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The running stride or how to improve your performance

Naturally, we all have a different way of running. You have your own stride and, very often, you completely forget about it while you are running. However, did you know that your stride is one of the essential keys to improving your running?


Why work on your stride?

Your stride is the engine that gives back the energy you expend when running and propels your body forwards with each step. Paying careful attention to it and improving it will enable you to use this energy more effectively, which will have positive consequences on your performance.

By improving your stride, you can optimise the natural bounce generated with each step and reduce your energy expenditure. It can also be used to reduce the risk of injury by correcting your posture.

Finally, and most importantly, working on your stride gives you the chance to get more in touch with the physical sensation of running and get more enjoyment from the effort made. This should give you plenty of good reasons to take a closer interest in the way you run!


What is the ideal running stride?

There are as many ways of running as there are runners. This makes it difficult to talk about the best way of progressing… Your stride depends on multiple factors such as your weight, posture, body shape, height, experience, etc. What's more, we do not run in same way for each type of race or distance:there is no point in comparing the stride of a sprinter with that of a trail runner!

For your information, there are generally two types of stride:

- the heel strike that is used by most runners, especially off-road runners, and involves the heel hitting the ground first, after which the foot rolls through towards the toe;

- the front or mid-foot strike involves the toe or flat part of the foot landing first as if you were "scratching" the ground. Generally, this is the way we run as children but, as we grow up, we unconsciously modify our stride, particularly because of the thick soles at the rear of our running trainers (with a significant drop), which make it easier for the heel to strike the ground first in order to cushion the steps.

So, what is the best stride to adopt? Here again, it's difficult to give a simple answer because the specialists do not all have the same opinion.

The tendency is to take a minimalist approach that means getting as close as possible to a natural stride, hence the forefoot or midfoot strike. This type of stride puts less pressure on the joints of the knee and lower back than the heel strike but is more demanding on the lower muscles, Achilles tendon and feet. Runners who are heel strikers tends to collapse their heel as it strikes the ground, which makes their stride heavier, whereas toe runners are more likely to have a bouncy stride because the foot spends less time in contact with the ground and the body is more easily propelled forwards.

Whatever the case, try to run by making as little noise as possible because lots of noise means that your stride is collapsing and therefore burning energy as it hits the ground rather than running with a light and flexible stride while minimising the impacts. Make sure you keep your upper body straight, with the legs aligned and shoulders loose to minimise back pain and make your strides more efficient.


How can you improve your stride?

Deciding to modify your stride is a bit like learning to run again because it involves trying to change something that is second nature to you.It takes a lot of work and should be done slowly in order to avoid injury.

If you modify your stride without practising the change beforehand, you are also likely to increase your energy expenditure to correct yourself and therefore your performance will suffer.

In order to mitigate this problem, it is better to take it slow by adjusting your stride little by little: initially about 10 minutes of your training time, then half the session and finally all the time, over a number of weeks. These changes can cause some unfamiliar muscle or joint pains as your body gets used to the new stride.

General physical preparation (GPP) can also help you exercise your stride by improving your core strength which will help to improve your posture.


Should you change your shoes to change your stride?

Making technical improvements to your running step is the key to improving your stride. However, it is also possible to make this work easier by gradually reducing the drop of your trainers, i.e. the difference in height between the front and rear of the sole.

Be sure not to cut any corners:under no circumstances should you switch from a conventional trainer (drop of about 10 mm) to a model with a very low drop (less than 5 mm) as you risk injuring yourself!

The ideal solution would be to use a model with a 6 or 8mm drop alongside your usual model and alternate between the two pairs before potentially considering an even lower drop with your next pair of trainers.


Improving your performance is therefore also about taking care of your stride in order to optimise energy expenditure. Deciding to improve by working on it is a long-term undertaking, so you will need patience!Your stride also depends, for a large part, on the running shoes you choose and particularly on their drop, so keep this factor in mind.