Q: “I have a question about stride length. I have a naturally short stride, which helps me have a faster cadence. I’ve read conflicting information on stride length and would like your input.
Is it better overall to have a shorter stride length? Some running info I’ve read says if you have a short stride it may be a sign of weak hips and lack of lower body flexibility. But I’ve also read that when you run with a mid-foot strike and lean forward so your foot is hitting the ground at your center of gravity, you will naturally have a shorter stride.
What are your thoughts?” ~Suzanne S.
A: A runner’s stride length can certainly offer clues regarding that person’s strength and flexibility. But what came first, the chicken or the egg?
Stride length + cadence = velocity. However, this equation is much more complicated and intricate than meets the eye.
An increased stride length can lead to overstriding which is often associated with heel striking (or if you have an excessive lean forward, you may lead with your toes). Overstriding and striking with the heel can generate a deceleration of velocity or braking effect, which reduces efficiency and increases impact to 1.5 to 3 times your body weight.
But before we delve deep into the science let’s first mention cadence. Current research has found that the optimal cadence for a runner is between 175-180 steps per minute (and sometime noted higher in elite runners). Why is that the optimal cadence? Well, there is much debate over this finding but for now it seems that anything above or below has the potential to create some unwanted outcomes. A cadence of about 160 leads to an increase in the time a foot spends on the ground causing a dampening of the run gait (think of a tire that is low on air = low gas mileage!). In addition, to compensate for a slower cadence, the runner needs to work a little harder at propelling themselves forward and in the process causing excess vertical motion (a cadence of 160 can equal up to 2 miles of vertical distance over the course of a marathon!). Anything faster, and we are all just spinning our wheels using too much energy, decreasing our return on investment. A cadence of 180 has been observed throughout many elite runners and runners with a history of longevity in the sport. An increased cadence has also been shown to reduce loading forces on the knee and hips, less vertical oscillation, foot loading nearer to the body’s center of mass, and a decrease in the impulse to “brake” (seen with overstriding).
In addition, overstriding is associated with a foot landing that occurs in front of your center of mass as opposed to directly underneath. Many running coaches report that the most efficient or economical running stride is one where a person lands with their foot directly under their center of mass. However, this is not always the case when it comes to elite and economical runners. The foot generally touches down in front of the body but with a mid-foot stance as opposed to a heel strike. But the loading typically occurs with the majority of one’s body mass directly over that foot with the mid-foot strike.
Don’t be fooled into thinking that increasing cadence will prevent overstriding…it can help but you must run with awareness and tune in to your body for even just a few moments with each of your runs.
So, what do we compromise? Knowing that increasing stride length can increase increase risk for injury and alter a more efficient running form and increasing or decreasing cadence (based upon a cadence of 170-180) can lead to a less efficient running from, we are left with finding that happy medium. From my own experience and from working various athletes, focusing on cadence is a great place to start, striving for something close to 170-180 can help a runner resist overstriding, decrease impact and subsequent ground reaction forces, and assist in mid-foot striking. As that cadence becomes second nature and a runner improves strength and flexibility, stride length can naturally increase or you can then begin to focus increasing stride length ever so slightly when heading out for your track workout, speed intervals, and tempo runs. Remember to always adjust your gait in small increments and focus on one thing at a time. Allowing your body to adapt to these changes more gradually can reduce your risk for injury.
A great website to visit often is:
**As I always say, every runner is an individual with specific strengths and limiters. Work with what you have got and improve upon those characteristics! Determine what works for you and document your data. Continue to evolve and commit to being a runner for life…not just until your next PR.
Foot strike patterns and collision forces in habitually
barefoot versus shod runners
Daniel E. Lieberman, Madhusudhan Venkadesan, William A. Werbel, Adam I. Daoud, Susan D’Andrea, Irene S. Davis, Robert Ojiambo Mang’Eni, & Yannis Pitsiladis
Effects of step rate manipulation on joint mechanics during running.
Heiderscheit BC, Chumanov ES, Michalski MP, Wille CM, Ryan MB.
Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2011 Feb;43(2):296-302.
Department of Orthopedics and Rehabilitation, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI 53705-1532, USA