Many people when they look to increase their speed, begin running intervals or trying to run faster speeds when they are out for longer runs. This strategy may work for a little bit, but probably will plateau after a while, if it even works at all. In order to make life long changes to increase your speed, you will need to invoke specific techniques and learn things about your running style to make sure that you are running to your full potential.
One of the many things that people discuss with me when they are talking about increasing their running speed is how their foot hits the ground when they run. People with the most difficulty increasing their speed just by doing intervals are those who strike with their heel and not on their toes or their midfoot. It is no secret that the heel striker form of running can cause you to slow down tremendously.
Why is this? Because each time your leg extends in front of you and you strike with your heel, you are actually putting on the brakes so to speak. The hamstrings and the muscles involved in that motion of bringing your leg forward and allowing your heel to strike actually stops the momentum forward and causes you to slow down. So with every step you speed up and slow down within a very short period. And continuing like this in a 5K is one thing but running long distances can have a negative impact on your whole body, not only making you slow but also putting you at risk for injury. Striking the ground with your heel makes it almost impossible to achieve full hip extension, which is where speed is found in running.
Increase your hip extension
Most runners who are putting in the time to research different ways to increase speed understand the need to be more on your mid-foot or more on your toes, and the need for full hip extension. However it is not as easy as just telling your body to come up on its toes when running. When you don't change anything else about your running style, you will most likely revert back to heel striker running when you get lost in thought and lose your concentration. This is because making small changes at the foot level, does not change the rest of the body that still wants you to strike with your heel. The hips need to be looked at for strength and extensibility to figure out why this is happening.
Are you using your hips in the wrong direction?
When we do running performance analysis at my clinic and hook people up to state of the art software and break down every aspect of their running using angles and muscle tests to be able to detect the real deficiencies, 99% of the time there is dysfunction at the hips that the runner did not even realize he or she had. Many people when you tell them to run faster extend their leg as far out in front as they can, perpetuating the heel strike but also setting themselves up for injury. This often appears as though you are bounding and not really running.
However, people are not wrong when they begin by trying to use the hips to run faster, they are just using them in the wrong direction. Instead of trying to lunge your leg out as far as you can, you should be trying to kick your leg back as far as you can, increasing the hip extension. Propulsion in running occurs in extension. Most people who have the running analysis done have between 2 and 8 degrees of extension. Your elite runners will have over 30 degrees. It is impossible to discover your full potential of running without addressing the lack of hip extension.
An in-depth running analysis can be helpful
How to work on increasing hip extension can be more difficult unless we know the specifics of why you are lacking hip extension. Is it lack of strength? Is it lack of range of motion? Is it pain? Is it because the low back is in poor posture? It takes an in-depth running analysis to be able to answer all of these questions. However, you can start working on fixing all of these issues and by doing that you will solve the one that is your problem. The video below shows you stretches and strengthening exercises that will help with hip extension. It will help you to be able to achieve that position when you run. Achieving maximal hip extension will then allow for the feet and the rest of the lower body to be able to work correctly and make you the fastest runner you can be.
Changing the hip extension angle will have effect on your knee , back, hip and foot. So changing other things about your gait will become easier as you address the main thing that is most deficient -- hip extension. And by addressing this you will also help decrease the risk of injury because you will be using more range of motion that your body was designed to use. So as Happy Gilmore once said, "It's all in the hips".