Run your best: Stride length and turnover

Running stride: How do I know the right length and rate for me?

Often people ask about the ideal stride length when running.  It would be easy to think that striding out would increase your speed and make for a stronger, more impressive run, however this is far from the truth.  Ideal stride length is very difficult to determine and is very individual, however what is easy to determine is the ideal turnover (strides per min).

Jack Daniels, one of the world’s leading running coaches studied elite runners and counted their turnover (strides per minute).  He studied the turnover of Olympians in all running events and found whether they were running 3km or the marathon the best runners had a turnover of 180+ steps per minute.

 

Why is stride rate important?

Your stride rate (how many steps you take per minute) is the best indicator of how suitable your stride length is for you.

 

The two problems with strides that are too long:

#1:  A stride that is too long causes your foot to strike the ground out in front of your knee, and applies a braking force with each step.  This means you’ll expend a lot of energy overcoming these brakes every time you hit the ground.  That’s a lot of wasted energy!

#2:  The longer steps you take, the longer you spend in the air, increasing the body mass displaced, and increasing the force at which you hit the ground.  This unnecessarily increases the load on your hip and knee joints, increasing your risk of injury.

 

Research has found that running at a rate of around 180 steps per minute (or more) helps ensure you’re striking the ground with your foot under your knee, allowing your body to utilise natural momentum without the unnecessary braking force. 

 

Think like a wheel, not like a pogo stick

Faster stride rate = closer to the ground, less bounce, less impact, more efficient.  This way you make it easier on yourself, expend less energy and risk less injury by taking out the bounce.  Think about gliding over the ground like a wheel rather than bouncing into it like pogo sticks.

 

A test for you

At different points during your long, slow distance run count your stride rate and check where you are at.  During a long run count each time your feet hit the ground during a 60 second period.  This is your stride rate.  Was it near 180?  Most people find they are well below this target especially if they are new to running.

Practice this on your long run each week
It will take some time to practise if you are far away from the 180 target to begin with.  The trick is not to run faster just because your stride rate is faster!  Shorter quicker steps will have you running at your normal pace but with a higher turnover.

 

Warning: Don’t try to fix it in one go!

Rather than try to adjust your turnover to 180 immediately, just work on gradually making it quicker over the months ahead.

 

Use a metronome app to help

There are plenty of free and cheap metronome apps that you can use on your phone while you run.  Simply set in the beat of 180 BPM and then listen as you run.  You’ll aim to hit the ground to the beat.  If you’re currently running at 160 strides per minute set the metronome to 165-170 and use this to gradually quicken your turnover.  Don’t try to change from 160 to 180 strides per minute in one go!    If you’re currently running at 170 or higher you should be fine to use a 180 BPM metronome.

 

Or try these songs on your smartphone:

If you run to the beat of these songs your turnover should be close to ideal!

Wolf Like Me – TV on the Radio – 177 bpm
Gold Guns Girls – Metric – 182 bpm
Some Wierd Sin – Iggy pop – 183 bpm
I Only Want You –  – Eagles of Death Metal – 174 bpm
Dark Entries – Bauhaus – 174 bpm
Alone Again Or – The Damned – 177 bpm
Dancing with Myself – Billy Idol – 177 bpm
Monkey Wrench – Foo Fighters – 177 bpm
Hang on to Yourself – David Bowie – 178 bpm
Tesselate – Tokyo Police Club -181 bpm
I’m Not Okay (I Promise) – My Chemical Romance – 180 bpm
Meantime – The futureheads – 181 bpm
Livin’ La Vida Loca – Ricky Martin – 178 bpm
Turning Japanese – The Vapours – 179 bpm

 

Remember it’s a slow, gradual practice, not something to overhaul overnight!