Longer legs can help people walk faster, but shorter legs are not an excuse for slow walking speed, according to “The Complete Guide to Walking for Health, Weight Loss, and Fitness” author Mark Fenton. In fact, short legs can be an advantage. Fenton writes that there are two primary factors in walking speed -- step rate and stride length. People with short legs can increase their step rate more easily than people with long legs.
Increasing your step rate improves your speed. People who are 5 feet 9 inches tall, for example, walk 2 mph when they take 95 to 105 steps per minute, 3 mph when they take 105 to 115 steps per minute, 4 mph when they take 125 to 135 steps per minute and 5 mph when they take 150 to 160 steps per minute, according to Fenton. People with short legs have a step rate advantage over people with long legs because they swing their legs a shorter distance on each step. Consequently, shorter people expend less effort on each step and can take more steps per minute when they expend the same effort as taller people.
People with long strides can walk faster with people with short strides if they take the same number of steps per minute because they can cover more distance with each step. A 6-foot-1-inch person who takes 95 to 105 steps per minute walks 2.5 mph, while the 5-foot-9-inch person who takes the same number of steps walks 2 mph, according to Fenton. Similarly, a 6-foot-1-inch person who takes 120 to 130 steps per minute walks 4 mph, while the 5-foot-5-inch person who takes the same number of steps walks 3.5 mph.
Faster steps is more important than stride length in improving your speed, according to Fenton. You can increase your step rate by improving your physical fitness and consciously focusing on taking smooth and quick steps. You can increase your step rate so dramatically that racewalkers often take more than 200 steps per minute. On the other hand, the extent to which you can increase your stride length is limited and can backfire. Fenton recommends not trying to lengthen your stride because your stride becomes longer naturally as you walk faster. In addition, he wrote that forcibly lengthening your stride can strain your buttocks, hamstrings and lower back.
Increasing your walking speed can make your workout more efficient and increase the amount of weight you lose while exercising. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends 20 to 60 minutes of continuous aerobic exercise such as walking three to five days per week. Walking four miles in 60 minutes burns 281 calories in 155-pound people and 345 calories in 190-pound people, while walking 2 mph for one hour burns 176 calories in 155-pound people and 216 calories in 190-pound people, according to Wisconsin’s Department of Health and Family Services. One pound equals 3,500 calories. A 155-pound person needs to walk for 20 hours to lose 1 pound while walking 2 mph, but only 12 1/2 hours to lose 1 pound while walking 4 mph.
- The Complete Guide to Walking for Health, Weight Loss, and Fitness; Mark Fenton
- State of Wisconsin Department of Health and Family Services: Calories Burned Per Hour
- American College of Sports Medicine: The Recommended Quantity and Quality of Exercise
Jay Schwartz has had articles printed by the "Chicago Tribune," "USA Today" and many other publications since 1983. He's covered health, fitness, nutrition, business, real estate, government, features, sports and more. A Lafayette, Pa. college graduate, he's also written for several Fortune 500 corporate publications and produced business newsletters.