To recap from previous post on running stride, strong hip extension, good hip mobility, knee drive and leg spring stiffness powers the running stride. To improve the stride most runners intuitively extend the leg forward to cover more ground. However such intuition leads to overstriding and can result in knee and ankle injuries.
Training to improve the stride requires the runners to work in a structured manner, and that would involve:
Running drills are versatilie and very effective at muscle activation, improving running strength, speed, balance, and coordination. Running drills wire us with proper running form, and also strengthen muscles and joints for faster running.
Running a steep uphill requires that we have to fight gravity, and helps us to train muscle recruitment, force generation and build strength required for running. Increased force generation helps in improved stride on level ground.
Strides, also known as pick-ups, improve running form and mechanics for effective stride. Strides exaggerate running movements such as hip extension, and knee drive. Strides are typically done after or as part of finishing kilometers of an easy run.
A-Skips involve learning to coordinate your legs and arms better, move the feet quickly and landing efficiently and stabilizing on midfoot. Power variation of A-skip will help training the full hip extension and while training to lift the knee high up. Here is a short video of Coach Hari showing how to do A-Skips and Power A-Skips.
Single leg hops are an effective plyometric drill to improve the leg spring stiffness and explosive strength in leg muscles. It also helps in addressing strength imbalances runners might have between left and right parts of the body.
Goal of mobility drills is to improve the functional range of motion of key joints and muscles involved in running. Mobility drills involve working on the controlled motion through joints and help reduce the imbalances. Here are the key drills to improve mobility for hips, quadriceps and hamstrings.
Prone Scorpion Reach is very effective at activating the glutes. It stretches hip flexors at the front of the hip and quadricep muscles.
Couch stretch is super effective at opening up the hips, and one of the best to improve the hip extension required for powerful stride. It also works on the quadriceps.
Tight hip flexors are common among most runners, because of sitting on chairs throughout the day. Hip flexor stretch opens up the hip flexor muscles or psoas.
Power is the key factor in improving the running stride, strength training is increasingly seen as an important part of runners’ training. Strength training improves our ability to recruit as many muscles as possible. Strength training also helps in reducing imbalances, and improves coordination.
These workouts are good to start with especially if you are a beginner to strength training.
Forward lunge walk is a compound movement and helps with improving the knee drive and hip flexion.
Box step-ups have similar mechanics as Forward Lunge Walk, but demands more from the legs. Weighted box step-up is excellent for building strength in the quadriceps and also glutes and hamstrings.
Jump squats or Squat jumps are very effective to build a strong hip extension and add the required spring in your legs.
These workouts are suitable to those who are regular at strength training and have a good base.
Single leg squat is a targeted workout to improve leg strength.
Box jump is a highly explosive plyometric move that strengthens all the lower-body muscles glutes, quads, calves and hamstrings.
Bulgarian split squat is a variation of a single-leg squat.
There is no silver bullet to improve the stride. Gains in stride come gradually with training, more importantly being consistent at it. Trying to improve stride length intentionally often results in overstriding, reduced running economy and leads to injuries. As long distance runners, it is also important to note that stride length is not the only way to improve running performance. There are other tools available to us such as improving aerobic fitness, muscular endurance, running mechanics, pacing awareness and more.
All the videos referred to in this post are available as Youtube playlist here.
Aravind is a techie, running geek, and a marathoner. He is a CrossFit Level 1 Trainer. He loves all things technology and technology in running, with special interest in running form analysis.
With inputs from Coach Hari. Hari Babu is the founder and chief coach at CrossFit ZOH, and is certified NSCA CPT/ ACE CPT. He was national level competitive runner and Black belt (Shidoshi) at Bujinkan Ninjitsu.