You only get faster by increasing your stride rate (leg turnover) or increasing your stride length. This will make sense to almost anyone. Your speed is a function of these two parameters. There are optimal stride lengths depending on the individual anatomy and biomechanics of the individual.
SPEED = STRIDE LENGTH (SL) X STRIDE RATE (SR)
- A preferred and more accurate method of establishing your stride length and rate is to run 1:00 on a track. Count your strides (every other step – each left OR right foot step). Stop and mark your position after the 60 seconds of running. Calculate the distance run. The standard track is 400 m. so take a tape measure and just add or subtract from the starting line point. Now, you have a certain number of strides and the distance you covered. Divide strides into your distance and you have your stride length. [Note: Some methods require you to count every step. If you do so, your figures will be doubled.]
- And what pace should you run? Glad you asked! It depends what you want to know. If you want to know your SR or SL for your 5k pace then run for 1:00 at that pace. If it is for your marathon then run 1:00 at your goal marathon pace. If you want to calculate it for the mile then run at your mile pace. In fact, I would advise doing this exercise to get an idea of the range of your SL and SR by pace. Your optimal SR and SL will vary by pace! There is no single “best” SR or SL for anyone or for any distance/race.
EXAMPLE: 480m per min./95 strides (SR) = 5.05 m (SL)
If you increase your SR by 1% or if you increase your SL by 1% you end up improving your speed by 1%. On the same token an increase of 5% of SL with a decrease in of 5% in SR will yield the same speed you were running before… no gain!
So, you can see that the tricky thing is that when you increase your stride, you do not want to simultaneously decrease your stride rate. Then you end up with a wash. No improvement. The key is to improve one while holding the other steady or ideally, improve both of them simultaneously.
Though taller runners may have a longer stride that is not necessarily true nor does it mean that is optimal for that person. Some shorter runners have longer strides than taller runners – and are most efficient at that longer stride. Top runners will have a SR in the 90-95 per minute range. But, even amongst elite this varies widely. It seems that the tendency is for faster SR and shorter strides as the distance increases. This has even been shown in marathon studies of elite runners. SR was slower and SL was longer early in the race and SR was faster with SL shortening later in the race – with the second half of the race faster than the first half!
Some recent studies show less variability on SR regardless of distance than SL. 100 meter sprinters have almost identical SR but what separates them is their SL. But, remember these are sprinters not distance runners in which they find this more dramatic difference.
Most coaches and experts out there nowadays take a stance that your stride length and/or rate will take care of itself as you work on getting faster. This is a philosophical as well as scientific stance. It means that we do not specifically work on SL or SR as actual aspects of training. However, through a comprehensive training program it is believed that your SL and SR will naturally morph into your optimal length and rate. The goal is to optimize your unique stride and running biomechanics. You do not become better by becoming someone else… using someone else’s stride patterns (SR or SL).
This is referred to as establishing your SR or SL “organically”. This means that if you do proper strengthening (running specific) and proper quality training you will “find” your optimal SR and SL. This is very different than prescribing 95 strides per minute or to increase their stride by 1 inch for someone and requiring that person to train at that new SR or SL. This is not to say that for some DRILLS you might do this. However, it is not advisable to use such an arbitrary approach during runs to achieve the end point of improved speed.
Here’s how to do it…
- Running specific leg strength, power output and range of motion will dictate your stride length. Hill work, running specific strength workouts, plyometrics and circuit training will contribute to improving stride length. Stretching itself has minimal effect on this. The dynamic nature of plyometrics and full range of motion strength work has been shown to be more effective.
- Explosive drills, plyometrics, coordination drills and high speed running will enhance stride rates. These train your neuromuscular system to react “faster”.
These workouts and drills are very rigorous. Too much too soon and you will be injured. If you do not have a good base of strength, have a gradual and progressive plan to incorporate these workouts into your repertoire.