One of the things new runners hear all the time is running compact. If you are stumped by that piece of advice, just know that it’s one way of ensuring you run without injuries.

Despite how innocuous it looks, running actually results in a very high number of injuries. This is down to the fact that there are a lot of moving parts in running. The list of injury factors is extensive because your upper body and lower body play an equally important role in your runs. When either one is going wrong, your chances of getting injured increase. One of the top factors is overstriding.

What’s overstriding?
Running stride is simply the distance between your back foot on the ground and the point at which your front foot strikes the ground. There’s no specific distance that’s best for running, but the general rule of thumb is to land your front foot in an invisible line straight down from your centre of mass. When overstriding this imaginary line does not come straight down, but at an acute angle in relation to the ground. This means your legs are at an obtuse angle, which makes it considerably harder for you to pick up speed or run efficiently.

A good example of a correct stride
A good example of a correct stride

Why it hurts
Make no mistake, you can absolutely still run when overstriding, but it would result in bad injuries of the knee, ankle and foot over long periods. Firstly, even with enough built-up strength, it is simply not the optimal way of running, making you spend more energy than is necessary to keep the running momentum going.

Secondly, overstriding has a ripple effect on the rest of your running gait. Typically over-striders are heel-strikers, landing on their heels rather than the ideal mid-foot or fore-foot landing. Being a smaller surface area your heel will dig into the ground harder akin to a pin sinking into a cushion. Often inexperienced runners don’t notice the discomfort because they are wearing shoes with a well-cushioned heel drop. Over long periods of running, this can lead to serious damage in that area.

Mark Zuckerberg came into some criticism for publicising his year of running while heel-striking
Mark Zuckerberg came into some criticism for publicising his year of running while heel-striking

Not only are your heels suffering, but the straightening of the knee during the process greatly impacts the joint, reducing its capability of absorbing impact. In contrast the perfect stride will have your knees slightly bent, in great shape to absorb the impact. The shock to the knee of an over-strider results in the runner’s knee, one of the most common injuries. And it doesn’t stop there either, cascading up the lower body to your hips and thighs.

Fixing the stride
There are now clinics around the world which will examine your running gait and determine how expansive or compact your stride is. Some doctors specialise in dealing with running fitness. But a simple way is to have a friend take a video or photographs of your runs and seeing them over time.

And if you know you are overstriding, you can fix it by increasing your cadence – or the number of strides per foot. Small modifications have been known to reduce the load on your hip and knee joints, and you would also automatically move back to a more compact form. To find out your cadence, count any one foot’s strikes in 30 seconds and multiply that number by 4 to get your cadence for both feet in one minute. An ideal range is said to be 170-190, so try to get there if you are lagging behind.

Parts of a running shoe
The heel drop is just under the heel counter

Another way is to get shoes with minimal cushions. You can see a wide range of shoes to get one that has a great fit for your feet, but without a pronounced heel drop. Get used to this pair and you will find heel-striking more and more uncomfortable, since there’s less of a cushion buffer. It’s also great to improve your lift-off action and add some pace to your runs.

So while overstriding is definitely an obstacle for runners, it’s also relatively easy to fix or overcome. All said and done, it’s not the only way to remain injury-free, but it definitely goes a long way.

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