Ask any expert what the best way to run is, and they’ll launch into a diatribe about proper running posture and stride, the best running shoes, how running on trails is better than treadmill or street running, and the list goes on. Everyone has their opinion on the right way to run—it can be confusing to know who to believe.
How’s this: listening to scientific opinion is important, but it can often be formed without full information, sometimes based on popular trends. As a new study makes wonderfully clear, your body knows what’s best when it comes to running.
A pair of Brigham Young University professors—Olympian Jared Ward and USA Track and Field consultant Iain Hunter—subjected 19 experienced runners and 14 inexperienced runners to a study involving 20-minute runs, performed with five different strides. In addition to their normal stride, the participants had to run at +/- 8% and 16% of their regular stride. A computer-based metronome helped them to keep their strides consistent.
Throughout the study, the researchers measured their energy output (via oxygen masks). After the five running conditions, they found that the most efficient performance occurred when the runners were using their normal preferred stride. When they increased or decreased their stride length, their oxygen uptake increased, leading to less-efficient performance and faster fatigue.
The takeaway was clear: “Just let it happen; it doesn’t need to be coached,” Iain Hunter said. “Your body is your best coach for stride length.”
You may find coaches or trainers try to improve your running posture, form, pronation, and stride. There is always room for some improvement—perhaps you need to raise your head, keep your eyes fixed on the horizon, straighten your shoulders, or stop leaning forward when you run. However, when it comes to your stride (defined as “the interval between an event of one foot (e.g. heel-strike or toe-strike) and the next occurrence of the same event of the same foot),” you need to go with what feels natural to your body.
Trust that after 15, 25, or 50 years of walking and running, your body knows best. Listen to coaches who help you improve your running form, but remember that your body is the most important coach. Drastically changing the way you run could lead to increased energy expenditure and reduced performance.
And if need more convincing, a recent article in the New York Times, Something Strange
in Usain Bolt’s Stride, talks about how the champion sprinter’s stride is unconventional and uneven yet, despite all of that, he has gone on, to set the world of sprinting on fire and break numerous world records. Bolt has adapted to his stride, it may even be considered correctable, but why change something that works.
1. Hunter, Iain; Tracy, James B.; and Ward, Jared. “Self-optimization of Stride Length Among Experienced and Inexperienced Runners.” International Journal of Exercise Science, Vol. 10 Iss. 3, 446-53.