Beginning runners worry about having the perfect stride, but a new study suggests that sticking with the way you naturally run — even if you’re inexperienced — is the most efficient option.
Scientists recruited 33 runners — some experienced and some beginner — to do a 20-minute treadmill run. The participants tried out five different stride rates while wearing masks that measured how much oxygen their bodies were using. By this measure, the body used oxygen most effectively when people were running naturally. The results were published in the International Journal of Exercise Science by scientists, professors at Brigham Young University, who are runners themselves. Jared Ward finished sixth in the marathon in the 2016 Olympics, while Iain Hunter is a consultant for USA Track and Field.
These results held true, regardless of running experience. The participants included 19 experienced runners who averaged at least 20 miles a week, and 14 inexperienced runners who never ran more than five miles a week. They tested out five different strides using a metronome that beeped whenever they should be hitting the ground. One of them was their natural stride, as well as strides that were 8 percent or 16 percent faster and slower.
It’s important to emphasize that the researchers are measuring how “efficient” a certain stride — that is, which stride uses oxygen most effectively — and not necessarily how fast a certain stride it. Serious runners often go to gait coaches to help them learn to run in a way that makes them perform better. These different gaits might ultimately make them faster, even if their bodies aren’t expending energy as economically as possible. Still, it’s good to know that there’s at least one advantage to sticking to what comes easily.