Success in competitive running in the sprint distances depends on a simple but ironclad formula: Stride length times stride rate equals speed. So if you run in the 100 to 400 meters, you may want to measure your stride length and compare it to typical averages. A typical Nestie isn’t going to be anything remotely near Usain Bolt’s 10-foot stride length, and may be closer to about two-thirds of that figure.
Measuring Your Stride
The easiest way to measure your stride is to head to an athletic facility with a standard 400-meter track with markings to also indicate intermediate distances. After warming up by jogging, run a single circuit at your typical pace over your typical distance -- 100, 200 or 400 meters -- counting each step. Divide the distance by the number of steps to come up with your meters per stride -- the measure used by exercise researchers -- or enter the figures into an online calculator. You can convert meters to inches by multiplying by 39.3.
If you are an average American woman of 5 feet, 4 inches in height, or 64 inches, you can anticipate that your length per stride will be in the range of 73 to 86 inches. This is based on formulas regarding studies of 100-meter specialists that predict a stride length of between 1.14 to 1.35 times the athlete’s height. If you are taller, say 5 feet, 8 inches, you obviously will have a proportionately greater predicted stride length -- around 78 to 92 inches. But you have a greater mass to move over the sprint distance, so you will need to be proportionately stronger.
Sports scientists at the Korea National Sport University interested in the biomechanics of stride length studied female sprinters, including Carmelita Jeter and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, at a 2011 championships in South Korea. They found a slightly shorter stride length associated with faster times in the 100 meters. The competitors measured right around 2 meters -- 80 inches or so -- or longer in terms of stride length. The height of the competitors ranged from 160 to 164 cm in height, or 5 feet, 3 inches to 5 feet, 5 inches tall. Shorter stride length and greater stride frequency worked to predict faster finishes, the researchers found.
Applying What You Find
You can likely live with a fair range of results in your stride length, but if your stride rate is much under 180 steps per minute, you need to work on a faster, lighter pace, notes running coach Jack Daniels in “Daniels Running Formula.” Daniels is an advocate of turning slow-turnover runners into fast-turnover runners for immediate results. And if you wonder why men are faster than women at each sprint distance -- it’s not their very similar stride rates, it’s their much greater stride length that makes the difference.
- The Science of Running: Understanding Stride Rate and Stride Length
- MIT News: 3 Questions: Anette Hosoi on Engineering and the Olympics
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Body Measurements
- O2 Endurance: Running Economy
- 30th Annual Conference of Biomechanics in Sports – Melbourne 2012: Sprinting Characteristics of Women’s 100 Meter Finals at the IAAF World Championshops Daegu 2011
- Daniels' Running Formula; Jack Daniels
- Mark Kolbe/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images