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Stride Length Improvement

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Although both stride rate and stride length increase as runners become faster, greater gain is realized by more runners through the increase of stride length, not stride rate. And stride length is the ultimate limiter of how fast we will eventually become because it is the primary biomechanical determinant of running economy.


Certainly, a runner who has a very slow stride rate, such as 150 or fewer strides/minute, can realize a lot of pace gain through increased leg turnover as his/her cardiorespiratory systems develop to enable faster paces. Someone running at 150 strides/minute has room to increase 20% to reach the most often publicized “desirable” rate of 180/minute. For someone running 10:00/mile, that 20% increase alone would improve pace to about 8:30/mile, assuming stride length remained the same. That’s impressive. However, it’s also the exception.


In his book, “The Competitive Runner s Handbook”, Bob Glover said that, based on studies conducted by biomechanics professor Dr. Peter Cavanaugh of Penn State University, “...the stride frequency of elite runners was 9 steps per minute faster than that of the average runner.” If we assume that the stride rate of elite runners is 180 steps/minute, that would make the rate of “average” runners 171 steps/minute....or 5% less than elites. Of course, we know that average runners are much more than 5% slower than elites. The difference is in stride length. Glover goes on to say, “Quicker strides are better, but not as important as longer, controlled strides.” He also says, “As you run faster, stride rate increases slightly; stride length increases even more.”


Glover does say that runners can consciously work on increasing stride rate, whereas they can’t on stride length. He says, “Stride rate improvements may come quicker and easier than enhanced stride length. But you can only get so much faster this way. Once you perfect the most efficient rate for you, improved performance depends on increasing stride length.” (Note: he said “the most efficient rate for you”; he did not say “Once you reach 180 strides/minute.”


In their book, “Better Training for Distance Runners”, Martin and Coe agree with Glover’s comments on the relative importance of stride length vs. stride rate on pace. They say, “Both stride frequency and stride rate increase as we run faster, with stride length increasing more than stride frequency. The exact combination of length and frequency at a given pace may differ slightly for each runner because of such variables as leg length, hip flexion, breathing rate, and state of fatigue.  Considerable current knowledge about biomechanics of runners stems from the elegant studies done over a period of 12 years by Peter Cavanaugh and Keith Williams with their associates.”


So, how do you increase stride length? Glover says that you do it “....by increasing rear leg drive and range of motion. With strength and flexibility training, speed and hill workouts....you can develop a more powerful stride: lifting the knees slightly higher, pushing off harder at toe-off, and extending each of the three major leg joints----ankle, knee and hip.” Martin and Coe agree and say, “Optimal joint mobility, coupled with increasing leg muscle strength from proper training, increases stride length naturally because of greater propulsive thrust.”


Longer stride lengths achieved through increased leg strength and flexibility are the biomechanical keys to a faster pace. Hill repeats, speedwork, weight training and stretching. All the things that runners love. Right? ;)