Using Music to Improve Stride Turnover


I had a great question come in yesterday from a reader (and fellow Vibram Five Fingers wearer) about using music to improve his stride turnover rate.  You may be asking, “What in the heck is stride turnover rate?”  Your stride turnover (frequency) is basically how many steps that you take for every minute of running.  Many runners have improved their speed by increasing this frequency, taking shorter, quicker steps.  Not only will it improve your speed, but it will improve your running efficiency as well.  You see, taking quick, short steps uses less energy than long strides, thus decreasing the stress on your muscles and minimizing the impact on your joints.  This is especially important when wearing Vibrams, as there is no cushioning on the heel, making long strides not an option.  Minimalist shoes naturally bring awareness to stride turnover, and when first transitioning, can make you feel slower.

Most elite runners have perfected this technique and have a pretty high turnover (180+ SPM).  To achieve this, you will need to train yourself to be more conscious of your running form.  One way to improve your SPM is to keep your feet low to the ground, never taking them more than an inch off of the pavement. Also, remember to keep your back straight.  Some people say that they pretend they are running on hot coals – whatever works.

Music can certainly play a part in speeding up this transition. In a previous post, I listed some songs that I listen to while running.  The reason that I chose the songs had little to do with the artist or genre, but more to do with their tempo (beats per minute).  Who would have ever thought that listening to music could prevent injuries and improve running efficiency?

Here’s an Example: Let’s say your aim is 180 SPM.  There are (at least) three ways to go about reaching this goal using music; A) find songs that are 180 BPM (obviously), B) choose music in the 120 BPM range, or C) create a playlist that’s 90 BPM.  With option B, you would be taking 1 ½ steps per beat.  I often (unintentionally) go with this option as most of my favorite songs are in this range.  Using the latter option, you would take two steps for every beat.
This all sounds fine and dandy, but where do you find music that falls within a certain BPM range?  I’ll give away a little (not so) secret.  There’s a site called Jog.fm that will allow you to search for music that meets your running needs.  What’s great is that you can enter your expected (or desired) mile time in the search box, and it creates your playlist for you!  Then, you can shoot over to iTunes and purchase the individual songs to load up onto your iPod.  Pretty great, huh?

Final thoughts: Improving your SPM and increasing speed takes time, and practice.  Don’t be hard on yourself if you don’t notice results right away.  I have actually noticed small improvements in my speed over time, without even trying.  Unlike tires on a car, our feet improve over time with added mileage.  This week, while running, make an effort to increase your stride turnover.  Begin taking shorter, quicker steps, picking your feet up as soon as they hit the ground.  Leave your feet close to the ground at all times.  Keep your back straight and land with your feet below your hips.  Download some of your favorite tunes that fall within your desired range.  You may need to test a few songs to see how they work for you;  I often find a song that I think would be great, but then it doesn’t mesh well with my run.  Next week, come back and let us know how it’s coming along and whether or not you’ve noticed any improvements.
I would like to thank Donnie for the great question.  It can be especially frustrating, finding your rhythm when you begin running in a minimalist shoe.  It’s like learning how to run all over again.
If you have a question that you need answered, please feel free to contact me.  I would be happy to help!  You can also ask someone in the forum here.  Happy Running    
Click here for a list of some of my favorite running songs.
Image Courtesy: Renjith Krishnan
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  1. DonnieDellinger

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