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Step Width and Running Injuries

17 Jun 2019
Randall Cooper
Stride length gets plenty of attention when running biomechanics are considered in running related injuries. However, step width is something that may also contribute to ITB, knee and shin pain in particular, so in this blog I’ll take a look at the research and offer a couple of exercises that can help.

Step (or stride) length and width are two different things. Take a look at the image below – it’s a fairly easy concept to grasp.

 

Image: Step Length & Step Width

Step length is something that we’ll tackle in another blog, so let focus on a how a narrow step width can contribute to running related injuries. A common sign that your step width is too narrow is when your heel clips the inside of the other leg during the swing phase.

A narrow step width can be habitual (you have just always run like that) or an indication of weakness in the lateral stabilising muscles, such as the gluteals and TFL. Weakness in these muscles can cause runners to place their foot closer to the midline and rely more on passive structures in the lower limb such as the ITB to maintain balance, support and control during the single leg support phase of running.

Image:  Athletes Alain Dutton & Lissy Duncan showing good step width and hip control

Running with a narrow step width has been shown to exert significant lateral loading through the lower limb increasing stress on the ITB (Meardon et. al. 2012) and shin (Meardon et. Al 2014).  

A narrow step width is also an inefficient way to run due to increased rotation through the trunk, pelvis and hips. Running in this way is often referred to as a cross over pattern and it’s the equivalent of walking heel to toe along a thin line.

So how do you fix it?

The first step (no pun intended!) is to analyze your running gait on a treadmill in front of a mirror.

When watching your own running in the mirror, work on having your foot strike right below your hip. Other cues that you can use include ‘running with a ball between your knees’ or ‘running along tram tracks’.

 

Image: Analyze your step width on a treadmill

If strength and/or pelvic control is a factor, then strengthening up the gluteals and TFL can help. Here’s a couple of great exercises for this;

 

Crab Walks

This exercise is not only brilliant for improving endurance and strength in lateral hip and pelvic muscles but also allows the individual to focus on optimal step width by resisting the band and preventing the foot from landing inside the hip.  

 

Image: Crab Walks

With the band around your knees, slowly take steps to the side. Rest, and crab walk back facing the same way.

 

To Start: 4 x 10m with a light resistance band around knees
Progression: 4 x 15m with a moderate resistance band around knees
Pro: 6 x 15m with moderate resistance band around ankles and holding a 5kg medicine ball

 

McConnell Ball Holds

Similar to the crab walks this exercise is a fantastic drill to gain strength and control around the hip and pelvis and also allows the individual to focus on optimal single leg loading. 

 

Image: McConnell Ball Holds

Place an exercise ball between the outside of your knee and the wall. Bent your knee and maintain a good steady posture on the stance leg. Firmly press the side of your knee into the exercise ball maintaining the good position.

 

To Start: 4 x 10 second holds each side
Progression: 4 x 15 second holds each side
Pro: 4 x 30 second holds each side

 

Happy running!

 

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References

Meardon SA, Campbell S, Derrick TR. Step width alters iliotibial band strain during running. Sports Biomech. 2012 Nov; 11(4):464-72.

Meardon SA and Derrick TR. Effect of step width manipulation on tibial stress during running. Journal of Biomechanics (2014) 47(11), 2738-2744




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