How to Get Faster With Step-Ups

This exercise focuses on hip flexion to help you run faster.

You've probably heard your coach tell you to "drive your knees" when sprinting. It might seem like a strange tip, but it will improve your technique and improve your speed if you do it correctly.

Here's how it works


You've probably heard your coach tell you to "drive your knees" when sprinting. It might seem like a strange tip, but it will improve your technique and improve your speed if you do it correctly.

Here's how it works

  • Stand up and place your hands behind your head with your elbows back to assume a "prisoner hold" position.
  • Stand on one foot and drive your opposite knee up until your hip is at a 90-degree angle.
  • Hold this position for a moment and stay tight throughout your body. You should feel your glutes (butt muscles) light up on the side of your balancing leg.
  • Drive your knee up even more and notice how much your balancing foot drives into the ground.

One leg feeds the other.

Knee drive/lift helps a sprinter exhibit a taller posture and more hip height, so he or she can drive more force into the ground, enabling faster sprinting speed.

However, too often athletes (and coaches) take this too far. The knee drive is most important when you are accelerating. It becomes less important as you transition into a full sprint. At a certain point, focusing too much on driving your knees will actually slow you down by screwing up your natural stride.

The problem typically occurs at the hip, since the hip pulls the knee up and drives the foot down. So how can we fix this problem? I use the High Box Step-Up with High Hip Flexion with my athletes, which you can see in the video player above.

Here are the four reasons why I love this drill for anyone attempting to sprint or become faster, to help out not only with speed development but with other essential training qualities as well.

It cures weak hips, especially your flexors (front of hip) and extensors (glutes)

The arms feed more hip rotation through a specific reflex in the body and contribute directly to faster running. However, when the arms are engaged, the demand on the lower body is reduced, limiting its development for more strength and power. Remember, sometimes it's better to train parts of the whole rather than the whole itself. Use this exercise to target the legs more and then return to sprint-type movements that include the arms. You should notice a greater summation of efforts and heightened sense of running speed.

Improves lower-body stabilizers by raising your center of gravity

Standing on a plyometric box automatically requires all of the inner and outer lower-body stabilizers to hold the proper position. You can only recruit prime movers, such as your glutes, in unstable multi-directional environments in the degree to which you can stabilize a mobile joint, so this exercise really helps.

Potentially improves your stride

There is a common theme of imbalances in athletes, such as an inability to completely extend the hips, or knees that collapse inward. This exercise can help eliminate common mistakes, and you will be better for it.

Builds shoulder strength and rack technique

Last but not least is the benefit of improved anterior shoulder and deltoid strengthening effects with this exercise. Proper racking of heavy weight is one of the biggest struggles for trainees, so any extra practice at appropriate times within a training program is a plus in my book.

This will transfer over to Olympic lifting and Front Squats to name a few. Not to mention, your actual sprinting speed will improve, since arm drive can contribute up to around 25 percent according to some research. Upper-body mobility will also improve as a natural by-product of this exercise. And the elevation of the arms into flexion can also, according to some research, feed down more effort throughout the hips, which can help you run faster.

How to add the High Box Step-Up with High Hip Flexion to your workouts

  • Option 1: Perform after heavy max effort work on lower body training days.
  • Option 2: Perform as a specific contrast or complex method to help your speed. For example, do a set of Step-Ups followed by a max effort sprint with a minute or two rest before the next set.

Perform 2-4 sets of 6-12 reps once or twice a week. When it comes to "specific strength" exercise for sprinting speed, I like to opt for moderate rep ranges since it scales more closely with the total number of foot contacts that occur during acceleration and top speed work with athletes, and it may have better transfer into the setting. The step counting method is useful for determining improvement in target techniques, but also identifies how much work and effort you're putting forth.

For more tips on speed training, check out my Speed Encyclopedia, which features a comprehensive research-based speed training system for athletes and coaches.