A longer running stride gives you more power with each step and, for some, can translate into faster speeds. Stride length is a factor of your skeletal structure, ease of running, muscular strength and flexibility, particularly in the hips and hamstrings. Most runners naturally develop a stride length that fits their bodies; intentionally focusing on lengthening your stride could lead to injury and, ironically, slow you down, as it creates a braking effect. But, if you believe you're not reaching your stride length potential, certain drills may help you increase the distance you take with each running step.
The Importance of Stride Length
Efficient strides mean you cover ground with minimal effort, so you can go faster without fatiguing as quickly. Elite runners' strides vary widely, from longer, powerful strides, to short, quick ones; no one stride prevails. A longer stride length may translate into faster speeds in sprinters covering 400 meters or less, but only if that stride fits the athlete's biomechanics. You have to develop those longer strides naturally -- through drills and exercises focused on creating more power with each footstep.
Determine If You Need a Change
Your optimal stride length depends on your leg length. Stand barefoot and have a friend measure your leg from the top of the greater trochanter, right at your hip flexor, to the floor. You then multiply the length of your leg by 2.3 to 2.5 for women or 2.5 to 2.7 for men to determine the optimal stride length, or distance between foot contacts, for maximum velocity. This precise measurement is for sprinting; you don't run at your maximum speed when covering middle or long distances. You find your optimal stride length for these distances by trial and error.
Hill running helps develop leg strength and can contribute to longer strides. Once every 10 to 14 days, pick a hilly terrain, and go fast up the hills and easy down the other side. Make this run last about 30 minutes total. For a more intense hill workout that you can include once every one to two weeks, do hill repeats. Attack the hills by alternating sprints up a steep 50- to 75-meter long hill with more moderately paced bounds up the hill. Between each drill, jog slowly down to the bottom. One-footed hopping up the hill after these repeats can also help build leg strength, which translates into longer strides. Hop on one foot up the hill about 15 times, then switch feet. Recover with a brief walk and then repeat until you reach the top.
Flat Road Drills
Skipping or bounding along a flat road helps train you to push off the ground more powerfully and cover more distance with each step. Also try adding quick hops in the middle of a run a few times per week. As you're running along at an average pace, spend about 30 meters hopping from foot to foot. Your emphasis should be on pushing off the ground as hard and fast as you can to minimize contact time and maximize air time. Lunges performed at the beginning, or end, of a running workout can also help you develop glute and hamstring power to create longer strides. Step forward a comfortably long distance and lower your back knee until it barely grazes the ground. Use your glutes to drive straight back up to your starting position.
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