In a previous post, we discussed the dangers of overstriding and how it is one of the most common faux-pas of running form, as well as a very common cause of injury for many runners. The solution there was to increase your cadence to reduce stride length, which also affects your other running biomechanics like bounce and braking — both measures of running efficiency.
Quick recap: Overstriding is when your foot comes into contact with the ground in front of your center of mass (or your pelvis).
In this post, we’ll be discussing stride length as a measure and tool to improve running performance (i.e., speed and pace).
Stride length is a measure of the distance between one foot coming in contact with the ground to the next time that same foot hits the ground again. This particular running metric doesn’t have a “target range” like most other metrics such as bounce or pelvic rotation because it’s different from runner to runner. Stride length is a dynamic measure of the relationship between your cadence and your pace. Specifically, it is your cadence (steps per minute) divided by speed, measured in miles per hour.
For example: If you are running at a 8 minute per mile pace, and your cadence was at a healthy 180 steps per minute, your stride length would be 3.67 feet
In general, your body naturally settles on a stride length + cadence combination that reduces metabolic cost, which is more affectionately referred to as fatigue. This means that any alteration you make to both cadence or your stride length will initially increase your metabolic cost, tiring you out quicker until you get used to your new combination. For this reason, many coaches and experts will tell you to avoid sudden and drastic changes to your step count or stride length, and to stick to small, five to ten percent increases to avoid injury and fatigue.
Which comes first: Stride or Steps?
Since your speed is a factor of your stride length and steps, increasing either or both can help you run faster and farther. However, when it comes to improving your performance, there is a complex balance between stride length and steps per minute. As we’ve discussed earlier, overstriding is a very common cause of injury, so ideally we want to avoid adjusting speed by increasing our stride length and start by increasing your cadence first.
Here’s a quick checklist to follow before you begin to increase your stride length:
- Address any current overstriding tendencies
- Work up to the universal target cadence range of between 180 and 200 steps per minute
- Train at your new target cadence level until you can comfortably maintain your normal pace and stride length throughout your run
Once you achieve the target cadence range of between 180 and 200 steps without having to compensate by decreasing your pace, it means that you are ready to begin increasing stride length to maximize your speed.
Performance Training Using Stride Length
Controlling your stride length should never be done by stepping farther and risking overstriding, but rather by maximizing the push-off from the ground with each step so that you propel through the air with more force – traveling farther, faster. This is referred to as having a “triple extension” of the push-off leg, or a straight line from the hip to toe with all joints (hip, knee, and ankle) extended.
Photo credit: http://www.diazhumanperformance.com/
You want to extend at your hip, as well as the knee and at the ankle so that the momentum transfers down the leg and creates a forceful push-off. Think of a golf swing and how the golfer flicks his or her wrist at the end to transfer the momentum to the club and ultimately the ball. Runners are attempting to do a similar transfer to the ground. This mindful push-off will create the power needed to increase your pace.
Enlist Your Glutes
Performance training through increasing your stride length is not as easy as increasing your cadence. It requires strengthening, training and recruitment of your largest powerhouse muscle: your glutes. Try these exercise drills to strengthen your glutes to maximize your push off to help you run faster and farther.
Bridges: A common and familiar exercise – bridges are a great way to strengthen your glute muscles.
TRX — Sprinters: Now that you have the strength in your glutes, try the TRX Sprinters to rewire your neuromuscular system to recruit your glutes.
Wall Drive: This is essentially the same exercise drill as the TRX Sprinters, but requires less equipment.
Strengthening your glutes will build the foundation you need to power your runs, but remember that improvement doesn’t happen overnight. Make sure to give your body enough time to adjust to each change you make to decrease the risk of injury and long-term results.
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