Truth be told, I’m getting excited for sandal season to start again. I am solidifying my race calendar and I am planning to cap the year with the Leadville 100-mile trail run and maybe even another Spartan World Championship. As each of us look to our summer and fall running seasons I wanted to share one of the best and most simple form fixes you can implement now to give you a more successful season.
One of the most common mistake runners make in their form is to over-stride. Over-striding can be defined as any form of landing that causes a braking force. One of the easiest cues to help remedy this situation is to simply “bend your knees more.” In theory, when we are running we are using our legs as giant springs. If our knees are not flexed enough during running gait we are more likely to land with the foot too forward of our center of mass. This forward foot landing creates a brake and diminishes our forward momentum. This braking effect leads to higher impact forces and reduces our running economy.
Need a good example of the difference bending your knees can make? Compare yourself running up a steep hill versus down the same hill. Because it takes excessive effort to over-striding while running uphill, most people don’t do it. They instead bend their knees more and take shorter steps. On the other hand, over-striding is very common while running downhill. Film yourself running downhill, then repeat with your knees bent deeper. You should see a smoother decent with your knees bent more (i.e. less bobbing up and down). Combine this with an increased cadence and the results should be less achy hips and knees.
In addition to bending the knees and allowing your leg springs to work, I also like to focus on relaxing my calf muscles and the tops of my feet. Bending your knees more should help to relax your calves naturally but if you’re used to holding excess tension in your calves and feet, you might want to cue yourself to relax further. Many runners who over-stride will also demonstrate increased vertical oscillation (i.e. bobbing up and down). Following the aforementioned cues can improve your efficiency and likely allow you to train more miles and a faster pace due to less impact forces.
|Bending the knees helps you land with your foot closer to your center of mass.|
Filming your gait can be your best tool because sometimes what we think we are doing is not what we are actually doing. I often use film for my runners so that they can compare how different cues change their gait. When we see improved efficiency and when the runner feels smoother and more comfortable, we know that we’ve found the right cue. I have found over the years that “bend the knees more” has been one of the best cues to reduce impact forces and smooth out gait. This is especially true for downhill running when runners are most likely to over-stride. Experimentation is the foundation of learning so it’s up to you to give these cues a try and see how your body responds.
Best wishes for a happy and healthy running season!