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Cadence (stride rate) and Stride Length Explained - The Original Live Journal Runners Club
Cadence (stride rate) and Stride Length Explained
There's a discussion going on in this post by futurebird in which some questions are being raised regarding stride length and rate (cadence), and how to employ each to become a faster, more efficient runner. I took a fragment of a post I made earlier on the subject, added to it, then tried to reply, but the comment was labeled as too long, so I am posting this separately on it's own. Hopefully it answers some questions on this important subject:

Firstly, don't even think about increasing stride length until you have mastered optimum stride rate, or cadence.

Cadence and stride length are linked to properly landing under your center of gravity. There is nothing in front of you that is going to help you go faster. Many runners overstride, and it's almost always caused by heel striking, which in turn is almost always caused by overstriding (incorrectly trying to increasing stride length). Your feet should be landing directly under your centre of gravity. This is your hips. In fact, if you aren't looking directly down, you should not be able to see your feet at all. The degree of knee lift is proportional to two things - how fast you are going, and degree of incline. If you are not running up a hill, and you are moving along at a comfortable pace, there should not be much knee lift at all. Lifting the knee is lifting a weight. Don't do it any more than is needed.

A difficult part of the leg movement cycle to master is when the foot should be hitting the ground in relation to where it is in its cycle of motion. This is directly related to turnover, or cadence. As I mentioned, many runners will overstride, making hard contact before the weight of the body can catch up and this results in a perpetual braking action. You do not want to be landing on your heels. This does not mean you should be landing up on your toes, like a sprinter. The heels should make contact with the ground, but only a split second after the forefoot. The forefoot (or ball of foot) should take the weight of your initial strike. To an onlooker, it would appear as if the entire foot was making contact at the same time, although the weight-bearing area is towards the front of the foot.

If you overstride and heel strike, the strike of the foot itself momentarily stops forward motion, which the runner must fight through over and over again! No one wants this. Also, heel strikers are landing ahead of their center of gravity. Although it's hard to master, try to already have the foot motion just barely on its way back just before it strikes. This is very subtle, but an extreme way of looking at it is imagining you are log-rolling. If you were trying to keep your balance while running in place on a log that is rolling in the water, you would certainly follow this principle! Another principle you would follow while trying not to fall in the water is a short stride rate, since there's a small area under you in which it is possible to place the foot. Remarkably, the log-rolling analogy applies here as well, since the place where the log would be is exactly under your centre of gravity.

There should be three steps taken per second. This is a turnover (cadence) of 180 steps per minute or 90 pairs of steps. Interestingly, this still applies at fairly slow jogging speed, up to fairly fast running (but not sprinting). If you watch elite runners as they tire in the final stages of a race, they increase stride rate, not length. New runners will do the exact opposite, lunging each leg forward. As I pointed out earlier, this does nothing but create a braking action each time contact is made, and disrupts the foot strike under the centre of gravity. Employ little, short and quick steps when you are at the end of your next race. Resist the urge to increase stride length!

So, once a runner has mastered the proper cadence of 180 individual steps or 90 pairs of steps a minute, and has very good form, what else can be done (aside from more training) to improve? Now the runner is ready to go back to what he/she avoided earlier, which is stride length.

Since stride rate generally should stay the same through a wide range of running speeds, at that point the only way to speed up is to increase stride length, which must be done without violating the rules of proper form, which dictate that everything happens behind the runner, and that overstriding is inefficient. When you see an elite Kenyan gracefully running sub-5 minute miles, he appears to be almost jogging. It seems impossible. This is because his stride length is tremendous compared to an average runner, yet he does this while keeping the same form as if he were running much slower. He will not overstride, as he knows this is futile. It takes a long time to learn how to increase stride length without slowing down the cadence and overstriding. Again, remember, everything happens behind the runner. All the power is not in lunging forward, but in pushing, or toeing off. As an efficient runner speeds up, his push off becomes more powerful, and another thing happens - the degree of knee bend when the leg is behind him increases, in many cases, dramatically. The secret here is similar to the degree of arm bend, and the weightlifting analogy that went with it. The lower leg is a weighted lever, and a runner lifts this lever thousands of times in a run. The higher the degree of bend after the push off when the leg is behind the runner, the less that the weight of the lower leg is stressing him over time. The higher bend also assists in continuing the explosive power of the push off.

