Among runners, some have only one thing in mind: to constantly improve and surpass themselves to face harder or more exciting challenges. More than a motor, it has become their reason to run!
So you can start working on your endurance, breathing or your ability to run 30 minutes without losing a lung… But did you know that you could also work on your stride. I can already hear you complain “it’s too hard”, “it’s impossible”, “if you run with a specific kind of stride, you can’t change it with a finger snap”….
Well no. Anyone can change his/her stride, no matter what your objectives are. First of all, it is true that improving your stride is a long process and that you have to spend a lot of time on it, but you must not give up. It is worth it: you’ll see how much progress you’re going to make. Without further ado, here is a list of exercises and little tips to help you refine your stride!
Why improving your stride?
It is an important step for anyone wishing to see an improvement in their performances. Having an efficient stride is one of the hardest objective to achieve in the field of running, but it will really be beneficial in the long run (no pun intended). The final goal will be to cover a distance you’re familiar with, but faster.
First, let’s define what a stride is. It is characterized by two phases: one when the foot is on the ground and the other when it’s aloft. The phase when the foot is in contact with the ground is also characterised by 2 different stages: the first one is a “fight” between the body and the compression due to gravity. The second one is the alleviation of the body due to the thrust, called propulsion.
You may have guessed it, our foot acts like a spring with each step. Having an effective stride therefore means using and controlling this natural spring effect.
To get to this perfect stride, the ideal will be to adopt a forefoot walk, to increase your running frequency and to reach the 170-180 steps per minutes. Roughly speaking, try to adopt a more aerial stride: stroke the path on which you run with your foot. To help you switch from a terrestrial stride to an aerial one, you can go for the Scooter technique: the aim is to hit the ground with a flat foot. Then, you push your sporting leg backwards. It will allow you to work on your cushion and to have more aerial returns.
So how can you set up this technique?
Two solutions: either you ride a scooter (no kidding!) or you run with your legs stretched. Yes you read me well: stretched legs. It’s a bit hard at first, but you’ll quickly get used to it. By running like that, you will have to use all your joints for cushion and to propel your body.
You will see that, slowly but surely, your stride will be further away from the ground. Bye-bye heel, say hello to steps as graceful as a dancer’s!
I think you’ve understood that improving your stride will allow you to get better performances. But it also influences other characteristics, such as your amplitude. But what is the amplitude? It is the distance you make with each step. To give you an idea, Olympic champions have a frequency of 180 strides per minute!!
To help you change your amplitude, you first have to define a frequency rate. Have a good warm up, and increase your amplitude each kilometre. Count your steps, multiply them by two and write down your score. Speed up: your cadence must absolutely follow the same rhythm.
This little tip aims at helping you setting a point to reach and stick to. With some training, you should be able to run with this new frequency. Thus, you may constantly surpass your limits!
Exercises that work to improve your stride
I can already hear you say « ok, nice advices but I want exercises that really work ». No problem, I will give you a little checklist of damn good techniques.
First, you can try to do some bouncing stride to get your body used to realizing longer and more efficient strides. Start slowly and then gradually lengthen your strides.
In the same idea, you can try jumping rope or cladding. Vertical elasticity exercises are also efficient. A useful technique to help you change your stride is to go for a “minimalist” transition (running with shoes that have a small cushioning to really feel the ground): perfect to strengthen your foot arch. Efficient and non-traumatic, your body will thus fully participate to the movement: this is what we call a total stroke. But please, take it easy!
You don’t have to go through a minimalist transition to improve though. It’s up to you.
Another nice exercise consists in running barefoot to really feel the contact with the ground and thus work on the front cycle. To do this, it is really important to position your body the right way: you should have an up-down and front-rear support. Relax your shoulders. Your knees, ankles and hips have to be aligned. Coordinate your upper limbs with your lower limbs. You’ll see, it’s not that complicated.
If you are looking to refine your stride and gain speed, I’ve got what you need. Favour over-speed exercises (on 6% descending semi-flat path) and overload exercises (perfect to gain muscles). This will not only force your body to expand and broaden your stride, but also to slowly adapt to this new kind of stride. Nothing but positive results.
I’ve saved the best for last, of course. The best of the best exercises to improve your stride. The only “problem” is that these require to go to specific areas to train in the best way possible.
The best places and techniques to improve your stride.
Let’s get down to business. The most efficient techniques.
In order to increase the size of your stride, the must have is to run on inclined surfaces (it forces you to broaden your stride and to reach farther ahead) or running with a resistance on your back (you will have to push harder on your legs).
Why is it that good? For several reasons:
- You don’t need specific equipements
- You therefore don’t need to set up any equipment (amIright?)
- It’s safe
- You can do it all by yourself
You just have to find the right inclined surface: it must be smooth, free of any stones or damages and more than anything it must be long enough for you to run at least 50 or 100 meters without any obstacle.
Here is the top 3 of the best surfaces to carelessly work on your stride:
- Parking or Garage Ramps: easy to find, they have a good tilt. However, some of them can be private… so inaccessible.
- Hills: they are very good areas, with a more than satisfying tilt. But here is a little problem: the slope is often irregular and you therefore have a higher risk of hurting yourself.
- Inclined Treadmills: useful, you can change the tilt angle and the speed, monitor your heart rate etc. Thus, you will be able to keep an eye on your physical condition during your training. Moreover, you will not suffer from climate risks. Always a plus.
I would like to briefly come back to the hills to give you a very efficient exercise: sprints on steep hills. Let’s make things clear now. Do not abuse of it during your first session! This technique leads to a lot of stress in the muscles and connective tissues. If you push too hard from the beginning, you risk getting strains or problems in the tendons. However, once you get used to this exercise, these regular sprints will protect you from injuries.
During your very first session, sprint twice for 8 seconds each time. Space out your sessions of at least 3 days in the beginning, in order to acclimate your body to this effort.
Then, increase your sessions’ frequency (to two sessions per week).
Your sprints should last 10 seconds now. After a few weeks of training, make 10 to 12 sprints of 12 seconds. Be aware of the recovery time between the sprints! Walk slowly. It will prevent you from getting hurt.
Improving one’s stride: an impossible challenge?
One more time: no. We can all change our stride. It is a real long term project though: you have to work on your heart rate, your musculature… In fact, it’s like relearning to run. Obviously if you don’t have the required motivation, don’t even think about doing it.
However, I can give you a few more tips. The first one is the following: there is no need to be only committed to this. It should be almost unconscious.
“Wait, what?” may say the most amazed of you. Let me explain. There are techniques that will almost automatically trigger your stride’s improvement. Among these techniques stand stretches or hip-flexing exercises. You have to feel the stretch in your hip. Really, really feel it.
Likewise there are plenty of harmless little exercises that will allow you to improve without forcing it:
- Knees raises (work on hips and reinforce the push),
- Butt kicks (allow you to have a better extension. Then again, it has to really stretch),
- Jumping rope,
This article is now finished, I hope you enjoyed it!
And you, what are your tricks and tips to improve your stride?
See you soon, you running maniacs!
Improve your stride and your performance with the Run Profiler insoles by Digitsole
Sources : Running Addict, Entrainement Sportif, We love Sport, How do I run faster, Active, Men’s Fitness.