An efficient stride style allows you to channel your energy to fuel your speed and endurance. Start maximising the natural movement mechanics of your legs with these eight simple workouts. And start slashing seconds from your 2.4km and marathon PB.
Muscle Used: Plantar fascia
Running Motion: The first stage of your running stride involves pushing off the ground. Your plantar fascia is a ligament running from heel to toe. A recent Stanford University study on running pinpointed its crucial role in providing your spring.
Up Your Speed: “Lengthening your plantar fascia will give more flex and drive when pushing off,” says speed development coach Mike Antoniades. “You can develop the muscle by rolling a golf ball in a linear motion under each foot for two minutes a few times a day.”
Muscle Used: Hamstrings
Running Motion: After you’ve pushed off from the ground, your hamstrings fire into action. “Their role is to pull your feet back smoothly and efficiently,” says running physio Scott Mitchell. “Weak hamstrings mean weak running.”
Up Your Speed: “As a training drill, try straight-leg bounding,” says Mitchell. “Run with your legs locked at the knee.” The impact of landing on a straight leg forces your hamstrings to work harder, so they get stronger. You might look like Mr Bean, but you’ll have the last laugh when you leave your rivals in the dust.
Muscle Used: Vastus Medialis Obliques (VMOs)
Running Motion: As you approach the top of your stride, your VMOs (the thigh muscles near your inner knee) kick in. The stronger these are, the higher your knees go and the more powerful your stride.
Up Your Speed: Use lunging twists to strengthen your VMOs. “With arms outstretched to the side, sink into a lunge with your right leg forward and twist your shoulders 90 degrees to the right,” says Mitchell. “Rise back up and alternate legs.”
Muscle Used: Shoulders
Running Motion: At this stage, your upper body comes into play. “Focus on backwards drive,” says Antoniades. “Push back with your shoulder blades, not your elbows. Then allow your arms to drift forward again.”
Up Your Speed: Stand with your side facing a mirror and pump your arms forward and back, while locked at 90 degrees, without twisting your torso. Your loosely cupped fists should reach shoulder height on the way up, and hip height on the way down. This will speed up your arm movement, which dictates your foot speed. Aim for 10×60 second sets.
Muscle Used: Glutes
Running Motion: Now, it’s your glutes’ turn to take centre stage as they kick in to control your pelvis. “Particularly towards the end of a run, when you’re tiring, your pelvis starts moving laterally – meaning you have to work harder to propel yourself forward,” says European 10K champion Mo Farah.
Up Your Speed: “Improve your glute strength with plyometric jumping,” says Farah. “Get a knee-high box and jump onto it, then off backwards, landing both times with legs nearly straight. That’s 1 rep. Repeat 30 times.”
Muscle Used: Adductors
Running Motion: In the second half of your stride, your inner thigh muscles extend your leg forward. “You’ll need strong adductors to pull your hip through and maintain a smooth running action,” says Mitchell.
Up Your Speed: “Lie on your left side in front of a Swiss ball. Lift your right instep onto the ball, then push down to squash it as far as you can, and release. Do 3×20 reps and switch sides,” says Mitchell. The increased strength will keep your hips moving freely – and you moving as smoothly as Usain Bolt.
Muscle Used: Calves
Running Motion: The end of your stride is approaching. The Stanford study found your calf acts as a stiffening lever at this point, keeping your lower leg rigid and readying you for an efficient transfer of power to the ground.
Up Your Speed: Mitchell recommends calf raises to maximise this. “Stand with your toes on a stair and your heels in mid-air. Rest on a wall or bannister with your hand for balance. Lower your heels below the step, then rise up onto your toes.” This strengthens your calves for a more efficient and faster push-off. Aim for 4 sets of 12 reps.
Muscle Used: Achilles
Running Motion: When you land at the end of your stride, strike the floor with a force equal to 2½ times your weight, placing a lot of stress on your body – particularly your Achilles tendon. “Land with your foot directly under your frame,” says Antoniades. “This disperses the impact force more efficiently.”
Up Your Speed: The Stanford study found the most effective way to strengthen your Achilles was by running barefoot on grass once a week. With your stride now engineered to perfection, you’ll be lifting your feet faster than a parkour athlete on hot coals.