By Rick Morris
There is no doubt that overstriding is the most common running form flaw among distance runners. I have coached many hundreds of runners during my career and over 90% of my clients tended to over-stride when they came to me. Overstriding is caused by reaching out in front of your center of gravity and landing on your heel. Overstriding causes a number of problems related to both performance and injuries.
Interruption of Forward Momentum
When you over stride you are in effect, “putting on the brakes” with each step. By reaching out in front of your center of gravity you are landing on your heel and stopping much of the forward momentum you have built up. Imagine skiing smoothly downhill. You are building forward momentum as your slide down the hill. Now imagine planting your poles in front of your body. You are slowing down and stopping your forward momentum. That is very similar to what happens when your reach out with your lead leg. If you plant that leg in front of your center of gravity you are slowing down the momentum you built up when traveling through the air after your previous push off.
Loss of Elastic Recoil Potential
Much of the power in your running stride comes from the elastic recoil ability of your muscles. Energy is stored in your muscles when they are stretched. When those same muscles recoil the energy is released. Imagine your muscles are large rubber bands. When your muscles are stretched upon contact with the ground they store a lot of elastic energy, just like stretching a rubber band. Your muscles then release that energy when they are allowed to release, just like releasing the rubber band. When you reach out in front of your center of gravity and land on your heel, the elastic energy is wasted. When you roll from your heel to your toes in a heel-toe stride you are not stretching and releasing the muscle. Your muscle stretches slowly and then collapses. You are wasting the potential elastic energy of your muscles. Instead you must generate the muscle force with a concentric muscle contraction. This results in less force production, more energy used and more ground contact time.
Higher Impact Stress
Overstriding causes you to land heavily on your heel. This places a lot of impact stress on your heel. That impact stress also affects your knees, hips and upper back. This is one of the primary causes of many running injuries.
To avoid or correct overstriding, concentrate on landing on the ball of your foot with your foot directly under your center of gravity. This will allow you to maintain most of your forward momentum. You should feel as if you gliding smoothly along the ground with little impact or vertical motion. Try to take quick shorter strides. You do want to maximize your stride length, but you want to do that by increasing your “air time” or time between foot strikes, not by reach out in front of your body. Try to take at least 90 full strides per minute. If you fall below that level you may be overstriding.
Before and after foot strike you should be dorsi-flexing your ankle. You are dorsi-flexing your ankle when you pick up your toes. This does two things to help you avoid overstriding. It prevents you from “toeing out” or pointing your toes towards the ground. Toeing out causes you to reach out in front of your body and over stride. Dorsi-flexing your ankle also puts your feet, knees and hips in the proper position to take full advantage of their elastic energy potential.