Monday, September 20, 2010

Runners: Don't Compare Strides!

The Fall season is upon us and around northeast Connecticut, my town has a huge annual marathon on Thanksgiving Day. Maybe some of you local readers have heard of the Manchester Road Race?  Outdoor running during Autumn is a great way to get outside and enjoy the brisk air, take in the fall colors, and simply get the blood flowing.

I received a question earlier in the week in regards to running that I wanted to share on my blog:

Hi John,I am 28 years old. I have been involved in sports since the very beginning. Off late I have starting running. I observe a major difference between the way I and other people around me run. My running stride is far too weak than the others and this has been a problem since childhood. I have been good at sports, but I fail to run very strongly or pick too much weight in the gym; whereas people weaker than me(in physique) lift more weight than me and have a better running stride. Can you please help me sort out this problem. Are my leg muscles weak?? or maybe abdominals??
I would be really grateful for your help


My Answer: Without knowing your current fitness level or performing some sort of muscular screening...or simply watching your gait--- this is rather difficult to pinpoint what abnormality you think you may have. I'll give you a couple of guesses...

1.) Don't compare yourself to others because height and limb lengths play a major factor in stride length.

2.) Don't compare yourself to others because muscle development and accompanying training play a factor in stride "power" (propulsion).

3.) Chances are you have a weak core. If you are a recreational runner (like most people) you probably "bounce" as you run. As fatigue sets in, your body tends to "leak" out power with each propulsion. The weak intrinsic muscles of the core (hip complex, TVA, erectors) will not allow an efficient foot strike and therefore, you will have a "hop" to each step.

Here are some things you should do:

1.) Train in the gym barefoot or thin soled shoes. Why? When you run, you are using the ground to produce each step. You want to minimize the barrier between your feet and the ground as much as possible. This will aid in strengthening the foot muscles and calves to ensure efficient foot "grabbing" with each step. This will also help in recruiting muscles of the legs that usually remain under-active with raised heeled sneakers.

2.) Strengthen the glutes. I can't say enough about the glutes and how important they are to function. The butt is responsible for extending the hips (as in running stride), so include some bridge work, clam exercises, and lateral walks. I particularly like single leg work for glute activation and lower leg proprioceptive response. Try the golfer's lift to get started in this department (and no, you don't have to be a golfer to benefit from this movement): 

3.) Strengthen the core. Sounds cliche, doesn't it? Truth is...everything is connected. And your muscle chassis is connected by your trunk muscles. Strengthen the middle and the outer parts function more efficiently. Include planks, bridges, and side planks with some anti-rotational work. Get with a good personal trainer in your area and have them show you how to do these exercises correctly.

Lastly, watch how you breathe while you run. If you are a chest breather, you will lose stride. As you inhale your stomach should you exhale, your stomach should draw in. If you do this this in reverse, your rib cage and diaphramic muscles will weaken as your distance increases. So, as you run...keep a mental note on your breathing patterns. the more control you have over it,  the less compensations will occur--given you follow the three tips mentioned above.  Fatigue is like the "check engine" light on your dash...when you see it, you *sigh* and say "DAMN". You want to reset it, but you have to bring it into the shop to be reset by a technician. You can't escape it. And you can't escape fatigue. Its a beast that you have to train.


  1. Hey John, I have a question which is somewhat related to your post. When sprinting, should your weight be distributed along your foot? I ask because I learned from a book ("Born to Run) that we should be on the balls of our feet during the sprinting interval. I have been running this way for quite sometime and it feels good but I also find that my feet get really tight so I have to always roll it on a tennis ball. I used to get shin splints when I ran with full feet contact and now I don't get it at all.

    Any comments would greatly help.


  2. Anna, when you sprint you should be on the balls of your feet. And yes, your feet will get tight. That is why you should include regular massage for the bottoms of the feet including a tennis balls or other tool. Also, don't be afraid to detrain once in a while (stop running altogeher) simply to give muscles a chance to recover.


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