The Best Running Stride? The One That Comes Naturally, Says Science

Runners often worry about having the perfect stride, but a new study suggests that sticking to the way you naturally run is the best way to go.

In fact, actively tweaking the way you run might hinder your performance and make running more difficult.

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In a study published published in the International Journal of Exercise Science, researchers from Brigham Young University worked with a group of runners at various skill levels — 19 “experienced” runners and 14 “inexperienced” runners — to measure different strides and their effectiveness.

During a series of 20-minute runs, each person was told to either run with their natural stride, a stride longer than their natural stride, or a stride shorter than their natural stride. Their oxygen intake was measured to see how efficiently their bodies were working with each kind of stride.

Researchers found that for both experienced and beginning runners,’ their natural stride was the one that used the least amount of energy, meaning they could go longer and faster at their preferred stride.

Most runners, left to their own devices, will naturally adopt an efficient stride over time.”

All runners tended to settle into a stride that is most efficient for their bodies — and lengthening or shortening their strides actually made them less efficient.

These findings suggest that “our bodies know what they are doing” when it comes to choosing the best running form, says Iain Hunter, a professor of exercise science at B.Y.U. who oversaw the study.

It’s encouraging for both novice runners who are worried about form, and expert runners who are seeking to maximize their efficiency. When it comes to the perfect stride, there’s no need for expert opinions or fancy running coaches — your body already knows what to do.

However, most elite running coaches already know that it’s not in a runner’s best interest to change their stride.

“I absolutely agree that most runners, left to their own devices, will naturally adopt an efficient stride over time,” says Janet Hamilton, C.S.C.S., a registered clinical exercise physiologist and founder of Running Strong Professional Coaching.

There are some exceptions, especially if your running is contributing to an injury pattern. Even in those cases, coaches will typically emphasize a change in rhythm or cadence, rather than trying to alter your stride length.

In other words, “relax and let it happen,” says Hamilton.

“Think ‘tall, light, easy,’ and don’t focus on how your foot hits the ground, where your arms are swinging, or whether you’re heel striking or mid-foot striking,” she says. “You run the way you run because of how you’re built, the terrain you’re on, the speed you’re running, and your unique strength and flexibility and biomechanics. There are a lot of pieces to the puzzle, and reflexes do a phenomenal job of orchestrating this complex movement and making it as efficient as possible.”

It just goes to show that you can never go wrong with listening to your body. Sometimes, it makes sense to stick to what comes naturally.