The Dangers of Overstriding—and How to Stop It

Overstriding occurs when the dashed line above is too long. Image: courtesy of Dr. Bryan Heiderscheit.

Want to run healthy forever? Start here.

It is well-known that 65-75 percent of runners experience an injury every year (1). This makes running a highly injurious sport, causing researchers to look into what factors lead runners to injury.

The list of risk factors is extensive but near the top is overstriding. Running stride is the distance from where your foot hits the ground back to an invisible line down from your center of mass (anatomically, this is the fifth segment of the lumbar spine).

Once this line passes a certain length, we consider it overstriding. Overstriding has been shown to increase stress on the body. Some people have enough strength to absorb the increased stress but many do not. Even with enough strength, it is not efficient to run accepting more mechanical load (stress) than is necessary to produce forward momentum.

But wait—it gets worse. The longer the stride, the greater amount of vertical displacement. This means the further out you stride, the higher you jump in the air and, therefore, the harder you land on the ground. Increased vertical displacement is another top risk factor in running injuries.

Further, overstriding leads to a straighter knee and a more aggressive heel strike which significantly reduces the knee muscles’ ability to absorb shock. The shock is then transferred to the knee menisci, knee joint and on to the hip and back joints.

The most definitive way to know if you are overstriding is to undergo a running analysis. Find a clinician that is well-trained in running biomechanics and, under high-speed video, have them assess your stride length relative to your leg length and speed.

2 Ways to Stop Overstriding

Here are two ways to reduce over striding on your own:

1. Increase your cadence by 5 percent of what it is currently. In the 2011 paper “Effects of step rate manipulation on joint mechanics during running”, researchers from the University of Wisconsin investigated whether they could reduce impact forces in runners by increasing their stride rate. By monitoring load changes following small modifications to stride rate, they concluded that “subtle increases in step rate can substantially reduce the loading to the hip and knee joints during running and may prove beneficial in the prevention and treatment of common running-related injuries.” (2)

To learn your cadence, count your right foot strikes in 30 seconds and multiply by 4. The number should be between 145-190. An ideal range is between 170-190.

2. Gradually begin to reduce the amount of heel cushion in your shoe. This is called “drop” or “heel-toe offset” in shoe terms. If you’re in 12mm drop shoes now, consider buying your next pair with an 8mm drop. We recommend running in 6mm or less. A less cushioned heel discourages a huge overstriding heel-strike pattern of landing. As a bonus, you will find the lower drop shoe generally has less structure and stiffness, which means your foot gets to work as nature intended. Despite what you’ve been told, your foot wants to do its job and doesn’t want a shoe to inhibit its natural movement.

RELATED: Footstrike 101: How Should Your Foot Hit The Ground?

Addressing your overstriding habit is a great place to start but is in no way entirely comprehensive for adequate running health. There are many aspects of running that we may need to address to make sure we stay healthy. But, if you’ve never taken a good look at how you run, start with finding out if you’re overstriding and you’re likely to see a profound effect on your running health and performance.

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About the Author: Dr. Eric Schweitzer has been a Doctor of Physical Therapy for 14 years and is board certified in orthopaedic physical therapy. He is one of the few clinicians in the country that specializes specifically in running medicine including running injury prevention, running injury rehabilitation & running performance. Eric is certified as a Pose Running form coach as well as a certified manual therapist. Eric owns Premier Physical Therapy & Yoga in Clearwater. This is the only yoga studio in Tampa Bay where the yoga is guided by a Doctor of Physical Therapy. His other clinic, Premier Run & Fit, is a running specific physical therapy clinic inside a retail running store, The St. Pete Running Company. Find more about Dr. Schweitzer at www.PremierRunFit.com, Twitter: @RunTampaBay

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Sources: 

Injuries in runners. Lysholm J, Wiklander J. Am J Sports Med. 1987 Mar-Apr;15(2):168-71.

Reduced Eccentric Loading of the Knee with the Pose Running Method. Arendse R, Noakes TD, Azevedo LB, Romanov N, Schwellnus, Martin P, Fletcher, G. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: Volume 36(2) February 2004 pp 272-277

Effects of step rate manipulation on joint mechanics during running. Heiderscheit BC, Chumanov ES, Michalski MP, Wille CM, Ryan MB. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2011 Feb;43(2):296-302.

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