Stride Rate versus Stride Length II – Improving

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.
Stride Rate Stride Length Table

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.


About Dean Hebert

I’m a mental game coach, author and speaker. I work with individual athletes, parents, coaches, and teams on sports performance enhancement. Beyond my academic post-graduate work in sports psychology - the psychology behind athlete performance – I am a certified Mental Games Coaching Professional (MGCP) and certified hypnotherapist. I’ve authored several books and hundreds of articles. “Coach, I didn’t run because…” (2008) is a seriously light-hearted look at making excuses not to workout and how to overcome them. “Focus for Fitness” (2009) and “Screw the Goals Give me the Donut” (2010) are two of my eBooks on mental game approaches for the everyday athlete. I wrote these because I believe that everyone can benefit from the powerful mental techniques that the world’s best athletes use. I have been cited in Runners World, Best Health magazine (CN), SWEAT Magazine, and the Washington Examiner amongst many other publications. I have been a featured mental games coach in Runner’s World and for the internationally acclaimed trail running resource - I also regularly appear on sports and fitness talk shows such as LTKFitness, Runnersroundtable and for more than three years I have co-hosted a weekly video series with Coach Joe English for I specialize in mental toughness training. My clients include tennis, synchronized swimming, golf, race-kart, soccer, motocross, volleyball, MMA, cycling (road, off-road, time-trialist), running, duathlon and triathlon, basketball, football and baseball athletes. I have coached world-class athletes and athletes internationally. I have a passion for working with youth athletes and helping them apply mental game skills and techniques to all areas of life. Most importantly, my aim is to have people enjoy sports and life to their fullest through peak performances.
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6 Responses to Stride Rate versus Stride Length II – Improving

  1. Pingback: Dirty Runner » Blog Archive » Stide Length and Stride Rate

  2. Pingback: Stride Rate versus Stride Length « The Runner’s World According to Dean

  3. Pingback: Foot Contact Time - Stride Rate & Stride Length III « The Runner’s World According to Dean

  4. Pingback: Footstrikes: How many do you take in a mile? « Shoe Dr’s Weblog

  5. gerard says:

    Would the stride rate ver/ length program mention such as ladder drill be ideal for improving my son stride on ICE. He has all the technique for forward and backward skating but he does not have a good stride length. The result is he does not have the speed he should have at his age.He is 12 going on 13.What is your recommendation here?

    • Dean Hebert says:

      That is a great question. I don’t work with skaters/hockey players but I can apply biomechanics and physiology logic. Regardless of sport, your stride rate and length along with ground contact time (not sure about that last item for skating) are what dictate speed.

      At 12-13 years old youth are still developing and so patience is number one on the list. Some kids mature earlier and some later… hormones have a huge impact on athletic prowess at this age. So, I want to be clear that the issue may be as much developmental as training.

      The key element is power output for stride length. If he has technique then the first thing I would look at are plyometric strengthening drills. All the bounding drills, drop box jumps, skipping drills etc. are good. The indoor slide (used for mimicking skating in a physical therapy office or training facility) would be perfect.

      Though ladder drills might help and could be a part of a comprehensive approach I think plyo/jumps and sport-specific strengthening are the key to improving his stride length.

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