Stride Length – The Other Variable in Speed
Last month I introduced stride rate to you all. As a reminder, stride rate is one of the variables in the formula for speed since Speed = Stride Rate + Stride Length. We can increase our speed simply by working on one or the other. If you feel you’ve gotten the most out of your stride rate, it may be time to look at stride length.
Working on stride length is typically harder for runners to grasp than stride rate. The tendency is to increase our stride length in front of the body which can lead to excessive heel striking. This is not the intent and the aforementioned will make you more susceptible to injury and over striding. The length of your stride you want to increase is when your leg is swinging behind your body in what are termed the recovery and leap phases, not out in front.
One way to work on increasing your stride length is through flexibility. In order for your leg to comfortably extend behind you, your hip flexors need to be flexible enough to allow this to happen. Ways to loosen hip flexors are through massage, active release, regular foam rolling, stretching, and acupuncture. All those things we love to avoid could be hindering our stride length and, ultimately, our speed. Another way is via strength work. You need power to move yourself forward. Once your foot makes contact with the ground and you move to the drive phase of your gait, more power will enable you to drive harder, covering more ground as you move through the leap phase. During this phase of the stride, your leg is fully extended behind you and it’s often when you see the “float” photos with two feet off the ground (pictured below for reference). Try adding some box jumps, jump squats, and long jumps into your strength routine. And don’t forget about hill sprints – they work wonders for power.