Three Steps to a Faster 5k

Whether you’re training to complete your first 5k or to run faster than last Spring, the following three steps will get your training and performance moving in the right direction.
1.) PRIORITIZE YOUR WARM-UP AND RECOVERY
Perhaps the least appealing of the three steps; properly preparing your body for the rigors of the training session as well as taking the appropriate steps to fuel, hydrate, and recover will increase the efficacy of your training.

Save the stretching for after your run; a dynamic warm-up is now the preferred method of preparing your body to hit the road. Perform a handful of the following movements, spend a few minutes walking, and then you can begin to ramp up your speed. This warm-up will slowly begin to elevate your heart rate, take the muscles used for running through their full range of motion, and encourage blood flow.

World’s Greatest Stretch

  • Lunge forward and place your opposite hand down
  • Rotate at your mid back and reach overhead
  • Hold for a couple of seconds before reaching down and through your opposite arm
Kneeling Adductor Mobilization

  • Kneel on one knee with your opposite leg extended out to the side with the toes pointed upwards
  • Initiate movement at your hips by hinging backwards
  • Rock forward and back while keeping your chest tall
High Plank with Calf Stretch

  • Start in a high plank with your hands underneath your shoulders and your feet stalked on top of each other
  • Rock forward and back at your shoulders while maintaining a stable core to stretch your calf
Walking Knee Pulls with Single Leg Calf Raise

  • As you walk, pull one knee towards your chest
  • When you are balanced, perform a calf raise with your plant leg
  • Maintain a neutral spine and a forward eye gaze
Mini Band Lateral Walk

  • Place a mini band just under your knees (or around your shoelaces for more resistance) and point your toes straight ahead
  • Take small steps with both feet, not allowing the trail leg to be pulled closer than shoulder width to the lead leg
Mini Band Hip Abduction

  • Place a mini band around your ankles and sit back into your hips with a slight knee bend
  • Keeping your toes pointing straight ahead, hover one foot off of the ground and lift that leg out to the side while maintaining balance
  • Repeat for both sides
2.) Incorporate Strength Training
There’s a simple way to become more resilient to common running injuries and get faster without the wear and tear of logging more and more miles. Get off of the road and into the weight room.

Fatigue is multi-faceted but one reason why your pace may drop over the course of a long run is that your muscles are no longer able to fire as efficiently to produce the same force output as they did when you were fresh. If you think of this mechanism of fatigue in a graphical sense, a stronger muscle that is fatigued after 5 miles could still have the capacity to exert a greater amount of force into the ground than a weaker muscle at mile 2 (see graph below). Strength training isn’t a replacement for endurance work but rather a supplement. You don’t have to dedicate a ton of time to the weight room at first to begin reaping the benefits. Spend 25-30 minutes once or twice a week performing the following exercises and let us know whether your race times improve.

Force vs. Fatigue Model
This is an oversimplification of why a runner’s pace slows down over the course of a race but the graph is used to represent the logic of why strength training can be beneficial for endurance athletes. If you’re looking to improve the Acceleration component of Force = Mass x Acceleration, then it would make sense to increase the amount of force your muscles are able to produce via strength training.
* Strength training shouldn’t attempt to replicate the energy requirements of running. This is not a recommendation to do 25 minutes of walking lunges. Improving your strength and power output through heavier or explosive compound lifts will more effectively improve performance. However, the complexity of these movements is higher and finding a knowledgeable strength coach to observe how you execute them is important. If you are comfortable with Deadlifts, Squats, and Hip Thrusts, I strongly recommend having them make up the bulk of your strength work.

Below are 15 movements to implement that don’t require a ton of equipment and have a smaller learning curve.

