Jim2's Running Page

Increasing Stride Length

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11/13/98 

Stride length should not be increased by reaching your foot forward. That only moves your foot plant point in front of your center of gravity and causes a braking action, slows you down and adds to injury-causing stresses. The desired ways to increase stride length are to increase the time your foot is planted on the ground, thus delaying the push-off point, and a stronger push-off, which will increase forward momentum. I believe there are four primary ways to do this. One is to increase leg strength, which Norman suggested and you have explained probably isn't what's holding you back. The other three ways are through improving running form, speed work and stretching.

Running form - The key here is to keep your center of gravity forward, especially your hips. Make sure you are erect when running with no forward bend at the waist. Your eyes should be looking straight ahead and not at the road 20 feet, or less, in front of you. Visualize your hips leading your body down the road. This keeps your feet under and behind you, where you want them for maximum running efficiency and stride length. If you currently have poor running form, this factor alone can make an "instant" improvement of several sec/mile.

Speed work - Speed work increases both stride rate and length. After all, that's the way we get faster. If you don't do speed work now, it will help.

Stretching - I think the most overlooked part of "training" is stretching. Not only does it help to avoid injuries, which all of us know, but it can make you faster by enabling a longer stride length. The longer your foot remains in contact with the ground before toe-off, the longer your stride length. In turn, the maximum angle that your ankle and hip can achieve in a stride limit how long your foot can remain on the ground. These maximum angles are largely determined by the flexibility of your leg muscles, ankles and hip flexors. Stretching will increase the flexibility of all of these, enable an extended foot contact and result in a later push-off more from your toes than the ball of your foot. Thus, a longer stride length. Most of us have more room to progress in this area than in any other affecting stride length.

Increasing ankle flexibility, which I think is the primary stride length limiting factor for most of us, requires that calves and achilles tendons be as pliable as we can make them. Running tightens and shortens them.....exactly the opposite of what we need. I think they are among the most important areas for a runner to stretch to counteract the natural effects of running. Yet, they are probably the area that most of us pay the least attention to.

It sounds like you have access to a gym. If it has a "toe raise" machine, it's also great for stretching calf and achilles tendons. Just load on the weight and "hang by your toes" for 30 seconds. Repeat several times. Do this 2-3 times per week and I think you will quickly see a difference in your stride length.
 
Jim2