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home » stroke rate, cadence, and stride rate

There are two distinct factors that determine your speed in each discipline; how far you move with each stroke, stride, or pedal revolution, and the rate each full cycle takes to complete. I find most athletes pay attention to distance covered per stroke or stride cycle, but few pay enough attention to the rate of turnover.

When you compare the differences between recreational athletes and those that are focused on going fast, compare how fast they get through each stroke or stride. People using their workout for general fitness move with a slower turnover rate, while we (should) keep a snappier rhythm.

A long graceful run stride may look impressive, but it's not more efficient than a shorter stride with faster turnover. A faster stride rate creates more momentum, and as the rate gets faster less force is needed with each cycle. Faster turnover for running reduces stress and risk of injury with quicker, lighter steps.

I watch and analyze the form of elite triathletes, especially at the ITU Olympic distance events. Both male and female athletes hold a remarkably fast stride rate for the 10k. I've watched Vanessa Fernandes hold 97 steps per minute to run her 34-minute pace. The men's feet move nearly as quickly; even 6'5" Matt Reed holds 93 steps per minute. The only runs where I can hold a stride rate of 97 is during short reps of a lap or less on the track.

So over the last couple seasons I've experimented with my own training and racing to see the effect of increasing my turnover. In training I target 90 steps per minute counting one leg, which is well above my old comfort zone of 85-87. For speedwork and race days I'm looking for low 90s. I find that quicker steps take more concentration than longer strides, but have the benefit causing slightly less increase in heart rate as opposed to lengthening stride. I also feel fresher after a run where I focus on quicker turnover.

It's interesting to note that elite runners don't hold this same high turnover rate during their one sport efforts, as they tend to be within the 90-92 stride per minute range. To explain why I can only speculate that higher turnover is somehow beneficial on tired legs after swimming and cycling.

I've found the same benefit applies to cadence during cycling efforts. In training I focused on holding 90 pedal strokes per minute on the flats, and 80 for long grades. On race days I often found myself in one gear lower than previously, yet going as fast or faster than in previous years on the same courses.

The classic example of fast turnover and race day speed is Lance Armstrong holding a cadence of 115 during time trials. It is an extreme example, but shows what's possible. That high cadence doesn't work for me now, but in earlier days as a junior age bike racer, with 52x15 max gear restriction, I held that cadence and went as fast as I do 30+ years later.

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