Earlier I wrote about the importance of stride rates and stride lengths. I have had a number of requests for actual workouts which improve each aspect. So, here I’ll elaborate on some workouts to aid in improving both your stride rates (SR) and stride lengths (SL). However, the caveat is that there are optimal ranges for each of these for every runner. There is no secret formula. As you progress in your overall conditioning, they will naturally improve.
First – let’s use a little logic. Running at slow paces makes you efficient at slow paces. To improve your SL and SR your power and neuromuscular coordination need to be devleoped to handle higher levels of power output. That won’t be accomplished through fabled long slow distance (LSD). But guess what, it also won’t be very enhanced by what we typically call “quality” or “speed” work” which is typically carried out at your 5k pace!
To quote Owen Anderson PhD: “When distance runners increase their speed, they do so by simultaneously advancing stride rate and stride length—up to a point. Above about 75 percent of maximal running velocity, further increases in speed are accomplished by holding stride length constant and boosting stride rate. The upswing in stride rate is entirely a function of a decrease in ground contact time, primarily in the braking phase of contact, with important training consequences.” Here is a table I put together to illustrate what he means. The numbers aren’t exact but they are extrapolated from the research and offer a more visual representation.
SL needs power! SR needs speed! That means you need explosive drills and workouts as well as very high speeds running. Also, there is an absolute maximum for stride length otherwise you will overstride which causes a braking action which of course actually slows you down!
Hopefully, we’re on the same page here. So, now some workouts. Lunges and one-leg squats (back leg is only for balance, front leg does all the squatting) are two good exercises to start with. The number of repeats will depend on your strength. 20-30 meters of lunges might be a good starting point. If that is too easy, then do a second set. Be sure to keep your upper torso upright throughout the exercises. Do not lean forward. Do not use your hands on your legs to assist in supporting you or pushing you up either!
30-40 meters of power strides. Get a running start and then exaggerate your stride pushing hard with your trail leg. It is not overstriding but maximizing your stride with a powerful thrust. Think more like the motion in the triple jump in track. You can also do one leg hops for 20 meters. The goal is to hop very quickly. These are very tough. I would recommend only 1-2 reps (per leg) to start unless you are quite strong.
Foot speed and stride rate improvement can be facilitated through drills that you may have seen many sprinters do. Yes, we distance runners should be doing some of what sprinters do to get faster at the long stuff! Run in place (you don’t move forward) lifting your feet off the ground only a couple inches. Gradually make your feet go faster and faster. I call these, the “hot coals” drill because you should think as if your feet are landing in hot coals and you react immediately to get them off the surface. Do these for 15-20 seconds and progress to 30 seconds.
Ladder drills are a fun diversion. You can purchase a 10 meter ladder, or just put lines on the ground about 18 inches square, or you can integrate mini-hurdles into the following drills. Perform one leg hops through the 10 meter ladder or over the hurdles. Be sure to do both right and left legs. If you only do the left leg it will be fast and your right leg will be slow… you’ll just go around in circles as you take off in a sprint. (Ok… I’m kidding here.)
You can also perform two leg hops over hurdles or hopscotch moves in the ladder. The idea is to do them quicker and quicker. You will find your first attempt will be awkward but each attempt will improve. I like to time people through quick steps in the ladder (each foot in a ladder rung sequentially) and make a competition out of it. People will get faster with each attempt often until about the 5th or 6th attempt. That is neuromuscular training in action. It is immediate. Your “fast” coordination improves up to the point of fatigue. Then your times drop off and it’s time to stop.
Try these out, you’ll be some of the only distance runners out there doing them. Tell me how they go.