Running is a fundamental skill for children, not only for athletic pursuits but also for overall fitness and health as they grow.
For many kids, running serves as the foundation for various sports and physical activities. With proper technique and training, kids can become not only faster runners but also better athletes with enhanced coordination and agility.
In this article, we’ll be exploring various methods and exercises aimed at helping kids run faster, while also focusing on maintaining proper form and preventing injuries.
By incorporating these techniques into their regular training, children can improve their speed, strength, and efficiency on the track, field, or playground.
It’s essential to remember that every child is different, and their individual progress may vary. However, the core principles and techniques discussed in this article will benefit any young runner looking to enhance their abilities and enjoy the multitude of physical and mental benefits associated with improved running performance.
Fundamentals of Running
Proper Running Form
Proper running form is crucial for kids to run faster and avoid injuries. Here are some key elements of proper running form:
- Head: Keep the head steady, looking forward rather than down. The face should be relaxed, with the eyes focused on a spot about 10 meters ahead.
- Shoulders: Hold the shoulders relaxed and down, avoiding any tension. They should move slightly yet naturally back and forth during the run.
- Torso: Maintain an upright, elongated posture. A “tall” running posture allows for a full range of leg movement, enhancing speed and efficiency.
- Arms: Swing the arms naturally, with the elbows bent at about a 90-degree angle. Pretend answering two telephones, one on the outside of each hip, which helps focus on bringing the hands to the hip and up to the same ear.
- Control: Running mechanics should be smooth and controlled, without excessive and uncoordinated movement.
Improving running technique can significantly enhance speed and overall performance. Here are some exercises and tips for running technique:
- Warm-up: Begin with jumping exercises, such as jumping jacks or using a jump rope. These build the muscles necessary for strong running.
- High Knees/Butt Kicks: Practice high knee lifts and butt kicks to learn efficient leg movements and strengthen lower body muscles.
- Dynamic Stability Exercises: Perform unilateral, single-leg exercises to improve balance, coordination, and foundational strength.
- Focus on Core Strength: Teach children that power for running comes from their core muscles, and encourage core-strengthening exercises.
By concentrating on proper running form and implementing the right running techniques, kids can develop a strong foundation for faster running and better performance.
To help kids improve their sprinting and run faster, focus on specific drills that develop their form and muscle strength.
For instance, encourage them to practice the “answering two telephones” technique, where they pretend to answer a phone on each hip while running.
This movement helps coordinate their arms and increases momentum, eventually enhancing their running speed.
Another helpful drill is running in place. Ask the children to run in place as hard as they can for five seconds, while observing their form to identify any weaknesses.
Regularly performing such drills can lead to overall speed improvement.
Interval training, which alternates short segments of high-speed running with recovery periods, helps build speed, endurance, and overall running performance in young athletes.
Some popular interval training methods include:
- Tempo Runs: These involve running at a comfortably hard pace for a set duration, allowing the child to maintain a consistent effort throughout the run.
- Fartlek Training: This type of training involves incorporating bursts of faster running within an otherwise moderate-paced run. For example, kids could sprint for 30 seconds then jog for 2 minutes before repeating the cycle.
Incorporating interval training in a child’s workout routine can help them become more aware of their pacing, which is important for improving their overall running speed.
Hill workouts are an effective way to improve running speed, as they develop strength and power in the leg muscles.
These exercises involve running uphill at a fast pace and then jogging or walking downhill to recover. Some helpful tips for hill workouts include:
- Start with shorter hills and gradually progress to steeper or longer inclines.
- Ensure proper form by keeping the chest up, leaning slightly forward, and driving the knees upward.
- Encourage kids to focus on the effort they’re putting in rather than their pace while running uphill.
Performing hill workouts regularly can help young runners develop the strength and power needed to increase their running speed on flat surfaces.
Strength and Flexibility
Developing core muscles is crucial for improving running speed in children as it provides stability and power when striding.
Some effective exercises for strengthening core muscles include:
- Planks: Hold for 30 seconds to 1 minute, gradually increasing the duration as the child gains strength.
- Russian twists: Sit with bent knees and lean back slightly, then twist from side to side, holding a toy or small object.
