Joe Puleo and Dr. Patrick Milroy, authors of Running Anatomy, site stride length as "perhaps the factor with most effect on the speed of running. Although the fastest runners take no more than double the number of strides of the slowest runner over a given unit of time, their stride length may be up to four times greater."
So how do you get a longer stride?
In short, stretch your hamstrings!
Tight hamstrings limit the forward motion of your gait. Let's look at an example from the book, Healthy Intelligent Training: The Proven Principles of Arthur Lydiard by Keith Livingstone, to see how changes in stride length can affect your performance.
Check out the table below:
What this table shows is how much faster you can run a 5k with only a 2% increase in stride length (SL).
Assuming you had a stride length of 2 meters (approx. 6 feet) and your 5k time was 14 minutes you'd take 2500 steps to complete the race.
If we keep your cadence constant but increase your stride by merely 1 cm (less than half an inch) your time would improve to 13:55.8. You can follow the rest of the progression in the table.
All other things remaining constant, the result is that you could shave 21 seconds off your 5k time with a 2% greater stride length. For a 2 meter stride length that is a 4 cm (or 1.57 inches) increase.
Unfortunately as a runner, unless you actively work to stretch your hamstrings, they will only get tighter and tighter with each run due to the hamstring's backward bend and pull motion during each stride.
But you can change that today!
The Roll-up is a great exercise that will not only stretch your hamstrings, gluteals, and low back, but strengthen your core at the same time! Talk about a multi-tasker!
Here's how to do it:
1. Lie on your back with legs extended. Feet are hip-distance apart, toes pointed. Extend your arms overhead to touch the floor without letting the rib cage pop, i.e. engage those abs! Your scapula and ribcage should be anchored down.
2. Inhale to bring the arms vertical and then begin to lengthen the head and neck off the floor. This begins the motion of rolling up.
3. Exhale to further engage the abdominals, deepen the curve of your spine, and sequentially roll each vertebra off the floor one at a time. This is the moment of truth for your core - it should be the abs that roll you up, not momentum.
4. Inhale to breathe into the pelvis and back, and lengthen the arms over the toes. The arms should be parallel to the floor; the spine should be in a C-curve with the navel pulling back as if a seat belt is pulling you backward.
5. Exhale to deepen your abdominal engagement one more time as you slowly roll down with control one vertebra at a time to return to start position. Be sure every vertebra touches the ground as you roll in order to optimally lengthen the lumbar spine. Resist gravity!
Perform 5-10 repetitions.
1. Move with purpose and control. Let the abdominals do the work. If needed, bend the knees and grab the back of the hamstrings to assist in getting up until the core is strong enough to do it on its own.
2. Keep the feet on the floor at all times. Think of glueing your feet to the floor so that they cannot lift.
Need guidance in performing hamstring-lengthening exercises?