How To Find Your Ideal Stride Length

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If you run with a group you have probably noticed that very rarely do you see runners matching step for step, stride for stride. Have you ever wondered why that is? It’s because just as people have unique bodies, so are runner’s strides and one’s stride length.

What Is A Stride Length?

The distance that you cover from where one foot is on the ground until that same foot hits the ground again is your stride length. Did you catch that? Most runners get that incorrect. Stride length is measured with two footfalls, one from each foot.

Most people think stride length is the distance from when one foot impacts the ground to when the other foot hits. That is actually step length, just to clarify.

Measuring Stride Length

If you are curious about what your natural, walking stride length is, it is very easy to measure. Stand with your feet together and mark on the sidewalk with chalk right in front of your left toe. Take a step with your left foot, then your right, then again with a land on your left. When you stop, mark at the left toe again. When you measure that distance you have your stride length.

how to find ideal stride
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To be accurate, however, it is best to take at least 10 strides before measuring. This ensures you are warmed up and actually moving freely. Few people just immediately find their stride when walking briskly. The same is true of running.

What Determines Your Stride Length?

The average person’s step length in walking is 2.5 feet, so the average person’s walking stride length is 5 feet. There are many things that go into stride length.

A person’s height, for example, is a big determining factor. In addition to height other factors include age, health, previous injuries and terrain.

Average Running Stride Lengths

Did you know that the length of a stride in elite athletes often varies based on the race being run? For example, in the 1984 Olympics women running the marathon had a stride length average of 4 feet 10 inches.

On the other hand, women competing in the 800 had an average stride length of 6 feet 8 inches. That is a considerable difference!

Can You Lengthen Your Stride?

You certainly can lengthen your stride, and here are the factors that can help you.

Increase Flexibility – Since mobility is an important part of striding fully, increasing your flexibility can help you to that end. Prior to running all athletes should perform a dynamic warm-up. Much smarter and better on the body than static stretching, dynamic warm-ups keep your body in tip-top shape.

Improve Technique – Over and over you hear the importance of running form. Improving your running technique can help you to lengthen your stride length. When you are running with good form you are likely to be running efficiently and effectively.

running cadence and stride length
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Strength Training – As a runner, strength training helps improve many areas. Strength training is another way to build stride length. In particular, you want to work on glutes, hamstrings and quads.

Plyometrics – Jump training, doing plyometrics once or twice a week will also help increase stride.

Drills – There are specific drills to target stride length.

Drills To Increase Stride Length

  • Steep Hill Repeats – If you are new to hill work, start by running up the hill at quick speed 6-7 times, then easily jog back down. After you get good at that, alternate sprints up the hill (then recover after)  with bounding up the hill.
  • Hop-Up Hill – It sounds crazy, but one drill done by elite marathoners is to hop partway up a hill,  rest a bit, then alternate and hop up with the other foot. For this drill, only do it about 15-20 hops on each foot.
  • Hill Fartleks – Find the hilliest course you can find and run the loop.
  • Barefoot Toe Running – On grass only, run up on your toes with quick, rapid-fire action.

Should You Try To Lengthen Your Stride?

Okay so just because you can lengthen your stride, should you? The answer is maybe. If you aren’t making the most of your stride length potential chances are you could be going faster and running more efficiently.  However, if you try to change things up too much and are stretching beyond what you should in search of a longer stride, you can be using extra energy and putting unnecessary stress on muscles and joints.

running form
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Your stride length is directly related to your cadence. What is cadence? That is the number of times you step per minute.

How To Determine Cadence

If you are trying to measure your cadence, you should set a timer for :30 seconds and count the number of times your left (or right, does not matter as long as you choose one) foot hits the ground. Double that number to get to the :60 seconds in a minute, then double it once more to account for both feet.

If you counted 40 left foot falls in :30 seconds, you double that to get 80, then double that for a total of 160. You have just calculated your cadence is 160.

Running experts state that 180 is the optimal cadence for running. If you are looking to increase leg turnover this is an excellent goal. The thing a runner needs to focus on is if that can be done for them without causing injury or other problems.

So… Should I Lengthen My Stride?

Okay, we have come full circle. If you calculate cadence and it’s on the low side, try to work on it. Unless you get pain, discomfort, or find suddenly that all the brain space it takes to do this sucks the joy out of running, keep trying.

Try some of the drill techniques suggested above, as recommended by Olympic and other elite athlete coaches. If that seems to be improving things, do some Miracle Mile time trials. What is a miracle mile? That is where you do a mile time trial monthly to see if you are improving, staying static, or losing ground.

What it boils down to is that yes, for many people increasing stride length will help them run faster. If that’s your goal, give it a whirl. However, if you’re just trying to empty out your brain and stress release while running, it may not be worth your effort.

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