Shorter, faster steps

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By Keith Bateman and Heidi Jones

If you are injured from over-striding you might have been advised by a friend, or a publication, or even a medical professional, to reduce your stride by taking shorter, faster steps.

It seems to make sense at first glance. If you shorten your steps you can still keep up the same speed, or even increase it, by replacing the longer stride with shorter steps but more of them. But this thinking relies on a fundamental misunderstanding of the running action by confusing it with the walking action.

The following discussion is rooted in one important, but counter-intuitive fact: Stride length and over-striding are not connected in the way most people think, as it is possible to increase your stride length and decrease your over-stride at the same time.

To understand this you must realise that overstriding is not solely about the acuteness of the angle between your legs on landing, it’s about where your feet land in relation to the rest of your body.

The wrong way to reduce your over-stride

If you are thinking of shortening your stride to reduce an over-stride consider the following:

  • It only applies to walking. 
    When walking, making longer steps is the only way to increase your stride length because one foot is always on the ground. But when running there is a flight phase and you will travel through the air with both feet off the ground. The strength of the runner and the quality of the technique will affect how long a runner is in the air and how far they travel in this phase — hence their stride length.
  • Better runners have both a higher cadence AND a longer stride. There doesn’t have to be a trade off of stride length for cadence. Improving runners are able to increase both their cadence and their stride length because they decrease their time on the ground by braking less and getting an elastic rebound that gives them a longer stride length through flying. This conflicts with the idea of doing shorter strides.
  • You will not lose the over-stride.
    Just because your cadence is increased and your stride length is reduced doesn’t mean you won’t over stride at all. It just means you will do shorter over-strides and more of them.
  • You will be inefficient. 
    More steps means less time for both feet off the ground, and hence a reduced flight phase. More steps also means more time in contact with the ground hence more friction and energy wastage. These both result in slower running.

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

Imagine the 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).

Unless this runner has suddenly learnt how run without over-striding (the focus of our book) then to go faster, while keeping the same stride length, they must increase their cadence even more.

Therefore, to run at a 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 extremely difficult if not impossible to maintain, and won’t involve a true running action. There will be virtually no flight phase, they’ll be prone to tripping over low-lying objects, and they will probably be in pain too. This is a most inefficient means of running and will result in under performance.

If faster, shorter steps has been suggested to you as a solution to overstriding, please ignore it. If you’re looking for a quick way to reduce your over-stride then consider changing your footwear. By choosing a shoe with a thinner sole and a reduced ‘drop’ you can make fast, positive changes to your running technique which help to reduce your over-stride and allow you to land at a less acute angle, with more flex in your legs. While 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 it is not the complete answer. The permanent solution to fixing an over-stride is as follows:

The right way to go about reducing your over-stride

It is important to reiterate that overstriding is not solely about how much you “step out” or the increase in the angle between your legs on landing. It’s about where your feet land in relation to the rest of your body.

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 by doing it more often.

Reducing your over-stride is all about learning to complete your landing with your 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. This also means that your cadence will vary according to your speed, acceleration and strength but will always be right.

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