How To Improve Your Running Stride, According To Experts

Subtle tweaks can make all the difference.

Originally Published: 
How to improve my running stride.
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Whether you’re out for a casual jog or training for a half marathon, it never hurts to improve your running stride. Not only can a good stride make running easier — and hey, maybe even more fun? — it can also improve your speed and help prevent injuries.

Your stride is the way you move your body while running, says Kelly Whittaker, Barry’s instructor and chief curriculum lead. What you do with your upper body is important: Whittaker says good running mechanics include leaning slightly forward, relaxing your shoulders and arms, unclenching your fists, and engaging your core. But what happens with your legs and feet is the biggest part of the equation.

Ideally, runners should focus on taking short, quick steps. And the distance between each step is especially key, says running coach Tori Williams. Where your feet make contact with the ground is super important, and so is your cadence — aka the number of steps you take per minute as you jog. “Stride is influenced by speed, strength, body mechanics, fitness level, and technique,” she tells Bustle. And it can also change depending on the terrain.

For a lot of runners, a good stride will happen naturally. For others, it’s something that requires practice — and that’s OK. Once you develop your ideal stride, you’ll notice that running starts to feel more comfortable, Williams says, which is one of the main goals. Below, run coaches share ways to improve your running stride, so you can make a few tweaks.

The Importance Of A Good Running Stride

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Even if you’re a super casual jogger, it never hurts to pay attention to your stride technique and running mechanics, says Meg Takacs, a running coach and founder of Movement & Miles. “You want your technique to be sound so you can avoid overuse injuries,” she tells Bustle, like shin splints or knee pain that stem from poor form.

Running is hard on the body, Takacs says, and it’s also way more fun when it doesn’t hurt. “Improving your stride means you improve your overall efficiency, which increases your running economy,” she tells Bustle. The better your stride, the easier, further, and faster you can ultimately go.

Stride also gives you something to focus on while running, so think of it as a nice distraction, as well as a way to get an extra boost of energy. “When I’m out on a longer run and start to feel my form fall apart, I remind myself to roll my shoulders back away from my ears, loosen up my hands, breathe, and make short, quick steps,” Whittaker says. “Form is the first thing to go when a runner or casual jogger gets tired — and that can make you more prone to injury.”

How To Improve Your Running Stride

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1. Count Your Cadence

To make sure you’re taking the ideal number of steps per minute, Whittaker suggests counting your strides and aiming for 82 to 90 foot strikes per minute. To keep track, use an app like RunKeeper or a running watch like the Garmin ForeRunner 935.

If your cadence is lower than 82 it likely means you are doing something called over-striding, which means you are taking big steps and landing heavily on your heels, Whittaker says. Since this can lead to injury, it’s good to practice taking shorter, faster steps.

2. Run Uphill

To see what it feels like to take shorter steps, try jogging up a hill — and then remember what it feels like so you can recreate the same motion on flat ground. “Hill workouts can be great,” says Williams. “Thinking of running fast up a hill will force most of us to take smaller steps, which will increase our cadence and have our feet land under our body.”

3. Land On Your Mid-Foot

To really make a change, focus on your feet. “The most important factor in your stride cycle is where you land,” Takacs says. “[Your feet] should always be landing under your hips.” Again, if you over-stride it means you’re fully extending your leg, she explains. That means you’re likely landing heel-first in front of your hips, which makes the impact phase of your stride extra harsh.

“I like to coach my athletes to land mid-foot instead of heel first,” Takacs adds. “A mid-foot strike is more economical — you spend less time on the ground and more time in the air — and it allows you to land under your hips more accurately.” With a mid-foot strike, your heel lightly “kisses” the ground, she says, but it doesn’t make a major impact.

“Heel striking isn't bad or wrong, but it is harder on your bones and joints and it doesn't give you an economical push-off phase in your stride,” Takacs adds. “Your impact phase — aka when your foot strikes the ground — is more intense, which can cause more shock absorption on your bones and joints.”

4. Practice Landing Softly

While it can be tough to run softly or lightly, especially when you’re just getting started and you’re still building muscle, it’s definitely a worthy goal to work towards. “A soft footfall will naturally align with good running form,” Whittaker says.

5. Keep Your Upper Body Relaxed

It’s tempting to keep your shoulders up by your ears as you run, but Whittaker recommends rolling your shoulders down and back as a way to improve your form. It’ll also help to let your arms pump naturally at your sides and maintain a loose grip.

6. It’s OK To Make It Your Own

“Each person’s ideal stride is going to look a bit different,” says running coach Jen Steele, so while you should aim for good form, it’s OK if yours isn’t identical to another runner’s. “Every body is unique and small differences among strides are normal,” Steele tells Bustle. “Some people will have a longer stride naturally while others are shorter — and others will have feet more turned out or pronated or not. All of that is absolutely fine and expected.”

7. Try Dynamic Warm-Ups

According to Takacs, it’s best to do dynamic warm-ups — instead of static stretches — before a run. Think leg swings, side lunges, knee hugs, reverse lunges, or the world’s greatest stretch.

Fluid stretches like these help prepare your stride and your body for impact, especially if you go for moves that activate the muscles you’ll need during your run, like your glutes, quads, and hamstrings.

“These muscles protect your bones and joints from impact,” she adds, which is why they need a warm-up. A dynamic stretch will also get your mind in the zone and elevate your heart rate, so you’re ready to roll.

8. Train Your Running Muscles

To make it easier to stride, add strength training workouts into your week to build up your running muscles, like your glutes and calves. Takacs recommends unilateral movements in particular, aka single-leg exercises like Bulgarian split squats, single-leg glute bridges, and single-leg RDLs — as well as core workouts and plyometrics.

Not only will these moves improve your balance as you hop from one leg to another, but they’ll also help increase the muscle and power in the areas that surround your bones and joints. “I like to look at these muscles as a ‘buffer pad’ or a layer of protection to your body,” Takacs says. “Lifting weights doesn't slow you down, it protects you!”

Studies referenced:

Schubert, AG. (2014). Influence of stride frequency and length on running mechanics: a systematic review. Sports Health. doi: 10.1177/1941738113508544.

van Oeveren, BT. (2017). Optimal stride frequencies in running at different speeds. PLoS One. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0184273.


Kelly Whittaker, Barry’s instructor, chief curriculum lead

Meg Takacs, running coach, founder of Movement & Miles

Tori Williams, running coach

Jen Steele, running coach

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