In the article Visualizing the Run Overstride, we saw what an overstride looks like and discussed why it’s a problem. In the next two articles, we’ll discuss how to fix it.
An overstride is reaching forward with the lower leg so that the foot lands in front of the knee. Note how the lower leg pendulums forward from the knee. Runners usually do this to lengthen their stride. However, stride length should come from hip extension, not from a lower leg pendulum. But runners with tight hips and/or a lack of strength to spring off the back leg will try to compensate by over-reaching with the front foot.
I’ve also seen plenty of quick age-group runners who have good hip extension who also overstride. So it seems that the overstride can also just be a bad habit ingrained in muscle memory. The following drills will help you break that habit. There’s nothing magical about them—there are plenty of ways to fix an overstride. These are just the ones that I’ve found successful.
To get the foot landing directly beneath the knee, we need the front foot to come straight down instead of swinging forward from the knee. A good way to form a new muscle memory is to make circles with your feet. Watch Emma to see this three step process. While standing on one leg, do this with the other leg:
- Pull your knee back, and the heel back and up toward your butt.
- Bring the knee forward and up, keeping the foot high.
- Lower your foot straight down, making it land no more than half a foot-length in front of the other foot.
Keep doing this slowly until you get the hang of it, and then smooth it out so if feels almost like a bicycling motion. Vary the size of your circles—small ones with the moving foot passing just above the ankle bone, and large ones with the moving foot passing above the knee. Then repeat for the other leg.
In this drill you incorporate the standing circles drill into actual running. The point of this drill is to get you moving your upper and lower legs together as a unit, pivoting from hip. This sets you up to bring the foot straight down, instead of swinging it forward in a pendulum arc.
- From a standing position, jog in place for 10 seconds, focusing on your foot motion.
- Then, slowly run forward by making the circles shown in the first drill. You’ll be taking tiny steps, and only lightly pushing off from the back leg.
- Start with circles maybe six inches in diameter (your foot passing a little above the ankle bone of the other leg). Gradually increase the diameter of the circles, while pushing off a little harder from the back leg. Notice how you speed up.
A few notes about this drill.
- Do it for about 60 seconds at a time, alternating with 60 seconds of regular running. Do this for about 10 minutes each time you run.
- Focus on smooth circles, especially on bringing the foot straight down and having it land beneath the knee.
- It might help to pretend you are stepping over a small log—visualize how if you shuffle and pendulum your front foot, you’d trip over the log.
- Focus on landing with your foot completely flat. Resist the urge to toe point, or even to have a midfoot landing. If you’ve been a long-time heel striker, landing on the midfoot will put a big strain on your calves. Landing with your foot flat will help prevent this.
- The diameter of your circles is directly tied to your pace. A slow pace requires small circles, and a fast pace requires big circles. If it feels like you’re prancing, your circles are too big for your pace.
- In general, this drill will feel like you’re taking tiny steps. That’s because you’re no longer artificially lengthening your stride by reaching forward with your foot.
Striders are a classic drill meant to improve biomechanics and efficiency. The idea is that when we run fast, the body discovers and learns the most effective motions to do so. Here’s how to do them:
- Warm up with at least 15 minutes of easy running.
- On flat (or slightly downhill) terrain, smoothly accelerate to a fast run for 20 seconds. Not a full sprint, but definitely faster than your 5k pace. Focus on good form, especially landing with the foot directly beneath the knee.
- Recover with 1:00 of walking.
- Repeat for a total of 4-8 striders.
A few notes about this drill:
- The full walking recovery is important. You’re not doing a tough aerobic workout—the fast running should feel pretty easy. Just when it starts to feel hard is when you stop to recover.
- If you’ve never done these before, start with 4 striders during one run a week. Over the next few weeks build up to 8 striders in each of two runs per week.
Over the next few weeks, pay particular attention to any tightness or soreness in your calves. Stretch them well. Foam rolling the soleus (google will show you how) is particularly effective. And remember to land with your foot flat on the ground, not pointing your toe downward or trying for a midfoot landing.
As you get more comfortable with the drills, start to tweak your regular running to incorporate the concepts (moving the upper and lower leg together as a unit as it pivots from the hip, and bringing the foot straight down to land beneath the knee).
Note that none of these drills replicate the exact motion you’ll use when out for a regular run—they’re simply meant to get you thinking about the proper biomechanics that you will use.
And while these will fix your overstride, they won’t give you the long stride length you need for fast running. For that you’ll need good hip extension, which we’ll cover in the next article. In the meantime, work on loosening your hips. Search online for “hip stretches running,” find some that appeal to you, and do them daily!