Taking shorter steps while running might sound counter intuitive. For some people, it might actually be true. For many others, especially a large percentage of recreational runners, shorter steps are the answer to many running form and injury issues.
Just about anyone who runs knows that ‘heel strike’ isn’t something you want to hear. It has a really bad reputation that it doesn’t necessarily deserve. It is, however, often equated with over striding. Taking steps that are too big almost always results in heel striking while heel striking on its own isn’t the horror you might have heard. Shorter steps have several benefits over ones that are too big and here are four big ones:
Faster turnover: Taking shorter steps means you’ll take more of them over the same distance. That might sound like it also means more work, it actually means less. If each step is shorter, your feet spend less time on the ground and less time on the ground means less time to get injured. With your feet underneath you, you’ll also have forward momentum on your side and be able to use gravity to help you move along.
Stop stopping: Landing with your foot out in front of you is the same as putting on the breaks. Really. It’s the same thing your dog does when they don’t want to go. Put their center of gravity behind their feet, throw those paws forward and say ‘nope’. Keeping your feet underneath you with faster turnover will keep your body moving forward with less effort.
Happy muscles. When we kick that leg out in front during over striding, our quadriceps are doing the bulk of the work. That muscle does not want to do that. Ever tried to walk down stair after a marathon? Yup. It’s not fun. Shorter steps fire up powerhouse glutes and hamstrings for happier running muscles.
Reduce injury risk: Faster turnover, no braking and happy muscles mean a lower risk of injury. You’ll get to use the elasticity of your Achilles, foot arch and calf to absorb the impact of each step rather than the bones and joints that hit when you over stride. Once muscles are doing the work, instead of bones, risk for any number of injuries can decrease. IT Band issues, knee pain, hip pain, ankle issues and general body soreness can all decline with proper stride length.
The best way to determine if you’re running with an appropriate stride length is to have a professional gait analysis. A quality running coach will let you know if shorter steps can help you earn better form and faster times.