There’s a rumor circulating on the web that if you kick your butt you’ll get a little extra boost from the hamstring contractions, thereby taking longer strides. But is it true? According to Strava running coach Megan Roche, MD, not necessarily.
"Building hamstring strength is key for running power, however, the goal of running, particularly running over 400 meters is not to have longer strides,” she says. “Optimal cadence ranges from 165 to 190 depending on individual characteristics. Stride power is best supported via knee drive, consisting of ‘high-heel recovery,’ or hip-driven foot lift, underneath your body, in a cyclical motion.” If that feels like a whole lot of science to you, you’re not alone. Fortunately for us, Dr. Roche says that watches and apps like Strava can help athletes cue into their cadence.
But still, can that booty kick help at all? As a Nike running coach, Bec Wilcock, who is Ladder athletic advisor, sees it, it’s all about having the mobility to perform the kick that will actually lend to your running ability.
“If you have full mobility to get the leg behind you and you have excellent core control, the glute max will be able to perform its chief function,” she says. “This will help you posturally maintain an upright position in your trunk and you will have better propulsion force (ability to move forward).”
In that way, she says that, yes, increasing the range of motion within the hip extension (when your leg moves behind you prior to toe-off) will give you an extra boost to propel yourself forward during your run. Which, ultimately, can help speed things up.
“This doesn't mean that we over-stride,” she adds. “That's a big no-no. We want the pendulum (legs) moving equally in front and in back of you at all speeds.”
Here's how to actually increase running speed
1. Run tall
Focusing on running tall is a great first step,” says Dr. Roche. “This helps eliminate sinking down in the stride, which can cause higher ground reaction forces and lower cadence or step rate.”
2. Lean forward ever so slightly
“Focusing on a slight forward lean (without bending at the waist) encourages more efficient footfall,” Dr. Roche says.
3. Relax into your stride
"Relaxation is key to achieving running form that is light on feet and quick,” Dr. Roche says. “I often have athletes start by relaxing their face and jaw before relaxing their shoulders. It's common for tension to originate from these areas and spread down through the lower legs.”
4. Focus on full range of motion
“Full mobility of the hip, ankle, and ball of the foot ensures that the pendulum (your leg swing) can swing equally in front and behind the trunk of your body (your center of mass),” Wilcock explains, noting that this helps you run efficiently and can even make you faster.
5. Stay loose
“In distance running, you want to avoid swinging the arms with excess energy, so holding the upper body high and loose helps,” Dr. Roche says.
6. Be mindful of being light on your feet
“I encourage athletes to think about being light on their feet,” says Dr. Roche. “Sprinters think about maximum power in each stride, but distance runners should consider quick, efficient strides that minimize impact.”
7. Add stability training to your training program
“This can improve the control and power delivery of the musculoskeletal system to stabilize and propel you forward,” Wilcock explains. “Start by incorporating 'smart' exercises (single leg, glute, and hip movements). These 'smart' exercises can improve coordination and cue specific muscles to work in the right way with correct postural alignment.”
Does moving your arms ever help?
As noted above, exaggerated swinging is not the move for distance runners. That said, Dr. Roche says that upper body movement depends on the type of distance you’re training for. "For distances over 400 meters, holding the upper body high and loose is key for minimizing excess energy,” she says. “In my coaching practice, I refer to the ideal distance running upper body position as ‘T-Rex’ arms, emphasizing the idea that large arm swings are not efficient. The arms can help determine cadence/turnover so large arm swings generally reduce turnover."
In other words, if your goal is to go far as fast as possible, focus primarily on your legs, not your upper body.
That said, if you’re in the final moments of a race, Wilcock admits that speeding up your arms can help give you the momentum to also speed up your legs.
BTW: Here's the proper way to run on the treadmill:
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