Running Economy

Speed is an important attribute in many sports and improvements in speed are highly coveted. In a simplistic view, to improve speed you need to increase stride length and/or stride rate. Many athletes and coaches initially concentrate on improving stride length only to find that both stride rate and speed decrease. It is perhaps more effective to work on stride rate because this increases the power in the leg muscles which in turn naturally increase stride length.

Stride Length and Rate
Exercise physiologist Jack Daniels, PhD monitored the stride rate and stride lengths of the athletes in the 1984 Olympic track and field competitions. It was found that competitors in the shorter distances had longer stride lengths. Female stride lengths varied form 4 feet 10 inches in the marathon to 6 feet 8 inches for the 800 meters. Male stride length was 6 feet 2 inches during the 10 kilometer race to just over 7 feet 9 inches in the 800 meters.

In contrast the stride rate did not vary significantly. Stride rates for all events, for both men and women, fell between 185 and 200 steps per minute.

Stride length – 100m sprinter
Work conducted on male 100 meter sprinters (10.4 – 11.0 secs) indicated that the average stride length was 1.14 times the athletes height. Similar work conducted on the best twelve 100m sprinters (11.0 – 12.4 secs) at Stanford University concluded that the normal stride length was 1.17 times the athletes height. Despite the differences in abilities of the athletes in each group the results are fairly similar. Further work conducted on twenty three 100m sprinters (9.9 – 10.4 secs) concluded that the average stride length was 1.35 times the athletes height.

The possible reason for the differences in the results is that some of the data was gathered from work conducted on cinder tracks, where as some was conducted on synthetic surfaces.

How to improve Stride Rate
The easiest way to to determine your stride rate is to count the number of times your right foot lands during one minute of running. Repeat the one minute runs at different speeds from an easy jog to interval speed. If you are like an elite athlete you will find that your stride rate is 90 or more per minute (180 steps) and is similar for various speeds. If your stride rate is less than 90 then make a conscious effort to increase the stride rate. To do this, concentrate on quicker, lighter, relaxed steps, but do not change the way your feet strike the ground. I have found that Aqua running often helps athletes with a slow stride rate.

Cross country runners need to maintain stride rate when running up hills by adjusting the stride length. If you let stride rate slow down you will find that fatigue sets in and it is harder to get back to the desired stride rate once you are over the crest of the hill.

The Breathing Issue
Most elite athletes use a 2-2 breathing rhythm. That is they breath in for two steps and they breath out for two steps. The 2-2 breathing rhythm means you are taking 45 breaths (assume you now have a strike rate of 90) which is slow enough to allow for good depth of breathing. It is recommended to practice all kinds of breathing patterns, just to become familiar with them and to note your body’s reaction. Try the 3-3 breathing rhythm, 4-4 breathing rhythm and also try unequal breathing rhythms such as 3-2 and 2-3. Many well trained runners use either a 2-2 or 3-3 breathing rhythm.

Long term analysis conducted by Jack Daniels has found that elite athletes in races up to and including the 10K use the 2-2 breathing rhythm at the start of the race and after completing about two-thirds of the race they switch to a 2-1 breathing rhythm. For races longer than 10k the 2-2 breathing rhythm is used for the whole distance, perhaps shifting to a 2-1 breathing rhythm in the last minute or two for the sprint finish. An important point is that your breathing rhythm will not only tell you how hard you are working but also allow you to control how hard you work.

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