The more efficient the stride, the faster the athlete. What’s holding your stride back?
Your stride length is the distance covered from the time your foot hits the ground to the time it hits again on the same side, encompassing one complete gait cycle. Some variables can complicate the stride, such as terrain, power output, stride frequency, footwear and type of workout, and everyone’s individual anatomy affects stride length. To find out if one of these issues is holding your stride back, find a physical therapist or chiropractor who specializes in running injuries and gait biomechanics.
Lack of ankle rocker
When your foot hits the ground, the ankle needs to dorsiflex, meaning your lower leg must be able to progress over your foot past perpendicular (greater than 90 degrees). Loss of motion means less shock absorption and decreased step length. Tight calves, bad mechanics and weak glutes contribute to this problem.
Fix it: Muscular tightness is often a protective measure to replace weakness. Stretch your calf muscles and do shin-strengthening exercises such as walking on your heels with your toes pointed upward.
Lack of hip extension
Your gluteus maximus muscle should be the prime extensor of the hip, but many people too heavily rely on their hamstrings. The problem is that the hamstrings are a two-joint muscle; besides having less of a mechanical advantage for hip extension, they also flex the knee, which shortens step length.
Fix it: Strengthen your glutes and increase hip extension with supine bridges. Lie on your back, knees bent, feet on the ground and then lift the pelvis while contracting the glutes.
Too large of a progression angle
Remember geometry? The bigger the progression angle (angle of your foot when it hits the ground), the less distance covered and consequently the more steps per mile. This can be due to genetics or muscle imbalance and is usually a blend of the two. There is no ideal way to fix this issue at the foot because the problem is usually not local, but often a gluteal weakness—especially in the gluteus medius—leads to poor pelvis control.
Fix it: Loop a therapy band around your ankles and do side-step shuffles. Improving gluteus medius strength can help reduce the need to turn out the feet for added stability.
When your foot is in the air, the abdominal muscles, not the hip flexors, should initiate forward motion of the limb. If you use your hip flexors to bring the leg forward, your glutes will be neurologically inhibited; if they are inhibited, you won’t be able to use them to extend your hip.
Fix it: Stop doing crunches for your abs—it’s not a functional pattern (otherwise we would all walk bent over!). Do front and side planks with independent leg lifts.
When the foot is on the ground, the glutes should be king. They control hip and pelvic stability, create rotation and extension, and they decelerate and accelerate the body and limb. If you are not powering each step with the glutes, you are sure to limit your speed, stride, power and acceleration.
Fix it: Do lunges with the back leg glute contracted through the entire lunge.
The Gait Guys are Drs. Shawn Allen and Ivo Waerlop (Thegaitguys.com).