Does Stride Rate Really Matter?

If you’ve been running for any amount of time, you’ve likely read that a stride rate (SR) of 180 steps per minute (SPM) or higher is the correct cadence. You might be asking yourself, “Why 180, it seems a bit arbitrary?” 

The genesis for the 180 SPM dates back to 1984 and more specifically, the 1984 Olympics. Renowned running coach, Dr. Jack Daniels noted that for track events of 800 meters and higher, only one athlete had a SR of 180 or lower.

CARDIOVASCULAR DEMAND

There is an direct relationship between SR and cardiovascular demand. The faster one’s SR, the greater the cardiovascular demand – but, the less musculoskeletal stress on the body. There is also a more direct power transfer, assuming the runner strikes the ground with the feet close to, or directly underneath their body with a high SR. Conversely, with a slower SR, there is less cardiovascular demand and greater musculoskeletal stress.

Think in terms of another sport, cycling. You can push a big gear at slower RPM’s and go the same speed as another cyclist riding in a smaller gear, but pedaling much faster. While the first rider will likely tire (muscularly) before the second rider, their cardiovascular demand is likely less than that of other cyclist. Like elite runners, so long as the rider that pedals at high RPM’s has conditioned themselves properly, the higher cardiovascular demand should not be an issue.

In respect to Dr. Daniels observations at the 1984 Olympics, it stands to reason that not only do elite runners have better running economy (i.e., running form) than non-elite runners, but they are able to sustain a SR of 180 + due to their exceptional cardiovascular fitness. 

RUNNING ECONOMY

Running with a short forward stride and a long posterior stride is the most efficient way to run from a biomechanical standpoint. While not scientific per se, from working with endurance athletes over the years, most non-elite runners tend to have the reverse form from that of elites – a long anterior stride and short posterior stride. This equates to not only a slower SR, but greater eccentric stress on the hamstrings, less glute activation, less transverse hip rotation and increased braking forces (though we like to call it, ‘coasting’). This equates to a lower running economy, greater ground reaction force and likely an increased chance for injury.

Leg Mass

In respect to running, your legs act as pendulums. Therefore, the more mass there is at the end of the pendulum (i.e., lower leg, shoes), the greater the energy requirement to decelerate and accelerate the leg. As such, most elite mid-long distance runners are purpose-built for running with small calves and also wear the lightest possible shoes to reduce their energy cost. 

While a generalization, if you happen to have large calves, it’s likely that attaining a high stride rate will be more difficult for you versus someone with smaller calves. 

YOU’RE NOT A PRO

While not all professional runners have textbook form, they generally have much better form than us weekend warriors – especially in the closing miles of a race when due to fatigue, our form might be best described as ‘flailing.’ However, we do the best we can as most of us don’t have the time to run crazy miles and have a team of biomechanists assess our form. So the million dollar question is: Should non-elite runners target a SR of 180 +? Likely no.

NATURAL SELECTION?

There are several studies that suggest that runners will naturally self-select the most efficient stride rate and stride length. Assuming this is the case, this ‘self-selection’ would be based off of multiple factors such as weight, running speed, mechanics, aerobic fitness, etc..

Regardless if this is the case or not, changing one’s SR will require an adaptation period.

FORM AND FITNESS FIRST

Most non-elite runners run with a SR between 150-170, not 180 +. Increasing your SR should not be your initial focus. The first place to start is your overall form and fitness, not stride rate. As noted above, if you don’t have good cardiovascular fitness, it will likely be difficult to attain and maintain a SR of 180 +.

While SR is correlated with overall form, if you have gross form issues (ex: run with hyperextended back), it is advised to focus on those areas first before addressing your SR… unless you believe that a slow SR and long SL is a contributing factor to your overall form issue(s).

BELL CURVE

Like most areas of sports performance, stride rate and stride length function on a bell curve. Meaning, too little or too much of either variable will be inefficient. Therefore, the ‘correct’ SR and SL will likely hover somewhere in the middle of the curve, based on the specifics of an individual.

SUMMARY

A SR of 180+ has more to do with performance than it does injury prevention or correct form. The latter is often erroneously associated with a high SR. While there is nothing wrong with a goal of having a high SR, it should be done only after one’s form is addressed and deemed correct. Otherwise, it’s like putting the cart before the horse. The correct SR will differ for everyone based on a multitude of factors including fitness level, mechanics, leg mass, etc…

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Rick Prince is the founder/director of United Endurance Sports Coaching Academy (UESCA), a science-based endurance sports education company. UESCA educates and certifies running and triathlon coaches (cycling and ultrarunning coming soon!) worldwide on a 100% online platform.

Click here to download the UESCA Triathlon Course Overview/Syllabus

Click here to download the UESCA Running Course Overview/Syllabus

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http://running.competitor.com/2014/07/training/make-a-high-stride-rate- work-for-you_54957. Retrieved August 8, 2014.

Cavanagh PR, Williams KR. “The effect of stride length variation on oxygen uptake during distance running.” Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1982;14(1):30-5.

Salo AI, Bezodis IN, Batterham AM, Kerwin DG. “Elite sprinting: are athletes individually step-frequency or step-length reliant?” Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2011 Jun;43(6):1055-62. doi: 1249/MSS.0b013e318201f6f8.

http://www.scienceofrunning.com/2011/02/180-isnt-magic-number-stride- rate-and.html.

Chan-Roper M, Hunter I, W Myrer J, L Eggett D, K Seeley M. “Kinematic changes during a marathon for fast and slow runners.” J Sports Sci Med. 2012 Mar 1;11(1):77-82. eCollection

Morgan D, Martin P, Craib M, Caruso C, Clifton R, Hopewell R. “Effect of step length optimization on the aerobic demand of running.” J Appl Physiol (1985). 1994 Jul;77(1):245-51.

Weyand PG, Sternlight DB, Bellizzi MJ, Wright S. “Faster top running speeds are achieved with greater ground forces not more rapid leg movements.” J Appl Physiol (1985). 2000 Nov;89(5):1991-9.

Rick Prince

Rick Prince

Founder/Director of United Endurance Sports Coaching Academy (UESCA).

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