I’m a nerd for science.
I take a very scientific approach to everything I do. It’s just the way I was built. And so when it comes to learning how to run faster, I’m very scientific about it as well.
From my UESCA training, I understand the mechanics of running form, the gait cycle, and the anatomy and physiology that makes running possible. But I also love analyzing slo-mo video of elite runners, and putting together what I see when I watch them and what I know from my training to develop the most effective ways to help my clients run better. Because “knowing” is not the same as “being able to do”. And my passion in life as a teacher and a coach is to ensure people can actually “do” what they want to do, as a result of my support.
Imagine yourself breaking into a sprint…
I would hazard to guess that if you were casually jogging with a few friends right now and you all decided to run as fast as you could to a tree that you see up ahead, most of you would start moving your legs like lightning! You’d increase your leg turnover (a.k.a cadence), perhaps by as much as 30 or 40 additional steps per minute to get to that tree before anyone else. I think this is because most recreational runners believe that running faster simply means moving your feet more quickly, but there’s more to it than that.
Easier said, than done!
If you’ve been following me for awhile you’ll know that I’m always saying that there are two ways you can run faster-you can either
- Increase your stride rate, which is the same as moving your legs more quickly, and/or
- Increase your stride length, which refers to covering more ground with each step.
But increasing either of these is easier said than done!
What is stride length?
Unless you’re formally trained as a runner, increasing your stride length is not something that you would just decide to do, spur of the moment, when casually challenged by a group of friends. That’s because most of us have a built-in stride length and without deliberate instruction about “how” to change it, means we don’t fall out of our stride-length comfort zone very often.
I’ve been talking with fellow runners and analyzing stride lengths for awhile now. And a person’s natural stride length is a factor of many things. Yes, you might expect tall people with long legs to naturally take longer strides than people with short legs. And this is true, to an extent. But short people can take long strides too!
And then there are things that differ between men and women, like q-angle and femur length, that can affect stride length and hence running speed as well.
But regardless of your inherited physical characteristics, you can increase your stride length and run faster (and more safely) too with proper instruction. And it can be fun at the same time!
Why aren’t we talking about cadence?
I’ve written and spoken a lot about cadence recently, and it’s an integral part of the four week Off to a Running Start Training Program that I offer on my website. But for this post, I’m going to focus only on stride length, so I can go a little deeper.
Let’s start analyzing!
I decided to analyze Shalane Flanagan’s stride length, since she’s a powerful, successful American runner. At 5’ 5” in height, she wouldn’t be considered tall and lanky by any stretch of the imagination, but she does, indeed, look like a graceful gazelle when she runs. (I’m also 5’ 5” and I don’t look anything like her when I run…but I’m working on it!)
I think it’s important to define what I mean by stride length before going any further. Let’s take a look at this photo of Shalane running. I’ve drawn a red arrow to show the distance between her feet as she’s in the middle of her stride. I estimate that the distance shown in this photo is approximately 3 ½ feet.This is NOT what I am referring to when I use the term “stride length”. Shalane’s stride length when she runs marathons is more than 5 feet. How can this be?
Thank goodness for video…
Here’s a slow-motion video of Shalane running. If you watch the video, you’ll see how this is possible.
Put simply, when you run, after you push off the ground with your back foot, there is a certain amount of time that both feet are in the air (hopefully!) before the other foot touches the ground. This is usually referred to as “flight time”. And flight time allows runners to cover more ground, which is why running strides are usually longer than walking ones. Check out the video for some good visual evidence:
How do you increase your stride length?
As you can probably imagine, increasing your stride length takes not only time, but proper coaching by a qualified professional. There are many aspects to improving your stride that a good coach can help with. It won’t happen overnight, but you can start to make incremental improvements with some good instruction. And it all starts with observation. You need to have someone watch you run or better yet, take video recordings of you running at different paces so the video can be analyzed and you can learn what will help you to improve.
It may be that you’ve got too much vertical oscillation, meaning, you’re pushing up instead of forward with each step. Or maybe you’re not swinging your arms properly, with just the right amount of torso twist. Or maybe you’re overstriding, which occurs when your forward foot lands too far out in front of your center of mass, or hips. A few video clips of you running can get you well on your way to success.
If you can’t get some videos of yourself running you can pay attention to certain things when you run to try to determine whether or not there are things you can improve. My program will help you do this with audio-coaching and cadence-based music. Click here for more info!
Every once in awhile I offer free running clinics in my local area to help runners of all ability levels. At my clinics, after warming up, I offer to take videos of participants running, so we can analyze them afterwards. Then I let participants select an audio-guided workout of their choice to try, right there on the spot, so they can start learning about how to increase both their stride rate and stride length. I hope you can join me at my next event!
As always, leave a comment below. I’d love to hear from you!
Keep running to the beat!