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Running Corrections - Part Two
Overstriding and Knee Problems

Run with a friend and push yourself harder.
Run with a friend and push yourself harder.

Running is a great way to get some cardio exercise, but there are a few tips that can make things easier. Last week I covered if and when you should lean, where to look and how best to move your arms. This week is all about your stride, knees and motivation.

You don't have to take giant steps. A beginning runner often thinks the secret to running fast is a long stride. The more you push your feet forward, the quicker you'll move. What ends up happening is that your feet strike the ground ahead of your hips, causing you to slow down and brake with each step. The point of impact is often the heel of your foot. Repeated strikes to your heels with your legs extended, can send shock waves up your legs and lead to shin splints.

Take shorter steps and concentrate on landing your feet under your body. Try and hit the ground with your midfoot or forefoot. You can still run with the heel striking first, as long as your leg is impacting under your center of gravity.

One of the ways coaches help correct overstriding is to increase the number of steps a runner takes per minute. That forces smaller steps and the foot is more likely to hit at the desired point. If you're counting, 180 steps (or 90 per foot) in a minute, is a reasonable number to shoot for. 

Don't lift your knees too high. Power during a run comes from strong glutes and thighs. You can increase your speed by lifting your knees higher, but only to a point. Once you start to move higher than a 45-degree angle, you're spending too much time lifting and not enough time propelling your body forward.

Concentrate on driving the legs forward. Keep your knees slightly bent as your legs come down and impact the ground. Your knees will then bend naturally and help create a more efficient stride.

Keep your knees moving forward, not falling in or splaying out. Repeated impacts on unstable or weak knees can lead to IT band or Plica syndrome.

Look at the simplest fix first. Practice running while pointing your feet in the direction you're headed. Make sure your entire leg, including knee and foot, are all pointed forward. Take short runs and build up your muscle.

Should you still have problems, have your feet checked and see if you overpronate (roll your feet inward) or supinate (roll your feet outward) when you run. If you do, a podiatrist can recommend a shoe insert to help compensate for your foot motion.

If neither of those fixes solve the problem, you may have weak hip abductors or bad glute stabilization. When your leg strikes the ground, those stabilizing muscles aren't strong enough to maintain proper form and the knee collapses out or in. Talk to a doctor or physical therapist to figure out the cause and have them give you strengthening exercises for your hip abductors and/or glutes.

Use distractions to go further and faster. Doing nothing but thinking about every step you have to take is going to wear you out fast. As your run progresses, you become acutely aware of the sore muscles, labored breathing and feelings of fatigue. Something as simple as listening to music while outside, watching TV if on a treadmill, or running with a friend can take your mind off the immediate physical issues and help you push through.

Running is like any other exercise. Don't simply keep pushing yourself more and more if you have bad form. Start slow and pay extra close attention to how your body is moving. Only increase speed and distance once you know you're doing things properly. If you feel sudden or sharp pain, STOP. Find the cause of the pain and correct it before moving on. Done properly, running is something you can enjoy and benefit from your entire life.

Part 1 2

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