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Why is Overstriding Going to Make Me More Injury Prone?


By: Preston Johnson

Whenever you find yourself with a group of runners it isn’t uncommon to hear the topic of heel striking (initial contact with the ground while running is with the heel of the foot) and forefoot striking (initial contact with the ground while running is with the forefoot) brought up. While neither of these styles are necessarily bad, studies have shown that those that over-stride and heel strike excessively have a much higher rate of developing a moderate or severe injury and it is shown to be less efficient and effective when trying to run fast. We want to dive into those concepts a little bit and talk about why it has those effects on your running and talk about how you can fix it.

To explain the effects of overstriding I am going to use some graphs generated from a ground reaction force plate (measures the amount of force on the plate over a period of time). Thanks to Newton’s 3rd Law we know that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. So for the amount of force that a runner puts on the plate, as he runs over it, the same amount of force is exerted back on his leg. These forces exerted by the ground are common causes of many running injuries. Let’s compare the reaction forces between an overstriding, excessive-heel striker and a forefoot striker.

 

The major difference shown in the images above is fairly evident. We are focusing on the extra spike in the force of the heel strike graph. This extra spike of force exerted through your leg is not absorbed very well when overstriding. When you are overstriding, your heel strikes the ground out in front of you with your leg a lot straighter than it would be if you were landing just in front of your center of gravity with your ankle bone directly underneath your knee (the optimal place to land). The straighter leg will decrease the amount of force that is absorbed through your muscles and joints and instead the force is being absorbed through your bone, which is far less elastic than your muscles and ligaments in your joints. This increases your susceptibility to stress fractures and stress reactions. Another important factor is the rate at which the force increases. Notice that in the heel strike graph the rate at which the force increases is very sudden as opposed to the forefoot strike graph which has a more gradual increase. This sudden increase creates a much higher impulse force than a gradual increase does. This impulse force in heel strikers has been seen up to 7x the force of someone who lands just in front of their center of gravity.

We mentioned previously that overstriding also effects your overall speed. In the image on the left notice the angle at which your foot hits the ground when overstriding. Thinking again about Newton’s 3rd law (every action has an equal and opposite reaction) imagine the force
from hitting the ground with your heel, when you’re overstriding, going in the opposite direction. This force is represented by the red arrow. Notice that the red arrow is pointing backwards. Essentially this force is acting as a break and slowing you down with every stride you take. Upon toe off you are required to exert more force to maintain the same pace due to the breaking effect of the opposing force.

So, this information is interesting to learn about, but it isn’t beneficial to you unless you learn how to fix the issues it presents. Focusing on landing on your forefoot or landing in a certain spot when your running is not the right way to go about fixing this, it can become very monotonous and will easily be forgotten as you continue running. Your body naturally runs in the most efficient way it can, but it is not necessarily the most efficient way for a human to run. If you find yourself overstriding and want to change it, focus on Increasing your running cadence, your ankle bone being directly beneath your knee when you land, landing just in front of your center of gravity, and building towards a cadence of 180 steps a minute. Increasing the strength of your Hamstrings and Gluteus muscles is important when increasing your cadence and shortening your stride. Doing squats and hamstring curls every other day is an effective way to improve that strength. As you continue to build strength spend some time on your run listening to a metronome (boring, I know, but its beneficial) set to a cadence that is 5% faster than your current cadence ((Current Cadence x .05) + Current Cadence). Focus on matching each step to the beat of the metronome. As this begins to feel natural over several runs, continue to progress the metronome by 5%.

For additional information on running form and overstriding, check out the video below on the form of 4-time Olympic gold medalist Mo Farah.

Video Credit: James Dunne
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This entry was posted on Thursday, August 30th, 2018 at 2:35 pm and is filed under Coaches Corner, Exercise Physiology, Expert Answers, Injuries and Pain, Injury Prevention, Sports Medicine, Utah Running. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.

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