Nov 22nd, 2011
A good running technique is equally important as buying the best running shoes for your needs. Leaning too far forward is a common problem among new runners, simply because the upright position often feels unnatural. But putting your upper body out of kilter by angling it at the waist can cause a great deal of problems. It will throw you off balance, meaning you will need to over-stride to stay on your feet, and that will put huge strain on your knees because your lower leg will be out of line as the striking foot lands. Leaning too far forward means unnecessary energy has to be used to pull you through your stride’s support phase and greater effort will be required to support the upper body. It will also expose your lower back to added strain as each stride’s impact will be felt more acutely.
Leaning back too far is much less common – it usually comes with fatigue – but is equally disadvantageous. Quite apart from the balance issues, it will put added strain on your stomach muscles by stretching them. It will also stress the base and top of your spine, curling them both over – the base because it has to accommodate the torso’s angle, and the top from having to lower your head to see where you’re going. It will constrict your diaphragm to a greater degree than leaning too far forward, meaning breathing will become difficult and tiredness will increase as the muscles’ oxygen supply falls off. Also, leaning back plays havoc with your stride pattern, as you will have less control over where you put your feet down and your steps will become irregular.
After worn-out shoes and failure to warm up properly, over- striding is the biggest threat to running performance, a factor which increases considerably among novices. It’s very tempting to stride out too far as a way of either conserving energy by decreasing turnover (see p.96) or increasing your speed by covering more ground, but in both cases over-striding will have the opposite effect.
If your foot lands too far in front of your hips (your body’s centre of gravity), it will put unnecessary strain on your knees and hips, as the impact of landing will not be absorbed in a vertical line from the feet up through the ankles and knees to the hips. The knees will bear most of this unabsorbed shock as they are the pivotal point between the planted lower leg and the still-moving upper leg, but the iliotibial band will also suffer because the jolting involved will create all sorts of friction around your hips. Because over-striding pushes you to land on your heels, they will also take a bashing, as will your Achilles tendon.
Your performance will be affected in terms of both speed and endurance. Because of the jarring from landing on your heels, and your centre of gravity having to catch up with your lower leg, you are effectively putting the brakes on. The jolt stops your stride cycle being smooth enough to gain maximum momentum, and in the time it takes the foot to roll from heel to ball, the elastic recoil energy will be lost and you will be expending energy for a much greater proportion of each stride.
To avoid over-striding, practice your stride with gentle running and stride-outs, making sure to land on your midfoot, with a smooth forward momentum and very little jolting. Shorten your stride if you have to – the average runner should be taking between 85 and 95 strides a minute; much less than that suggests you are over-striding – then, if you want to cover more ground, increase your time in the air without overstretching your leading leg.
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