I’ve discussed a lot about running step width because running with a narrow step width was found to increase the risk of ITBS. However, most of the runners in these studies were heel strike runners, not forefoot strike runners. Other reports have found that widening your preferred step width by at least 5% may improve running economy, too.
So, based on this data, I try to run with a wider step width, and it was going okay, but not great for me, until I watched the men’s 2016 US Olympic Marathon Trials and noticed that the winner, Galen Rupp, ran with a very narrow step width, or a completely crossover running gait. Galen MUST be running with a crossover running gait for a reason, and obviously there must not be a potential harm associated with crossover running as mentioned in past studies — again, remember, most studies involve heel strike runenrs, so heel strike running may be the sole problem, not so much step width.
Running Step Width – Wide vs Narrow
As it turns out, a narrow step width may be more efficient, but don’t forget your running efficiency is always more powerful with a forefoot strike landing style –the same foot strike style Galen Rupp uses. Researchers speculate that humans prefer to run with a narrow step width –one that is close to zero– because it minimizes side-to-side body sway (Cavanagh, 1987), therefore crossover running may play a role in maintaining stability, and when the body is more stable during running, more energy can be saved.
Below is a video showing Galen Rupp running with a crossover running gait, or a very narrow step width.
McClay and Cavanagh (1994) found that running with a narrow step width, especially when the steps occur along the midline, reduces mediolateral ground reaction force. In contrast, increasing your step width may increase side-to-side kinetic energy fluctuations of the body which would make a runner less efficient because the prime goal in running is to move forward, not side-to-side (Arellan and Kram 2011). To add to this, Arellan and Kram, (2011) found that runners wasted more energy when they ran with a wider step width. Instead, running with a more narrow step width may reduce muscular effort needed to control front and back postural moments (Cavanagh, 1987). Other work has found that humans prefer to run with a step width near zero –i.e. near the midline (Donelan et al., 2001; Ortega et al., 2008), which was evident in Galen Rupps running style shown above.
So my final thoughts on step width is study the forefoot running styles of Galen Rupp, Mo Farah and Tirunesh Dibaba and experiment with a narrower step width, or if you are in a good place with forefoot running, don’t change anything and stay true to your natural forefoot running form and do what feels good.
Also, the shorter distance runners seem to run with a wider step width, and Galen Rupp, ran a marathon with a narrow step width, so maybe a narrow step width is more advantageous mechanically and energetically for longer distances.
More From Run Forefoot:
Arellano, CJ and Kram R. The effects of step width and arm swing on energetic cost and lateral balance during running. J Biomech, 2011;44, 1291-1295.
Cavanagh, P.R., 1987. The biomechanics of lower extremity action in distance running. Foot & Ankle 7, 197–217.
Donelan, J.M., Kram, R., Kuo, A.D., 2001. Mechanical and metabolic determinants of the preferred step width in human walking. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 268, 1985–1992.
McClay, I.S., Cavanagh, P.R., 1994. Relationship between foot placement and mediolateral ground reaction forces during running. Clinical Biomechanics, 117–123.
Ortega, J.D., Fehlman, L.A., Farley, C.T., 2008. Effects of aging and arm swing on the metabolic cost of stability in human walking. Journal of Biomechanics 41, 3303–3308.
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.