance band.

This exercise targets your quadriceps and gluteal muscles. Your quads are responsible for knee extension while your glutes are the primary muscles involved in hip extension. Stand on a platform or exercise bench that is at least knee-height. Place all of your weight on your left leg and allow your right foot to hang freely off the side of the bench. Bend your left knee and hip to slowly lower your body until the toes of your right foot touch the floor. Press through your left heel to drive your body upward and return to the starting position. Complete the desired number of repetitions, then switch legs.

Russian Hamstring Curl

The Russian hamstring curl is a challenging eccentric hamstring exercise that works to not only strengthen the muscles but may also play a role in injury prevention. Get on your knees and hook your heels under a bench or have a friend hold them down. Begin with your knees bent to 90 degrees and your hips and back straight. Slowly begin to lower yourself as low as possible toward the floor, using your hamstrings to resist falling straight down. Once you reach the floor, contract your hamstrings to lift your body back to the starting position. If this exercise is too difficult, use a resistance band or have a friend provide assistance.

Stretches to Maintain Flexibility

Muscular flexibility is just as important as muscular strength when it comes to increasing your running speed. At the end of each strength workout, adequately stretch your working muscles. To stretch your hip flexors, lunge forward with your left leg and lower your right knee to the floor. Place your hands on your left knee. Keeping your torso upright, gently lean into your left leg until you feel a stretch in the front of your right hip. Hold the stretch for 30 seconds then repeat the exercise with your left leg.

Stretch your quadriceps by standing next to a sturdy object and transfer your weight to your left leg. Bend your right knee and lift your heel toward your buttocks. Grasp your right ankle with your right hand and gently pull your heel until you feel a stretch in the front of your right thigh. Hold the position for 30 seconds before repeating the stretch with your left leg.

Keeping your hamstrings flexible is important. Lie face up on the floor and loop a towel or resistance band around the bottom of your left foot. Use the band to pull your leg upward until it is perpendicular to the floor while leaving your right leg extended and flat on the floor. Pull on the band until you feel a stretch in your hamstring, hold for five to 10 seconds then relax. Repeat the exercise five times then switch legs.