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How to Build Leg Muscle for Speed

author image Henry Halse
Henry Halse is a Philadelphia-based personal trainer, speaker, and writer. He's trained a wide variety of people, from couch potatoes to professional athletes, and helped them realize their own strength, determination and self-confidence. Henry has also written for various fitness and lifestyle publications, including Women’s Health, AskMen and Prevention.
How to Build Leg Muscle for Speed
How to Build Leg Muscle for Speed Photo Credit: mel-nik/iStock/GettyImages

Take a look at a sprinter, and you'll likely notice the bulge of their leg muscles—they're key to speed. Therefore, when you're training to get faster, you have to do more than just run. To increase your speed, you need strong legs to power your stride. Build them up with strength-training exercises such as squats, deadlifts, and lunges. or maximum efficiency, choose exercises that hit as many muscles as possible.

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The quadricep muscles on the front of your legs and hamstrings and calves on the back make up most of the muscles in your lower body. They're the main source of power during a sprint. When you're running, these muscles work overtime to help you push off of the ground and propel yourself forward.

Read More: Does Running Give You Muscular Legs?


Compound movements that involve more than one joint give you the best bang for your buck. The squat is one of these exercises. To make it a little more challenging, use a barbell on your back or hold dumbbells in each hand.

Start with your feet shoulder-width apart and your toes pointed slightly out. Squat down, but keep your back flat and chest up. Sink as low as you feel comfortable and then stand back up.

If you're using a barbell, rest it on your back and grip the bar with your hands wider than shoulder-width.

To use dumbbells, either hold one in each hand by your sides or one dumbbell in a goblet position in front of your chest.

Squats with a barbell give you the resistance you need to build up your legs.
Squats with a barbell give you the resistance you need to build up your legs. Photo Credit: takoburito/iStock/GettyImages


The entire back of your leg is active during a deadlift, making this one of the best exercises to develop sprinting power.

Start with a barbell on the floor. Either put weight plates on the bar or place the ends of the bar on boxes, so that it comes up to around your mid-shin. Walk up to the center of the bar with your feet shoulder-width apart.

Stick your butt back and bend forward to grip the bar. Flatten out your back, stick your chest forward and pull the bar up as you straighten out your legs. Finish by standing tall at the top and then put the barbell back down on the ground.

Deadlifts build up the big muscles in the back of your leg.
Deadlifts build up the big muscles in the back of your leg. Photo Credit: jacoblund/iStock/GettyImages

Walking Lunges

Lunges use the same pulling motion as sprinting to propel you forward, making them an ideal exercise to increase speed.

Hold a dumbbell in each hand. Step forward with a long stride and dip your back knee down to the ground. Keep your torso tall, and avoid your front knee pushing back your front toes. Step your back foot up, so that it's next to the foot in front, and then step forward with the other foot.

Read More: The Benefits of Lunges


Find an elevated surface to step on that's around knee height. Use a higher surface if you want an even greater challenge. Place one foot up on the platform, close to the edge, and step up by pressing down with that leg and leaning forward. Come back down on the same leg and then step back up with the other leg.

When it seems too easy, make this exercise more difficult by holding a dumbbell in each hand.

The Role of Nutrition

Whenever you're trying to build muscle, it's vital to take in enough calories. The extra energy helps your body lay down new muscle. Eating more protein is a good way to boost your calories. Animal sources like chicken, beef or pork will provide your body with plenty of protein, as can plant sources, like soy or other beans. Additionally, supplement the protein with complex carbohydrates, such as sweet potatoes and whole-grain pasta, and plenty of vegetables.

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