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Running form mistakes that lead to injury: Tips and fixes

Running form tips: How to assess your running form and how to fix it.
Maryke Louw
Maryke Louw
Aug 24, 2023
Medically reviewed by
Sabrina Burkart
In this article we discuss what elements in your running form or gait may predispose you to getting injured, how you can test for it and how to fix it.

Every runner is unique. The most obvious differences include the shape of our bones, our muscles’ ability to produce force, and the range of motion we can move through. So, it’s no surprise that we all run in a slightly different way.

Our legs all follow a similar pattern when we run, but with quite large variations. Research has shown that there is no such thing as perfect running form and that we tend to select a pattern that is most efficient for us.

However, there are specific elements in the running gait cycle that may predispose you to developing specific injuries when they are excessive.

Running form mistakes that may cause injuries

The most common running form mistakes that have been shown to predispose you to injury include running with:

  • Excessive pelvic drop
  • Excessive internal (inward) rotation of your leg (the one in contact with the ground)
  • Excessive leg adduction (where your leg crosses over to the mid-line as it hits the ground)
  • Spending too much time in contact with the ground
  • Overstriding (placing your foot far out in front of you)
Running form mistakes that may cause injuries include: Excessive pelvic drop, internal rotation of the knee and adduction of the thigh.

All of these movements are part of the normal running gait cycle. But, when they’re excessive, they can increase the strain on different parts of your body. It’s always good to get your running form assessed by a physiotherapist or other sports professional, otherwise you may waste your time trying to fix something that doesn’t need fixing.

In research, the most common ways to improve all of the above elements are:

  1. Reducing overstride
  2. Increasing cadence
  3. Reducing cross-over gait

Interestingly, research has found that doing regular strength training exercises (like those included in our injury prevention plan) can also improve running economy and reduce the ground contact time through increasing tendon stiffness, better muscle activation and coordination.

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How to reduce overstride

What is overstride?

In running, overstriding means that your foot makes contact with the ground too far out in front of you, usually heel first. When your heel hits the ground in this position, it creates a braking force (like “slamming on brakes”) and increases the impact on your body.

Why it matters

Research shows that runners can reduce the overall force that goes through their body as well as correct excessive pelvic drop, inward leg rotation, and leg adduction by reducing their overstride.

How to assess it

You can assess overstride by filming your running on a treadmill. The best is to film straight from the side. Ideally, your foot should hit the ground only slightly in front or directly below your body. It doesn’t matter if you land on your heel, mid-, or forefoot.

How to correct overstride when running

Several strategies can help reduce overstride. These include:

  • Increasing your cadence or step rate (see how to do this below)
  • Thinking about taking shorter steps
  • Thinking about taking lighter steps, i.e., trying not to make much noise when you land
  • Trying to land with your foot positioned more under your body

What to avoid

If you’re used to landing on your heel, don’t try and change to landing on your midfoot or forefoot. Heel striking is not bad. It’s when you heel strike with overstriding that it may become a problem. You can cause a different injury (like Achilles tendonitis) by forcing yourself to land on your forefoot.

Reducing overstride is one of the most effective changes you can make to your running form to help prevent injuries.

How to increase your cadence

What is running cadence?

Running cadence, also known as step rate, refers to how many steps you take in a minute when you run.

Why it matters

A slower cadence means more time in contact with the ground and a higher impact on your body. Even a 5% cadence increase can significantly reduce body impact forces when running. Research also shows a quicker cadence can help reduce the amount of pelvic drop and internal rotation of your leg.

It is worth noting that the evidence suggests that most runnerst naturally choose to run with a cadence that is most economical (uses the least amount of energy) for them. Changing your cadence may cause you to work harder and fatigue more quickly. So, experimenting with other changes first (like reducing overstride) may be a better option.

How to assess running cadence

Most running watches these days can tell you your cadence, but you can also count how many steps you take in 1 minute when you’re running at your preferred speed. An ideal cadence is currently thought to be equal to or more than 170 steps per minute. A cadence of fewer than 160 steps per minute may increase your risk of injury.

How to increase your cadence

Research has shown that it is best (and more sustainable) to increase cadence only a little at a time. You can download a metronome app to your phone and set it to 5% quicker than your current cadence. For example: If your current step rate or cadence is 160 steps per minute, set the metronome to 168 beats per minute.

Do your regular training runs but try to incorporate 1 or 2-minute intervals at this new cadence. Of course, you won’t be able to do an entire run at this rhythm immediately because it will feel like a hard effort. But keep practicing, and it will get easier.

What to avoid

Some runners tend to run faster when they increase their cadence, but this isn’t the correct way. The idea is that you should run at the same speed but just take more steps. By taking more steps, you decrease the time you spend in contact with the ground, reducing the impact forces.

Getting your running form assessed is the best way to know if you running with the correct form or if there are any elements you need to fix.

How to correct cross-over gait

What is cross-over gait?

Cross-over gait refers to a narrow running gait pattern. When a person runs with a cross-over gait, they may appear to be running on a tightrope or thin line.

Why it matters

When your leg crosses in (adducts), it can cause pinching in your hip joint, increase the strain on your knee, pull your IT band tighter and cause your foot and ankle to roll in (pronate) excessively. This may predispose you to developing injuries like IT band syndrome, patellofemaral pain syndrome, gluteal tendinopathy, and shin splints.

How to check for cross-over gait

Signs indicating you’re running with a cross-over gait or your legs are moving too close to the midline include:

  • You notice your ankles or knees are knocking each other while running, or
  • There’s no space (not even a little gap) between your thighs while running. You can check for this by filming yourself from behind while running on a treadmill.

How to correct it

Some of the cues that may help to correct a too-narrow gait pattern when you run include:

  • Trying not to kick yourself or let your ankles touch
  • Trying to keep your knees slightly apart (10cm or 3 inches) and pointing forward

What to avoid

Be careful not to overcorrect by widening your stance too much. Usually, you only need a minor correction to make a difference.

In conclusion

When it comes to running injuries, several factors usually combine to create the problem. Whilst it is certainly worth correcting large errors in running form, this alone will not protect you from injury. Have a look at the injury prevention section of our blog for information about training errors, strength training and more.

The Prevention Plan in the Exakt Health app will help you gain and maintain the strength and mobility you need, and help you understand how to best manage your training schedule.

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Maryke Louw
Maryke Louw
Maryke Louw is the Medical Lead at Exakt Health and a chartered physiotherapist. She has a BSc in Physiotherapy and an MSc in Sports Injury Management and has been working with athletes of all abilities and ages for more than 20 years. Maryke combines her extensive knowledge of sports injury treatment with the latest research to provide effective injury treatment and prevention advice.
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