Stride length and step length are two important measurements in gait analysis. Gait analysis is a study of how a person walks and runs. Doctors use visual observation and tools to measure and assess body movements, body mechanics, and muscle activity.
Gait analysis can help doctors diagnose injury and other underlying conditions. It can also be used to evaluate treatments for injuries and conditions. Coaches may also use gait analysis to improve athletic performance and recommend proper gear, such as footwear.
Stride length is the distance covered when you take two steps, one with each foot. Start with your two feet together and start walking. You can start with either foot, but let’s say you start with your left:
- Lift your left foot up and step forward.
- Now both feet are on the ground with the left foot ahead of the right one.
- Lift your right foot and swing it forward past your left foot, and place it on the ground.
- Now both feet are on the ground with the right foot ahead of the left one.
The distance traveled during that motion is your stride length. In other words, your stride length is the distance from the toe of your right foot (starting position) to the toe of your right foot (ending position), or the heel of your right foot (starting position) to the heel of your right foot (ending position).
A step length is the distance covered when you take one step. Start with your two feet together and start walking. You can start with either foot, but let’s say you start with your left:
- Lift your left foot up and step forward.
- Now both feet are on the ground with your left foot ahead of your right one.
The distance your left foot traveled (from the toe of your right foot to the toe of your left foot, or from the heel of your right foot to the heel of your left foot) is your step length. There might be a difference between your left step length and your right step length.
According to the University of Iowa, the average person’s walking step length is 2.5 feet (30 inches), so the average stride length would be approximately 5 feet (60 inches).
There are a number of factors that can impact stride length including:
If you’re doing this calculation outside, bring a piece of chalk and a measuring tape. If you’re doing this inside, have a tape measure and some masking tape.
- Using the tape measure and the chalk (outside) or the masking tape (inside), measure and mark off a specific distance, such as 20 feet.
- Start walking about 10 feet before one of the marks to get up to speed in your natural walk.
- When you hit the first mark, start counting your steps, stopping your count when you hit the second mark.
- Divide the number of feet in your measured distance by the number of steps you took from the first mark to the second. Distance in feet/number of steps = step length. For example, if it took you 16 steps to cover 20 feet, your step length would be 1.25 feet (15 inches).
If you want to calculate your walking stride length, divide the number of steps you took by 2 and divide that number into the measured distance. If it took you 16 steps to cover 20 feet, divide the number of steps (16) by 2 to get the number of strides. Then take the answer (8) and divide it into the distance. Distance in feet/number of strides = stride length. In this case, you took 8 strides in 20 feet, so your stride length would be 2.5 feet (30 inches).
If you want a more accurate measurement, use a longer distance:
- Mark your starting point and walk until you’ve counted 50 steps.
- Mark the end of your last step.
- Measure between the two marks.
- Follow the same calculations as above: distance in feet/number of steps = step length and distance in feet/number of strides = stride length.
For even more accuracy, do the longer distance three or four times, and then average the results.
On average it takes about 2,000 steps to walk a mile.
There are 5,280 feet in a mile. To determine the number of steps it will take you to walk a mile, divide 5,280 by your step length. To determine the number of strides it will take you to walk a mile, divide 5,280 by your stride length.
Stride length and step length can be important numbers for a doctor to diagnose a problem with your gait or a condition that could be causing a problem with your gait.
These numbers can also be useful for a doctor or physical therapist to evaluate your progress, and thus the effectiveness of treatment prescribed for the condition causing gait irregularities.
This information is also interesting for you to have in evaluating your personal fitness. If you get a new pedometer or fitness tracker — such as a Fitbit, Garmin, Xiaomi, Misfit, or Polar — you may need to enter your step length during the initial set up.
Sometimes the terms “step length” and “stride length” are used interchangeably, but it’s likely the number they actually want is step length.