Have you noticed that sprinters have a different running technique compared to long-distance runners? They raise their knees high, which allows them to exert maximum force as they hit the ground and achieve extremely fast runs.
In this article, I will show you how to use high knees exercise to increase your running speed.
Do high knees help you run faster?
High knees are a running drill that will help you run faster because it teaches you the proper running technique while strengthening hip flexor, core, and leg muscles. It also teaches you to reduce ground contact and improves the cardiovascular condition.
In the following text, I will explain why you should do high knees to increase your speed and how to perform this running drill properly.
Why should you do high knees to improve your speed?
1. Improves running technique and running economy
High knees are a running drill that teaches you to raise your knees high and not to overstride. As a result, it improves your running technique and running economy.
High knees allow you to hit the ground with more force, and the greater the force the higher the knee will rise during your next step, which will then allow you to hit the ground with more force again and run faster.
By overstriding during your run, you do not hit the ground below you but ahead of you. This way you increase the restoring force that slows you down. To maintain speed, you have to use much more energy than you would if you were using proper stroke technique. Since there is no slowdown you will also increase your running cadence (number of steps in a minute), which makes your run faster and improves your running economy.
How high should your knees be when running?
Different running disciplines require different running techniques.
Sprinters have to raise their knees high to achieve maximum force as they hit the ground and maximum running speed.
On the other hand, long-distance runners do not run at maximum speed and do not have to raise their knees too high, for that makes running over long periods difficult. Instead of raising knees high, to improve your running economy you only need to raise your knees slightly, increase your cadence (number of steps in a minute), and not to overstride. By running with steps of proper length you hit the ground right below you and you avoid the restoring force slowing you down.
2. Teaches you the proper foot position during a run
High knees also teach you the proper foot position during a run. The foot should be bent towards the shin, in the position of dorsiflexion. Dorsiflexion enables the activation of calf muscles. As you hit the ground the calf muscles will contract, allowing you to hit the ground with more force, thus improving your running speed.
3. Strengthens the hip flexor, core and leg muscles
High knees are a running drill that allows us to control running movements by strengthening hip flexor and core muscles, as well as your leg muscles. The stronger the muscles the more force they produce, and the faster you will be able to run.
The hip flexor allows you to raise your knees to your chest, as well as bend your upper body forward. Numerous runners stretch their hip flexors while forgetting that they need to be strengthened as well.
Research has shown that weaker hip flexor leads to injury. Injuries happen not only because we forget to strengthen our hip flexor, but also because we weaken them and shorten them through everyday actions.
A strong core is key for controlling running movements. It ensures the force from the swings of your arms is properly transferred to your legs, thus improving your running economy. In other words, you will run faster while spending less energy.
The stronger the leg muscles the more energy you can produce and the faster you can run. High knees help you strengthen your glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, and your calf muscles.
4. Reduces contact with the ground
High knees teach you to run on the balls of your feet, and as a result develop the strength to push off of the ground with more force. Running on the balls of your feet shortens the time spent in contact with the ground, which then increases your speed.
In 2007 scientists from the Ryukoku University in Japan have set up a high-tech camera on the 15-kilometer-section of the half marathon and used it to record 283 runners. Research has shown that an average midfoot striker spends 183 milliseconds in contact with the ground, while an average heel striker spends 200 milliseconds in contact with the ground. Shorter time of contact results in a faster run and higher running economy.
5. Improves cardiovascular condition
High knees, like any other running drill, increase the blood flow in your muscles, thus raising muscle temperature. At higher temperatures, hemoglobin in erythrocytes releases oxygen more quickly (Bohr effect). This means that you will be able to handle more exertion because your blood and oxygen have an easier time traveling through your organism.
Research has shown that proper warm-up results in a 2-3% increase in body temperature, lasting 45 minutes. The increase in temperature causes useful changes in muscles and tendons:
- Significantly increases muscle elasticity and allows higher-intensity training.
- Muscles and tendons become more flexible that makes stretching muscles and tendons easier and more effective.
- A rise in enzymes and metabolic activity improves the effectiveness of muscle contractions.
In this article, you learned about the benefits of high knees in improving your running speed.
How to do high knees properly?
- Begin by standing with your feet hip-distance apart, look straight ahead, and keep your upper body straight.
- Raise your left leg to hip-height while standing on the ball of your right foot.
- Hit the ground below your center of mass with the ball of your left foot while raising your right leg to hip-height.
- Continue alternating sides and moving forward.
Your arms should follow your leg movements, as they do when you are running. As you are doing the high knees your foot should be bent towards your shin (dorsiflexion).
To do high knees properly you have to focus on hitting the ground and not on raising your knees.
Mind your posture. Keep your body straight; do not bend forward or backward.
High knees are performed on the balls of your feet, so be careful not to touch the ground with your heels.
Read more: How To Do High Knees? [Video Guide]
Hi, I’m Matea! I’m an Olympic Marathon Runner, founder, and writer behind OLYRUN.com. On this site, I provide help in the form of my knowledge and experience to all who love running and active living. Read more…