Overstriding – the underlying cause of many issues
Increasing dynamic flexibility and strength of the muscles of the hip & core. We’ve addressed the importance of strong but flexible hip flexors & hamstrings and strong gluteus medius & maximus. We can spend a lot of time working on core muscles & stretching, but if injuries are still occurring while running, there must be something else going on.
Does this situation sound familiar? Let’s say you are having some hip pain. You take some time off (or ease back) on your running. You spend this time strengthening the hip. Maybe you do side planks & bridges. At first, you are pretty weak with the exercises, so naturally, you think that improving strength in this area is going to help take away your pain. You get strong with the exercises & return to running. The pain comes back. Your hip muscles are strong now, so what’s the problem? If you are not putting your body in a good position to utilize the strength that you have built, that strength won’t matter & you will still be setting yourself up for nagging pain or injury.
How do we put our body in a good position to function efficiently with the strength & flexibility that we’ve put time into obtaining? Let’s focus on running form. There are many opinions & theories out there on the “best” way to run. The truth is, there are so many different aspects of form to look at and since everybody is different in terms of height, weight, strength, flexibility, training level, and genetic makeup, it’s very difficult to say that a specific way of running is best for everyone. However, there is one aspect of form that is agreed upon in the running world that is a key in improving efficiency and reducing injury and that is the importance of not overstriding.
When we run, the foot should naturally land a little bit in front of the Center of Gravity (COG), or the hips. When the foot lands slightly in front of the COG, the elastic energy that the body naturally develops has time to build up. This elastic energy then turns into kinetic energy when we push off to propel our bodies forward. Notice that I said the foot lands “slightly” in front of the body, not way out in front of the body. I also didn’t mention whether the foot lands on the heel or the midfoot. That is not the focus here. Remember, everyone is different, and foot strikes will be different among runners.
Let’s take a look at what happens when the foot lands too far in front of the COG, as is the case with overstriding. Overstriding puts the body in a poor position to naturally absorb shock. The angles of the joints are put into positions that increase the forces on them and make them prone to injury. The ankle is usually in an excessive state of dorsiflexion and the knee is too straight. This position will increase force on the foot, ankle, shin, knee, hip, and low back.
Overstriding causes the body to spend too much time on the ground, pulling itself first into a mid-stance phase, and then propelling itself forward. Increased time on the ground means increased time for injury to occur. During the mid-stance phase, all of those hip muscles that we have worked so hard on are put into their most efficient position to perform. It is during this time that the strength of the gluteus medius will stabilize the rotation of the femur, the flexible hip flexors will allow the strong gluteus maximus to push off and powerfully extend the hip, propelling our bodies forward. During mid-stance, the ankles & knees are flexed and our feet are close to our COG. This is an efficient position to be in. The key is to not waste the time striding way out in front of the COG. Look at the picture below, the runner in front is landing much closer to his COG than his competitor. The second runner is overstriding, and you can see his front leg is in a poor position for shock absorption.
How do we get our feet to land closer to our COG? There are many different cues that different coaches will tell you, but one factor to take into consideration is stride rate, or cadence. How many steps do you take in a minute of running? The popular number in the running world is to strive for 180 strides per minute. Remember, runners are different, so cadence will be different among runners. A good range to shoot for is between 170 – 190 strides per minute. If you have a very low cadence, simply aim to increase it by 5%, and gradually work your way up to the target range. Just like with anything else, changing too much too quickly can sometimes cause more problems than it prevents. To be able to achieve the target cadence range, you will naturally have to shorten your stride, which will put your body in a better position to absorb shock, and will help you to utilize your hip strength & elastic energy more efficiently. Next time you’re out for a run, focus on one leg, time yourself for a minute, and count how many times that leg strikes the ground, multiply by 2, that’s your cadence.
Combining a strong core, flexible muscles, and keeping your stride shorter can help to keep you running longer, stronger, and healthier!