Stride Dilemma: Longer or Faster?

Stride length and stride turnover are the two main factors that determine a runner's speed. Increasing either will boost your speed, but increasing turnover is more energy-efficient and safer since it reduces the amount of impact the runner has with the ground. Very efficient runners typically have high stride turnover -- in the area of 90 RPM (or about 180 total steps per minute) [source: Pugh].

Proper Running Stride

Simply put, proper running stride is the way you run both naturally and comfortably. If you want to know what it looks like, spend a little time on a park bench on a sunny day. You'll see some runners that shuffle along with tiny steps, as well as some who look as though they're being chased by Mike Tyson. But hopefully, you'll also see people with a comfortable style of running. They have their heads held high, shoulders and arms relaxed, and look like they can go on for hours. This is what proper running stride looks like. And with a little practice, you, too, can achieve it.

The first step in optimizing your running stride is to determine how you're currently running. Start by counting the total number of steps you take with each minute of running. Then, divide by two to get your revolutions per minute (RPMs). This is an indication of how much time your feet have contact with the ground. A top-performing athlete's RPM is 85 to 90, or about 170 to 180 total steps per minute. Anything lower means that the body is bearing too much weight during each revolution, making it harder to push off into the next step [source: Pugh]. If yours is significantly lower, work toward increasing it without worrying too much about competing with the world's top-performing athletes.

Proper running stride also depends on your overall form and posture. For example, you should center your weight on the ball of your foot during push-off and land at mid-foot or toward the ball rather than the heel of your foot. This protects the feet and ankles from the impact injuries that are common among runners [source: Lieberman]. You should land with your knees comfortably bent, which is less stressful on muscles and joints, and also keep your core muscles engaged through each leg movement. Also, remember to hold your arms at a 90-degree angle and allow them to swing rhythmically with your stride. Most importantly, hold your head up so that your gaze is on the horizon. Not only will your posture improve, you'll also be able to see what's ahead of you on the running path.

That's proper running stride in a nutshell. In the next section, we explore ways in which you can change your stride.