Should Runners Really Be Trying To Change Their Stride?

Three Cheers For The Natural Stride

Many years ago, when functional training was just becoming a “thing,” I attended a conference for personal trainers and clearly remember one of the best analogies for whether or not stretching before a run was needed. A very distinguished, successful and experienced personal trainer Juan Carlos Santana (yes, that’s his real name) said:

If you look up suddenly and your kid is about to walk into a busy street do you stop and stretch out your quad first or do you just take off into a sprint?

We all know the answer. Of course a warm-up of some sort is advised, but humans are very capable of running at any time. It comes naturally. But does our stride?

After the New York Times article about Usain Bolt’s uneven stride was published (just days before his disappointing finish and injury this summer in London), a flood of research was unearthed and gathered about how important stride is and if you really need to work on changing it if you’re not Usain Bolt. Hint: you probably don’t!

Humans were quite literally born to run; so why do so many of us spend time trying to adjust our natural stride? A team of scientists at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, tried to find out by closely examining the strides of both expert and inexperienced runners and seeing what would happen if they tweaked them.

“Inexperienced and experienced runners are equally capable of matching preferred stride length to economical stride length, thus athletes and coaches do not need to alter runner’s stride length when economy is the main concern,” the researchers concluded.

Basically, if you’re not trying to shave seconds off a race time in your quest to provide for your family by way of running, you can most likely stick with whatever stride comes naturally and hope for the best. Iain Hunter, a professor of exercise science at BYU who oversaw the study and is also a staff scientist for USA Track and Field, reiterated, “Our bodies know what they’re doing.”

We can probably trust our natural stride to carry us from Point A to Point B, no matter how many miles lie in between.