Many sprinters throughout the country will be told by their coach that they need to open up their stride or that they need long strides in order to be successful in sprinting. I can’t remember how many times I have either heard a coach tell me this or heard a coach tell their athlete.
The problem with telling a sprinter that they need long strides is that the athlete will then carry out their practice or track meet with these exaggerated long strides and then wonder why they are not making the performance gains they were promised by their coach. It’s not that the sprinter is supposed to have short strides. It just means that if a sprinter is going to increase their stride, they will do it with a natural progression through workouts, drills and good coaching.
The reason why we shouldn’t tell a sprinter that they need long strides is because it’s not as important as you may think. What’s more important is the posture, coordination of sprint mechanics, strength, and the amount of force the athlete is applying to the track. You also wouldn’t want a sprinter to take longer strides if their stride length is where it already needs to be based on their coordination, strength, and developmental abilities. The last thing a sprinter would want to do is find out their long strides were creating breaking forces that could actually slow them down.
This doesn’t mean you still can’t test to see if your athlete is over or under striding. Just understand that generally speaking, if they are over striding it’s a mechanical issue, and if they are under striding it might be a strength and developmental issue.
How do you test for optimal stride length?
Optimal stride length will be different for every track and field athlete. The leg length of an athlete determines their optimal stride length during maximum velocity and can be measured from the crest of the greater trochanter to the floor while barefoot. Once you have measured your leg length, you multiply that number by 2.3-2.5 for female athletes, and 2.5-2.7 for male athletes.
Calculate: If a male athlete’s leg length were measured at 35 inches, they would multiply 35 x 2.5 and also multiply 35 x 2.7 to give them the optimal stride length range of 87.5 to 94.5 inches between foot contacts at maximum velocity.
How do I measure my stride length?
Stride length can be measured by running through a 10m-30m fly zone at maximum velocity (top speed) with sawdust or chalk sprinkled through the zone (stay away from flour, it gets sticky when wet) and then measuring the distance between each foot contact.
Setup: Designate an acceleration zone of 30m-40m (depending on the athlete) and a fly zone of 10m-30m. Use cones for the fly zone to dictate the beginning and end of the fly zone. Sprinkle sawdust or chalk throughout the entire fly zone. Ensure there is enough room for the track athlete to decelerate safely after the fly zone.
Procedure: Have the track athlete accelerate through the acceleration zone and reach their top speed just before they reach the first cone (beginning of the fly zone) and have them continue through the zone at their maximum velocity until they have passed the second cone (end of the fly zone) where they can now decelerate safely and gradually. Take a tape measure and measure the distance between each foot contact (toe mark to toe mark) to see how close their stride length is to the calculations mentioned above.