Improve Your Stride Sequence

Researchers at Stanford University, US, analysed a single stride sequence to determine which muscles activate and when. We asked a trainer how to strengthen your weak spots so you become a better runner.

1. Impact

The key to diffusing impact is to land closer to your centre of gravity, says Dicharry (who wasn't involved in the running study). A shorter, quicker stride helps. And once a week, run barefoot on grass. "You'll avoid landing heavily on your heels, "Dicharry says. "You'll naturally take shorter strides and land closer to your body."

Hips


Most runners don't extend their hips properly because their legs don't stretch back enough, says Jay Dicharry, director of the Speed Clinic at the University of Virginia, US. They compensate by landing in front of their body, adding to the impact.

Upgrade:
Stretch your hip flexors

After a run, kneel on one knee, keeping your back straight. Tilt your pelvis backward and hold for 60 seconds. Repeat three times on each side.

2. Mid-stance

Compressive force peaks during the mid-stance phase of your gait, while you're on one leg. "Stabilising muscles [in your core and glutes] have to keep you from rotating or leaning too much so you don't increase stress on the body's tissues," says Dicharry.

Upgrade: Strengthen your stabilisers


Stand on one leg for 30 seconds, 10 times per leg, each day. An ideal time to do it is while brushing your teeth.

3. Takeoff

The hamstrings and gastrocnemius and soleus (calf) muscles propel your body forward, the study found. To strengthen them, try the walking lunge: With feet hip-width apart, hands on hips, step forward with your right foot and bend your right knee 90 degrees.

Keep your back straight. Stand up and repeat with your left leg. Do three sets of 8 to 10 reps on each side.

Arms


Your arms don't help drive your body forward, the Stanford study found, but they help determine your stride (try running with your arms by your side). "They balance the twisting of your legs to stabilise your torso," says study author Sam Hamner. If you flare your elbows or cross your forearms while you run, you may have weak core stabilisers.

Upgrade: Strengthen your core


Lie on your side, prop yourself up on your elbow and forearm, and rest both feet on a bench. Ease your hip toward the floor, and back up. After 10 reps, switch sides. Do three sets per side.