Improve Your Stride Without Trying

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Branded running techniques such as Chi Running and the Pose method have become quite popular. But are they effective? Many runners who have read the books, watched the DVDs and/or attended the clinics say they are, and no doubt they do yield results for some runners. But do they represent the best way to increase stride power and efficiency and to reduce the stride anomalies that cause injuries in most runners?

There is no scientific proof that this is the case. In fact, quite the opposite. For example, a 2005 study published in the Journal of Sports Sciences reported that the running economy of 16 high-level triathletes was actually reduced (meaning the athletes became less efficient) after 12 weeks of practicing the Pose running method.

Another study of the Pose method was performed at the University of Cape Town, South Africa a few years ago. Ross Tucker, PhD, who led the second phase of that study, has told me that it had to be halted because the Pose method was causing calf strains in many of the subjects (a common complaint among Pose customers).

More: Can Running Technique Be Taught?

There is a newer theory of running biomechanics which holds that the stride is best improved unconsciously instead of consciously. It is well-known that stride efficiency and power increase automatically through subconscious processes in response to different types of training. It is not known whether consciously manipulations of stride form can be beneficial, and if so, which specific changes are beneficial for which runners. Therefore your efforts to improve your stride should consist primarily if not entirely in training methods that stimulate "automatic" gains in power and efficiency.

Here are three such training methods:

Hip Flexor Stretch

Kneel on your right knee and place your left foot on the floor well in front of your body. Draw your navel towards your spine and roll your pelvis backward.  Now put your weight forward into the lunge until you feel a good stretch in your right hip flexors (located where your thigh joins your pelvis). You can enhance the stretch by raising your right arm over your head and actively reaching towards the ceiling. Hold the stretch for 20 seconds and then repeat on the left side.

More: 5 Common Hip Injuries You Can Fix

Giant Walking Lunge

Fast running requires good hip mobility. You need to dynamically achieve a high degree of hip flexion and extension to take the large strides that speed requires. The giant walking lunge is an effective exercise to develop hip mobility. To do it, simply walk forward slowly by taking the largest strides you can and lowering the knee of the trailing leg to within an inch of the floor on each stride. Focus on reaching out ahead of your body as far as you can with the striding leg. Complete 10 lunges with each leg, alternating the striding leg as you would with normal walking.

More: Why Runners Should Lunge

Single-Leg Running

Studies have shown that plyometrics training (or jumping drills) improves running economy by reducing ground contact time and increasing the capacity of the legs to capture and reuse energy absorbed through impact. Few runners care to make time to add plyometrics workouts to their training regimen.

More: 10-Minute Plyometric Workout for Runners