Ultra-Runner: Stride Wide to Stop Pain, Speed Up

New insight into how "stride width" helps running economy

“Going wide,” as it turns out, may be good advice for runners.

Ultra-runner and physical therapist Joe Uhan recently had an epiphany about gait width—how far apart your feet land from your center line—when faced with two injured patients and his own recurring foot pain.

After examining video of all three gaits on a treadmill, Uhan found that he and his patients were running “narrow,” meaning that the location of each foot strike overlapped with the other foot’s landing spot—almost a crisscross motion.

A “wide” gait, in which the inside of each foot is outside of the center line, ought to reduce ankle, hip and foot strain, and even lead to better running economy, he hypothesized.

An examination of the scientific literature, and, as importantly, a comparison to other athletic disciplines, bore out Uhan’s hunch:

My first A-Hah!/Duh! moment came from recalling how both sprinters and jumpers stride out. Ever seen a long jumper take off down a runway? What do they do? They run wide! They begin by taking excessively wide, side-to-side, bounding strides that gradually narrow as they gain speed. Why, exactly, they do so is unknown to me, but I believe they maximize stride power and top speed by engaging the hip abductors.

The hip abductors, by the way, are the hip and glute muscles that propel a sideways push-off.

Three studies he found, out of the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, linked narrow stride to foot pain, shin splints, and knee problems. (U of W-L also co-sponsored the study we covered yesterday on corrective shoe inserts.)

And, most importantly, the gait correction worked for both him and his patients.

For a list of drills to improve your own stride width, check out Joe Uhan’s entire post on iRunFar.

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