Speed Training With Resistance: 9 Workouts To Challenge You

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If you’ve ever trained for a 5k, 10k, half marathon, marathon, or other distance race, there’s a very good chance you’re well-acquainted with speed workouts such as mile repeats and other track intervals, threshold runs, hills, and fartlek workouts.

However, distance runners are typically unfamiliar with speed training with resistance, which is a highly effective form of speed training used more frequently by sprinters and middle-distance runners who run races where your maximum, all-out running speed is more an important contributor to your race performance than in a long-distance event.

With that said, speed training with resistance can also be beneficial for distance runners, particularly for runners looking to set a PR in a shorter race, such as the 5k

Speed training with resistance also adds variety to your workout program and helps develop aspects of your overall fitness that most marathon training programs and other distance running training schedules typically neglect.

To help you safely and effectively use speed training with resistance to help you run faster, we’ve put together a guide on the best speed training with resistance workouts for runners.

In this guide, we will cover: 

  • What Is Speed Training With Resistance?
  • The Principle Behind Speed Training With Resistance
  • The Benefits of Speed Training With Resistance
  • Speed Training With Resistance: 9 Workouts To Challenge You

Let’s get started! 

A speed training with resistance workout where a woman is running up a flight of stairs.

What Is Speed Training With Resistance?

Speed training with resistance, which is also referred to as resisted speed training or resisted sprints, is a type of speed workout for runners and other athletes that involves sprinting or running at full speed with some sort of weight or against some sort of resistance.

Examples of resisted speed training workouts include sled pulls, running with a parachute, and sprinting with a weighted vest.

The Principle Behind Speed Training With Resistance 

Resisted speed training is based on the principle that running against a moderate amount of resistance forces the muscles to adapt and become stronger, enabling them to produce more force and power. This, in turn, enables you to run faster when the resistance is removed.

Speed training with resistance is essentially a way to overload the muscles (much like with strength training) to stimulate them to adapt.

A training sled with weights and straps.

The Benefits of Speed Training With Resistance 

Speed workouts like 400s, 800s, and 1000m repeats, help train your muscles, cardiovascular system, and metabolic pathways to handle running faster and sustaining a faster pace for longer. 

While resisted sprints or speed workouts with resistance can also provide these types of benefits, they are best equated to hill repeats for runners. In fact, hill sprints can be seen as a type of speed workout with resistance because in this case, the resistance is gravity. 

By running up a steep incline, runners have to fight against the force or resistance of gravity, which makes the hill sprint more challenging than covering the same distance on flat land.

Hill workouts, like other resisted sprint workouts, build speed and strength. Sometimes running coaches even refer to hill workouts as “strength training in disguise” because working against resistance requires greater activation and force generation from your muscles. 

In this way, speed training with resistance can increase leg strength, especially in fast-twitch muscle fibers, and improve anaerobic energy metabolism, training your muscles to produce energy through glycolysis and the phosphocreatine system more efficiently.

Because speed training with resistance workouts involves sprinting at top speed, they also increase power, acceleration, maximum speed, turnover or running cadence, neuromuscular coordination, and agility. 

A man performing parachute sprints on a track.

Speed Training With Resistance: 9 Workouts To Challenge You

Ready to harness your inner Usain Bolt? Here are some resisted sprint exercises to improve your maximum running speed:

#1: Parachute Sprints

One of the safest and easiest ways to incorporate speed training with resistance into your workouts is with a parachute. 

The parachute inflates against the wind resistance you generate as you sprint. Most coaches recommend sprinting about 20-50 meters with the parachute and then dropping it to finish at maximum velocity unresisted.

One study found that implementing parachute-resisted sprints for four weeks improved 0-20-meter acceleration by 3.3 percent compared to the control group who did unresisted sprints. The researchers reported that using the parachute increased stride frequency (turnover of cadence) during the maximal velocity phase of the sprint.

A weighted training sled on grass.

