Improving Step Length to Run Faster

For runners, achieving a good step length is essential, but it requires a balancing act between producing sufficient distance with each step to generate speed but avoiding overstriding. Runners have various options available to them to try to develop their step length further. Most of these strategies need to be viewed as long-term projects so be patient and dedicate time to these approaches over an extended period of time, including:

- Running drills

- Interval training

- Pace Coach workout

- Strength & conditioning

- Flexibility

1. Running drills

These include various types of skipping exercises and other ballistic drills such as bounds, power skips, and double- and single-leg hops. These exercises will encourage you to run “tall” and upright with a neutral pelvis and will promote the rate of force development during ground contact.

Power skip for heights

This drill involves a dynamic movement of the body up, which you will achieve through 1) an explosive knee drive; 2) positioning the foot in the air in a 90-degree flexion in relation to the shin with toes up; 3) getting momentum of the opposite arm and ‘reaching for the sky’; 4) landing foot under hips.

Straight leg bounds

Performing this drill will help you reduce the time during which the foot is in make contact with the ground and eliminate the deceleration that is associated with heel striking. The coaching points for this movement are 1) keeping the torso upright; 2) swinging opposite arm; 3) allow the legs to mimic ‘scissors motion’; 4) landing on the forefoot, slightly in front of your body.

Double Leg Hops

This drill simply requires jumping up down with your feet together and arms out in front. To perform it correctly, make sure that you 1) jump upwards and as far as you can; 2) use arms for momentum to reach the optimum height; 3) focus on a quick rebound.

2. Interval training

Interval training describes a workout that involves short to moderate bouts of relatively high-intensity running interspersed with slower recovery periods. Intervals are typically used by runners as a way to improve their cardiorespiratory abilities, which helps to delay the onset of fatigue when adapted to the context of a longer run. The main principle behind interval sessions is that they should be of a shorter distance but faster pace.
Because interval ‘efforts’ are typically performed at higher than normal pace for runners it also requires a higher than usual cadence and will condition the neuromuscular system to accommodate faster leg turnover. This effect can be magnified by running some of the efforts on downhill segments of a run.
The easiest way to start incorporating this type of training is by doing sessions with some downhill runs, with a focus on landing with your feet under your body with a flexing knee.

3. Pace Coach

Pace Coach workout has been specifically designed to support runners to make pace improvements at their chosen distance through a focus on improvements in cadence and step length. Pace Coach breaks a target pace down into the required cadence and step length ranges a runner will need to meet in order to make the desired pace target. NURVV Run provides these individual-specific ranges to the runner, and during the run gives real-time guidance to keep the runner “in range”. By meeting the cadence and step length targets the runner will by default have made the pace target. If on occasions the runner is struggling to make pace then the in-run feedback will notify them which of the two performance factors is dropping and the app’s post-run feedback will be able to direct the runner to some recommended strategies and resources to improve that factor. The app will also re-set their pace target if necessary, in order to keep them on track and motivated.

The recommendations for Pace Coach workout are always based on a runner’s previous performances and so these recommendations stay faithful to the runner’s current performance level and their default running style (cadence or step length dominant).

Pace Coach allows the runner to gradually progress their pace score upwards and nudges the required cadence and step length ranges upwards at the same time, allowing the runner to learn what is required from a technical point of view to make the next level of performance. Pace Coach workout can also be used to control the pace of an over-enthusiastic runner on their easy runs!

Pace Coach works great either as motivation to keep good technique during a distance run via the in-run cues or as part of specific technique development sessions executed as a series of intervals.

4. Strength & conditioning

Strength and resistance training is an important, but still undervalued, component of an endurance runner’s training program. The addition of strength training has been shown to improve running economy, top pace, and race performance.

As with all training types, it is important that the runner builds a solid foundation of strength training via fundamental loaded movements, starting with body weight and progressing loads gradually. This can be followed by moving onto to more ballistic or plyometric type movements. Whole-body exercises will provide a good overall training stimulus with of course a focus on lower body and trunk strengthening.

The best way to start is with loaded double- and single-leg fundamental movements (e.g. squats, lunges, step-ups, hamstring raise/glute bridge) and moving onto plyometric (rebound) exercises. Focus on hip extensor and ankle plantar flexor (extensor) muscles

Single-leg exercises

Lunges

Single leg deadlifts

Split squat

Double-Leg Exercises

Squats

Double-leg bridge

Plyometrics

Box jumps

Core

V-ups Plank

Flexibility

It is widely accepted that runners should not perform stretching exercises prior to running since it has a detrimental effect on running economy in the initial phases of a run.
However, undertaking flexibility exercises post-run or in separate conditioning sessions in order to ensure a good range of motion is available for the running stride is still recommended.

Stretching

  • Child's Pose, 'Knee to chest' stretch and a hamstring stretch

  • Hip flexor stretch, Pigeon stretch and Piriformis stretch