While most runners are focused on fast intervals, hill repeats and getting their long runs in, there is an often overlooked but crucial training element to consider. This element is one of the best ways to get faster with minimal effort, yet most runners view it as an afterthought. Yes, as the title suggests, I’m talking about flexibility. Now, most runners are at this moment, rolling their eyes and thinking, “Yup, I’ve heard this one before” but before you click out, take a moment to consider the following:
Everything we do technically and aerobically directly affects these variables and ultimately influences the all important equation below:
Stride Frequency x Stride Length = SPEED!!!
What you might not realize is just how much increased flexibility can influence these variables. Now we know that the ideal stride frequency for most runners is about three foot strikes per second (or 90 rpm). If this sounds fast to you, then this is the first thing you will need to work on. Once you have created the neuromuscular ability to hold this turnover, it will be time to take a good hard look at stride length.
So how big of a difference will these elements make? Have a look at the following two examples:
3 foot strikes per second (90 rpm) and a stride length of just under 55” gets you a 40 min 10 k
2” more per stride and that 10 k time drops to 38:30!!
A stride length of 51.5” with a turnover of 85 rpm (2.83 foot strikes per second) gets you a 45 min 10k
Moving up to 90 rpm (0.17 more foot strikes per second) shaves 2.5 minutes off your time!!
These are BIG DIFFERENCES!!
So how does flexibility help? Let’s have a look at stride frequency.
If you look at the photo below of Kenesa Bekele, take note of how much quadriceps mobility he demonstrates as he pulls his left heel under his body. This allows him to create a shorter lever in his leg so that he can pull it forward faster, which gives him an effortless and more efficient turnover.
Stride length is of equal importance. Hip and calf mobility directly influence stride length. If either are tight, they will inhibit the movement and shorten stride length. This means that if we can just get these tight structures out of the way of the motion, it is very likely that we have some “free speed” waiting for us on the other side that our present conditioning level will support.
There are some great stretches to address these specific issues in the TRX Essentials: Flexibility DVD, and the entire thing also works very well for addressing many of the imbalances that can lead to injuries in runners. The DVD offers a tremendous full body stretch that also can be done as a flowing movement prep for any athletic activity.
Beyond what is in the DVD, three additional stretches that work perfectly for runners are featured below. Try these out prior to your next run, and see if your running stride feels a bit easier.
1) TRX Kneeling Quad Stretch
This is an amazing exercise to help create mobility through the entire anterior line and increase stride length.
2) TRX Pigeon Pose
A fantastic stretch that addresses the glute and piriformis and provides a stretch across the thoracolumbar fascia into the contralateral lat. This stretch serves to alleviate the tightness that often develops along this line and helps to prevent injury and promote smooth and obstruction free running, which promotes increased stride frequency.
3) TRX Sprinter Start Calf Stretch
This stretch addresses the classic mobility problem of inadequate ankle dorsiflexion in runners that often results in a pre-mature heel lift, added stress on the calf and plantar fascia and can shorten the stride.
For a complete flexibility program to add to your training regimen, check out the TRX Essentials: Flexibility DVD.
Good luck with your race season and may a PR await you at your next finish line!
Fraser Quelch is Director of Programming and Education for TRX. He is also a featured fitness author and a competitive ironman triathlete.