How Running Stride Works

Benefits of Proper Stride

Now that we've covered running stride and ways of altering it, you might be asking yourself whether any of this matters. Is it the end of the world if a runner ignores optimal stride? No, but it may mean the end of a running career. Running with proper stride is extremely important if your goal is to actually make it around the track. Proper stride not only allows you to run faster and use energy more efficiently, but it also protects your body from injury. Let's tackle the issue of energy expenditure first.

A long-held view about running is that you spend about the same amount of energy at various running speeds over the same distance. Using this logic, you should burn the same amount calories whether you sprint for a mile in 6 minutes or jog leisurely for 12 minutes over the same distance. The idea is that the two approaches will balance themselves out to the same net energy expenditure. But new evidence suggests there may be an optimal stride at which runners exert the least amount of energy for their effort [source: Steudel]. This is all the more reason to find and maintain your optimal stride. That is, if optimal running efficiency is your goal. If maximum energy burn is the goal, perhaps kicking it up a notch is preferable to energy efficiency.

Increased speed is another benefit of proper running stride. As we learned in the previous section, the safest and most effective way for most runners to increase speed and running efficiency is with shorter strides. A shorter stride means you spend less time in the air, which reduces your impact with the ground and protects you from injury. Keeping your stride short also protects against overstriding, which refers to reaching out too far with your landing foot. This causes you to spend more time in the air and puts more stress on your muscles and joints with each landing.

The most important point about proper running stride is that it takes time and experience to find it, which is why you shouldn't expect to be perfect right out of the gate. Instead, be mindful about how you run and how each part of your body contributes to the running experience. In this way, you'll learn how to run safely, effectively and without injury for many years to come.

Stride on over to the next page for lots more information about running techniques.

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  • Bus SA. "Ground Reaction Forces and Kinematics in Distance Running in Older-Aged Men." Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 2003 35(7); 1167-1175. accessed July 20, 2010
  • Farley, CT and Gonzalez, O. "Leg stiffness and stride frequency in human running." Journal of Biomechanics, 1996, 29(2); 181-186, accessed July 20, 2010
  • Kathleen Wise Pugh, Certified RRCA and EZ8 Running Coach, personal communication, July 21, 2010.
  • Lieberman et al. "Foot strike patterns and collision forces in habitually barefoot versus shod runners." Nature 2010, 463;531-535 accessed July 20, 2010
  • Steudel-Numbers KL, and Wall-Scheffler CM. "Optimal running speed and the evolution of hominin hunting strategies." Journal Human Evolution. 2009 56(4):355-60 accessed July 22, 2010