The Prowler Sled is a versatile piece of equipment that allows you to a train a variety of running attributes: strength, speed, and core stability. It requires minimal instruction and allows you to push and drag your way to a stronger and more efficient running stride.
To perform a Split Squat, situate your feet parallel to one another with a wide stance. Lower your back knee to the ground so it finishes directly under your hip. If your stance is too narrow, your front heel will rise off of the ground or your torso position will be compromised. Perform these repetitions with a slow and controlled tempo. Use higher repetitions to train hypertrophy (muscle growth) and muscular endurance or lower reps to train for relative single leg strength.
The Reverse Lunge is a dynamic split squat with increased pelvic and knee stability demands. A slight forward lean of the torso will shift some of the load from your knee to your hip – which may make this an effective alternative for athletes who have knee pain when performing forward lunges.
The Single Leg RDL is an excellent exercise for ankle and hip stability as well as hamstring strength and mobility. Start with the knee of your plant leg slightly bent and your moving leg at 90°. Initiate the movement at your hips while maintaining a flat back. The most common compensation is rotation at the hips; if you are unable to maintain a level pelvis throughout the movement, hold onto an object at chest height in front of you with both hands. Loading the movement with light dumbbells can also help with balance.
While you should prioritize single leg strength, the Kettlebell Front Squat is a bilateral squat variation with a host of strength and muscle building benefits for the Glutes, Quadriceps, and Anterior Core. Keep your elbows by your ribcage and your core braced (ribcage down and stomach tight). This can also be performed with one Kettlebell if you find the front rack position to be uncomfortable on wrists.
Perform a Glute Bridge by lying on your back with your knees bent. Press through your heels and lift your hips until you have a straight line from your knees to your shoulders. Squeeze your glutes at the top of the movement.
The Feet Elevated Psoas March is a great exercise for hamstring and core stability. Lay on your back with your heels up on a small box or aerobic step and a mini band around your shoelaces. Brace your core, bridge your hips, and march one knee back to a 90° angle. Briefly hold this position before returning your leg to the box and repeat on the other side.
The Overstretch Calf Raise is effective for both strengthening and stretching the Calf/Achilles complex by taking the Gastrocnemius through a greater range of motion than a standing calf raise. The calf is composed of two muscles and the deeper muscle, the Soleus, only works when the knee is bent so performing seated calf raises is a necessary addition in order to train the entire calf musculature.
The Single Leg Touchdown is an exercise that we implement for improving knee stability with some glute activation benefits. Stand on a platform only a few inches off of the ground. Hinge back into your hip as you lower your foot straight to the ground.
The Physio Ball Hamstring Curl challenges core stability and hamstring strength. Lay on your back, bridge your hips, brace your core, and pull the physio ball (or medicine ball) back towards your body. The hamstrings aide in knee flexion so as the ball gets closer to your body, your hamstrings will contract. Emphasize the eccentric (lengthening) portion by slowly rolling the ball away to the starting position.
The Single Leg Hamstring Curl is a progression to the previous exercise. All of the same technique cues apply with the non-working let at 90° to encourage a neutral pelvis. The demand on the hamstring and core is greater.
To perform the Single Leg Glute Bridge, lay on your back, elevate one leg up to 90° and press through the heel of your plant leg to lift your hips up to 180°. Briefly hold the extended position and consciously contract your glutes. If you tend to feel the exercise more in your lower back, you can hug your elevate leg to prevent any lumbar extension (lower back arching).
To perform a Clamshell, lay on your side with a mini band just above or below your knee and your legs at 90° in relation to your torso. Keep your heels together and spread your knees apart, moving in an arc motion. Briefly hold this position before returning to the starting position with your knees together. Attempt to move solely at your knee/hip and not rotate through your lower back.
The Tempo Mountain Climber trains core stability through hip flexion. Begin in a high plank position and bring one knee forward at a time while maintaining core stiffness. If your lower back rounds over as your knee moves forward, you either did not properly brace your core or you brought your knee too far forward.
The Suitcase March trains grip strength, single leg stability, hip flexion, and your core’s ability to resist lateral flexion (leaning to the side). You can perform the movement in a stationary position, marching in place, or dynamically as you cover distance while carrying the weight.
3.) PROPER AND INTENTIONAL SPEED WORK
Most runners know that they have to implement some form of speed work into their routines in order to get faster in any distance. But heading to the track to run your fastest 400m isn’t sufficient or sustainable. For distance runners, speed work isn’t about sprinting as much as it is about working at thresholds and manipulating different variables (number of repeats, distance, pace, work to rest ratio, etc) in order to cause an adaptation. However, you don’t need to head to the track in order to work on your speed. Within the scope of your typical training schedule, instead of several 3-4 mile runs during the week and a long run on the weekend, incorporate some of these strategies once or twice a week to break through performance plateaus and set new PRs.

* Easy runs are an important part of training for recovery and aerobic conditioning purposes so this isn’t a recommendation to turn every easy run into a speed workout but if you’ve been following the same schedule for months without much improvement in your performance, adding some variety to your training may be what you need to get progress moving in the right direction.

Bursts
The ability to work hard for a portion of a race (hill climb, slight downhill, etc) and then recover back to your consistent pace is an important aspect of running. This is a quality that can be trained for. During one of your weekday runs incorporate bursts to add a small amount of speed work and some variety into your training.
For Example: 35 minute easy run with 30s bursts every five minutes
Fast Finish Runs
Having a strong “kick” to finish the last strides of a race as fast as possible can often be the difference between first and second place. Strength training will help this but so will dedicated speed practice.
 For Example: 5 Mile Run with 4 @ E pace + 1 @ 5k Pace
Threshold Runs
The purpose of a threshold run is to work on your body’s lactate-clearance capacities and the psychological benefit of being able to sustain a higher intensity effort for longer durations of time. This should be comfortably difficult but not exhaustive. Threshold pace should correspond to whatever speed you could maintain for a 50-60 minute race; however, the threshold workouts typically only last 15-25 minutes (with a 10 minute warm-up and 10 minute cool down). The best way to monitor whether you’re progressing with these workouts is whether the perceived effort of a workout is getting easier. You can also monitor heart rate levels at different points during the run.
For Example: 10 Minutes @ E Pace, 15 Minutes @ T Pace, 10 minutes @ E Pace
Repeats
The ability to increase your MTT (Mile Time Trial) is just as important for half marathoners as it is for 5k runners. If you have a half marathon goal (i.e. 2:00 or 9:10/mile) and your fastest mile is 8:00, that would require you to race at a pretty high percentage of your MTT for a long period of time. However, if you can get this MTT down anywhere from 30-60 seconds, the perceived effort of a 9:10 mile becomes gradually less. Running is a numbers game; try to get the numbers in your favor.
Athlete A – 20:00 5k (6:27/mile)
Week Workout Rest Time Btwn Sets
One 5x400m @ 1:30 3:00
Two 6x400m @ 1:30 3:00
Three 3x800m @ 3:00 4:00
Four 4x800m @ 3:00 4:00
Five 4x800m @ 3:00 3:00
Athlete B – 32:00 5k (10:20/mile)
Week Workout Rest Time
Btwn Sets
One 4x800m @ 4:50 5:00
Two 4x800m @ 4:40-4:45 5:00
Three 4x800m @ 4:40-4:45 4:00
Four 3x1200m @ 7:10 5:00
Five 3x1200m @ 7:05-7:10 4:00
If you’re interested in learning more about our running programs and coaching, email unifiedhp@gmail.com or follow us on Instagram and Facebook at @unifiedhp and Unified Health and Performance