It can be exhausting to be a runner without even running at all. There are so many “running hacks” that people swear will make you run faster and keep you from being injured.
Yoga. Pilates. Strength training. The list goes on. It can be overwhelming what “extras” you should spend your time on.
While injured, I was determined to stock up on all the little things that would make me a well-rounded runner. I wanted to get more flexible and stronger. I wanted to never get injured again. Honestly, I initially wasted my time on a lot of things that may be good for the body but not necessarily good for runners.
I did my research and uncovered the running hacks that are actually worth our time. And it turns out the little things that make a big difference don’t take a lot of time. Even better, a lot of the running hacks are things you need to do to live already like eat, drink, and sleep—you just need to be a bit more intentional.
Here are the 9 running hacks that will definitely make you run faster.
WEEKLY COMMITMENT: 16 minutes (2×8 minutes)
Mobility is more important than flexibility. What’s the difference? Flexibility is the ability of a muscle to lengthen passively through a range of motion. Mobility, on the other hand, is the ability of a joint to move actively through a range of motion. A normal range of motion in all of the major joints is important for running efficiency. The most popular mobility routine is Jay Johnson’s MYRTL which focuses on opening up hips using a series of dynamic stretches. Ideally you would do this before every run. That may not be practical, so aim to do it before hard workouts.
WEEKLY COMMITMENT: 10 minutes (2×5 minutes)
Running drills like skipping and backward running are worth your time because they also increase the range of motion in your joints helping you run more efficiently. In addition, drills help you develop quick feet, acceleration, and power and mimic each aspect of good running form. In short, these exercises give you more spring in your step so you can propel off the ground faster and farther. Check out a demo of the drills you should be doing here.
WEEKLY COMMITMENT: 30 minutes (2×15 minutes)
WHY: Your core is used in almost every action you make and a strong core helps your muscles work together. When your foot hits the ground, they hold your trunk sturdy as the kinetic energy from your foot moves to your hamstring, up to your arm, and back down to your other foot. A strong core prevents any unnecessary movements, making you run faster and saving you from injury. Spending just a half-hour a week is all you need. Check out this awesome 30-minute core stabilizer class to balance that trunk.
WEEKLY COMMITMENT: 0-10 minutes (2×5 minutes)
Strides are 20 to 35-second sprints at about 85-95% of your top effort. You typically do them after easy runs and before race warm-ups. Aim for 4 two times a week. I do them in the last mile of my run so they don’t eat up extra time. They’re worth your time because they help your body (and mind!) learn how to run fast without harder effort by training your brain to recruit muscle groups efficiently. And, bonus, you’re running fast without being tired which promotes proper running form.
WEEKLY COMMITMENT: 5-10 minutes (1-2 minutes before you run)
Glutes are powerful muscles but they are often overtaken by your leg muscles like your quads and calves. This can lead to less efficient running (more effort to go faster) and common running injuries like shin splits, IT Band Syndrome, and runner’s knee. To activate your glutes before you run, simply do a single leg bridge and hold for 10 seconds 10 times. To also activate your hamstrings, do hamstring sliders where you bridge up and slowly slide your legs out. (Put feet on a towel on a hard surface or use books on a carpet to make your feet slippery).
WEEKLY COMMITMENT: 1 hour (2×30 minutes or 3×20 minutes)
Research shows that strength training improves running economy (efficiency), maximal sprint speed, and overall performance. For a long time, runners shied away from lifting heavy for fear they would bulk up and run slower. But a combo of heavy weights and running counteract one another, restricting muscles from getting too big. And a recent study finds more benefits with lifting heavy weights with low reps than lifting light weights with high reps. So, lift heavy, mother runners! Aim to do low reps (5 to 10) with heavy weights (about 75 percent of your max) twice a week. No need to get fancy. Simple moves like barbell squats, deadlifts, step-ups, lunges, and calf raises will do the trick.
WEEKLY COMMITMENT: Roughly 56 hours
We need to sleep to live but we also need to sleep to run fast. During a workout, your muscles break down on a cellular level. Sleep allows the body to repair those cells, enabling you to bounce back stronger and faster. Insufficient sleep also wears down your immune system making you more likely to get sick. Sleep experts suggest a good rule of thumb is to shoot for 7-8 hours a night plus an extra minute for every mile you run a week. So, if you run 60 miles a week, aim for 8-9 hours a night!
WEEKLY COMMITMENT: 280 ounces (or your body weight x .31 daily)
Water is responsible for regulating body temperature, removing waste, helping bring energy to cells, and cushioning joints. Hydration is also key to improving recovery, minimizing injury and cramps, and maximizing performance. Aim to drink water throughout the day so that you are always hydrated. When running, start drinking BEFORE you get thirsty at regular intervals (like every 15 minutes). When you get home, try to eat and drink enough to get back to your pre-run weight to recover what you lost.
WEEKLY COMMITMENT: 10+ hours (about 1+ hours per day)
Eating well all the time is important for runners. But let’s face it, one of the perks of being a runner is the ability to eat what we want! Still, for the sake of your body operating like a well-oiled machine, stick to whole, non-processed foods most of the time. And, focus on your running nutrition: About an hour before a run, aim to eat about 300-400 calories of carbs and lean proteins. This will give you more energy to burn on your run. After a hard effort or long run, it is SO important that you eat a few hundred calories of a carb-dominant snack or meal within 30 minutes. Studies show muscles are most receptive to rebuilding glycogen stores within the first 30 minutes after exercise. Two hours later, eat a protein-rich MEAL that also includes carbs and healthy fats. Proper refueling will work wonders for your recovery, allowing you to bounce back quicker and ready for another workout.
Related: 3 Proven Ways to Refuel from a Long Run
These 9 running hacks don’t take a lot of time and can easily be rolled into your existing routine. They can replace some of the habits you may have that aren’t backed by science such as pre-run stretching. To learn more about running tips that aren’t worth your time, check out my article.