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Score one for independent thought!

The other day, a squash buddy complained of knee pain while running. I asked him how he ran, and he said that he landed on his heel and rolled off onto his midfoot … just like they say in all the running books and articles.

I suggested he land on the midfoot rather than his heel. He appeared skeptical, so I backed off for the time being.

A week later, he reported that he tried midfoot striking, and hasn’t had any knee pain since.

So there. Sure, some coaches know what they’re doing, but other coaches (and teachers) merely repeat what they have been taught, and cite commercial sources as authorities. “If we weren’t meant to land on our heels, why would running shoe manufacturers make shoes with such thick heels?” Because they are in business. If customers run on their heels, they’ll make shoes with thick heels. If they run on their midfoot, they’ll make different shoes. The problem comes when coaches just. Don’t. Think. What is more efficient? What is more natural, you know, as in “nature”? Are elite runners, who run on thin shoes, genetically blessed or have they chosen to run more efficiently? What about barefoot athletes? What about kids?

Can you give me a good biomechanical reason for running on my heels? And no, it’s not “just like walking” any more than a gallop is “just like a fast trot”. If you speed up walking, you don’t get running, you get race walking. It’s fun to watch, and it’s a valid sport but it’s not running. And then there are those who just say that running is bad. How can something so natural be bad? Yeesh. Now of course, if your body is messed up, maybe it’s a bad idea to run for any length of time.

But … my friend has fallen arches, so I guess he shouldn’t run? But now he has no knee pain. Hm.

Check out the ChiRunning blog and this study for more.

It should be noted that some call the midfoot strike a forefoot strike. I think that Danny (in the first link) makes the distinction clear. But should we use a forefoot strike? I experimented with my strike and found that when shod in racing flats and running 30 minutes on a treadmill (at 5 to 8 mph), a midfoot strike feels good, natural, smooth and painless. Will this change once I get back onto the road and increase my distance? We’ll see. If I could make any see-the-disclaimer recommendation, it would be to land with the foot under the body (not out in front) and find the midfoot or forefoot strike that feels good and natural. There’s more to it of course, and you should probably get a proper gait analysis from a professional who doesn’t sell shoes.

But first ask them if how they feel about heel striking. If they say “everyone’s different”, be wary. Barring injury or birth defects, we all have two legs, quads, hamstrings, tendons and bones in the same places, and we all live under the same laws of physics. So are we all that different? Maybe 90% the same, 10% different when it comes to the most efficient running gait?

Now then. I’ve just read another study, that basically says “ignore the strike”:

If there is one thing you change in your running, don’t focus on your footstrike, but rather on WHERE your feet land relative to your body. Because if you are over-reaching and throwing your foot out in front of you, that’s a problem, but what happens when the rubber meets the road is less relevant!

I think we’re talking about the same thing, but how we phrase it is important of course. If we focus on changing the strike, we might point our toes, land on the balls of our foot and get achilles tendon injuries. This might be why authorities don’t advocate changing your strike … because people do it badly! God we’re messed up. We really don’t know our bodies, do we? Okay, try this: ignore the foot strike. Just don’t reach forward with your legs, just land with the feet under you. Listen for pain, relax, let the joints move smoothly, lean forward a hair. And tweak to get the relaxed, smooth feeling. How’s that?

(Now as I look at the photo, I wonder: is he holding his ankle tensely? Do we see shin splints in his future? You tell me.)

Recap: if you’re running, don’t take “land on the heel and roll off” as gospel. Think independently and do some research.

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