- Bicycle crunches: Lie on the back, lift knees to 90 degrees, and alternate elbow-to-knee touches while cycling the legs.
All exercises should be performed for 3 sets of 10-15 repetitions, with a brief rest between each set.
Weight training can help increase stamina and resistance to fatigue in young runners. However, it’s essential to start with light weights and focus on proper form.
Some age-appropriate exercises include:
- Goblet squats: Hold a light dumbbell or kettlebell close to the chest and perform squats.
- Lunges: Holding light dumbbells at the sides, step forward with one foot and lower the body until both knees form a 90-degree angle.
- Bent-over rows: Using light dumbbells, bend at the waist and lift the weights towards the chest, maintaining a flat back.
Supervise children while they’re weight training and increase the weights gradually as they gain strength.
Regular stretching can help improve flexibility, reduce the risk of injury, and enhance the overall running posture. Some effective stretches for kids include:
- Quadricep stretch: Stand, hold one foot behind the body with the same hand, and gently pull it towards the buttocks.
- Hamstring stretch: Sit with one leg extended, the other bent, and reach towards the extended foot.
In addition to these targeted exercises, it’s crucial to incorporate activities like jumping jacks and incline running to help increase muscle strength and flexibility.
Encourage children to practice their running form by running in place and focusing on knee drive, arm pump, and stride length.
This will also help them maintain proper form while resisting resistance and reducing fatigue during actual runs.
Nutrition and Hydration
A balanced diet is essential for kids who want to run faster. This should include a mix of carbohydrates, protein, and healthy fats.
Carbohydrates are the primary source of fuel for running, so it’s important to consume carbohydrate-rich snacks, like peanut butter and apples or yogurt and berries, before a run.
Lean proteins and healthy fats help the body recover and build muscle after running, so be sure to include these in your child’s diet as well.
Protein is crucial for muscle growth and recovery.
Encourage children to consume protein-rich foods after their runs. Foods that are high in protein and carbohydrates include:
- Hard-boiled eggs
- Snack bars
- Lean meats, such as chicken or turkey
It’s important to provide these protein sources as part of a balanced diet, without overemphasis on protein consumption.
Importance of Water
Hydration plays a vital role in running performance, as research suggests keeping children hydrated can improve their focus and thinking.
To encourage proper hydration in kids, consider these tips:
- Get a portable water bottle to encourage drinking water on the go.
- Mark lines on your child’s water bottle to show how much they should drink by a certain time.
- Avoid soft drinks and limit access to juices.
- Infuse water with fresh fruit to add flavor and variety.
It’s crucial to keep kids well-hydrated before, during, and after their runs to maintain their energy levels and support optimal performance.
Rest and Injury Prevention
Rest days are crucial for young athletes to maintain their overall performance and prevent injuries.
Running regularly puts strain on the muscles and joints, and giving the body ample time to recover is essential. It’s recommended that young runners take at least one rest day per week. During rest days:
- Refrain from any intense or high-impact activities
- Engage in light exercises or stretching to maintain flexibility and mobility
- Listen to their body and take additional rest days if necessary
Incorporating rest days into a training schedule can help young runners avoid common overuse injuries such as shin splints, stress fractures, and tendonitis.
Proper footwear is another essential factor in injury prevention for young runners.
Wearing appropriate running shoes can help absorb impact, provide stability, and support the foot during runs. To ensure that running shoes are suitable for young athletes, consider the following:
- Choose shoes specifically designed for running
- Ensure a comfortable fit, with enough space for the toes to wiggle and a secure grip around the heel
- Replace running shoes every 300-500 miles or when the cushioning and support have worn down
Taking the time to select suitable footwear can significantly reduce the risk of injuries and help young runners perform at their best.
Motivation and Progress Tracking
Helping children maintain motivation while learning to run faster begins with setting tangible goals.
Talk to your child about their desired milestones and assist them in establishing several realistic objectives.
The first goal should be achievable within a month’s time to maintain their enthusiasm. Additionally, you can break down larger goals into smaller, manageable milestones.
- Short-term goals: Set achievable objectives within a month
- Mid-term goals: Set achievable objectives within six months
- Long-term goals: Set achievable objectives within a year
Keeping track of your child’s progress is essential to maintain their motivation and enthusiasm. Document their improvement by recording their timing and speed periodically.
