Shorter, faster steps

By Keith Bateman

If you are injured from you might have been advised by a medical professional or a publication to do more, shorter steps per minute as a way to reduce your over-striding.

The number of steps multiplied by the length of the steps does equal the distance, so do more, shorter steps – easy! That seems straight forward, until you think about it, and you see the consequences of putting it into practice.

The wrong way to reduce your over-stride

There are a number of problems with this idea:

  • It only applies to walking. 
    If you are walking you always have one foot on the ground but when you are running there is a flight phase. When off the ground (as in running) stride length varies with speed so the length of your stride is not the problem.
  • Better runners actually have a higher cadence AND a longer stride so doing shorter faster steps is not going to make you a better or faster runner.
  • You will keep the same bad technique.
    You will do shorter but many more over-strides
  • You will be inefficient. 
    More steps means less flight phase, more time on the ground, more friction and slower running.

Let’s take a typical example of a slow, beginner runner over-striding:

Let’s say our runner is travelling at 6 mins per kilometre and has a cadence of 165 steps per minute. Their stride length is therefore 1.01 metres (165 steps x 1.01m x 6 mins = 1000m).

Now let’s ask them to run at the same speed but to do 180 steps per minute.

Their stride length is now 0.926m (180 steps x 0.926m x 6 mins = 1000m).

Now comes the problem – unless they have suddenly learnt how run without over-striding (the focus of our book) then to go faster they must increase their cadence even more since their method of increasing stride length will be to over-stride.

To accelerate to a reasonable running speed of 5 minutes per kilometre they must raise their cadence to 216 steps per minute (216 steps x 0.926m x 5 mins = 1000m). This is probably impossible to maintain, and it’s certainly not running – they are always going to be slow, they will have almost no flight phase, they’ll be prone to tripping over low-lying objects, and they will probably be in pain too.

If this solution has been suggested to you, please ignore it. If the intention was to effect a quick fix to reduce your over-stride then shortening your legs by reducing the sole thickness and the ‘drop’ of your shoes would be of greater help – and it would make you land at a less acute angle, with more flex in your legs. This would help to reduce the damaging effects of your current technique and at the same time give you a chance of favourable technique change. The permanent solution is as follows:

The right way to go about reducing your over-stride

A much better option, and the focus of our book is to reduce your over-stride by changing how you run, rather than reinforcing an incorrect action.

Learning to land balanced will mean you are not leaning back when you have fully landed (foot less in front) – your over-stride will be reduced and as your skill and strength improve you will get less braking and more take-off power, with less effort. You will naturally head towards a cadence of around 185 and you will easily run 5 minutes per kilometre, with a stride length of around 1.10m depending on your cadence (180 steps x 1.11m x 5 mins = 1000m).

That’s easily manageable and your stride length and speed will continue to increase in line with your skill and strength. My stride length ranges between about 1 metre at the start of a warm up and almost 2 metres at top speed (my cadence is steady at about 185 between 5min/Km and 2:45min/Km). That is, if I am fit. Otherwise my cadence rises to over 190 as I reach about 3:15 per Km (because I don’t have the strength to get off the ground so easily or to maintain it for so long).

Reducing your over-stride is all about learning to complete your landing with your whole foot as close to under your hips as possible, and using your near-vertically-aligned body to get extra lift off the ground with the help of the considerable elasticity in your muscles, tendons and ligaments. It has nothing to do with reducing your stride length or counting steps – in fact your stride length will increase as you will leave the ground and fly over it instead of walking along it.

Get your technique sorted to reduce your over-stride while also increasing your stride length – and go a lot faster in the process.