Building a Powerful Running Stride

Kapil Arora
Marathon World Record holder Eliud Kipchoge’s stride length is 1.9 meters, and his average cadence was 185 steps per minute. This means when creating the world record of 2.01.39 in Berlin Marathon, on Sept 16th, 2018, Kipchoge took 22505 steps. A Simple Multiplication of distance and steps per minutes.
Compare this with an average 4.30 Hrs marathon runner 180 Steps per minute and stride length of .8 to .9 meters. This brings us to an Important question – If there is a limitation to increasing one’s cadence(Steps per minute) what another factor can be improved?
What about Stride length? If we cannot increase our cadence beyond a point, can we instead focus on increasing our stride length which in case of an average marathon runner is less than half of elite marathon runners?
How to achieve Your Perfect Stride length
First, you need to Understand your stride length. Everyone’s body composition is different, and hence, there is no perfect number to your stride length. Your stride length will depend on a variety of factors. These factors include your height, muscle strength, Body Biomechanics, cardiovascular system, hand movement, hip movement, landing position and speed.
Example, you will observe during your speed runs or intervals your cadence and stride length is higher than usual. Also, taller runners tend to have a comparatively lower cadence rate than runners with lesser height simply because they tend to cover more distance with each step.
However, increasing your stride length is a gradual process and can take months and years of continuous practice. Also, you must be careful not to “over stride” which can be damaging and injury prone.
How to start this process –
A prudent method is to build a solid and perfect running posture , landing and take-off position.
There are five steps to do this.
Step 1 – Less Shoe
To build a stable stride, you need to build a solid base, which means solid foot muscles. More supportive shoes tend to weaken your foot muscles.
Shoes basically provide cushion stability which may be needed for each runner, but they also provide a significant risk of disturbing your body biomechanics and therefore your stride.
The first step to build your stride would be to try running barefoot or with minimalistic shoe or Zero Drop shoe once a week.
Zero Drop Shoe means a Shoe which is flat on the ground with minimal or zero cushion. Unlike a standard shoe which is generally more cushioned towards the heal, this shoe provides no cushion and lands flat on the ground.
This will help build your supporting muscles in the feet and provide more stability to you landing and therefore providing more impetus to your power muscles like your calf, glutes and hamstrings to do the job of providing propulsion to your running stride.
Step 2 – Elbow back –
One of the critical measures of running efficiency and building a solid stride is to understand and focus on how your upper body functions.
Do watch running video of one of the greatest marathon champions of all time, Hale Gabrasalasie. Hale set 27 World records and is regarded as one of the greatest distance runners in history. His elbow position is just perfect for a marathon elite runner.
Here it would help if you focused on pushing your elbow back. There is a direct correlation to your arm movement and leg movement. The faster and quicker you are moving your elbow back, the faster your leg turnover will be. But be careful to keep your shoulders relaxed and not tighten them.
Step 3- Shoulders relax –
One of the most efficient ways to run is to run with Tall Spine. This means you need to run lighter on your feet. When you run tall, there is lesser stress on your shoulders and hence a comfortable and relaxed movement too.
This becomes critical because if your shoulder muscles are tight, they will hinder your elbow movement too. Also, if you observe you are hunching that means you are running with a curved spine and this in turn will affect your body balance and therefore effecting your stride.
I suggest, next time you are going on a relaxed 1-hour or half an hour run, focus on your shoulder movement and observe how relax or stiff they are.
Bottom line – More relaxed shoulder will create a more efficient running position and hence a stable stride.
Step 4 – Strengthen your core and Hips –
Most of the running injuries are related to week core and hip muscles. One of the common running injuries is the IT Band Syndrome which happens when Iliotibial band, which is a thick tissue which runs from your hips to the outside of your knee is inflamed or becomes tight. Other common running injuries associated with week core muscles are “Plantar Fasciitis” – pain in the bottom of the feet specifically in the heals. You will feel this in the morning when you keep your feet on the ground.
To achieve your strong stride, and run injury-free, this becomes critical, therefore need to focus on core and hip training. I suggest the following five exercises to be done twice a week. Intensity and repetition depend on your fitness level, age and running goals.
20 Minutes Quick Core Training workouts at least twice a week –
Exercise 1 – Bridges – 3 Sets
Basic – 30 Seconds hold
Intermediate – 30 Seconds hold with one leg up
Advanced – 1 Minute hold with one leg up
Exercise 2 – Side Plank – 3 Sets
Basic – 10 Seconds hold
Intermediate – 30 to 40 Seconds hold
Advanced – 1 Minute hold with one leg up
Exercise 3 – By Cycle Crunches – 3 Sets
Basic – 20/30 seconds non-stop
Intermediate – 1 minute non-stop
Advanced – 3 minutes non-stop.
Exercise 4 – Elbow Plank- 3 Sets
Basic – 20 seconds Hold
Intermediate – 1 Hold
Advanced – 3- 5Minutes Hold
Exercise 5 – Leg Raises – 3 Sets
Basic – 30 seconds each raise one leg alternatively
Intermediate – 1 minute each raise one left alternatively
Advanced – 3 Minute each raise one left alternatively.
Step 5- Stretch Key running Muscles
Focus on the following stretches and muscle groups after your Easy Run day or on a non-running day
a) Gluteus and Hip Flexors
b) Shoulders Mobility
c) Back Stretches
d) Elbow Stretches
e) Achilles Tendon