Running Form: How Changing Stride Length Can Improve Performance

Stride length plays an incredible important role in running performance. At a basic level a runner must either increase their stride frequency, their stride length, or both things to improve speed. However you cannot simply lengthen your strides, or radically increase the number of steps to gain results.

Finding the ideal balance between stride frequency and length is very difficult, as a large number of people naturally overstride when running. Over striding basically means you’re taking strides which lead to you making impact contact in front of the body heel first. It can have a big impact on performance and can lead to injury. In a ideal world we would all take strides with a nice soft landing just in front of the body underneath the hips.

There are 2 tell tale signs of an overstride; a noisy landing, and more wear on the heel of your trainers. The best way to check for sure is to be filmed while running. We can help with that.

So, rather than consciously taking longer steps, we should focus on improving the efficiency of ground contact; improving ‘power’ to propel ourselves further at each foot step without conscious effort.

Running muscles go through a series of eccentric and concentric muscle contractions (often opposing each other), pushing or pulling our limbs to create the desired movement. Muscles are often called upon to rapidly lengthen and contract within a split second in athletic movements.

Looking at ground contact, our muscles work a little bit like an elastic band.  Stretched potential energy is stored by the elastic components of the muscle as we strike the ground, and is available to the muscle during its subsequent contraction (push off). The greater the initial stretch the more powerful the subsequent contraction.

Unfortunately a large proportion of this energy will be lost if the stretch is not followed immediately by a contraction. So to be more efficient our goal should be to spend less time on the ground, applying the greatest force in the shortest possible time.

So improving ‘power’ should focus on improving the efficiency of this stretch-shortening cycle. 

Here’s 3 things you should do;

1. Include short fast running in your training.

Sprinting is great strength training. It makes the greatest use of muscle groups at your disposal, involving more forceful muscle contractions, and stressing the stretch-shorten cycle.

Try some 'strides' once a week.

Choose a nice flat uninterrupted path or park roughly 80-100 metres long. Run hard, fast and smooth but don't go ‘eye balls out'. Aim for Roughly 90% effort. Turn around and jog or walk back to your starting position after each one, aiming for 6-8 in total. Don’t wear a rucksack, or headphones for these strides- you want the feeling of smooth fast relaxation.

2. Follow a strength training programme.

Reinforcing muscles, tendons, and ligaments can reduce injury rates and improve running form. Strength training can also benefit the way your brain communicates with your muscles. This improves running economy by opening up new neural pathways- increasing the rate of muscle activation and benefiting our efficiency as endurance runners. 

3. Include some plyometric / form drills

They specifically focuses on the stretch shorten cycle is therefore a useful addition to an endurance runners repertoire. To train this process we need to perform exercises that involve powerful muscular concentric contractions following rapid eccentric contractions (stretch then shorten!). Training muscle elasticity will hopefully enables us to produce the maximal amount of muscular force in shortest period of time, improving the efficiency of our ground contact.

Good examples include Skipping, Hoping exercises, and drill videos below.