How to Improve Your Stride Turnover

Two women running on dirt road
Jordan Siemens/Digital Vision/Getty Images

There are different ways to increase your running pace. Improving your stride turnover is one of them. Stride turnover, or stride frequency, is how many steps you take during a minute of running.

You can perform certain tests to determine your stride frequency and exercises you can do to improve it. If you want to run faster at races, or simply feel stronger and more efficient during workouts, these activities are worth your time.

Why Improve Stride Turnover?

Stride turnover, also known as running cadence, is one element of proper running technique, that can help your body to move with less effort and impact when running.

Running with quick, short steps uses less energy than running with long strides. Studies have also shown that it decreases your risk of injury.

Researchers have found that running mechanics improve with a faster stride cadence. When your stride rate is slower your stride turnover, the longer you spend in the air. As a result, you'll hit the ground with much greater force. So a quicker turnover means less impact on your joints and less stress on your muscles.

As you monitor and improve your stride frequency, you become a more efficient, faster runner. You'll also find yourself feeling more comfortable and less fatigued when running longer distances.

Optimal Stride Frequency

Back in the 1960s, a research study conducted on the mechanics of running suggested that 180 steps per minute was the best stride turnover rate. Since that time, elite running coaches and running enthusiasts have promoted the idea that a stride rate of at least 180 is best. But many question that number.

The notion that there is a single optimal stride rate has been challenged in recent research. In fact, several studies have suggested that there is no single stride rate that works for every runner.

Scientists have looked at different factors that may or may not influence stride turnover in both elite and recreational runners.

Body Size

Interestingly, studies have shown that body size is usually not a factor in determining preferred stride rate. That is, your stature and leg length usually do not determine the best stride turnover rate.

Pace

Also, research has indicated that pace is usually not a factor in most runners. Stride frequency generally stays the same at various paces. Speed changes are accomplished by altering stride length, not the number of strides in most runners. In order to run faster, runners generally increase stride length, not the number of steps they take.

Distance

Lastly, distance is generally not a factor in determining optimum stride frequency. In a report published by running researchers, an examination of Olympic runners found that stride rate stayed consistent in men and women participating in events of 3k and longer, including the marathon.

Running Economy

Scientists have found that your body finds the turnover rate that is most economical—that is, the running cadence that uses the least amount of energy.

The most efficient elite runners have a high stride turnover. Again, many coaches put the target stride rate at about 180 steps per minute. However, there can be substantial variation, especially in highly trained runners.

Studies have shown that elite runners modulate their stride rate, evening increasing it to 190 strides per minute or even 216 strides per minute during races. As a result, researchers have suggested that the best stride rate is highly individualized in elite runners.

It may be unrealistic for recreational runners to achieve a leg turnover rate comparable to that of elite athletes. However, researchers have determined that most new runners naturally fall into a stride rate that is too slow.

Researchers have determined that the best stride rate for a runner is the rate that uses the least amount of energy. This rate is highly individualized. It may be very fast for elite runners and slower for casual runners. However, scientists have noted that new runners tend to tend to self-select a turnover rate that is too slow for optimal running performance.

A small study conducted on men found that novice runners naturally chose a stride frequency which was about 8 percent lower than optimal stride rate. When tested on a treadmill, runners fell into an average turnover rate of 155.6 steps per minute. However, based on optimal oxygen consumption, researchers determined that their optimal stride frequency was closer to 170 steps per minute.

The authors of that study suggested that monitoring heart rate could be used as a method to determine the best stride rate for you. Several running coaches also agree that using heart rate, rather than an arbitrary number such as 180, may be most effective for determining your most efficient stride rate.

How to Improve Stride Turnover

If you want to improve your running performance it is smart to examine your stride rate and do some fine tuning if necessary. The first step is to figure out your current stride frequency. Then you can make adjustments as needed.

Determine Stride Frequency

There are different ways top determine your stride turnover rate. The simplest way is to use a running watch that provides the data. Watches by brands like Garmin and Polar provide running cadence data along with other important information such as heart rate, distance, and pace.

You can also simply do a manual test. Just time yourself for a minute of running and count how many times your right foot hits the ground. Then multiply that number by two to get your steps per minute.

