What is over-striding?
Over-striding is when your initial point of contact with the ground is in front of your centre of mass. When this occurs there is an increase in vertical ground reaction force and braking impulse.
So what in the name of Paula Radcliffe’s bobbing head does THAT mean? Well, thanks to my fellow countryman Sir Isaac Newton’s third law of motion, we know that “every action has an equal but opposite reaction”. You may have unwittingly experienced something like this when telling your partner you were going for “one pint” after work and, having stumbled home eight hours later, found all of your personal belongings on your front lawn in a bin bag. Opposite? Yes. Equal? I’m not so sure… but I digress.
What it means is that there is excess force pushing back up at us from the ground, which our bodies have to try and absorb, and that force is pushing against the direction we want to go in. Neither of those things are ideal, particularly when considering how many of these strides we take over any significant distance.
Why is this relevant to running injuries?
The joint that commonly bears the brunt of Newton’s wrath is the knee joint, particularly the patello-femoral joint (kneecap). When over-striding, we tend to land with a straighter knee, meaning the quadriceps aren’t in the optimal position to absorb the force, leading to more force through the joint itself. Landing with a straight knee and a forward tilted pelvis means the hamstrings are also in a lengthened state at initial contact. Again, this is not ideal for the hamstring and likely to add extra compressive force to its attachments, which over time may lead to, or exacerbate, something like a proximal hamstring tendinopathy.
If it is the heel that hits the ground first in this over-striding position, the initial force can bypass the body’s first shock absorbing system in the medial longitudinal arch of the foot. This results in more force going through the shin, contributing to shin splints symptoms. We are also striking the ground very close to the insertion of one of the key components of this shock absorbing system: the plantar fascia.
“AH HA!” I hear all you Barefoot brothers and sisters scream, “Not if you FOREFOOT STRIKE!” Well yes, the load pattern is different, but it is now our tiny metatarsals that experience Sir Isaac’s fury, followed by the achilles and calf complex… sorry guys!
What can I do about it?
When it comes to running retraining, increasing your cadence is probably the least technical component of change: take more steps at the same speed. This is harder than it sounds to put into practice, particularly when not on a treadmill, as instead of taking more steps, most people just put in a Roger Bannister-esqe mile effort and have coronary at 1 mile and 3 feet. That is NOT the aim of increasing your cadence.
If you do over-stride, increasing your step rate by 5-10% could be the answer, or at least part of the answer. Doing so can significantly reduce the amount of energy absorption required in the lower limb, especially at the knee joint. It’s not the increased step rate itself that has this positive effect, more the shortening of the stride length to achieve the increased step rate. This means the initial point of contact is now closer to the centre of mass and the knee is in a more flexed position, as demonstrated below.
But it feels harder!
It will likely feel quite different, and I appreciate most people fear change as much as I fear hearing the words “I have a high pain threshold”. It may even feel harder to do at first – I’ve lost count of the amount of times clients have given me the “is this guy serious?” look, also known as “running bitch-face”, when I’ve told them it will be more efficient, yet they feel like they’re towing a caravan. There will be an adaptation period, as there is with anything new, but so long as you don’t make too steep a jump in cadence and stick to the +5-10% guideline, it shouldn’t lead to any significant increase in oxygen consumption or heart rate.
Most run watches can measure your cadence and in clinic it’s simply measured with a metronome, which seems to be the most effective way of practicing the cadence increase too. If listening to a metronome whilst running makes you want to strangle yourself with your own shoelaces, however, then feel free to get creative by making your own playlists, full of songs with your required BPM.
OFFICIAL ‘CAN OF WORMS’ DODGE!
If you suspect you are over-striding and you do have one of the injuries mentioned above, I highly recommend having a running assessment. When attempting to change your running technique it’s easy to actually be doing something very different to what you think you are doing... I’m talking more Phoebe Buffay than Mo Farah.
Slow-motion video analysis is a perfect tool for assessing whether or not you over-stride and if changing your cadence will correct your landing position (as the last thing you want to do is just shift the problem elsewhere). As you can see in the video, my point of contact has changed from heel to mid-foot. This in itself changes how structures will be loaded, so it’s extremely important that specific strengthening and mobility exercises are given to cater for this adaptation.
Changing cadence is just one of many different running retraining techniques you can utilise to effectively reduce an over-stride, so if any of this is arousing painful demons, then do yourself a favour and book a one on one coaching session now!