Using Stride Length and Rate to Improve Your Running

Happy Monday!  I hope you all had a fabulous weekend.  We did a lot of running and then a lot of relaxing with family this weekend.  I also got a new bike.  Yesterday as we pedaled about 27 miles, I realized this was the first bike I have owned since I was 14 years old.  Yikes!


On Saturday during a 16 miler I was asked a great question.  Someone mentioned that they had been playing with their stride and had been surprised to find that when they tried to lengthen out their stride, their speed slowed down.  This was an excellent observation.  If you stand at the sidelines and watch elite runners like Ryan Hall come flying by, they have that beautiful runner’s stride.  Ryan has those long, lean legs and what most experts would agree is the ultimate stride to strive for.

At first it does seem contrary to what you would think, that a longer stride length would slow you down. But it is true.  Consider this for a moment; over the course of a marathon long drawn out strides will also exhaust you a lot faster than taking fast, short steps.  It actually takes a lot of energy to lengthen out each stride.

Research has shown that shorter strides place much less impact on your body which causes less braking forces against this ground.  This will put a lot less pounding on your knees and also require a lot less swinging action from your hips.  This has been shown to give your body the same benefits that were shown in previous studies with barefoot and minimalist shoes and by simply shortening your stride you can help prevent and even treat some running injuries.

Go ahead and admire.  Just don't try to replicate!

Go ahead and admire. Just don’t try to replicate!

Cadence is your rate of stride turnover or how many steps you take per minute.  Most runners keep the same cadence regardless of their pace and generally use stride length to speed up or slow down.

Legendary running coach Jack Daniels found that most top runners have a stride rate of 180 beats per minute.  Over the years this has become the ideal rate to work towards.  The higher your turnover is, the more efficient your running will be.  Quick short steps require your body to use less energy than long strides and again put less stress on your body.

To find your ideal 180 beats per minute you will want to focus on doing quick, light steps.  Using a metronome can be a helpful tool when you first start out.  There are several apps that you can download to your phone that will give you a quick beat to run to.  You can dial it in to 180bpm and use this to help you find that perfect cadence.

If using the high pitched beat of the metronome isn’t your style I have listed some songs below that are at or around 180 beats per minute.  Music can always be a great tool for helping you keep a perfect pace and help you when you need a little boost.  Just make sure you are still aware of your surroundings when you run with music.

In The Summertime- Shaggy

They Don’t Care About Us- Michael Jackson

Closer- Nine Inch Nails

Hey Ya- Outkast

Running Down a Dream- Tom Petty

Breakaway- Kelly Clarkson

Under Your Clothes- Shakira

Radiation- Gavin DeGraw

P.I.M.P.- 50 Cent

In Da Club- 50 Cent

Rock Lobster- B-52’s

Living La Vida Loca- Ricky Martin

If I Could Turn Back Time- Cher

Jack And Diane- John Cougar Mellencamp

Happy (speedy) running!

8 thoughts on “Using Stride Length and Rate to Improve Your Running

  1. Several people have told me about the shorter stride, higher cadence. Including my PT!
    I think trying it out on a treadmill might be a good way to start. It’s easy to see the 1 minute timing and there are fewer distractions.
    I love the song idea. Songs are 3-4 minutes long and that gives you enough time to get into “the groove.”
    Thanks – Andy

  2. Nice post! I don’t do much running anymore but I remember when I was training for my half I used to keep myself busy by counting my steps per minute, usually aiming for about 180 like you said.

  3. Great post! I always wondered what the better stride was for running – longer or shorter. I tend to have the short stride lol because when I tried to lengthen it out it would irritate my asthma and I’d start to wheeze and get out of breath really fast. It’s good to know I’m not doing something wrong and that shorter strides are good too! 🙂

    Oh and congrats on the bike! I miss riding mine. Sadly, the road where I live has had an increase in traffic since I was a kid and it’s dangerous to ride there now.

  4. It’s fun to experiment with stride. I think there’s a sweet spot though because when I started running, I had too short a stride, maybe just from being too weak. Anyway, I’m wondering if anybody has any advice/knowledge about stride and/or cadence relating to sprinting? Reason being that I’ve found yes, I am faster over the long haul with shorter stride, but sprinting, I *feel* like I’m faster with a long stride (can’t say for sure though because I don’t really analyze my sprints like I do my long runs). Just curious!

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