overstriding

Keep Your Foot Off The Brake When You Run

In October, I ran most of the Mohawk Hudson River Marathon next to a runner who was scuffing his feet every time they landed.  Each time he did this, he was using up energy and slowing himself down.  Assuming he continued to do this for 3 ½ hours, he scuffed his feet almost 38,000 times during the marathon. 

One of the most common mistakes in running is overstriding, extending your foot far out in front of your center of gravity (use your navel as a point of reference).  Many people who overstride land on their heel, rather than their midfoot.  Often, their feet make a slapping sound as they hit the ground.  Some land on their midfoot, but scuff their feet with each stride.

Landing with your foot in front of your center of gravity results in forces that push you backward, rather than forward, using up energy and slowing you down.  Ideally, you want to land on your midfoot with your foot traveling backwards just before the moment of impact.  This backward motion before impact is called pawback.

Some runners try to lengthen their stride by extending their leg far in front of them.  In some extreme cases, they may even straighten their leading leg.  The causes a shock on landing that often results in shin splints.

Here are some tips to avoid overstriding:

  • Make sure that your stride rate is approximately 180 steps per minute
  • Keep your knees bent
  • Don’t extend your foot in front of you
  • Land on your midfoot
  • Pawback with your foot just before landing
  • Practice running barefoot or in minimalist shoes some of the time

I’ve embedded a video below in which barefoot running guru Lee Saxby shares some exercises to help you improve your running form.

Give these exercises a try and let me know how you do in the comments.

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Are you an Overstrider? Find out in 1 minute.

Most non-elite runners are overstriders.  Their foot lands on their heel, out in front of their body.  Overstriding can result in poor running economy and can lead to injuries like shin splints.

To find out if you are an overstrider, determine the number of strides you take per minute.  The easiest way to do this is to count the number of times that your right (or left) foot lands each minute, then multiply by 2.  If you breathe in the common 2-2 pattern (breathe in for 2 strides, breathe out for 2 strides), you can count the number of breaths you take in a minute and multiply by 4.

Studies have shown that 180 strides per minute is optimal for efficient running. If you get an number that is much lower than 180, you are overstriding.  Shorten your stride and increase your leg turnover, making sure that your feet land on the middle of your foot, under your body.

It may take some time to adjust your stride rate.  Check it regularly to see how you are doing.  Some runners use a metronome set at the proper tempo to make sure that they are maintaining the correct stride rate.   The clip-on Seiko DM50 metronome is a popular model.  It costs about $25.

You can also download an MP3 file of a metronome set to 180 beats per minute here.

I changed my stride rate about 3 years ago and I think that it has helped me to improve my running efficiency and prevent injuries.  I used to get shin splints whenever I increased my mileage significantly.  Now, I don’t get them at all.

Take the Overstriding Test on your next run and let me know your results.

Related Posts:

Top 10 Ways to Prevent Shin Splints

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Top 10 Ways to Prevent Shin Splints

Shin splints are one of the most common running injuries.  Here’s how to prevent them.

  • Don’t increase your mileage too fast.  No more than 10% per week.
  • Don’t suddenly start doing a ton of speed work.  Ease into it.
  • Don’t suddenly start doing a lot of hills. 
  • Don’t suddenly switch to running on a much harder surface.
  • Don’t suddenly start running in racing flats or other shoes with minimal cushioning.
  • Make sure you shoes are right for you and your biomechanics.
  • Make sure your shoes aren’t too worn.  Replace them after 300 miles or so.
  • Avoid overstriding
  • Stretch your calves.  Shin splints are often caused by an imbalance between your shins and your calves. 
  • Strengthen your shins by repeated flexing your toes toward your shins and by walking on your heels with your toes flexed upward.

If you do end up getting shin splints, get some rest, ice your shins, take some anti-inflammatories, and re-evaluate your recent training to look for clues as to what caused them.  Make some adjustments and when your shins feel better, ease back into running. 

Let me know how you prevent shin splints in the comments.

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Running Safely on Snow and Ice

Many parts of the country have been hit in the last few days with snow and ice.  This doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to stop running and stay indoors.  There are a number of products on the market that can help you to run safely on ice and snow. 

Last year, around this time, I wrote a post about the YakTrax Pro traction device, which slips over your shoe to give you additional traction on ice and snow.  It works well for me. I ran in them yesterday on snow and ice-covered roads in Northern Michigan. 

If you haven’t run on snow before, there are some adjustments that you will have to make, even if you are wearing something like YakTrax.  To avoid a nasty fall, you will need land on your midfoot or on the balls of your feet.  Overstriding is bad for your running in general, but it is positively dangerous on ice. If you are an overstrider, earning to run well on snow and ice may actually improve your running form.  You also can’t push off as hard on ice and snow as you normally would and you can’t take corners as fast.

You will be sore in some different places.  To run on ice and snow, you use more of the stabilizing muscles in your ankles, calves, knees, hips, glutes, abs, and back.  It’s a little like running in sand on the beach. 

There are several other products on the market for running on snow and ice, including the Petzl Spiky Plus, STABILicers Sport, and ICESPIKES Shoe Spikes. If you plan on running off road or in really deep snow, snowshoes are the way to go.

Have you tried any of these products?  Tell me about your experience running on ice and snow in the comments.

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