Running: Stride length and Cadence

Running: Stride length and Cadence

Todays deep dive will focus on two specific topics around running, firstly we’ll look at stride length and how you can focus on increasing yours and secondly cadence. As you can probably figure out, your running speed depends on the length of each stride and the rate at which you turn strides over (cadence). If you want to go faster, you have to increase either stride length or stride turnover… or both. Most untrained runners have both a short stride length and slow cadence, this deep dive looks at how we can increase both of these making our running more efficient. We’ve all done WODs where we plod along slowly at almost a walk cursing about how much we hate running, my hope is that after learning a bit more about these two topics you’ll start to try something different and stop the plod. Now, I’m not a runner, so I’ve tried to keep it limited to things that I would or have already tried to improve my running. I hope it gives you some good ideas and it brings you performance gains, many children, financial stability and a long life.

Stride Length:

For the purposes of this deep dive, the stride length is the distance between where one foot lands an where the next foot lands… (classical biomechanics state stride length as the distance between one foot landing and that same foot landing again). The length of your stride depends on your height, your fitness level and your body’s individual biomechanics. We wont look too scientifically at this by measuring the length of your strides, but what we will do is look at a drill that is known to help to increase stride length:

Strides Drill

Strides are fast running sets with short rests. By running fast, your body automatically reverts back to what is a better technique than the slow plod. A typical Stride session could be structured like this:

*100m x 4-8 sets*
– Start moderate pace and increase to 90-95% effort
– About 60 sec rest in between
– Increase speed over the effort

Here is a short video on how to do strides:

Think of these as an over-exaggeration of your form while running at a fast speed, focus on:

– Body angle leaning forward
– Foot almost kicking your butt
– Lifting knees high
– Still having our feet land under our centre of mass rather than out in front too far


Cadence can be measured in different ways, such as steps per second or steps per minute. We’ll use the per min figure for this as it seems to be most widely used. Research has shown that optimal cadence for running is around 180 per min (170-180 is ok) – “most people run lower than this, which is not good… I consider it as laziness… or absence of skill” (Dr. Nicolas Romanov, developer of POSE running method). By being optimal with our cadence we can run faster, be more efficient and also reduce the likelihood of getting injuries. This sounds great! What do I do?

Here is a quick video showing the technical improvement a faster cadence can have on a triathlete:

I’m lazy and also lack skill. I’m pretty sure that mid WOD with 400m efforts my cadence is at about 120 😊

Cadence Drill

This really is a drill to try so we can identify our own cadence and build it up. What you will need:

– A flat running area
– A mobile phone
– A downloaded metronome app – I used The Metronome by Soundbrenner and it worked well

The idea with this drill is to see what your regular cadence is and then try and slowly increase it:

– Start at a guess for your cadence 150? 160?
– Set the metronome and align you feet landing with the sound
– Run for 50-100m, rest and repeat with a slightly higher cadence – increase by 5-10 beats per min

What if I can’t go any faster?
– One thing to think about if you cant get your cadence up is to focus on leaning forward – increase angle of falling. While it might feel like you’re going to fall on your face, it’s the easiest way to increase cadence.

What next:

– You can then try and keep cadence high over longer distances in a run or a WOD
– Build up slowly over time… i.e. don’t go to 180 immediately unless you’re already close
– Keep using the metronome

With both of these drills, the improvement will only come with practice and then practice in running workouts. As mentioned right back at the start we are limited by our capacity or fitness level for running, if you, like me, are one of these people then you might benefit from setting aside some specific running drills like these above to improve your ability. Once you get more comfortable with running longer strides with a faster cadence, try doing it in a WOD rather than focussing on the swings or pull ups being unbroken, focus on the running being more efficient.

Tim Marsden
CrossFit Central Wellington – Senior Coach