Counterpace ergonomics

Counterpulsation requires that stride frequency equals heart rate. Because your heart rate changes with speed and effort, your optimal step rate will vary throughout a run. Modifying stride frequency to match heart rate while altering stride length to control speed represents a significant change in behavior for many runners, since most train within a narrow range of step rates.  It was legendary track coach Jack Daniels that first observed that 180 steps per minute or more seemed to be the natural step rate for top elite runners.  180+ steps per minute may well be, in fact, an ideal tempo frequency for many young runners at the peaks of their careers, because 180 - 190 beats per minute Is about 85 to 90% of the maximum heart rate of a typical runner in their late teens or early twenties. However, recommending 180 to 190 steps per minute for everyone doesn't make sense, especially at lower speeds and as we age and our heart rates during exercise naturally decrease.

We believe your physiology should determine your optimal step rate at any given moment. A potential problem arises because higher stride frequencies result in shorter steps, facilitating healthy foot strike ergonomics, but Counterpace guidance may prompt you to lengthen your stride at times in order to increase reach your desired running speed. Fortunately, your heart rate will quickly respond to any increase or decrease in effort.  For example, any time you speed up at a constant incline, your heart rate will increase, causing an increase in prompt rate.  Note that there is always a delay in the heart rate response, therefore speed is initially always controlled by stride length, since the stride frequency Is set at the heart rate at any given moment.  Of course, we don't suggest you begin stepping at your heart rate until you're well warmed up so that your heart rate is high enough to support a reasonable matched step rate. 


To run faster with the prompt while maintaining a midfoot strike, lean further at your ankles, hips forward with your shoulders relaxed directly above your hips. This will increase your stride length with optimal efficiency and comfort.

High stride frequencies do help avoid overstriding, but with proper instruction, most runners are able to lower stride frequency while still maintaining a healthy and efficient mid-foot strike and posture.  We've studied running ergonomics extensively, and believe that good form can be separated from stride frequency, within a much larger range of step rates than is reported in most current mainstream discussions of proper running form.

The following summarizes our view on the most important concepts to help you expand your safe step rate range, thereby increasing the variety of heart rates (ie. speed & effort) at which you can counterpulse comfortably.

  • Maintain a midfoot strike
  • Lean at your ankles so gravity pulls you forward
  • Keep hips forward to avoid bending at the waist
  • Look towards the horizon with your chin tucked
  • Shoulders over your hips, low, and loose
  • Arms & hands relaxed, elbows at 90 degrees

Genzebe Dibaba of Ethiopia demonstrating perfect running form
1500m: IAFF World Championships August 23, 2015.
REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

As you gain confidence with the system, Counterpace guidance can also be used during a dynamic stretching and warmup, and during a recovery walk after the run, while your heart rate is slowly returning to baseline.

Stay safe and have fun!

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