Running speed is a function of stride length and stride frequency, according to the National Strength and Conditioning Association, and tightness in the muscles supporting stride length may ultimately reduce one of these key elements of speed. Stretching targets the hips, gluteals, calves, hamstrings and quadriceps and will promote maximum flexibility across the joints and ensure optimal stride length. Dynamic stretches should be performed before your workout and static stretches are best performed following a workout, and should be held for one to three sets of 30 seconds each.
The hip joint is one of the strongest in the body, and also one of the most prone to stiffness. Many runners, especially males, experience severe tightness in the hips that not only reduces stride length but also results in injury. The Stretching Institute recommends stretching the hips by performing the iliopsoas stretch. Kneel on one knee, tilt the upper body backward and extend the region between the back leg and front leg as much as possible.
The gluteals play a much larger in running ability and stride length than you might believe. They are the largest muscles in the body, but are often neglected when stretching. Stretch the gluteals by lying on your stomach and bending one leg up toward your stomach. Increase the stretch by leaning forward and pressing down toward the floor.
Improve your stride length by maximizing dorsiflexion, the degree to which you can point your toe up to the sky while the front of the foot is pulled toward the lower leg. Maximum dorsiflexion allows the foot to strike the ground in a more efficient position as well. Dorsiflexion can be increased by performing the wall stretch, which targets the calves. Face a wall and place one foot behind the other. Push against the wall while extending your back leg.
The hamstrings play perhaps the most direct role in regulating stride length, and are also very prone to tightness -- especially in male runners. Stretch the hamstrings while also improving dorsiflexion with the standing hamstring stretch. Begin by standing with one leg in front of the other. Bend the back knee slightly and place your weight on the front leg. Keep the front leg straight and tilt your hips forward as far as you can.
The quadriceps do not play as direct a role in stride length but act as an opposing muscle to the hamstrings. Tightness in the quadriceps may limit the backward knee extension of the running phase, causing a cloddy, breaking effect. Prevent this from happening by performing the classic quadriceps stretch. From a standing position, pull your ankle behind your knee and toward your buttocks. Pull your ankle up until you feel a stretch along the front of the thigh.
- Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning; Thomas R. Baechle and Roger W. Earle
- ExRx.net: Stretching and Flexibility
- The Stretching Institute: Hip Pain, Iliopsoas Muscle Pain & Iliopsoas Injury
- SportsInjuryClinic: Stretching Exercises
- Brian Mac: Three Strength-Training Exercises to Improve Stride Length and Frequency