This article was originally posted by Ryan at the original HillRunner.com Blogs.
Stride rate? Check.
Two weeks ago, we covered the fact that running speed can be broken down into two factors: stride length and stride rate. Last week, we discussed stride length. That means it’s time to discuss stride rate this week.
When thinking of stride rate, much like when thinking of stride length, we can think of two phases: when your foot is on the ground and when your foot is in the air. The difference is that it’s best to think of each foot individually. Not like stride length, when you’re thinking of when one foot is on the ground and when both feet are in the air.
In both cases, we’re essentially thinking of quickness.
When your foot is on the ground, the question is how quickly can you come into contact with the ground, use the ground to redirect your momentum, then get off the ground.
When your foot is in the air, the question is how quickly can you bring it forward and get it back on the ground.
How do we reduce our time on the ground (ground contact time)?
Last week, when discussing stride length, I brought up strength. You need to be strong enough to propel yourself a good distance. This week, it’s time to discuss power.
What’s the difference between strength and power? To keep it short, strength is a measure of how much force you can apply. Power is a measure of both how much force you can apply and how quickly you can apply that force. Obviously, when talking about stride rate, how quickly you can react to the ground and apply the force necessary to propel yourself through your next step matters.
Develop the strength but not power and you’ll have a nice, long stride. And it will take a relatively long time. Develop the strength first, then the power to use that strength in a quick, explosive manner and you now have a long stride with a quick stride rate that will result in greater speed.
So how do we develop the power?
Well, as I mentioned, first comes strength, which I covered last week.
Second comes power. This means explosive movements. Skipping, jumping, plyometrics such as box jumps. You’re looking for quick movements.
A couple of my favorite moves are quick skips and quick hopping. Both are just as they sound.
Quick skips are basically skipping, just like my 8 year old daughter likes to do, but with a focus on spending as little time on the ground as possible. How high you go doesn’t really matter, what matters is that, as soon as your foot hits the ground, you pop right back up.
Quick hops are essentially the same type of exercise. Landing and jumping with both feet, think of it as basically bouncing. As with the quick skips, the height of your hops doesn’t matter as much as spending as little time as possible on the ground. If you’re more coordinated than me, you can jump rope. If your level of coordination is similar to mine, you might want to leave out the rope so you don’t hurt yourself or have to keep stopping.
Important note: These are exercises that put a lot of stress on your body. Be cautious with these and don’t do too much. A little goes a long way. Also, one reason I stress strength first is because developing basic strength before working on power will reduce your injury risk. Likewise, I also recommend that you keep doing strength training for the same reason. You can’t do 6 months of strength training, then do nothing but box jumps and skipping exercises the rest of your life and expect to remain healthy.
How do we reduce the time our feet are in the air?
Obviously, this is also all about quickness but it’s about how quickly your leg can be brought forward.
Your hip flexors are the primary muscle group that pull your leg forward so strength and power development matter here. Exercises like front leg raises and scissor kicks are good.
Also, a much less considered aspect for many runners is foot position when bringing your leg forward. If you are a shuffler, keeping your feet close to the ground, this creates a longer pendulum to move forward, which requires more energy and takes longer. Watch faster runners and you will see that their feet come up pretty high. This creates a shorter pendulum and a more efficient forward swing.
To work on picking your feet up, you can focus on pulling your heel up during the skipping exercises I mentioned above. Even better are butt kick drills. Basically, jog at a real slow pace and focus on snapping your heel up to your butt.
Don’t forget, though, that taking more steps per minute is only half of the equation. We also want to do so without shortening our stride. A quick shuffle is not necessarily faster than a long, bounding stride.
Again, as I pointed out the past two weeks, 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 power and quickness to be able to have a quick stride rate is an important step but doesn’t help without the conditioning to hold that stride rate for the duration of your upcoming race.
Note: This is part 3 of a 3 part series:
Part 2: Improving stride length
Part 3: Improving stride rate