Want to start running with a natural stride? Or perhaps your children are taking up the sport and you'd like them to acquire good habits straight off the mark? Developing a natural stride when running can take a bit of adjustment, in terms of technique and the muscles you use.
So, to ease your transition to natural stride, we've put together a set of 10 drills for you to do, whatever your age or level. Whether you're taking up running, changing your habits, or running with your kids, it's time to get into your natural stride!
It may seem paradoxical, but developing a natural stride can take a bit of time and effort. Especially if you've been running for a long time and tend to strike the ground heel-first.
As a matter of fact, beginner runners are at an advantage here, as they don't have so many deep-seated habits, while children adapt much quicker than adults. As Etienne, physiotherapist and natural stride enthusiast, notes:
“It's just a matter of adaptation: your body can adapt to any kind of stride. It's just that for adults, this takes longer: children learn much faster because their capacity to adapt is 10 times greater.”
The good news is that you can develop this stride technique no matter what age you are and what your running level is. The only real difference will be how much time it takes you to achieve a smooth transition. And if your children are just getting into running, this is a great opportunity for you to follow their lead and spend some time doing sports together, trying out our 10 exercises to develop your natural stride!
Let's start with an obvious exercise: Running barefooted! Since the aim of the natural stride is to get as close as possible to a barefoot movement without cushioning at the heel, it makes sense to start at the grass roots (literally!).
Running bare-footed not only allows you to use your mid-/forefoot (and therefore to change your posture), but also helps you get a better feel for the natural stride motion: without shoes, you'll be more aware of your stride motion and of how your feet strike the ground.
So, for a session of barefoot running, all you need is a stretch of grass or sand. And it's a great opportunity to have fun with your friends or family!
This drill is one you may already be familiar with, as it's often used to work on sprint stop-starts. The fact is that despite a difference in speed and intensity, the benefits of uphill work are the same for athletics track running and plain running. Let us elaborate:
When you run uphill, you strike the ground with your forefoot and you really work your calf muscles, hamstrings and glutes. The overall effect, therefore, is that you're developing the main parameters of natural stride: Foot flexibility, striking with the mid-/forefoot, and forwards propulsion using the muscles on the backs of your legs.
And if you happen to live in a place with no slopes, you can head to the inclined treadmills instead... or up some stairs!
Let's go on to another great classic in the world of athletics drills: running with straight legs. Once again, the name is self-explanatory! The aim is to bend your knees as little as possible while you run: you shorten your stride length and strike the ground with your forefoot. Although you might find it somewhat awkward, the aim is to strengthen the muscle group at the back of your legs and to seek a forefoot strike.
This drill is aptly nicknamed "the scissors". Notice the way your foot strikes the ground: just like on a scooter, you push yourself forwards from the mid-/forefoot. And if you want to encourage your kids to develop a natural stride, scooters are definitely a great way to work on your foot strike while having fun!
Another self-explanatory name, for another classic athletics drill! The bounding strides exercise consists in increasing your propulsion so that you take off at each stride (lifting your knees high), as though you were jumping over a low obstacle.
Not only does this work your mid-/forefoot strike and the back muscle of your legs, it also systematically helps you develop the core strength you need for a natural stride.
If you're trying out this drill for the first time, you should look for a soft surface, such as grass.
This exercise is similar to the bounding strides drill, but this time the aim is to raise yourself higher at each thrust, lifting your arms and opposing knee nice and high, and landing on your support leg. As well as working your core strength and your calf muscles, hamstrings and glutes, this drill also develops your landings and your proprioception: Aim to land on your mid-/forefoot and initiate your next propulsion from the same part of your foot.
Now we'll move on to the drills you can do at home, starting with the squat jumps. Here's how to do this exercise:
With your feet a shoulder's length apart, bend your knees at right angles and then push down with your legs to jump up vertically as high as possible. No need to tell you about the beneficial effects of this drill on your core strength and your leg strength - you'll soon see for yourself!
However, we'd still advise you to watch how you land: try to land on the front of your foot (that's the whole point!), and bend your legs.
Here's another exercise that's great for adults and kids alike! With a skipping rope, you simultaneously work your core strength, your foot flexibility and, above all, the muscles on the backs of your legs - that is, the entire muscle group that propels you into each stride. Your muscles - calf muscles in particular - both cushion the impact and propel you into a new jump, in one move.
A convenient exercise you can do at any age, whenever you have a spare moment!
To strengthen your calves and work on your foot flexibility, all you have to do is stand on tip-toe! Easy, right? OK, so let's go for 6 sets of 20 repetitions.
And to stimulate the flexibility of your mid-/forefoot as much as possible, we'd advise you to do this drill bare-footed.
Since running with a natural stride leads you into a new posture, it's time to work on your core strength! Don't worry, though - when you run with a natural stride, the aim is to maintain the curvature of your back: so your posture doesn't change too much.
The idea is therefore to do a few sessions of push-ups of any variety.
And, to finish off, don't forget to do some stretches! Stretch your calves, of course, but also your abs and hip muscles that have to be flexible during natural stride running and that need to recover afterwards. So it's a good idea to concentrate on these muscle groups when you do your stretches...
While developing a natural stride may be easier for children than for adults, it's above all a matter of patience and feeling. What about you, what are your tips about how best to develop this running method? Share your opinions with us and tell us if you liked this article!