So, if you are at the stage where you have perfect cadence and want to improve stride length, start getting used to a higher bend to the knee after pushing off. Point your bent knee downward as the foot raises high behind you. Don't make the common mistake of high knee lifts. Again, this is not sprinting. The action and power of a distance runner occurs behind him or her, and is far more hamstring-driven than the quad-powered, explosive but inefficient (high energy expenditure) sprinter's technique.
23 miles | run a mile
geneticlemon From: geneticlemon Date: March 12th, 2009 03:26 am (UTC) (Link)
Thank you for posting this! Every time I go running I wonder why my stride is so much shorter than other people and I always think I'm doing something wrong, but then they end up just dying further up the road ...

This is a great explanation.
futurebird From: futurebird Date: March 12th, 2009 03:48 am (UTC) (Link)
slangofoil From: slangofoil Date: March 12th, 2009 05:00 am (UTC) (Link)
So would it be fair to say that if you're going pretty slow (say, a 13 mm pace) and hitting that kind of turnover, you might end up with more of a shuffle? I feel like there's hardly any lift to my leg behind and that there'd be even less if I increased the turnover (I think I might be cruising at 160 these days). Or should I focus more on bringing that lower leg up higher in the back? I've tried that a bit and feel very awkward doing so.

I'm fairly sure I don't overstride anymore, after switching to VFFs for all of my running. Heel-striking is totally out of the picture.
travelogger From: travelogger Date: March 12th, 2009 01:43 pm (UTC) (Link)
You should try to increase your turnover to 180. It will definitely make you a little faster. i know it feels awkward at first, but it really works well. I also agree that you should work on that leg lift, but perhaps one thing at a time (go for either one first).
slangofoil From: slangofoil Date: March 12th, 2009 01:53 pm (UTC) (Link)
I definitely do go faster when I increase the turnover, but I also think it puts me above the conversation pace, which seems to be counter-productive. And when I work on picking up that leg, I kind of stop breathing altogether, lol, which is definitely not the goal (I just get too focused on it and forget to monitor the breathing).
angybaby From: angybaby Date: March 12th, 2009 05:16 am (UTC) (Link)
This is a great post - AS ALWAYS.

travelogger From: travelogger Date: March 12th, 2009 01:43 pm (UTC) (Link)
No problem - I am glad you got something out of it. :)
insanitycase From: insanitycase Date: March 12th, 2009 02:13 pm (UTC) (Link)
I second this. I always pay attention when I see the big wise cat.
bozotkutya From: bozotkutya Date: March 12th, 2009 10:15 pm (UTC) (Link)
And I always LOL when I see YOUR crazy cat :)
klm185 From: klm185 Date: March 12th, 2009 05:54 am (UTC) (Link)
I'm very glad you posted this, David, because I've been meaning to ask you a question for about a week now, but I never remembered except when at the gym...

How does one avoid overstriding on the treadmill? I always, always see my feet at the gym, but never on the road. What changes?
travelogger From: travelogger Date: March 12th, 2009 01:44 pm (UTC) (Link)
I have no idea what could be happening to you on the treadmill. Maybe you are bringing your feel forward more because of some sort of subconscious fear of the dreaded back of the treadmill. :)
klm185 From: klm185 Date: March 12th, 2009 04:11 pm (UTC) (Link)
Noooo, you are supposed to have all the answers! What do I do now? :p :)
Peter Smith From: Peter Smith Date: April 25th, 2013 08:01 pm (UTC) (Link)
Never run on a flat treadmill. Always have a minimum of around a 1.5-2.5% incline. This will help you have a better foot strike and allow your body to feel the correct forward lean that you would naturally have while running on the ground. Also, the moving of the belt tends to inhibit, or shut off, your glutes which strains your already overworked hip flexors. Running passively on a flat treadmill might still be a good cardio workout but you are driving in that lower crossed syndrome muscle imbalance that most good training works to fix or avoid. Train smarter, and harder!!!
porktruck From: porktruck Date: March 12th, 2009 12:27 pm (UTC) (Link)
Yep, I use pedometers on track athletes to look at their stride rate throughout a workout, time trial, etc. It can tell you a lot.
benlbr From: benlbr Date: March 12th, 2009 01:26 pm (UTC) (Link)
fantastic post!

