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Best Running Tips Newsletter, Issue #023 -- Get Faster Today Without the Extra Work!

November 17, 2010

Today I'd like to talk to you about running technique.

Running with proper form and technique makes a big difference to your running. Less injuries, less energy wasted, less time required to recover, etc. It is an important topic.

However, there seems to be a general feeling out there that your technique is just what it is. You either have a good technique or you don't. Too bad if you don't.

Like the stubborn believe that some people are just good in maths and some aren't and that there is nothing you can do about it. I can tell you, I have tutored plenty of kids in maths and physics and you can definitely help them improve. You just need to give them a little extra help. Give them the right tools and techniques.

They may not become geniuses overnight. But improve they can, and sometimes more than you'd dare to dream. It's exactly the same with running technique. Provided you have the right tools and learn a few tips, there is plenty you can do to improve your running technique.

Again, if you run like an elephant, this will not magically transform you into a gazelle. But, give it some time and you will improve your running.

One important part of running technique is the movement of your arms. Do you arms move from front to back or do your arms move across your body? If you move your arms across your body you run less efficient and you twist your body. This slows you down and can cause back injuries.

Improve only this by focusing a little more on your arm movement and you will run faster. You don't have to do extra training. Just pay a little more attention. It is really like free money!

Another important part of running technique is how your foot lands. Do you know if you are a heel-striker or a midfoot-striker? There is a lot of focus on this topic in the last few years.

Newton Running Shoes
I decided to find out a little bit more about it all and spoke to Ian Adamson, Director Research & Education of Newton Running, the creators of Newton running shoes. Newton running shoes have been developed specifically to stimulate midfoot-landing.

I asked Ian a few questions (in the below BRT = Best Running Tips, IA = Ian Adamson).

BRT: To what do you credit the rise in the "barefoot running / natural running" movement? "Born to Run", Chi running, Pose running, all of the above, something else?

IA: Firstly, natural running is only "new" in the US as runners (and shoe companies) realize that modern running shoes exacerbate many running injuries. Most of the worlds population has never worn a "modern" running shoe and don’t suffer from the injuries of those who do.

Plantar fasciitis, chrondomalacia, joint pain, Morton’s neuroma etc. are unknown to the hundreds of millions of African and Asian children running and walking to and from school with bare feet and minimal footwear. Even in western countries, there are many people who were never sucked into the hype of big built up shoes and heel striking.

Elite runners like John J Kelly (1957 Boston Marathon winner) and Bob Ronker (Cincinnati running guru and early employee at Runner's World) are just two well known runners who have stuck by the early wisdom that we should run naturally as if barefoot – and this is protective and efficient.

Born to Run has brought this to the consciousness of the running public in general, while Chi and Pose running have been preaching this for decades.

Newton Running company is the first company to actively promote the idea of natural running with a shoe line exclusively designed for this purpose. The hereditary of Newton Running goes back 18 years even though the product has only been available since 2007.

Today the science has finally caught up and there is a good body of hard data supporting what we know about natural running.

Ian is very clear on what is best for your feet. In an attempt to stir the pot I decided to ask a little bit of a cheeky question...

BRT: The surface on which we run nowadays is not natural anymore. We run on concrete predominantly, we can't be expected to run in the same way as our forefathers did who did not have the same hard underground to run on. It's evolution. We have gone from midfoot/toestrikers to heelstrikers!

IA: Heel striking is purely a product of having a heel on a shoe. Athletes ran on hard paved surfaces for decades with no cushioning in their shoes and did not suffer the injuries we do today on traditional cushioned shoes. Heel lift is a relatively modern invention, only since the 1970s have running shoes had a heel lift.

In fact running with minimalist footwear encourages a forefoot strike on hard surfaces, not a heel strike. Afferent feedback while running (the feedback of feeling and reacting to the ground through the nerves on your feet) causes a runner to adopt a protective running position. That is, one in which the runner suspends their body with muscle and tendon using flexed joints – the athletic position. In contrast, a heel strike bypasses the athletic position and sends the impact shock from the ground directly through the bones and joints. Ouch.

