Improve Your Sprint Performance With Speed Drill Training

Female athlete sprinting
Henrik Sorensen / Getty Images

If you are trying to train for a long-distance race like a marathon while also improving your speed, you may be wondering how you can incorporate sprints when much of your training focuses on endurance. Here you will find more on the importance of speed training for endurance athletes and drills to incorporate so you can try it out for yourself.

Benefits of Speed Drills

Speed training using specific speed drills is one way to improve your sprint performance. These higher intensity drills will further strengthen your cardiovascular system and help your muscles become more adept at using the oxygenated blood circulating through your body.

Speed training increases cardiovascular efficiency, making it easier to deliver oxygen to the working muscles and helps build a tolerance to lactic acid build-up. The result is improved performance, faster speed, and better endurance.

Why You Might Need Speed Drills

Almost any sport can benefit from a combination of speed and endurance work, but most athletes spend the bulk of their training time focused on endurance. With that in mind, speed drills are a great way to kick your performance up a notch.

Speed drills can help improve your performance without adding a lot of additional time spent training, which could benefit you mentally and physically by reducing training volume.Research shows that even six weeks of sprint interval training is enough to see significant improvements to your overall performance, working as a time-efficient strategy to improve endurance and power.

Like the one discussed here, speed drills can be part of an interval training regimen and should be performed no more than twice a week, with at least two recovery days between workouts. You can also add in a day of hill sprints to continue to build muscle power, reduce the impact on your legs, and eventually run smoothly and more efficiently on flat surfaces.

Sample Speed Drills

Let's take a look at a sample speed training drill beginning with a thorough warm-up, and ending with a proper cool down.

Start With a Thorough Warm-Up

Begin by jogging for 10 minutes at an easy slow pace. This is followed by some simple range of motion stretches for your shoulders, hips, ankles, neck, trunk, and head. Move slowly and breathe deeply.

Maintain Proper Form 

Good form is essential to get results and avoid added stress to your body during the drills. Good form means maintaining proper posture while focusing on how you move not just how fast you move. To ensure proper form, you should not be fatigued when you start drills.

If you are feeling fatigued, it's best to wait and do your drills at another time when you are feeling refreshed and well-rested. Your form is the first thing to suffer when you are tired. Drills should be done wearing trainers and not spikes.

Tips for Maintaining Form

  • Avoid bending forward at the waist
  • Push from the balls of your feet (not your toes)
  • Focus your vision to the end of the course
  • Keep smooth forward/backward arm swings (not across the body)
  • Hands pump from shoulder height to hips (men) and from chest height to hips (women)
  • Elbows should be at 90 degrees at all times
  • Maintain relaxed arms, shoulders, and hands
  • Avoid head bobbing or twisting
  • Keep momentum forward and not side to side

20-Meter Drills

Perform the following drills 2-3 times each session.

  • High-Step Walking: Lifting knees up to hip level
  • High-Step Jogging: Lifting knees up to hip level
  • Skipping
  • Crossovers: Jog sideways while crossing your right leg over your left leg, and then your left leg over your right leg
  • Heel Kicks: While jogging kick heels to buttocks with each step
  • Ladder Drills: One-foot contact per square
  • Plyometrics: Single leg hopping, bounding, bunny hops, tuck jumps, jumping obstacles

30-Meter Drills

Perform the following drills 2-3 times each session.

  • Double Leg Hops: Jump forward over cones or another marker
  • Zig-Zag Hops: Jump forward in a zig-zag pattern
  • One-Leg Lateral Bounding: Jump sideways one leg, then the other

Speed Drills

  • 5 reps /80 meters at 70% effort (full out from a 4-point start) walk back. Take a 5-minute rest break between each set.
  • 5 reps /90 meters at 70% effort (full out from a 3-point start).
  • 5 reps /100 meters at 70% effort (full out from a 3-point start).
  • 2-3 reps of flying 50-meter sprints at 80% effort for acceleration (built up over 30 meters and then run at 80% for 20 meters).

Cool Down

To cool down you can jog for 10 minutes at a slow, steady pace, and finish with gentle whole body stretching.

Safety Tips

Sprint and speed training drills should be used only after a general fitness level has been achieved. Your current fitness level should allow you to run steadily for 20 to 30 minutes at a time, and you should have at least a three-month base of consistent athletic activity before adding speed drills.

Sprint training is exceptionally demanding on the cardiovascular system and muscles, so you must be able to perform at this level. It is a good idea to discuss your exercise routine with your health care provider. Be sure to warm up thoroughly and start off slowly before attempting top-level efforts.

A Word From Verywell

While most sports depend on a combination of speed and endurance, most workouts focus on endurance. Yet performing your best, especially when sprinting is required, workouts that focus on speed are essential. Try these drills for a few weeks to see how they work for you.

3 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Koral J, Oranchuk DJ, Herrera R, Millet GY. Six sessions of sprint interval training improves running performance in trained athletes. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2018;32(3):617-623.

  2. Vollaard NBJ, Metcalfe RS. Research into the health benefits of sprint interval training should focus on protocols with fewer and shorter sprintsSports Med. 2017;47(12):2443-2451. doi:10.1007/s40279-017-0727-x

  3. Skovgaard C, Christiansen D, Christensen PM, Almquist NW, Thomassen M, Bangsbo J. Effect of speed endurance training and reduced training volume on running economy and single muscle fiber adaptations in trained runners. Physiol Rep. 2018;6(3):e13601.

Additional Reading

By Elizabeth Quinn, MS
Elizabeth Quinn is an exercise physiologist, sports medicine writer, and fitness consultant for corporate wellness and rehabilitation clinics.