Keep in mind that the number may be different on a treadmill and on outdoor surfaces. On a motorized treadmill the belt moves under your feet and may encourage a faster turnover speed than on the road.

You may want to test your turnover rate in both environments to see if there is a substantial difference. If you do most of your running outdoors, work with the road number rather than the treadmill number.

Test Heart Rate

While you can work your current stride rate and try to increase it to an arbitrary number such as 180, you might also want to test your heart rate to see if there is a more personalized number that is better for you.

To do this test, you can use a simplified method similar to the protocols used by researchers who study optimal stride frequency. You'll need a heart rate monitor, and while this test can be performed outside, it is easier to conduct it inside on a treadmill.

Choose a speed that is challenging but comfortable and note the number of strides and your heart rate. Then, maintain your pace and increase your stride rate. Note changes in your heart rate. Continue to make adjustments to your stride rate and see how your heart rate changes. The best stride rate for you is the rate at which your heart rate is lowest.

You're likely to find that your heart rate decreases when you increase your stride rate slightly. A study published in 2017 found that inexperienced runners could immediately reduce their heart rates when they ran at at higher stride rates closer to 166 strides per minute.

How to Practice Faster Turnover

While there may not be a single stride rate that is perfect for everyone, most research suggests that new runners gain efficiency when they increase turnover rate. There are ways that you can practice increasing your rate when you are out on the road.

Start by running at about your 5K pace for 60 seconds and counting every time your right foot hits the ground. Then jog for a minute to recover and run for 60 seconds again, this time trying to increase the count by one. Repeat this several times, and try to add another step each time.

As you're trying to increase your stride turnover rate, focus on taking quick, light steps. Pick your feet up as soon they hit the ground as if you're stepping on hot coals. You should feel like you're gliding over the ground, not plodding.

Be careful not to overstride—that is, don't lengthen each step to run faster. Your feet should be landing under your hips, not in front of you.

Doing running drills such as butt kicks, skipping, high knees, running backward, or side shuffles is another way you can work on improving your turnover since you need to be light on your feet and turnover quickly as you're doing them. As an additional benefit, they'll also help you practice landing mid-foot and avoid heel striking.

You can incorporate some running drills into your pre-run warm-up or work them into your runs. For example, you could intersperse 30-second intervals of high knees or backward running every 4 to 5 minutes during a 30-minute run.

Was this page helpful?

Article Sources

  • Cavagna GA, Saibene FP, Margaria R. MECHANICAL WORK IN RUNNING. J Appl Physiol. 1964;19:249-56. doi: 10.1152/jappl.1964.19.2.249

  • CAVANAGH, P. R., & KRAM, R. (1989). Stride length in distance running. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 21(4), 467???479. doi:10.1249/00005768-198908000-00020

  • De Ruiter, C. J., Verdijk, P. W. L., Werker, W., Zuidema, M. J., & de Haan, A. (2013). Stride frequency in relation to oxygen consumption in experienced and novice runners. European Journal of Sport Science, 14(3), 251–258. doi:10.1080/17461391.2013.783627

  • Enomoto et al. (2008). Biomechanical analysis of the medalists in the 10,000 metres at the 2007 World Championships in AthleticsNew Studies in Athletics

  • HEIDERSCHEIT, B. C., CHUMANOV, E. S., MICHALSKI, M. P., WILLE, C. M., & RYAN, M. B. (2011). Effects of Step Rate Manipulation on Joint Mechanics during Running. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 43(2), 296–302. doi:10.1249/mss.0b013e3181ebedf4

  • Salo AI, Bezodis IN, Batterham AM, Kerwin DG. Elite sprinting: are athletes individually step-frequency or step-length reliant?. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2011;43(6):1055-62. doi: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e318201f6f8

  • Schubert, A. G., Kempf, J., & Heiderscheit, B. C. (2014). Influence of stride frequency and length on running mechanics: a systematic review. Sports health6(3), 210–217. doi:10.1177/1941738113508544

  • van Oeveren, B. T., de Ruiter, C. J., Beek, P. J., & van Dieën, J. H. (2017). Optimal stride frequencies in running at different speeds. PloS one12(10), e0184273. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0184273