A lifted heel interferes with the runners gait cycle by engaging the shoe with the ground in front of their center of gravity. This introduces a braking force and heel strike, both detrimental to a natural, efficient and protective running gait.

So, heel striking is something we should aim not to do. Should we now all go to becoming midfoot-strikers? I guess when you have been running happily and healthily for years and years without any issues, then I'd see little reason to drastically change your style. What's that expression again... if it ain't broken, don't fix it! There would still be merit in trying to improve though.

But are you relatively new to running? Or have you been suffering from injuries like plantar fasciitis? Then you may just want to pay a little bit more attention to what Ian is saying.

So, how do you change your technique? There are some tips and tricks. You can do strides, butt-kicks, leg lifts, rope jumping etc. Anything that promotes high turnover of the legs.

What does that have to do with midfoot-striking? Well, in a very non-scientific way of explaining this: when you run with quick turnover of your legs, your legs do not have the time for heelstriking. When your legs go faster, you will revert to a style in which you land more on the front of your feet and take lighter steps...

BRT: When talking about running technique and running cadence I often advise people to get a metronome and set it to 180 bpm and try to run to the beat. Most people have a stride rate of 160-165 instead of about 180. The benefit you get from running at 180 bpm is that you are forced to take lighter steps, pushing you more towards mid-foot landing. Would you agree with that?

IA: This is true, and a higher cadence also minimizes vertical oscillation, a major source of running inefficiency. In addition, a higher cadence increases muscular efficiency and decreases muscular effort, like spinning with a low gear on a bike. Lower force, same power.

For more tips on running drills that promote natural running see:

One last thing regarding the use of a metronome: In Born to Run there is a story about a veteran runner. He gets tested. I think he is asked to do a 1-mile all-out. Then he is asked to wear a metronome during his training runs and just focus on doing 180 strides per minute. He is asked to not change anything else in terms of mileage or effort. Later, he is tested again. He does a 3-mile run and all three mile-splits were faster than his previous 1-mile!

I felt that was one of the more important little facts out of this great book. They tested a veteran runner who had been running for a long time already. I think the man was like 60 or so. At that age, after a long history of running, you are not really meant to improve anymore. But this guy did, all thanks to running with a metronome for a few months...!

Click here for a link to a cheap metronome

Finally I wanted to learn from Ian why Newton running shoes are a good product that will help you improve your running technique further. Obviously he is a fan of Newton running shoes, but what about some of the other products available?

BRT: What is the compelling case to use Newton running shoes rather than Vibram Five Fingers, Nike Free or going barefoot?

IA: Vibram Five Fingers give you excellent afferent feedback but have virtually no cushioning so the impact shock from the ground is intrinsically high. The forces imposed on the fine bones of the feet are punishing for most runners over even moderate distances.

Nike Free shoes still have a significant heel lift and soft foam. The heel lift is an unnatural geometry (doesn’t follow the profile of the bottom of the foot), and the soft foam collapses under the area of greatest pressure, which is where you need the most support. This amplifies rotational forces, misalignment and lateral/tortional joint forces.

What I liked about this answer is that Ian has tried to answer this from an objective point of view. I think it also highlights how the guys at Newton running think about shoe development, what they take into account etc.

I hope this newsletter has provided you with some food for thought. I hope you'll consider the use of a metronome and will try to adopt your running technique.

Consider the drills provided in the running drills link above to improve your running technique. Incorporate them in your training. We runners should pay as much focus on technique as we do on mileage, intervals, tempo runs, etc.

Newton Running Shoes
Maybe even more. After all, improvements in your running technique will make you run faster and give you a lower injury risk without having to work more.

The guys at Newton Running have got a great selection of running shoes. The above clearly shows that they put a lot of thought and effort into the creation of their shoes. Also see my review page of Newton running shoes:

Newton Running Shoes

Apart from these shoes, also make sure you check out the following links with more information about running technique....

I hope this mini-interview was helpful to you.

That's it for now.
Talk to you soon.
In the meantime, come visit my site often and happy running.


Best Running Tips




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