I saw this article about run speed, aging, and muscle reactions in the New York Times. What do they know about this stuff, anyway? I want to run faster so I jumped into the article.
Ok; summary. A NIH publication in the ’80s lead to a study at Wake Forest and US Army regarding aging, muscle kinetics, running, and strength. Using runners from their ’20s up through the late 50s, they looked at stride length, how many strides per minute, muscle stimulation, and recorded observations:
1) Peoples’ stride length gets shorter,
2) Their feet move a bit faster,
3) More of the energy comes from their hips, and
4) Less muscular power comes from their ankles and lower legs
and therefore they run slower. All this seems to start around age 40, more or less.
So MY run speed was decreasing over the years and I’m a real geek about all this measurement stuff. Since I’m a good soldier I do all the things my coach tells me: speed up my run footsteps to 180 per minute because it makes running easier on the knees and hips. It took a couple months to become natural and I could actually zip right along doing that. To reiterate: 180 steps per minute is important…for just about everyone.
So shorter steps also increased my speed slightly, and it was great. But then, over some years, my speed was slowing down. So….after reading the article, I started lengthening out my run ‘stride angle’ a bit (see below)….and my run speed was faster! Remember, the study said that stride length gets shorter with increasing age. How to change this without getting hurt?
Now this gets tricky: how do you lengthen your stride and keep up your 180 steps per minute AND keep from landing on your heels (which reduces impact on your knees and hips)? Well there are some more angles that must be dealt with; it takes some retraining and it’s certainly more than we can get into but shown here, just for starters, is the ‘stride angle’ (thanks to Somax Performance Institute Training) for two fast 10k runners.
The guy on the left is a well known, and fast, 10k runner; but the guy on the right has set records in 10k. What’s the main difference? Look at the stride angle, especially the back angle from a straight line down the spine which is almost twice as large on the right. Adding six inches to a stride length enormously increases your speed. You just have to change a lot of other things, too; but for me, the first thing was stride length. It can take some work.
Ankle and lower leg strength was important in the studies, also, and there are many exercises to improve those specific needs. So I’m addressing those in my assigned strength workouts. Overall, improving athletic performance in any endeavor is a lifetime and very rewarding study; fortunately for me it falls right into my interests and bioengineering background. Ah, the sweet spot!