Monday, October 15, 2012

Improve Your Stride Without Trying

By Matt Fitzgerald
Here are four training methods:
Giant Walking Lunge
Fast running requires good hip mobility. You need to dynamically achieve a high degree of hip flexion and extension to take the large strides that speed requires. The giant walking lunge is an effective exercise to develop hip mobility. To do it, simply walk forward slowly by taking the largest strides you can and lowering the knee of the trailing leg to within an inch of the floor on each stride. Focus on reaching out ahead of your body as far as you can with the striding leg. Complete 10 lunges with each leg, alternating the striding leg as you would with normal walking.
Hip Flexor Stretch
Kneel on your right knee and place your left foot on the floor well in front of your body.  Draw your navel towards your spine and roll your pelvis backward.  Now put your weight forward into the lunge until you feel a good stretch in your right hip flexors (located where your thigh joins your pelvis).  You can enhance the stretch by raising your right arm over your head and actively reaching towards the ceiling.  Hold the stretch for 20 seconds and then repeat on the left side.
Single-Leg Running
Studies have shown that plyometrics training (or jumping drills) improves running economy by reducing ground contact time and increasing the capacity of the legs to capture and reuse energy absorbed through impact. Few runners care to make time to add plyometrics workouts to their training regimen. But you don’t have to. Instead, incorporate some single-leg running into one or two of the runs you’re already doing every week. Start by running on just your right leg for 10 strides and then on just your left leg for 10 strides. Gradually increase the number of strides you do on each leg until you reach 30 strides per leg. You will notice that it gets easier to go longer on one leg, which is a sign that your legs are adapting to the stress and your stride is becoming more efficient.
Steep Hill Sprints
If you have never done a steep hill sprint before, you should not leap into a set of 10 of steep hill sprints the very first time you try them.  These efforts place a tremendous stress on the muscles and connective tissues.  Thus, the careless beginner is at some risk of suffering a muscle or tendon strain or another such acute injury when performing steep hill sprints.  Once your legs have adapted to the stress they impose, steep hill sprints actually protect against injury.  But you must proceed with caution until you get over the hump of those early adaptations.
Your very first session, performed after completion of an easy run, should consist of just one or two 8-second sprints on a steep incline of approximately six percent.  If you don’t know what a six-percent gradient looks or feels like, get on a treadmill and adjust the incline to six percent.  Then find a hill that matches it.
Your first session will stimulate physiological adaptations that serve to better protect your muscles and connective tissues from damage in your next session.  Known to exercise scientists as the “repeated bout effect,” these adaptations occur very quickly.  If you do your first steep hill sprints on a Monday, you will be ready to do another session by Thursday—and you will almost certainly experience less muscle soreness after this second session.
Thanks to the repeated bout effect, you can increase your steep hill sprint training fairly rapidly and thereby develop strength and stride power quickly.  First, increase the number of eight-second sprints you perform by two per session per week.  Once you’re doing eight to 10 sprints, move to 10-second sprints and a steeper, eight-percent hill.  After a few more weeks, advance to 12-second sprints on a 10-percent hill.  Always allow yourself the opportunity to recovery fully between individual sprints within a session.  In other words, rest long enough so that you are able to cover just as much distance in the next sprint as you did in the previous one.  Simply walking back down the hill you just ran up should do the trick, but if you need more time, take it.
Most runners will achieve as much strength and power improvement as they can get by doing 10 to 12 hill sprints of 12 seconds each, twice a week.  Once you have reached this level and have stopped gaining strength and power, you can cut back to one set of 10 to 12 hill sprints per week.  This level of maximum power training will suffice to maintain your gains through the remainder of the training cycle.