Coaches often quote the statistic that top distance runners run at around 180 steps per min. However, on its own, this information tells us nothing. After all, you could take 180 steps in 60 seconds and go nowhere! Crucially, you must move forward with each of those steps. And not just forward, but forward as much as you can, without reducing your optimal stride count.
While a number of factors such as bodyweight play a role in stride length, the ability to press a large amount of force through the floor, quickly, is key and that requires actively strong leg muscles. Running to increase stride length can help you run faster by building general calf conditioning, strength and power.
Joel's 3 top tips for the session
1. Use a track
It’s important to keep the measurements as accurate as possible so a track is a perfect session location. If this isn’t possible, find a quiet, flat piece of track/road/loop that's easy to measure
2. Keep rhythm
If you have access to one, use a swim pacer under your hat or watch with beep function to set and stick to a stride rhythm (£31.48 on wiggle.co.uk). Or, simply use a sports watch to record pacing.
3. Less is more
These can be stressful sessions on the body, so don’t do them too often, make sure you’re fully fit with no niggles before undertaking them and always do a light stretch out afterwards.
Progressively faster drills
Approx. 180 steps per minute. Note time and number of strides
2mins easy, walking and jogging
Repeat but take fewer strides over the 400m. Your effort level will increase, but your time will reduce. Continue this pattern until you reach max effort and keep counting and noting your strides, time and effort
Session 2 (performed 7-14 days later)
Same warm-up as session 1
Divide your lowest stride count from session 1 by half and take off 4. Then, using your pacer, set to 180spm, run 200m at that stride rhythm and count. Take 10secs rest and run the next 200m. Take 2mins rest and repeat for 6-8 reps, or until you feel you’ve stressed the working muscles enough, but not too much
5-10mins light calf muscle massage/stretch. Don’t overstretch or perform a long jog, though
Adapt for beginners
Perform fewer reps, or reduce spm from 180 to a tempo you feel is more comfortable in the first rep.
Adapt for Ironman
Stride length might be less important for IM athletes, so try the reverse. During long runs, perform a block in which every other minute is at a much higher spm without changing your pace. This works to keep some speed in the legs while reducing stress on the muscles and joints.
We’re not talking about over striding, rather slightly elongating the stride a little from the norm and trying to maintain this for longer. It’s a little like over-gear work on the bike, it may be right for you on race day, it might not, but it’s a great training tool to use throughout the season.