PLEASE NOTE: We are undergoing a name change. Unleashed Training is now Sprint Ninja. We still offer high quality strength and conditioning along with personal training, with our specialty being sprint training.
Sprinting stride length is one of the key determining factors of sprinting speed. To put it simply, a longer stride generally translates to a faster sprint time over any distance up to 400 metres. An athlete can train to increase stride frequency, which will result in a slightly faster time in most cases, however there are limits to this. Faster legs generally produce greater vertical force, with approximately only 30% of that force being projected horizontally. In case you haven't noticed, sprinting is a horizontal activity, we move along the ground. Whereas stride length results in greater horizontal force, with only about 20% being lost to vertical force. This means a faster sprint time, provided stride frequency is not reduced.
To put it in more simple terms, greater stride length + maintenance of stride frequency = faster sprint speed.
Humans, the inefficient runners
As far as running goes humans are fairly inefficient compared to other animals. This applies as much to sprinting as it does to distance running. When your foot strikes the ground it is forward of your body. That means that upon every stride you are decelerating slightly while your leg drags your body forward and propels you into the next stride.
The faster a person’s momentum, the more efficient they are as a sprinter. What this means is that sprinting requires forward momentum, a force of energy created entirely by the movement itself. The faster you are going the less deceleration is involved in each stride. Having a longer stride means that upon each propulsion from one stride to the next your body is harder to slow down, almost like a truck going downhill and wanting to brake. The breaking process is less effective, meaning that your running is more effective.
Increased stride length is the best way to improve this forward velocity.
Faster Than Ever Before
In most training literature it is stated that various factors such as stride length are largely genetically determined and can’t change a whole lot due to training. I disagree with this. Obviously having longer legs will result in a longer stride, however long legs are not the only factor.
Lets try and picture this for a minute...
When your foot strikes the ground during a sprint, it does so in a way that propels your body forward. Each individual stride propels you a given distance. Now here is the cool part; the more force you apply to that stride the further forwards you are propelled with each individual stride. Sprinting stride length is the distance from where one foot strikes the ground to where the other foot strikes the ground on the next stride. Again, more force per stride = greater distance between strides, which overall translates to greater sprint speed. But there is one condition......
Ground contact time must be brief. The less time the foot stays on the ground per stride the faster it can make use of that force and propel the body forward. Shorter ground contact time also translates into a reduction of the breaking effect mentioned earlier.
So how can we do this? How can you take advantage of the physics?
Power, Power and More Power
Power is the product of force x velocity. More force produced at a greater velocity is more power. This is exactly what we are looking for. As stated previously, the more force that is applied to each stride the further forward the athlete is propelled with each stride. That is on the condition that the force is produced at high velocity, meaning that the foot is only in contact with the ground very briefly.
Power is developed in a number of stages. Without adequate strength it is impossible to develop power. As a reminder, strength is force. An expression of strength is technically an expression of force. The first stage is to develop strength in the relevant areas. Basic movements like squats and deadlifts will create strength, meaning a greater ability to generate force.
But as we know, force alone is not much help. Force needs to be combined with velocity to have an effect. Once adequate, foundational strength is developed, the athlete needs to convert that force into force that is applied very quickly, i.e. velocity. This combination is power. How do we do this?
Fast moving muscular contraction that is applied with significant force. The easiest way is through two methods. The first is simply sprinting itself. If an athlete has developed enough strength then the act of sprinting at maximum speed will allow the athlete to apply that force to each stride at a high velocity. Through repetition this will lead to an improvement of the speed of force development.
Secondly, plyometrics can be used. Plyometrics training involves the rapid lengthening of a muscle followed by rapid shortening. Multiple forward bounds on one leg, depth jumps, squat jumps and bounding over consecutive hurdles are examples of plyometrics training.
The nervous system is conditioned to operate in a specific way. It takes a conscious effort to change that. The way you walk, run, throw and lift are all a result of nervous system patterning. You have done things a certain way for a given length of time and the nervous system has adapted to that pattern and now the movement comes naturally. When you sprint without thinking about what you’re doing you will naturally take a set stride length, the stride length that has been patterned. It takes a conscious effort to change that.
In order to take advantage of the extra power you are developing you need to repattern your natural movement pattern. But how?
When you sprint without thinking about it you take the stride that comes naturally. This natural stride may not be the most ideal stride for sprinting faster. There are a few cues in training that you can apply in order to take a longer, rapid and powerful stride...
1. Simply consciously increase the length of your stride during training. Make a conscious effort to stride out, even exaggerate it to an extent.
2. During each sprint in training consciously focus on a forceful foot strike. Focus on your foot hitting the ground with greater force.
3. A long stride and one that is most efficient is characterised by a flexed knee at the back, meaning that your knee is bent and is almost kicking yourself in the butt, and at the front of the stride, while the leg is still in the air, your knee is high, which allows you to land with more force and use gravity to help you sprint faster.
Sprinting stride length is your best friend when it comes to being a faster sprinter. As sprinting stride length increases the athlete gets faster. Remember, the faster you’re traveling the more you are propelled forward by your own momentum, resulting in less deceleration. So increasing speed is exponential to a certain extent.
Get started, increase power and work on consciously lengthening your stride. It's not an immediate return on investment, it takes time and effort. The effort you apply to these small changes will result in massive advantages no matter what sport you compete in.
Keep in mind, sprinting stride length is only one component of speed development, but it's the biggest component, the one that will make the greatest difference.
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YOUR COACH – Chris Lyons
Chris Lyons is an experienced strength and conditioning coach, having trained athletes of all ages and levels since 2002. Chris specialises in coaching athletes for speed and power specific to fast-moving sports such as rugby league, rugby union, soccer, Aussie rules football etc. Since 2002 Chris has conducted close to 15,000 hours of training and coaching directly with athletes and members of the general population. From this experience comes Sprint Ninja, based on tried and tested training methods combined with up to date research. Chris continues to challenge himself not only as a coach, but also as an athlete, competing in sprinting events, strongman and Olympic-style weightlifting.