#2: Weighted Sled Pulls

Weighted sled pull sprints are one of the traditional forms of resisted speed training for athletes, and research shows that they can be highly effective at improving acceleration and maximum sprint speed. 

Essentially, the runner is hooked up to a metal sled with weight plates using a harness system. The sled is dragged behind you on the grass or turf as you sprint, pulling against the weighted resistance of the sled.

Sled weights may be up to 80% of the runner’s total weight, though you should only use a weight that enables you to sprint at a speed about 5 percent slower than your maximum sprint velocity over the same distance.

For example, if you are doing resisted sprints that are 60 meters and you can cover that distance in 6.8 seconds without the sled, do not use more resistance than you can handle to cover the distance in 6.83 seconds.

A woman performing resistance band sprints with a partner.

#3: Resistance Band Sprints

You can tether heavy resistance bands to a post and sprint in place against them.

Use the thick bands for assisted pull-ups, and place the band around your hips. Take a few steps forward to create tension. With proper form, sprint for 20 to 30 seconds. Take a rest, and repeat!

#4: Partner Resistance Band Sprints

Another option for using resistance bands is to have a partner provide the moving anchor point for the band instead of using a stationary pole. 

Place the resistance band around the lead runner’s hips. The partner then stands behind and runs as the sprinter runs, with the goal of pulling back on the lead sprinter to provide a steady resistance.

A man in a weighted vest in the gym.

#5: Weighted Vest Sprints

Weighted vests are a common training tool for strength training workouts, but they can be used for speed training with resistance workouts, too. Use a weight that is no more than 10% of your total body weight. For example, if you weigh 160 pounds, the weighted vest should be no more than 16 pounds.

Be sure to drive your arms and focus on fast turnover and a powerful stride. The goal is to increase your ground contact force at push-off, to propel you into each stride with maximum acceleration and power.

#6: Hill Sprints

Most distance runners have tackled a speed workout with hill sprints, so this can be a good workout to start with. Pick a short hill and drive up and over, sprinting as fast as you can. Keep your stride length short, your turnover quick, and your hip drive powerful.

Complete 10-20 reps of a 50-100m hill.

A trail runner running uphill.

#7: Stair Sprints

If you have access to a stadium or a building with many flights of stairs, stair sprints can be a great alternative to hill sprints for speed training with resistance.

Again, drive with the hips and glutes, keep your footing light and quick, and pump your arms.

#8: Deep Water Running Sprints

Most runners who have battled an injury have done at least one deepwater running or aqua jogging session, but most of the time, we approach these cross-training workouts with a more aerobic focus.

You can also take advantage of water resistance and do resisted sprints in the deep water. After a warm-up of moderate pool running, complete 10-20 all-out sprints in the deep end, driving your limbs as fast as possible for 15-30 seconds.

A runner running in sand.

#9: Sand Sprints 

Anyone who has gone on vacation and tried to run on the beach is familiar with how utterly exhausting it can be. The sand provides resistance and unstable footing, requiring significant core and lower-leg engagement. 

Research shows that sprinting on sand is an effective means of performing resisted speed training. The deeper and softer the sand, the greater the resistance and overload stimulus the sand imposes on your muscles because it requires more force to propel your body forward.

Sprinting on the sand as a form of speed training with resistance has the added benefit of reducing joint impact forces, which has the potential to reduce the risk of injury. However, it can be extremely difficult to maintain your running form, since the footing slides behind as you push off and as you land. 

Therefore, you can incorporate sand sprints into your speed training with resistance workouts, but it is best to limit your sprints to 50-100 meters and limit the number of repeats to prevent your form from breaking down.

If you’re looking for a new secret weapon for running faster, try pushing your top speed with resisted sprint training workouts. Start slow–just one workout per week–and gradually build up over time.

For more in-depth information on a variety of hill sprint workouts for speed training with resistance, check out our guide!

How To Perform Hill Sprints: Every Runner’s Secret Weapon

A group of people running in the deep end of the pool.
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Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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