Many forefoot runners, like Mo Farah and Tirunesh Dibaba have a long stride compared to other forefoot runners, like Galen Rupp –whom of which are all world-class distance runners, but in general, most forefoot runners, even Farah and Dibaba, still have a shorter stride than most heel strike runners.
So in this article, I am going to discuss why it’s okay to have a relatively long stride length like Farah and Dibaba, but you don’t want to take insanely large steps either because doing so is very mechanically unfavorable.
Why You Don’t Want An Overly Long Stride When Running
If you land with a forefoot strike when running, this will naturally shorten your stride, which is a good thing because a shorter stride is safer on the body. However, many runners have the habit of taking overly long steps to increase running speed. This is an efficient way to run and here’s why.
When you run with an exceptionally long stride, like a heel strike runner, you automatically decrease your step rate whereby a lower step rate is a determinant of injury and poor running efficiency. Stride length is also a predictor of running speed –the general trend in faster runners when they achieve their fastest running time trial is when running speed increases, their stride length seems to decrease, too. And, taking very long, unnatural strides when running may also be energetically wasteful. Using a long step length to run faster requires more muscle strength and power (Hunter et al. 2003). But, don’t go shortening your stride just yet.
Why It’s Okay To Have A Moderately Long Stride, Like Farah
Many people who learn forefoot running from Pose Running develop a short, chopping, unnatural-looking stride –East African runners (the best runners in the world!) do not run this way. Their stride is much longer, but they are still landing on the forefoot. So, in my opinion, it’s okay to have a longer stride, like Mo Farah, you just don’t want to over-reach with your leg to the point where your foot lands way out in front of your center mass (upper body).
Mo Farah has a longer stride, and he also leans a little forward when he runs. This helps his foot land farther under his center of mass, and allows for a relatively high step rate. Landing with your foot under, or near your center of mass, makes forefoot running safer because it reduces the horizontal braking GRF (ground reaction force) via encouraging a higher step rate even if your stride length is long.
Below shows Mo Farah’s stride. His stride is long, but landing on his forefoot helps his feet land under his hips.
Another bonus of having a stride length similar to Farah is that it increases horizontal velocity which reduces ground contact time –this is in part, how a long stride, with a forefoot strike, allows for a higher step rate to occur simultaneously. So, you can have a long stride and have a high step rate too, as long as you land with a forefoot strike.
The take home message here is do what feels natural with your stride length. If a long stride length feels more natural and comfortable than a shorter stride length, don’t change anything. As long as you land with a forefoot strike, you are doing your body a big favor by keeping impact low.
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BSc Neurobiology; MSc Biomechanics candidate, ultra minimalist runner & founder of RunForefoot. I was a heel striker, always injured. I was inspired by the great Tirunesh Dibaba to try forefoot running. Now, I'm injury free. This is why I launched Run Forefoot, to advocate the health & performance benefits of forefoot running and to raise awareness on the dangers of heel striking, because the world needs to know.