Optimize Your Stride Rate for More Efficient Running
August 1, 2011 (Boulder, CO) — One thing that all elite distance runners have in common is a remarkably similar stride rate. They run at a cadence of about 90 or more steps per foot each minute. This cadence remains similar whether it’s the start of a race, the middle or the finishing kick. The rest of us can learn from their example.
A quicker cadence has several advantages. Among them is spreading out the impact forces involved in running. To illustrate, imagine that you are trying to jump from one end of a room to the other. If you wanted to do so while dishing out the least amount of landing shock to your body, would you choose three big hops or ten smaller hops? As you guessed, the smaller, shorter hops would get you there with less jarring of the joints.
It’s the same with running. The more steps a runner takes per minute, the less impact there is per foot strike. In addition, it is harder to overstride when running with a quicker cadence. So a quicker cadence helps eliminate that deleterious braking action associated with overstriding. Given that many running injuries are brought about by landing impact, one can see how a quicker cadence can be advantageous in terms of preventing injuries.
The first step towards optimizing your stride rate is to find out where you currently stand. On your next run, take several counts of your cadence throughout the workout. Choose one foot—left or right—and count how many times it contacts the ground in 20 or 30 seconds. Multiply your 20-second count by three or your 30-second count by two to get your per minute cadence.
If your cadence is less than 28-30 foot strikes per 20 seconds, 42-45 per 30 seconds, or 84-90 per minute; then try to shorten your stride and increase the cadence. Try to get as close as you can to 90 foot strikes per minute. Count your foot strikes periodically to check your progress. When you find a good rhythm within the target range, set the internal metronome in your head to that frequency and let your feet follow.
Quickening your cadence may feel a bit strange if you currently have a slow turnover. It may take some time to reset your internal metronome. As you work on it, it can be helpful to watch video of a runner like Haile Gebraselassie and visualize his turnover in your mind on your runs.
Pay particular attention to your cadence on easy runs or long, slow distance runs. These are where many people have a tendency to slow down the stride rate along with the running pace. But this is actually the ideal time to practice your quicker cadence! You can keep the pace easy with a high cadence—it just requires shorter steps.
Remember that regardless of your pace, the cadence should remain more or less the same. Whether you are running intervals or doing a recovery jog in between those intervals, keep the turnover consistent. This will ingrain the turnover rate into your muscle memory. Developing habits of good form in your training translates into better performance when you’re really tired at the end of those races.