Runnin styles, what a mess!

Some claim forefoot running is the best way to run; some say midfoot running or heel striking is the best. There are names like Qui-Running or Pose-RUnning out there. You will find people who promote one running technique over the other and all have science backing them up.
The question is, who is wrong. This is more difficult to answer than you would think. Looking at it from a standpoint of running barefoot, which is the most natural form of running we would be more likely forefoot to midfoot strikers, since this way of running takes away the pounding on the heel.
You can try that in your own backyard and on gravel; you will find yourself quickly on the balls of your feet / midfoot.
Dr. Romanov, the inventor of POse running, is a strong advocate for runners to run on the forefoot / midfoot. Noakes who did a study on Pose running with him warns though against an increased strain on the Achilees tendon and says he won’t recommend Pose running until a long term study has been conducted.
This is exactly the point that we need to look into. Forefoot / midfoot running decreases the impact on the knee joint by up to 60% but the impact has to go somewhere. It will end up in the Achilles tendons and Calves. These tendons are the strongest tendons in our bodies bu t a sudden overload can lead to tendonitis and eventual tearing.
To confuse us even more we have to consider teh speed factor as well. A slower runner will always strike a little bit more back on the foot while a faster runner will shift the contact more foreward.
If you consider changing your running style you will need to scale back your current mileage considerably. It will take weeks for the calf muscles and Achilles tendons to adapt and a temporary loss in speed and localized muscle endurance is inevitable.
The change of running styles might be a good investment into your health or your performance but it has to be done carefully and best be done with the help of a trained professional. Running coaches, triathlon coaches, personal trainers can be of help here.
Another consideration if you change your running are shoes. Make sure to consult with a local running store that can help you pick the right shoe for the altered strike. Most running shoes have a really think heel cushion which makes it almost more difficult to learn the new technique. The five finger shoes seem to fit nicely into the new category. I will still have to try them out and will do so after my marathon. I am sure not changing shoes a week before the race.
There are plenty of exercises to do before you actually change your running style in the off season to prepare the muscles for the change in running. Practicing on soft surfaces like gras and dirt can also help to reduce the initial strain on the Achilles tendon.
Having said all this, do I recommend changing the heel strike style some of my clients have to a forefoot / midfoot running style?
Yes and no, it really depends on teh goals and needs of the person. If my client has a history of knee pain, a proprioceptive training in combination witha change in running style might be indicated; the same for someone who wants to increase their speed but is plateauing at the moment despite changes in the training. Biomechanics are an integral part of proper training.
If my client is a hobby runner who enjoys his running, is not concerned about his time and has no issues I might be inclined to leave his running style alone.
Coordination also plays a role in my considerations.If the person has a poorly developed coordination the transformation process has to be slow to prevent injury due to faulty technique.
For me personally changing my running from heel strike to midfoot striking has improved my running speed and lessened my injuries. It took me a good while to get there though and only proper training and cross training made it possible. Don’t expect to be good at it right away. It takes time. The big test for me will be the coming marathon here in Charlotte on December 12th.
Have a fit and healthy day, and enjoy your running!
Michael Anders
Arendse, REgan et al (2004). REduced eccentric loading of the Knee with the Pose Running Technique.
Friel, Joe (2004). The Triathlete’s Training Bible (2nd Ed.) Velo press.
Hay, James G. (1993) The Biomechanics of Sports Techniques (4th Ed.) Prentice Hall.
Pribut, STeven (2002) Running Style.
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