Stride Length and Turnover - Theory & Practice

While every runner ultimately adopts a form that works best for their unique physiology, there are some tried and true axioms of good form that help make sure we are running efficiently.  As you run, keep the following fundamentals of form in mind: stay relaxed, stay verticle, reduce unnecessary motion, keep feet quiet and focus on stride length and turnover. 

Stay relaxed

If you are clenching your fists or tightening your arms as you move them in cadence with your feet, you are simply working too hard.  Keep your body relaxed, letting your arms hang down near your hips, hands unclenched.  If you are training to run long distances the more energy you save with each stride, the more you’ll have to carry yourself across the finish line.  At various times during your run, let your body relax, starting from your head down to your feet.  Even the unnecessary tightening of facial muscles is wasted energy.  Let your jaw hang loosely (do keep your tongue in your), and relax your facial muscles.  Smile, and try not to drool – you’ll lose fluids!


Stay vertical

Leaning forward is fine when you’re sprinting toward the finish line tape, but the further your torso inclines beyond a vertical axis, the more you are fighting gravity – which wastes energy.  Keeping your body erect, while relaxed, putting less strain on your lower back. Your upper body should be in a vertical line with your hips.

Reduce unnecessary motion

Flailing your arms, bobbing up and down while you run, or any other motion that is unrelated to the action of your feet wastes energy.  And, try to keep your feet as quiet as reasonably possible. In general the less noise your feet make during a run, the more efficient your form.  The smoothest and most powerful (most efficient) foot strikes are those in which you are not striking the ground with your heal but with you bottom of your foot and pushing off from your toes.  Make this motion as smooth as possible for running efficiency and less wear and tear on your body.

Foot “turnover” vs "stride length"

Think long legs are an advantage to running a fast 5K?  Think again.  The key to an efficient stride is not length, but foot “turnover” – the number of times your feet touch the ground in a minute.  Recent studies of Olympic distance athletes have found that running efficiency is achieved at 180 foot strikes per minute. Just for fun, try counting the number of times your right (or left) foot hits the ground in 60 seconds during a comfortable run – then double that number to determine your turnover.  If speed is your goal, sustaining a running pace based on 180 foot strikes per minute will be an important objective. Also, the 180 number is a theoretic number, and your actual number may be 170 to 180.

Establish breathing rhythm

The cornerstone of any distance training program is your weekly long run.  Your objective for your long run is to maintain a pace in which you can carry on a conversation.  If you are winded, you are working too hard!  Pay attention to your breathing, and try to get your inhales and exhales into a rhythm that match a certain number of foot strikes.  To make sure you are getting the most benefit from each breath, try to breath from the diaphragm (belly breathing).  This may seem a bit strange at first, but “belly breathing” can make a big difference in avoiding that “out of breath” sensation that causes so many people to give up on a running program before they’ve had a chance to experience success.  A regular breathing rhythm can also have a meditative effect. As you gain experience and fitness, the “runners high” will be associated with a good breathing rhythm.


Hey, this is supposed to be fun!  If you want to sort out the truly dedicated runners from the masochists during your next long run, look at the expressions on the faces of people who run past you.  If they are wearing a grimace they just might be taking things way too seriously or suffering from improper running form.  If they can smile as you go by, consider them to be role models.  If the “left brain” starts to tell you that you are too tired and that what you are doing is just too much work, engage your “right brain” in a little conversation about how beautiful the day is, and how lucky you are to be able to put one leg in front of the other, over and over again.  Celebrate becoming a runner, and smile.




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