Most runners either love or hate working out on the treadmill. This might have something to do with the fact that some runners have an easier time cranking out miles on the machine than others. If you’re one of those runners who has trouble speeding up or just completing a workout on the treadmill, your stride might be to blame. If you have a long stride, for example, it might be painful to continuously run for a longer time on a treadmill. However, if your stride is short, you may find that you get out of breath more easily on a treadmill than when you’re outdoors.
Here’s the truth about treadmill stride length and how top trainers say you can improve your indoor running pace.
Is it better to have a long or short stride when running on the treadmill?
At first glance, runners with a shorter stride (and often a shorter stature) might think that they have a disadvantage over long-stride runners on the treadmill. After all, if it takes more strides to pace with the fast-moving belt, it can feel like a harder effort to keep up.
However, the belief that having a shorter stride is a disadvantage is a myth, says Aaptiv trainer Kelly Chase. “As someone who is personally shorter in height myself, I honestly believe it’s a limiting belief that my height and stride makes running on a treadmill seem harder,” she says. “Sure, I may have a shorter stride. But if you train appropriately, you can condition yourself to run efficiently and with ease.”
In fact, shorter striders may stay injury-free longer. Studies show that having a longer stride means that you’re more likely to get injured, says Damien Howell, a physical therapist, DPT, OCS, in Richmond, Virginia who has been working with runners for 30 years.
“My goal is to have clients not take longer strides because they often result in injury,” he says. “Longer strides result in a ‘braking force’ when the foot hits the ground. The closer the foot hits the ground to your center of mass, the less breaking forces, and the greater the acceleration forces. That’s why running with a shorter stride is ideal.”
Focus on cadence, not stride
You don’t have a lot of control over your height and how you naturally stride when you run. That’s why Howell recommends focusing on cadence, not stride when you’re on the treadmill.
Cadence is measured as the number of strides you take per minute. The average runner has a cadence of 150-160 steps per minute. Elite runners average 180 steps per minute, sometimes reaching 200 steps per minute at top speed.
While you’re running on the treadmill, it’s easy to train with music that matches your cadence. “In your effort to run faster, do not try to increase your stride length or step,” Howell says. “Try to run to a music score set for 180 BPM, or steps per minute.”
Taking quicker, faster steps on the treadmill is a smart way to train, agrees Joey Daoud, Pose Method running specialist and CEO of New Territory Fitness in Los Angeles. However, he says that it might take some time to adjust if you aren’t used to running at this cadence. “If you haven’t run at this cadence before it will take some getting used to,” he says. “That’s why you get tired at faster speeds on a treadmill.”
Tips to Make Treadmill Running Easier
While focusing on your cadence, if you want to make treadmill running a bit easier, Chase also recommends focusing the following tips:
- Land with a mid-foot strike, light on the toes, with your body upright. Your elbows should be bent near sides of your body, with light, loose hands at your sides.
- Ensure you have steady, rhythmic breaths. Try breathing in for three counts, then exhale for three counts. Align your breath with your footwork (right, left, right, while breathing in, then left, right, left, breathing out.)
You should also focus on strengthening your hamstrings, notes Daoud. “Some good movements for this are lunges and the Bulgarian split squat,” he says. “You also want to focus on pulling your leg straight up underneath your hips and landing with your foot underneath your body mass.”
Overall, you’ll need to train harder and smarter to improve treadmill running, says Chase. “The more training you do that incorporates walking and jogging at an incline, plus progressive sprint work—either on the treadmill or outdoors, will improve your pace,” she says. “As you train, you will improve your speed.”