Triathlete running in Bristol
Triathlete running in Bristol

Don't alter your run stride say researchers

A new study by a 2016 Olympian and a USA Track & Field consultant finds the stride length people naturally choose is the best for them, whether they are experienced or inexperienced runners.

The run stride length you naturally choose to run with is the best, whether you’re an experienced or inexperienced runner, a new study from Brigham Young University (BYU) finds.

"Don't worry about changing your stride length," said Iain Hunter, a professor of exercise science at BYU. "You should just leave it alone or you're going to use more energy in the end."

The study measured the energy use of 33 runners while carrying out various strides during a 20-minute run. Of those runners, 19 were experienced runners (meaning they averaged at least 20 miles a week) while 14 were inexperienced runners (people who have never run more than 5 miles in a week).

During their runs participants used five different stride lengths: their natural stride, and then strides of plus and minus 8 and 16 percent of their normal stride.

Subjects maintained the adjusted strides thanks to the assistance of a computer-based metronome, which beeped each time their foot should've hit the treadmill. Meanwhile, researchers measured the energy output of the runners with masks that recorded the amount of oxygen used.

The results found both the experienced and the inexperienced runners were most efficient when they were using their preferred stride. Thus, athletes and coaches don't need to alter a runner's stride length when economy is the main concern.

"Just let it happen; it doesn't need to be coached," Hunter said. "Your body is your best coach for stride length."

Fellow author Jared Ward finished 6th in the marathon at the 2016 Olympics and recently finished in the top 10 of the 2017 Boston Marathon.

He said the takeaway is similar to that of elite runners: Be very careful if you're trying to alter your stride if efficiency is your main concern.

"Many people are advocating for various 'optimal' running forms, but this study shows even novice runners shouldn't try to run any different than their body naturally does," he said. "Enjoy running and worry less about what things look like."

220 run coach Paul Larkins says: "It's really interesting study and makes me feel quite good! For years athletes have come to me and talked about changing their stride length and I've always replied 'let's work with what you've got'. That's not ignoring their request, more modifying their expectation. My own coach in America would work to the theory we are who we are, but we can maximise that as much as possible using drills etc.

"I guess Paula Radcliffe must have known that. I remember I once met her at a training camp in the Pyrenees and she spent ages on her drills - yet, as any TV viewer will agree, she wasn't the smoothest, long striding athlete out there!"

Iain Hunter carries out biomechanical analyses for USA Track and Field for the past 14 years. He is headed to London this August with Team USA for the World Championships, where he will help film and analyse U.S. athletes during competitions.

The study was published in the International Journal of Exercise Science


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As far as I can tell, the study in no way supports the conclusion.

If the article fairly represents the paper then the authors looked specifically at athletes running to a trained technique versus and untrained technique and then seeks to conclude that the untrained technique is worse. This is clearly poor science... I have both comments and questions:

1. what was the relative stride length of the more experience runners compared to the less experienced runners? If the more experienced/ faster runners also had a longer stride length (height adjusted) then its a pretty plausible theory that in the long term the inexperienced runners would benefit from adapting their running style to increase stride length (my strength has certainly got longer as I have gained fitness). This is something that the paper does acknowledge - I don't think it really tackles this particularly well.

2. You may have guessed this one... the study makes no attempt to quantify the benefits of actually training to the new stride length. Surely it would have been an infinitely better experiment if athletes spent say 6 - 12 weeks training to a new stride length to so that the new stride length became more natural to them and then comparing the results of different stride length efficiencies. It would not be even remotely surprising if, after a dedicated training focus a lot of those efficiency differences at least disappeared. The authors theory could only then hold true if the natural stride length still showed a statistically significant efficiency advantage over the adjusted stride length.

3. Somewhat a follow up of point 2, did the authors of the paper examine run technique in the non-natural stride lengths. If you ask someone with no drills or training to increase their stride length by 8%, I'd be very surprised if this didn't lead to significant overstriding and therefore cause the athlete to expend energy braking themselves which would obviously lead to a fall in efficiency that wouldn't be observed if the athlete increased their stride length due to greater hip flexor extension and no overstriding - from an n=1 sample of myself, I generally find I can run at a greater pace for a similar heart rate when I focus on glute activation and hip flexor extension. If the experimenters did not take any steps to acknowledge and control for this then I again have to query whether this provides much valuable insight.

The full paper appears to entirely ignore points 2 and 3 which is particularly worrying. Indeed, the paper measures peoples oxygen uptake in minute 2 of running with a new technique (and takes 4 measurements, 1 per 15s window within that minute). Based on the protocol it would be more surprising if people were as efficient after 60s of a new technique as if they had been running with it for months / years... given that in trained athletes we are talking 1.2% efficiency I don't think that you can conclude that natural stride length is most efficient on the basis of this study.

matthew spooner

.... However, this research shows that running with an increase stride length puts a lot more pressure on your joints, especially legs

Before deciding whether to alter your running style and stride length, please don't focus solely on one piece of research, which is looking at a single aspect of running.

Mike Davis

Interesting reading, Im not a great runner, but whilst trying to improve, Ive found a definite improvment on my hill running, when shortening stride but upping the cadence as in the article posted by Mathew  , I dont tire or get out of breath as much, I then revert to my natural stride on the flat. When Im fitter I shall do a back to back on the same run on a hill with shorter stride and natural stride to see if the positive difference is still there, or wether it was a running fitness issue.


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