3 Possible Reasons Why You Can't Stop Overstriding

What is Overstriding?

 Overstriding when running means landing too far ahead of your centre of mass (i.e. your hips) and, therefore, braking with each step.  Overstriding is not the same for sprinters and runners as the margin of error is a lot smaller for sprinters who need to land on the ball of their foot when running at their top speed. In contrast, distance runners can land a bit more ahead of their body's centre of gravity. 

How to Stop Overstriding

Overstriding is often described as the underlying cause of running injuries and poor running performance.  However, not many articles or videos seem to discuss the root causes of overstriding itself.  In fact, many of them imply that all that you need to do to stop overstriding, is well, to start shortening your stride. They make it seem so simple: just pay attention to where your foot is landing with each step.  

From both personal experience and training athletes, I found that changing your running form is far from being that easy.  More often than not, no matter how much I was trying not to overstride, or telling a trainee to land closer to not extend their leg forward, bad habits just kept coming back. I even looked at videos of myself running, hoping that, by seeing what I was doing wrong and comparing it to what the pros were doing I could correct my mistakes.  It helped a little bit, but pretty soon, I realized that you can't stop overstriding simply by "thinking it away". "Why so?", I wondered, so I did some research and recruited the help of my physiotherapist and A.R.T. practitioner. 

This article will present the three most common reasons why it can be tough for some people to change their running form and stop overstriding and some possible solutions.  

The Most Common Causes of Overstriding


1. Bad Posture

Swayback posture, lumbar lordosis, thoracic kyphosis (stiff), forward head, forward, etc. Anything that puts your neck, shoulders, back, hips, knees, ankles, and feet out of alignment will affect your running form as your body's weight is no longer stacked right above your midfoot when standing, making any movement forward inefficient.

The Solution

Personal trainers and physiotherapists can help you identify postural issues and the muscle imbalances that might cause them, and help you create a training program with the right exercises and stretches to correct your posture. 

2.  Bad Balance, Proprioception, and Coordination

QWOP: Learning to Run with No Coordination (funny video)

Coordination is a skill, not an innate talent, and like every skill, it can be learned. Unfortunately, nobody was born with perfect sprinting technique, not even Usain Bolt.  In fact, because he is taller than average, Usain Bolt probably had to work even more on his coordination and balance than the average sprinter.

When someone cannot stand on one leg while maintaining a good posture and remaining stable for at least a few seconds, how can we expect the same person to be able to land on one foot after each running stride while keeping their bones and joints in the correct alignment? How about proprioception? The ability to know where your feet are without looking at them. If you cannot stand on one leg for more than a few seconds with your eyes closed, your proprioception is likely not good enough for you to be able to consciously change your running technique. The gap between where you think your feet are and where they actually are will be too big. 

One also needs to be able to perform fundamental running-like movements slowly, such as the lunge, step up, and step down with proper form before hoping to be able to run with good technique.  

The Solution

The best way to improve your running-specific coordination is to very progressively challenge your balance and coordination with bodyweight exercises that mimic as many of the movements required to run. Once the more basic moves can be done slowly with good form and without losing your balance, then start doing them faster.

Another key tool to improve your coordination and retrain your movement patterns is running drills.  When doing drills, it is important to remain focused on your technique as doing drills mindlessly is not only useless but can also teach you bad habits as you practice movements that do not mimic good running form. Keep your spine long and keep your core muscles engaged.  When moving your leg, aim for quadruple flexion (spine/hip/knee/ankle joints bent) when driving your knee forward.  

Once both bodyweight and simple drills become easy, you can then move to the next level by adding plyometric exercises such as bounds, hops, and skips.  

3. Weak Core and Glutes

Weak gluteal and core muscles combined with stiff quads are a bad combo for runners. In addition, these weaknesses lead to bad posture (being stuck in an anterior pelvic tilt), which pushes the centre of mass back.  

A runner with weak glutes, hamstrings, and core muscles can also often be recognized by their "sitting" posture: leaning from the waist, butt sticking out. This posture is inefficient and puts a lot of strain on the quads and lower back. 

The glutes are your body's main motor of propulsion for running. Just look at the size of these muscles on professional runners and sprinters in comparison to their other muscles!  Without glutes strong enough to move your mass forward at the hip, a runner might subconsciously try to lengthen each stride by reaching ahead with the foot ahead of the knee or by jumping using their quads and calves. Sprinters with weak glutes will also often arch their back when at top speed.
The core is what keeps our whole body stable and in line when your glutes engage. It is also what allows us to keep our balance when standing on one foot. Without a strong core, we cannot expect to be able to set our pelvis in a neutral position at footstrike and an anterior pelvic tilt make overstriding impossible to avoid. 

The Solution

Strength training your glutes and core is a good start, but you need to learn to activate the right muscles.  For example, doing deep squats strengthens the glutes, but it also works the quads and, in a way, mimics the sitting position you are trying to get away from.  Similarly, doing leg raises or sit-ups will get some of your core muscles to become stronger, but it will also tighten your hip flexors and can worsen a bad anterior tilt posture.  Other exercises that can isolate the right muscles, such as Bulgarian split squats or even bridges, can still be bad if done without also consciously activating the core muscles to keep the lower back flat and stop the lower-back muscles from trying to take over from the glutes.  Instead, look for exercises that use the glutes, core and other muscles in your body in the same way as when running with proper form.  Examples of such exercises are hill repeats, stair climbs, front lunges to a box or step, reverse lunge step down, walking lunges, lying pelvic tilts with leg extensions, etc.  Ideally, you should do them at least a few times with a professional checking and correcting your form before doing them on your own. When doing your exercises you need to learn to feel your deep core muscles and glutes activating together and teach your body to remember what it should feel like to run using the right muscles. 

Identifying Other Possible Root Causes

If you have recurring injuries, you should get a qualified professional (kinesiologist, physiotherapist, sport medicine physician) to check your posture and mobility.  It could help you identify the underlying causes of your biomechanical inefficiencies.  If your goal is mainly to become a more efficient and faster runner, get your coach or personal trainer to pay extra attention to your posture and technique, then work on ways to improve it by correcting the muscle imbalances.