There may not be a universal “perfect form,” but one thing’s for sure: you should stop overstriding.
Foot strike is dominating the discussion about running form. Some researchers say that if we run as our ancestors did (barefoot or close to it), it would be impossible to land on the heel, therefore heel striking—and the cushioned shoes that encourage it—is the reason so many runners get injured. Dr. Peter Larson, an associate professor of biology at Saint Anselm College in New Hampshire, doesn’t see foot strike as the main issue.
After plowing through hundreds of years of research for his upcoming book Tread Lightly, Larson, who’s also behind the innovative running site Runblogger.com, discovered that there’s not one perfect shoe for everyone (some people need more support) nor are there form rules that everyone should follow. “We all have different backgrounds, different bodies, different fitness levels and different histories of shoe use that will have some impact on what we do when we run,” Larson says. However, he did come to one universal conclusion: “If you can do one thing that’s most beneficial for your running, it’s to avoid overstriding,” he says. “If you correct that, you can fix a lot of other problems.”
Why is overstriding bad?
Because it’s less efficient and can cause injury. “Generally when people run with a longer stride it increases the load on the knees and the hips. If you shorten the stride, it reduces the amount of work that the knee and hip have to do while you run,” Larson says. “A longer stride also tends to be associated with greater up-and-down movement, which requires more effort from the legs to cushion the fall.” And just because you’re a forefoot striker doesn’t mean you’re exempt—you can be a heel striker and not overstride or be a forefoot striker and overstride.
How can I tell if I’m overstriding?
• Have a friend film you running at a track, then watch the video in slow motion to see if your ankle lands far in front of your knee.
• Measure your cadence. If it’s down in the 150–160 steps per minute range, there’s a pretty good chance you’re overstriding (aim for 170–190).
- Do barefoot strides. These short bouts of speed (around 20–30 seconds) will help you understand what shortening your stride feels like. The harder the surface, the easier it is to feel your stride.
- Run in a more minimal shoe. The less cushioning you have, the more you’ll tend to shorten your stride and use your legs for cushioning.
- Get to a track. Speedwork can help. Use lightweight shoes and stay conscious of your form.
- Pick up your cadence. Use a metronome or an iPhone app to hit 170–190 steps per minute. Falling outside of this range isn’t necessarily bad, but can indicate overstriding on the low end or a short, choppy stride on the high end (unless you’re running at top speed, in which case increased stride rate is typical).
- Allow the foot to swing back under your body before striking the ground—don’t skid the foot forward.
- Work on hip extension. A powerful stride comes from strong propulsion at the hips. Tight hip flexors and weak glutes and hamstrings can limit your hip extension.