Encourage friendly competition through races to help them stay engaged and want to improve their speed. Here are a few ideas to help monitor and support their progress:
- Logbook: Keep a record of their timing and speed in a logbook, and review the progress together.
- Use visualization techniques: Encourage children to visualize running like their favorite fast animals or running on a hot floor to promote faster running.
- Diversify activities: Incorporate long distance runs, easy runs, and fun runs on separate days to keep them interested and challenged.
- Encourage friendly competition: Organize races with peers or siblings, as friendly competition can drive improvement.
- Recognize improvement: Acknowledge your child’s progress and celebrate their achievements, reinforcing their motivation and determination.
By setting achievable goals and closely monitoring your child’s progress, you will help them maintain motivation and better understand the importance of improvement in their running journey.
Keeping an engaging, supportive environment will ensure that they remain eager to learn and become faster runners.
Sports and Activities for Kids
Swimming is a fantastic sport for kids, as it not only improves their overall fitness levels but also enhances their stamina and lung capacity.
Practicing swimming regularly can help kids build muscle strength, especially in their upper body, which can translate to increased running speed.
Moreover, swimming is a low-impact sport, making it suitable for children without risking injuries to their joints or muscles.
To get started with swimming, kids can join a swimming club, take lessons, or simply practice at their local pool. When practicing swimming for improving running speed, a combination of endurance and sprint exercises can be beneficial.
For example, alternating between longer, steady-paced swims and shorter, explosive intervals can help develop various aspects of physical fitness.
Participating in racing events can be a fun and motivational way for kids to improve their running skills.
These events often include age-appropriate distances and difficulty levels, allowing children to compete with their peers and track their progress. Some popular racing events for kids include:
- Fun Runs: Fun runs are typically short distances, such as 1k or 2k, and provide a relaxed atmosphere for kids to enjoy running without the pressure of intense competition.
- School Track and Field Events: Many schools organize track and field events, which can expose kids to various running events, such as sprints, middle and long-distance runs, and relays – all of which can help enhance running speed and stamina.
- Junior Parkruns: Parkrun is a global organization that organizes free, timed 5k runs for all ages, and also offers 2k events specifically for kids aged 4 to 14 years old. These events are a great way for children to challenge themselves while also having fun and socializing with other kids.
In conclusion, engaging in sports and activities like swimming and racing events can significantly help kids build their running speed and stamina.
These activities not only support their physical development but also foster an enjoyment in being active and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
Warmups and Cooldowns
A simple walk or jog serves as an excellent warm-up for kids before they start practicing their running techniques. Walking or jogging in place can help loosen their muscles and increase blood flow, preparing them for more intense exercises.
In addition to walking or jogging, kids should engage in some dynamic warmup exercises to increase flexibility, improve coordination, and activate key muscle groups essential for running faster. Some of these exercises include:
- Arm circles: Have the kids stand with their arms extended out to their sides, and make forward and backward circular motions with their arms. Start with small circles and gradually increase the size of the circles.
- Butt kicks: While standing, kids should kick their heels up towards their buttocks one leg at a time, as if they were trying to touch their heel to their buttocks. Perform this exercise at a moderate pace, alternating legs.
- High knees: Kids should march in place, lifting their knees high up towards their chest. This exercise can also be performed at a faster pace, with children running while lifting their knees high.
- Jumping jacks: With feet together and arms at their sides, kids should jump while raising their arms and spreading their legs out to the sides. When landing, their feet should be about shoulder-width apart, with arms overhead. On the next jump, they should return to the starting position, repeating the process multiple times.
- Side hops: Encourage kids to hop side to side, landing softly on the balls of their feet. This exercise can help improve lateral movement and agility.
After the running practice, it is essential to have a proper cooldown to help the body recover and prevent injuries. Cooldowns should primarily consist of a slow walk or jog, gradually decreasing in intensity.
Incorporate some static stretches, focusing on muscles such as the hamstrings, quadriceps, and calves.
Remember, these warmup and cooldown exercises will not only help enhance performance and speed but also contribute to reducing the risk of injuries.