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Increasing speed: Is it all genetics?


Some say that sprinters are born and marathon runners made. But this isn’t quite the truth. A lot of work goes into both. But if you aren’t necessarily born fast, how can you become it? Find out what’s behind speed and how you can work towards becoming the fastest version of yourself.

There are hundreds of millions of skeletal muscle fibers in the body. These are made up of so-called “slow-twitch” and “fast twitch” muscle fibers. Slow-twitch muscle fibers use lots of energy overall, as they use energy slowly over a longer period of time before becoming fatigued. This makes them essential for endurance performance and sports such as distance running. Fast-twitch fibers use comparatively less energy overall, because they are more explosive but get tired much more quickly. These are important for activities such as sprinting. It is because this type of muscle fiber can grow in size that sprinters often have bigger, stronger-looking thigh muscles.

Are Athletes Born With Speed?

Most people have an even amount of both, but some may have more of one muscle fiber type than the other. Having more fast-twitch muscles would genetically make someone more suited to sprinting, whereas more slow-twitch muscle would be make a better marathon runner. There are ways to train specific muscle types: sprints, weight training and high intensity interval training will help develop fast-twitch fibers and cardio (especially long distance runs) will help develop slow-twitch muscle fibers.

But anyone can increase their speed, no matter what their genetics. Even just improving your technique will help – for example using arms properly during running.  Coordination and mobilization exercises will also improve your technique and thus your speed. Interval training will increase your maximum speed, so keep practicing sprinting! Building and strengthening leg muscles that propel you forward will also help to increase your top speed. Becoming faster also requires some work on neuromuscular coordination. This works on two levels: intra-muscular coordination and inter-muscular coordination. Intra-muscular coordination involves optimizing the units within a single muscle and this unleashing its full potential, whereas inter-muscular coordination means optimizing the interaction between muscle groups. These aspects can be improved through strength training and coordination training respectively.

Different goals, different training

Whether you want to shave seconds off your 100m PB or run a marathon, different goals require lots of hard work but different training. For distance runners looking to improve their speed, long slow runs for endurance and distance, fast interval training for general speed and longer but faster runs should be the main components of training. These will ensure better speed over long distances. Sprinters will have to keep sprinting, work on strength training and improving coordination.

Someone wanting to increase their general speed will need to keep up a good combination of the proper training for their goals as well as regeneration. It is important to remember that the body will need enough time to reach the high goals you set it – so be patient and keep working on it.

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