Is stride rate or stride length more important?

When you increase your pace from a jog to a run to a fast run, stride length increases more than does stride rate by the plantar flexor muscles (gastrocnemius and soleus) producing more force against the ground, until you’re sprinting very fast, when stride rate begins to dominate further increases in speed. At very fast speeds (faster than about 3:50 per mile pace), the speed of muscle contraction is so fast that there is not enough time to produce a lot of force, and plantar flexor peak muscle force begins to decrease.

The subconscious manipulation of stride length and stride rate at different speeds is governed by what is most economical for runners; at each pace you run, you may have a stride length that’s most economical (optimizes oxygen use) for you, while staying at a specific stride rate (or within a narrow range of stride rates) may be what’s most economical for all distance running paces. It’s a more economical strategy to increase the distance of each stride than it is to increase the cadence of the legs. (Same is true for swimming or rowing—distance per stroke is more important than the number of strokes per minute.) When sprinting, however, optimizing running economy is not an issue (because sprinting is not about using oxygen), and stride rate can play a more prominent role.

Learn much more about stride rate and stride length when you sign up for the REVO₂LUTION RUNNING™ certification course.

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