When it comes to run performance, what factors are under your control? More importantly, what role will strength training play in your speed program?
Running speed is defined as stride frequency x stride length. A simple way to measure stride frequency would be to count each foot strike while running for one minute. Most elite runners have 180-plus foot strikes per minute. Stride length is the distance covered with each stride; this is where flexibility plays an essential role.
Biomechanical running stride evaluations have determined that hip mobility plays a major role in stride length. So if leg muscles are tight, they'll affect hip mobility, which in turn will inhibit forward swing and more importantly the push or extension of the leg after foot contact. Hip extension, or the drive phase of each stride, should be the focus of flexibility, strength and power development because this is how you're propelled forward.
It was further determined that runners who had similar stride frequencies, yet were slower over the same distances, were slower because the elapsed time between foot impact and foot lift was considerably longer. This is caused by a lack of strength and power in the gait cycle.
There are two types of flexibility: static and dynamic. Static flexibility can improve range of motion and recovery, while dynamic flexibility helps prevent injury, improves performance and functional range of motion. Incorporating both types of flexibility training will improve performance and prevent injury.
A common flexibility issue for athletes is chronic tightness in the hamstrings. Begin with a light warm up and then perform static stretches for the hamstring until a normal range of motion is established, by doing the following: While lying on your back, knee positioned at 90 degrees to the hip, lift the lower leg up as far as you can -- this should go between 80-90 degrees to the knee. If you notice a difference between the right and left legs, this signals a flexibility discrepancy, which could lead to injury.
Once static flexibility is addressed and improved, dynamic stretches should be incorporated into your flexibility program. Try these static stretches to begin.
Static stretchesLying Hamstring Stretch
Lying Hamstring Stretch. While lying on the floor, raise your leg toward your head keeping the leg straight as you lift. To facilitate the stretch, you can use a rope, belt or rubber resistance cord placed over the arch or middle of your foot.
Remember, as with any stretch, be aware of your leg position, as this will change the feel of the stretch and highlight areas that need attention. In order to achieve lengthening benefits, the stretch should be held for 30-60 seconds, remember to breathe by inhaling through the nose and exhaling through the mouth.Standing Quadriceps Stretch
Standing Quadriceps Stretch. You're probably familiar with this stretch, but unfortunately most perform it incorrectly. While standing, bring the foot of the leg to be stretched toward your butt, grabbing the foot with the same side hand, keep the knees aligned with one another as you pull the foot toward your butt.
You'll often see athletes make the mistake of trying to accentuate the stretch by leaning forward at the waist and pulling the stretched leg behind the opposite knee, at this point you've crossed into a different stretch in a poor postural position to do so. Stay straight and maintain a normal lumbar curve for best results.Erector and Piriformis Stretch
Erector and Piriformis Stretch. Lying on the floor with both legs out in front, take your right leg and place it over the left so that the foot of the right leg is placed flat on the ground by the knee of the left. Take the elbow of your left arm and rotate the upper body to the right as far as you can to accentuate the stretch across the hip.
Straight Leg Gastroc and Bent Knee Soleus. The lower leg is a chronic area of tightness for cyclists and runners. For the gastroc stretch, stand three or four feet away from a wall or stationary object, lean forward so that you're in a semi-push up position with your hands on the wall and keep the leg being stretched straight with the heel on the ground.Bent Knee Soleus
To transition to the soleus stretch, (shown) bend the knee of the leg being stretched toward the ground while keeping the heel of the leg being stretched on the ground as well; here you should feel more of a pull in the Achilles area of the lower leg.
Stay tuned for examples of dynamic and strength exercises that will hasten forward motion, until then train smart and stay safe.
Reece Haettich is an elite sprint-distance triathlete, master personal trainer, conditioning coach and co-creator of The Next Level, Strength Training for Endurance Athletes DVD. He specializes in injury prevention and performance enhancement for athletes and individuals through the application of sound, scientific training methods and progressive mental strategies. To find out more about Reece, visit www.endurofit.com or contact him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The stretches shown are a sampling of the 25 static and dynamic stretches featured in The Next Level Strength Training for Endurance Athletes DVD, specifically designed to restore flexibility and correct postural misalignments that occur due to the repetitive nature of our sport.