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Running Mechanics: Increase Your Step Rate, Reduce Your Step Length, and Limit Injury

atlanta decatur dr. sam performance running Jul 22, 2021

Many people run because it can be done anywhere, is a year round activity, requires minimal equipment, and has excellent cardiovascular benefits. Over half of all runners will sustain a running-related injury while training and around 90% of marathon runners will experience a running-related injury.

Reasons to increase your step rate, and reduce your step length, while running:

  • You can see an immediate reduction in pain
  • Just a 5% increase in step rate can reduce impact forces by 20% in the knee
  • Knee pain is most positively affected by increasing your step rate and reducing your step length while running
  • Reduce the impact forces through the hip, knee, and ankle joints
  • You can improve your running economy and be a more efficient runner
  • Reduction in shin splints due to less impact forces
  • Improved recovery after runs

Small changes in your step rate, or running cadence, can have a major impact on your running resilience. Your step rate refers to how many steps you take in a minute while running. Increasing the step rate while running at a constant speed will decrease your step length. Think about walking across the room vs. jumping across the room. Taking more steps while walking requires less impact forces than hopping the same distance.

“Overuse” injuries due to running are often a result of these higher loads of force while landing. Some people can even hear themselves landing with louder steps as they run. Your speed and stride length will influence the impact forces your joints, tendons, and ligaments are required to absorb while running.

Increasing step rate has a positive impact on the ankle, knee, and hip joints. The knee joints were most positively affected by increasing step rate, with a 20% reduction in impact forces with only a 5% increase in step rate. This increase in step rate will create a reduction in stride length while maintaining the same running speed.

There are many positive benefits of running with a shorter stride and higher step rate. A smaller stride length allows for you to land with your body’s center of mass over the landing foot. This will lead to less impact forces in the knees, hips, and ankles while running. Increased step rate leads to more efficient running mechanics. Improve your running economy with reduction in “up and down” wasted motions while running. You can also reduce the risk of shin splints due to the reduction in shock absorption during landing while running with smaller strides.

Things to think about after committing to increasing your step rate and reducing your stride length:

  • Start with only a 5% increase in your step rate per minute and see how you perform.
  • Keep the same speed. Increasing your step rate does not mean you are speeding up from an 8 minute mile pace to 6-minute mile pace. Keep your speed the same while increasing the number of steps you take (this can be difficult as the natural tendency is to speed up).
  • It might take some time getting used to running at a higher step rate while maintaining the same speed. However, motor learning can occur quickly with repeated practice. You should see good results in a few weeks. 
  • It may be helpful to use a metronome for cueing your step rate (there are apps for this). Try increasing your step rate by 5% for immediate positive impact.

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​Thanks for reading,

Sam Gillespie PT, DPT, OCS

Let us help you figure out to live your best active life today! 

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