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.


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.

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 first rider 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 with a short anterior stride and a long posterior stride is the most efficient way to run from both an economical and performance standpoint. This equates to an overall shorter stride than a runner who has both a long anterior and posterior stride, as most ‘amateurs’ do. 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 an increased chance for injury.


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. 


While not all professional runners have textbook form, they generally have much better form that 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.


Most non-elite runners run with a SR between 150-170, not 180 +. As a coach, increasing your client’s SR should not be your focus, at least not for runners with less than desirable form. The first place to start when working with a runner is their form, not their stride rate.

This is also because in order to increase one’s stride rate, their form has to be on point. While you could hypothetically work on both a runner’s SR and form at the same time, it would be advantageous to focus on form first.


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…

Rick Prince is the founder of United Endurance Sports Coaching Academy (UESCA), a science/evidence-based endurance sports coaching education company that certifies running and triathlon coaches.

To get a $50 discount on the Running Coach Certification, click here! 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. 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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