How Turnover Drills Work

By: Martha Barksdale
With turnover drills, you can improve your running one step at a time.

Running was vital to early man's survival, and, as the world became more civilized, the fleet of foot turned their efforts to footraces. Today, millions of people across the world lace up their running shoes and hit the streets, sidewalks or mountain paths for a variety of reasons. Some choose to run for weight loss; others for cardiovascular benefits. Still more just crave the mind-clearing of a good long run.

Runners who enjoy competition -- even if it's only with themselves -- will eventually decide they need to do something to increase their speeds. Speed is determined by stride rate and stride length. You can improve your stride length somewhat, but not a lot, and it's a risky proposition, because it's easy to injure yourself by overstriding. However, stride rate is simple to improve, and many running coaches recommend turnover drills, or cadence drills, to accomplish this. Stride rate and turnover are basically the same thing: the number of times your feet strike the ground per minute. The more steps you take, the faster you go, because you're staying lower to the ground. You spend more time running and less time in the air. Also, by improving your stride rate, you hit the ground more lightly with each step, lessening the impact on your legs and keeping your focus on speed. You can work turnover drills into any training session. All you need is level ground and a watch with a second hand to time yourself.


So sprint on over to the next page, where we'll look at what turnover drills are, how often you should train with them, and what kind of foot strike numbers you should expect to see.

Running Turnover Drills

Turnover drills can get you out of bad running habits.

"What's wrong with the way I'm running?" you might ask. "It works for me." Well, that may be, but when it comes to running, like most things, we're creatures of habit. You get stuck in a comfortable stride, and as you age, you slow down. Turnover drills will put the pep back in your step, but the key is speeding up gradually [source: Galloway]. To do a turnover drill:

  1. Slowly jog about half to three-quarters of a mile.
  2. Begin to run at your normal pace. Once you've hit your stride, start your stopwatch, and for 1 minute count the times your right foot pushes off. Multiply by two. That's your turnover rate.
  3. Jog a bit more at slow speed, and then repeat Step 2, trying to increase the number of footfalls per minute by two to five.
  4. Repeat up to four more times, trying to increase your footfalls every time. Stop increasing the number of footfalls when you're not running comfortably anymore.

Run the turnover drills four to six times, two or three times a week, and you should see some improvement in your speeds within a few months. If you have trouble increasing your cadence, try shortening your stride for the first 10 or 15 footfalls of each drill. This will relax your muscles and improve speed [source: Galloway]. Another trick to improve speed is to stay light on your feet. Imagine you're running on thin ice. Try for a clearance of less than an inch off the ground. Another tip: Don't lean forward -- that will cut your turnover rate by causing your leg muscles to tighten. Stay upright, with your head, shoulders and body aligned.


Now that you know how to run a turnover drill, let's talk about why you should. On the next page, we'll discuss what your goals should be and how turnover drills can help more than just your speed.


Benefits of Running Turnover Drills

Take it easy with turnover drills -- overdoing it can reduce the benefits.

Call them footfalls, strides, steps -- now you know how to run a turnover drill, but what is that magic number you should aim to achieve? The average beginning runner takes 165 to 175 steps per minute, while the average elite runner, male or female, gets about 180 steps per minute. Over the course of a 10K race, this increase in footfalls gives the faster runners about a 984-foot (300-meter) advantage [source: Pfitzinger].

Ryan Ross, a triathlon coach in Kansas City, says that cadence training is crucial to reducing running injuries and maintaining velocity over longer distances. "One way to monitor your running cadence is with a clip-on metronome that beeps at the appropriate training cadence," he reports. "I have athletes test their cadence, and then we set the metronome to about three beats faster than their current cadence."


Turnover drills are a classic means of improving speed. These concentrated stretches of training activate your fast-twitch muscle fibers, which will "remember" that feeling and respond during a race, helping you without additional effort. Also, turnover drills will do more than just improve your speed. They offer an excellent opportunity to focus on maintaining proper form. Focus on a couple of areas at a time -- don't try to improve everything all at once.

While performing your turnovers, remember that these drills are low-impact, low-stress exercises designed to improve speed by making your running smooth and easy. Don't exhaust yourself, or the benefits will be lost. Persevere, and you'll be rewarded with faster race times and a smoother form.


Lots More Information

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  • Active Trainer. "Training Document: Acceleration-Glider Drills." (July 1, 2010)
  • Pfitzinger, Peter. "Improving Your Stride Rate." Running Times Magazine. September 2006. (July 1, 2010)
  • Ross, Ryan. USA Triathlon Level 2 Certified Coach, Perception Multisport. Personal interview. July 7, 2010.
  • Runners World. "Pick Up the Beat." February 1998. (July 1, 2010)
  • Running Injury Free. "Speed Training for Runners." (July 1, 2010)