One simple change to your running style can prevent injury and improve your performance.
We’ve all seen it before. There’s that one person who looks like a gazelle when they run. Their stride is massive. Chances are, if you are running at a triathlon event or fun run like City 2 Surf you will see “gazelles” everywhere. The next time you see a gazelle, check out where their foot is landing. More often than not it is landing in front of their knee. This is what we call “overstriding”, and it is one of the worst running technique flaws. Not only does it massively increase the forces going through your achilles, hamstrings, ankle, knee and hip joints, greatly increasing your chances of injury, but it also seriously slows you down and saps more of your precious energy.
When your foot lands out in front of your body, you tend to land heavily on your heel. Your heel then effectively acts as a brake to your forward momentum because it absorbs the force of your body weight impacting on the ground. All the force travels through your heel, up into your Achilles tendon, your calf muscle, your knee, your hamstring muscles and your hip. Landing on your heel also limits your ability to maximise your forward momentum because your body has to overcome the braking effect of your heel before you can really get a good push off from the front of your foot and get some more forward momentum.
By reducing your stride length, you can prevent heel striking and significantly decrease the amount of force going through your joints. This has been shown to reduce the likelihood of a range of injuries, including stress fractures and knee pains.
But how do you make the transition?
One of the easiest and most effective ways you can transition from overstriding to a more efficient running style is to increase your cadence (steps per minute) up to approximately 180 steps per minute. By increasing your cadence you also effectively shorten your stride.
You can manually count the number of steps you take in one minute on the same leg (aiming to get to 90 steps in a minute) or you can use a GPS device that will measure this for you.
Be patient though, it can take several months of counting your steps and adjusting your style before you really begin to feel comfortable with your new, more efficient technique. In the early stages, it will probably feel like a chore (especially in the later stages of your run) and your legs may even feel a little more tired or sore afterwards. Be persistent though, because the reward of running faster and more efficient is well worth the trouble.
By running with a higher cadence, your foot will land closer to directly underneath your knee (under your body’s centre of mass) at foot strike, decreasing the forces going through your legs and body, improving your efficiency and speed and massively decreasing your likelihood of injury.
By Rob Satchell,
Physiotherapist at Coast Allied Health
Rob practices from the Vincentia and Culburra Beach clinics.