Speed training will improve your track performance, but it takes more than stimulating your muscles to contract quicker. You also have to train your brain and your nervous system to control the faster movement of your leg muscles, advises Brian Mac, performance coach for UK Athletics. In effect, you have to “rehearse” at high speeds to gain the coordination you need. Do your speed drills after a rest day or a period of light training. Make sure you get a good warmup before performing the drills to minimize injury risk. Keep any training that follows speed drills at a low intensity.
To boost speed, perform short, fast repeats, such as 10 20-second runs at 90 percent of your top speed, advises Greg McMillan, exercise physiologist and USA Track and Field-certified coach. Follow each repetition with a one- to two-minute recovery time. During each repetition, focus on good running technique, a quick stride and keeping a short ground contact time, which is the amount of time each foot spends on the ground. Good technique involves not letting your arms move across your body, running tall and touching the ground quickly and lightly.
Make sure there is not much lactic acid build up during each repetition. That hampers your ability to run at top speed, which is the purpose of the workout, McMillan advises in the article “Leg It Out” in the April 2008 edition of Running Times magazine.
Use acceleration drills to improve your speed, advises Mac of UK Athletics, the United Kingdom's national governing body for track and field. Use a sledge that is 10 to 15 percent of your body weight. Do four sets of either 20 or 50 meters, depending on whether you are training for shorter sprints or longer track distances. Also perform starts over 10 to 20 meters on a 5-degree incline. This will condition your thigh, hip and calf muscles, which in turn will improve your acceleration.
Fartlek workouts are effective for boosting speed, especially among runners who perform longer distances, according to “Run For Your Life” by Deborah Reber. Start at a slow and relaxed pace for one to four minutes, then push yourself at race pace for the same amount of time. Do not stop running but continue to alternate the slow and fast paces.