The following is a guest post by Jeff Gaudette. He is a 2:22 marathoner and owner of RunnersConnect, a team of expert coaches who provide running form analysis and marathon training schedules to runners of all ability levels. He recently released a free eBook, The Ultimate Guide to Running Injuries and Strength Training. Download it for free now.
Stride Rate Basics
Improving running form can be a difficult and confusing process. Not only is it a challenge to identify what specific improvements you should be making since running movements occur in fractions of a second, but it’s also difficult to feel if you are properly implementing these changes.
Consider a recent study conducted by researchers at the University of North Carolina. When researchers interviewed 35 runners who wore minimalist shoes and asked them whether they were heel or forefoot strikers, all 35 responded that they were forefoot strikers. However, after analyzing footstrike patterns with a slow-motion camera, 33% of the runners were actually heel strikers.
First, this study is a good demonstration of how difficult it can be to identify your specific running form issues when your foot strikes the ground so quickly. More importantly, it’s a good example of the risks associated with thinking you’re doing something right, when you’re actually doing it wrong.
The accepted theory is that running in minimalist footwear decreases the impact forces on your legs because the lack of cushioning encourages you land on your forefoot. This is definitely true, but if you wear minimalist shoes and you don’t land on your forefoot when you think you are, vertical loading rates can be up to 37% higher than heel striking in traditional shoes and 50% higher than forefoot striking in minimalist shoes. It doesn’t take a PhD to realize that increasing your ground impact with each step by 50% can lead to some serious injuries.
So, how can you determine if you’re running with the correct form during the middle of a run when no one is around? I recommend counting your stride rate. Research has shown that stride rate helps runners land with their foot properly beneath them, which promotes forefoot striking and reduces loading rates.
In this article, I am going to explain what stride rate is, what your optimal number should be, and how you can make sure you’re on track.
What is stride rate?
Your stride rate is the number of steps you take per minute. Stride rate could also be called your running cadence or turnover. Calculating your stride rate is easy, simply count how many times your right foot hits the ground while running, and then multiply by two. This number is your stride rate.
Why is stride rate important
Improves your form
Your stride rate is a fundamental building-block to establishing good form. By implementing the proper turnover rate, you increase your chances of striking the ground at the correct angle and moving through the proper range of motion when your leg moves back, up and forward.
Reduces your chance of injury
One of the main causes of running injuries is shock absorption, or lack thereof. If your stride rate is too low, you will spend more time moving up in the air – moving up and down as opposed to forward – and consequently land on the ground with more force. With the proper stride rate, you take lighter, quicker steps and reduce your chance of injury.
So what is the optimal stride rate?
The optimal stride rate is between 170 and 190 steps per minute. That is 85-95 steps per minute with each foot.
Your stride rate doesn’t change much when you run faster or slower. Your stride rate remains relatively the same at most normal speeds (very slow jogs or all out sprints are exceptions). To run faster or slower, you simply change your stride length (a function of how forcefully you push off each foot) to speed up or slow down.
In 1984, Jack Daniels conducted a study on the stride rates of Olympic caliber athletes from 3,000 meters to the marathon. Daniels found that all elite long distance runners, male and female, had a stride rate unbelievably close to the 180 mark. It didn’t matter if they finished first or last, or ran the 5k or the marathon, the stride rates were almost all the same.
How to improve your stride rate
If you want to improve your stride rate, focus on developing a 180 steps per minute turnover during your easy runs. On easy days, you have less to think about than tempo workouts or speed days.
Imagine you’re running on a road made of eggshells and you don’t want to break them. Picture yourself floating over the ground quickly, with light, purposeful steps. Focus on running over the ground, not into it.
If you run with music or a smartphone, consider installing a metronome app that you can set to a 180 bpm range. Focus on taking one step for every click of the metronome. You’ll quickly fall into a natural 180 stride per minute rhythm and can turn off the metronome.
Likewise, music can throw off your stride rate. Many runners tend to naturally move to the beat of the music. If you want to improve your form, consider running sans music or with a metronome app instead.
If you’re like me and do most of your runs technology free, you can simply count the number of steps you take with your right foot. Count for a minute and see how close to 90 steps per minute you get. Speed up or slow down your stride rate accordingly and you’ll soon find yourself running in a natural rhythm.
Of course, you don’t need to be exactly 180. A slight deviation like 175 or 185 is ok too, as long as it feels comfortable for you. Stay close to the 180 range and you’ll be on your way to improved running form before you know it.