What determines stride length?

What determines stride length?

Well, you do. Some people naturally prefer a longer stride, and others fall into a shorter stride.

While many people think stride length has to do with height or leg length, it’s not just runners with long legs who have a long stride and vice versa.

Research shows that runners with long legs can have a short stride, while shorter runners can have a long stride.


Should You Change Your Stride Length?



So why does stride length matter? (cont.)
  1. Finding your ideal stride length and cadence isn’t just about gaining speed.
  2. It will also improve your efficiency.
  3. At your ideal stride length and cadence, you’ll be able to run at the same pace with reduced heart rate and oxygen consumption.
  4. That reduced heart rate and oxygen consumption would lead to a lower energy cost and effort while running.



What determines stride length? (cont.)
  1. Your stride length can change during a run.
  2. As you go uphill, your steps tend to get shorter, and you take more of them.
  3. On the downhill, your steps will open up, and you’ll take fewer of them.
  4. When you generate more power, like during a sprint to the finish, your step length, cadence, or both can increase.
  5. And the more fatigued you get, the more your step length, cadence, or both usually decreases (hello, marathon shuffle).


What determines stride length? (cont.)

There are a lot of variables that go into the equation, including your individual biometrics: your overall height, the length of your legs, and running biomechanics like your foot strike.

Some of the other variables that determine stride length are body weight, flexibility, and stiffness (or how much the joints of the foot, knee, and hip move during the running gait.


What is stride length?

Stride length is the distance covered between the spot where one foot hits the ground and the next time that same foot hits the ground again.

  • That’s two steps - one with your right foot, one with your left.
  • The number of steps you take is always twice the number of strides, and
  • the number of steps you take per minute is called cadence.


Too short of a Stride creates less momentum to push you forward

On the flip side, if your stride length is too short, you can’t store enough energy in the swing phase of your gait, and you won’t be able to use as much force when you hit the push-off phase of your gait, which means you’ll have less forward momentum.


So why does stride length matter?

Stride length goes hand in hand with cadence and pace.

To run faster, a runner needs to either :

  • cover more ground with each step length,
  • increase cadence, or
  • a combination of both.


What is the ideal stride length?

The short answer: It depends. You’ve probably heard that an average of 180 steps per minute is the “magic number” for cadence.

This is based on observations by the famous running coach Jack Daniels, who wrote that the majority of elite distance runners at the 1984 Olympic games had a cadence of 180 foot strikes per minute and higher.

Recreational runners, though, tend to run with a cadence of 140-170 foot strikes per minute.



Be patient in finding your most optimal cadence & stride length
  1. Increasing your cadence by 5 and 10 percent over your preferred cadence can decrease overstriding, reduce impact and bracing forces to potentially avoid running related injuries.
  2. If tend to overstride (constantly suffering from hamstring issues could be a clue), you may want to get a proper gait evaluation from a qualified physical therapist.
  3. It may take some practice to find your most optimal cadence and stride length.
  4. Start by finding your current cadence, then play with taking 5 to 10 steps more or less.
  5. A heart rate monitor and/or smartwatch can help you see where you’re most efficient.


Be careful not to Overstride

Stride length functions on a bell curve.

Research has repeatedly shown that overstriding - that is, running with the leading foot extended too far in front of the body and thus heel striking - is a prime factor for increased risk of injury.

Plus, overstriding places the body in a biomechanically inefficient position to move into the second stage of the gait cycle, and is subsequently less effective in generating forward momentum.


Increase a little to measure the benefits for yourself first
  1. Whether you’re a new runner or an experienced one, the stride length you naturally choose is likely your most efficient.
  2. The body is remarkably adept at remembering movement patterns, and this includes your stride length and steps per minute.
  3. Sometimes it’s counterproductive to try and change biomechanical patterns that have been ingrained for years.
  4. That said, if you can mess with your stride in the right direction, it could make you more efficient.
  5. Runners who increased their running cadence a small amount above their self-selected cadence immediately lowered their heart rate.


So why does stride length matter? (cont.)
  1. It also helps protect you from injury.
  2. One of the most common injuries in runners is patellofemoral pain, or Runner’s Knee. And that’s very common when you have just a slight tendency to overstride - even if it’s not very obvious.
  3. Your knee is more extended when your foot hits the ground, so your leg is straighter and further in front of you.
  4. The way the force from the ground pushes back up through your body in that position can lead to increased risk of patellofemoral pain.



Erika Lee Sperl, kinesiologist & high-performance sport Consult

“If you’re maintaining the same pace but running with a shortened stride length, you’ll increase your cadence because you’ll be taking more steps per minute.”

“If you lengthen your stride, you’ll be taking less steps per minute at the same pace.”



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Ramp up slowly

If you did 3 short runs in your first week, you shouldn’t double that for week 2, even if you feel fine. 

Progress takes more time than you think, because each body system adapts to exercise at their own pace - maybe your lungs felt fine on the run, but the next day your muscles felt sore.



How to Avoid Injuries as a Beginning Runner


What are strides?

A stride, also known as a pick-up or a strider, is a short acceleration during which you over-exaggerate your running form for a prescribed period of time.

They can be

  • plugged in after easy runs to help you work on your form and mechanics (and briefly pick up your speed),
  • to warm up before workouts or races, or
  • stand alone as a speed workout for new runners.



Running Strides Can Help You Work on Your Form and Mechanics


Running in Proper Form is Important

Running is an essential function that every human should be able to perform correctly. But most people don’t.

Running quantity has trumped quality for a long time.

This isn’t elitism, or about having to be fast to run, but rather the necessity of needing a good base of speed in order to be safe.


The 8-Minute Mile Standard