We’ve all experienced it. After a long walk with a friend, you compare notes—aka your step counts. And even though you walked the exact same distance, your step counts are totally different. It might not seem fair that your walking buddy already hit their 10,000-step goal while you’re left behind at 8,500—but there’s a reason for the difference and it all has to do with your step length.
Step length one of the many things Apple’s Health app tracks. It’s defined as “the distance between your front foot and back foot when walking.”
“Step length is a confluence of walking speed, height (or, as a better measure, leg length), natural factors like environmental demands, and physical abilities or limitations,” says Jason Loebig, a Chicago-based Nike Trainer, Nike+ Run Club Coach, and co-founder of Live Better Co. “For example, your step length might be different walking down your neighborhood sidewalk than if you were hiking up a mountain trail.”
That also means if you’re walking with a friend who is shorter or taller than you, your step length—and, therefore, step count—is going to be different, too. “Someone who is 6 feet tall is likely to have a longer step length than someone who is 5 feet tall” says Loebig. “And the person with the longer step length is likely to have a lower step count.” An injury can affect step length, too, as the person might be more cautious and take shorter steps at a slower.
There isn’t a “perfect” step length. “It’s what’s strong, natural, and confident for each person individually,” says Loebig. But it is a number to pay attention to—and to work on. Being able to take longer steps affects your long-term mobility.
“As we age, step length may decline due to factors such as loss of physical strength, loss of coordination, and an increased fear of falling. We can correlate ‘appropriate’ step length at a specific age to improved mobility if we can maintain the body’s natural ability to walk with strength and coordination,” says Loebig. “This is why it’s important to exercise and maintain mobility as we age—especially proper training to gait, balance, leg strength, and core stability. The more confident we are in our walking abilities, the more likely we are to take full, strong steps.”
So, I get it. My friends who are short than me will always beat me in step-count competitions. But when it comes to speed walking, they better watch their backs.
If you really want to up your daily step count, try this HIIT workout:
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