Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Foot Strike Fads

While Born to Run popularized the idea of barefoot running, in actuality it is only practiced by a small (but growing) group of diehard enthusiasts.  During my regular runs around in DC, I am likely to see no more than one barefoot runner in a given week.

Born to Run's more significant impact is that it also popularized the notion that "heel striking" is bad.  MacDougall's basic argument is that it is unnatural for runners to land on their heels first, and they are more likely to become injured whe they do so.

Almost immediately, large numbers of runners took up the refrain that heel striking is bad, bad, bad.   Browse through any number of running blogs, and you will find bloggers proudly proclaiming that they are "midfoot strikers" or "forefoot strikers."  Shoe companies soon saw which way the wind was blowing, and released dozens of new shoes that are supposed to promote a "more natural" strike.

I won't rehash the entire debate, though suffice it to say, among those who actually study these things, the issue of foot striking seems to still be wide open.  What I do find interesting is that the New York Times, which previously has given a lot of space to MacDougall and his claims, now seems to backing off:
Take, for example, the notion that there is a perfect running form, like striking the ground with the midfoot or forefoot. There is no convincing evidence for this convoluted advice, disinterested researchers say. In fact, studies have found that individuals automatically run in a way that is most efficient for their own bodies. Those who change the way they run naturally are less efficient and more prone to injury.
“There is good evidence that your body is exquisitely lazy and will find the easiest way for you to run,” said Carl Foster, professor of exercise and sports medicine at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.
Even elite runners have a variety of styles. Some strike the ground with the heel, others with the midfoot. Some look elegant, while others look awkward and clumsy.
Dr. Steef Bredeweg of the University Medical Center Groningen, in the Netherlands, and his colleague Dr. Ida Buist are principal investigators in a series of rigorous studies of runners, asking how best to train novices and how to prevent injuries.
When it comes to running form, Dr. Bredeweg said, “we don’t know what is the right thing to do.” For example, he noted, forefoot strikers place less stress on their knees but more on their calves and Achilles tendons.
“We tell people we don’t know a thing about the best technique,” he said. He tells runners to use the form they naturally adopt.
The rest of the New York Times column is here.

Related posts:

my never final say on barefoot running
Running and Form

1 comment:

  1. I haven't read the article yet - reality and 1Q84 are conspiring to take up all of my free time - but I must say that all this strum end drang comes down to the last sentence in your quote: "'We tell people we don’t know a thing about the best technique,' he said. He tells runners to use the form they naturally adopt."

    In other words, find what works for you and stick with it.

    I will add to this that I feel that moving away from a strict heel strike has helped my recent string of good health. As I read somewhere recently (and Eric repeated last weekend), I try to run tall. This means that i've changed my foot fall from a heel strike but I honestly couldn't tell you if I'm a toe or mid-sole striker. I can tell you that the article is honest when it tells you that toe-striking puts more stress on your calves: mine have never felt so tight, even after using the stick to loosen them up on a semi-regular basis.