i read an article regarding using the hammies and gluts to run, whereas i've realized that my quads and calfs are the usual victims of soreness after runs. i kept conscious of it on yesterday's run, and noticed that not only was I able to run faster with "proper" form, I was less tired (but definitely sore afterwards! - probably from non use!).

i've been running stadiums a few times a week, but i noticed that this isn't really strengthening anything other than my quads and calfs. are there any drills i can do to isolate and work out the hamstrings?
travelogger From: travelogger Date: March 12th, 2009 01:46 pm (UTC) (Link)
I think running itself works the hams quite a bit, except when running hills (or stadium stairs), in which the quads in particular are definitely isolated. Simply running on the flats is the best hamstring workout.
kohii_temple From: kohii_temple Date: March 12th, 2009 02:56 pm (UTC) (Link)
Do forgive this newbie runner... :)

Would it be like this? :

So for example, your left foot makes contact with the ground directly underneath you. To make the next step, you then push off with your left foot and as your right foot touches the ground, you bend your left knee so that your left leg is parallel to the ground?

And then you lean your upper body forward so that your left foot will touch the ground directly underneath you again? :)
bozotkutya From: bozotkutya Date: March 12th, 2009 10:21 pm (UTC) (Link)
No need to lean anywhere as you're moving forward, so your next foot is gonna touch the ground underneath you. Just pay attention to not reach too much forward with that leg, so it hits the ground right under your center of gravity and not in front of that:)
kohii_temple From: kohii_temple Date: March 13th, 2009 03:48 pm (UTC) (Link)
Yay! I'll keep that in mind. Thanks! :D
andpuff From: andpuff Date: March 12th, 2009 06:22 pm (UTC) (Link)
Very, very useful. Thank you.
anarcha From: anarcha Date: March 15th, 2009 11:56 pm (UTC) (Link)
Belated, but what are your thoughts about turnover >180?

For my easy runs and aerobic, my turnover is 3 steps per second, on the nose. However, tempo runs get up to 7 steps for 2 seconds (210 steps per minute), and during very fast repetitions I'll hit 4 steps per seconds (240 steps per minute). I don't know my race-time turnover exactly, but I do know that it's higher than 180, and that my turnover gets damn quick during my final kick (think Flintstones driving their cars).

[FWIW, I have short legs, proportionate to my upper body].

I've not worried this much about it, because I'm seeing steady improvement, and the high turnover feels completely natural (and forcing myself to a 180 turnover during workouts makes the workout much harder). I'm curious as to your opinion, though.
travelogger From: travelogger Date: March 16th, 2009 01:07 am (UTC) (Link)
The general wisdom is that cadence much higher than 180 is supposed to be inefficient for the opposite reasons that cadence under 180 is. However, if you are seeing improvement, then maybe it's something you should leave alone for now.

Still, 4 steps per second is awfully fast for turnover. You are likely robbing yourself of some stride length in order to run this way. As long as you know this, and accept that it's probably just a quirk of your running form, then it's probably okay. It's definitely better from many standpoints (injury, efficiency) to have too fast a cadence than too slow of one, FWIW.
arularia From: arularia Date: February 24th, 2010 11:43 pm (UTC) (Link)
I know this is an old post, but of everything I've read lately on form/technique/etc. this has made a huge difference for me. I just started running again for the first time since I was a teen and i've really been struggling to tone down the heel strike and stop jarring myself to death. I made a little progress, but not much. So today I took on trying to work on my cadence and it's amazing! I'm not pounding the ground, my vertical motion is down, and everything just feels so much better.

23 miles | run a mile