One of the questions we hear all the time from runners is, “Am I overstriding? I’m not sure what I’m actually doing when I run.” Reading about running form, watching YouTube videos, and so forth may help you become well-informed about running but it doesn’t improve your ability to feel your own body and know how to interpret those sensations.
This is a difficulty I can’t completely solve by writing a blog post, needless to say! But I can share with you this quick test to help you tell whether you’re overstriding or not and help you understand more about what that means.
Here’s the test: Find a place with a somewhat slippery floor. It could be smooth wood, polished granite, or even a slippery carpet (I have one like that at home). If you have access to a freshly Zamboni-ed ice rink, by all means use that! Walk across the surface in dry socks (or shoes in the case of ice) and see if your feet slip backwards a little bit with each step just when you’re pushing off. If they do, you can be pretty certain that you overstride when you run.
What is the relationship between feet slipping backwards a little as you push off when walking and overstriding when running? In both walking and running you move across your foot and eventually withdraw it from the ground through some fairly complex actions performed by the rest of your body. If your foot slips backwards when you walk, you aren’t moving across your foot all the way and instead are trying to push off and then lift your foot with your weight still on it. Since gait is a cycle, and each part of the cycle feeds into every other part, you can be certain that if your weight is too far back for an easy, slip-free toe-off your weight is also too far behind your foot when it strikes the ground. In other words, you overstride. And you can also know a few things about your movement habits that you take with you into running that may be more important than the fundamentally confusing question of whether you overstride.
Now before we leave this topic you probably have a burning question in your mind – “How do I fix my overstriding?” And I have one as well – “How do I break it to them that everyone overstrides?”
Let me tackle the second part first: In reality your foot always has to land a bit in front of your center of gravity because this is the phase of your gait cycle in which your elastic tissues of your foot and lower leg “load” or stretch so they can recoil and propel you forward in the later part of your stride. [For an excellent explanation, see Anatomy for Runners by Jay Dicharry.] The faster you’re running, the longer your stride length is, the more in front of you the footstrike likely happens. But the key is that it’s counterbalanced by a toe-off that’s also farther behind you. “Overstriding” is normal and even necessary as long as it’s the right amount, and you can tell the right amount because in that case your foot is right below your hip joint in midstance. That’s the moment that’s worth analyzing, and if it’s right, there’s no harmful overstriding going on. And if your foot slips backwards in my “overstriding” test, you can be fairly certain that your ankle is in front of your pelvis in midstance for both walking and running. In other words, your foot is too far forward, your hips are too far back, your toe-off isn’t far enough behind you, and there is overstriding going on that’s, well, let’s call it less-than-optimal.
So you want to know how to fix it. The answer is to develop healthy trunk mechanics and make sure you’re not being held back by tight hip flexors and/or calves. Healthy trunk mechanics involve a counterrotation of your pelvis and upper body, which means that your pelvis moves and your upper body does too. Take a look at the videos on our YouTube Channel if this is a new concept to you. When you have healthy trunk mechanics your stride is regulated so that your foot is right beneath you at midstance and your feet and legs pretty much take care of themselves. To develop and nuture your healthy trunk mechanics you can do Feldenkrais lessons one-to-one, in workshops, or at home via audio lessons, and make sure your cross-training supports them.
Got questions about this? Let ‘er rip:
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Jae Gruenke, GCFP, is a running technique expert and Feldenkrais Practitioner. Known as a “running form guru,” she is the Founder and CEO of The Balanced Runner™ in New York City and The Balanced Runner UK. She has helped runners from beginner to Olympian improve their form to become pain-free, economical, and fast.