This article was originally posted by Ryan at the original HillRunner.com Blogs.
Long stride? Check.
Last week, we covered the fact that speed can be broken down into two factors: stride length and stride rate.
This week, I’d like to discuss stride length and how we can improve it.
There are essentially two phases of your stride to think about when increasing stride length. One is very limited, the other is technically unlimited but practically there obviously is some kind of limit.
While in contact with the ground
Every stride, we obviously have a period of time when our feet are on the ground. Unfortunately, there’s not much we can do to increase our distance covered while our feet are on the ground. Obviously, with your foot firmly planted on the ground, there’s only so far you can go.
What you can do
Many runners have very tight hip flexor muscles. If you’re one of these runners, you’ll find it’s hard to extend your leg behind your body as you run. If you look at pictures of yourself while running, your extension behind your body is limited. Nothing like the picture of David Rudisha at the top of this post. Improve hip flexor flexibility/range of motion and you can extend further back.
What you should not do
Many runners, when trying to run faster by lengthening their stride, reach out in front of their bodies. They overstride, sometimes significantly, which actually backfires on them. When you overstride, you’re essentially driving while applying the parking break. This slows you down. So donât reach out in front to try to extend your stride length. You’re better off trying to reach back but, more important, you probably want to think more about what is happening while both of your feet are off the ground.
One of the things that defines running and separates it from walking is the fact that you are usually completely off the ground at some point during each step. How much distance you cover while off the ground is the primary factor in how long your stride is.
So how do we develop a longer stride by covering more distance while airborne? By getting stronger. The more force you can push off with, the more distance you can cover.
It’s easy to think of strong calves and they are very important. However, don’t forget to go even higher. Your hamstrings, quads, glutes, and of course supporting muscles also are critical in applying more force to the ground. In addition, a strong core gives you the strong base to anchor the forces you’re applying through your legs.
Exercises like heel raises, lunges, and step-ups are the place to start. Develop the strength to control your body and move your body through space and you are developing the strength to propel your body through the air while running.
Don’t forget, though, that covering more distance per step is only half of the equation. We also want to do so without slowing down our stride rate. A long stride is good but not if it means you’re bounding with a slow stride rate instead of running. I’ll cover that part of the equation next week.
Again, as I pointed out last week, remember that in the end you need the fitness and efficiency to be able to hold your effort through the duration of your run. Developing the strength and mobility to be able to have a long stride is an important step but doesn’t help without the conditioning to hold that long stride for the duration of your upcoming race.
Note: This is part 2 of a 3 part series:
Part 2: Improving stride length
Part 3 Improving stride rate