This always concerns me as I can see the injury potential so I thought it might be helpful to have some understanding about what governs your stride length and what happens when you try to increase your stride length in the wrong way.
The length of your stride is influenced by a combination of your skeletal structure, your muscular strength, and your flexibility. As muscular strength and flexibility decrease as people get older (if they don’t focus on strength training) their stride length often gets shorter. New runners may not yet have developed the necessary muscular strength for a long stride. Also often overlooked is the influence of your daily activities and posture! Trying to increase your stride length without taking into account flexibility and strength will only encourage you to over stride and strike with your heel first ahead of your hips with your knee locked out – and this is a shortcut to injury. Over striding leads to greater braking forces (so will slow you down) and excessive impact. You will tire earlier and move your legs at a slower rate.
From a technique perspective it is more important to focus on how close your initial foot contact is under your hips (and your centre of mass) and on faster cadence (leg turnover) which will reduce the impact through your body. When you increase your cadence it allows you to make use of stored energy that is absorbed and then forcibly released by the tendons in your legs as you land and push off. Think about where you are landing in relation to your body (not whether this is heel or forefoot) and also about your posture and your balance. These are the key areas to focus on improvements.
If you want to work on increasing your stride length focus on drills such as high knees, skipping and bounding, and glute strength exercises such as squats and donkey kicks. The strength gains may result in a longer stride but with you landing underneath you rather than ahead of your hips. Flexibility is also key to keeping a good range of motion when you run.
Remember too, that your running form reflects your daily activity and posture. Sitting a lot (as most of us do) can lead to tight ankles, calves hip flexors and weak glutes. So it’s often not enough just to work on your running form a few times a week, but instead try to incorporate exercises and movement little and often throughout the day to produce better results in your running.
I am a qualified running coach as well as a soft tissue therapist and this combination helps me to understand the body and how it functions. As well as treatment and injury prevention, I can show you running drills and exercises to improve your strength and running form. Contact me if you’d like to know more.