In many sports, athletes have to hone their movement technique. Young athletes copy the movements of professionals and listen to the advice of their coaches.
This is inevitable in gymnastics, golf or tennis, which require complex and deliberate movement. But there are other sports in which movement is more natural, for example, running. Does a runner need to analyze each step, listening to expert advice on foot placement, rhythm, or posture?
Athletes have asked this question only recently, and an article by Todd Hargrove posted on his blog is devoted to it. Hargrove recently wrote a new book , Playing With Movement , and this article is a synopsis of it.
The traditional approach to running has ignored movement technique, believing that it will come on its own when the athlete has run a sufficient number of miles in different conditions. But now, runners are not lacking in guidance, including postures or Chi-running. Although corrective running techniques are becoming fashionable, there is no evidence that they are better than the old-fashioned “just run” method. Todd Hargrove analyzes the available evidence in this area.
Some movements come by themselves. Children learn to walk, run, squat and climb without any instructions. But the ability to do back flips, spin a tennis ball while serving, or play the piano is not innate.
Movement is vital for any animal, therefore, its coordination is simple, reliable, unconscious. In the spinal cord there are “motion pattern generators” , stimulating which, it is possible to induce movements of a certain type. People have patterns for walking, but not for somersaults; a child will not learn how to do it just by playing outside with other children. But if he is motivated to quickly get from point A to point B, then he will develop a good running technique without any instruction, just trying different types of running: fast, slow, with the left and right feet, chasing someone or, conversely, running on a level and rough terrain. At this time, the traffic control system examines different conditions and possibilities and selects the most effective solution.
Adults are not as flexible as children, but over time, running in different conditions, they will unconsciously learn to run better without thinking about technique. Our body unconsciously tries to conserve energy and avoid injury, even when thoughts are far away.
Can you speed up the learning process by deliberately working on the technique? For example, runners are often advised to take shorter and shorter steps without placing their feet in such a way as to avoid a heel strike. And while some high-level athletes violate these rules, it is believed that they would run better if they followed the technical guidelines of the textbooks.
This one-size-fits-all advice is a source of distrust because different people have different physical structures and need to move differently to get the best results while avoiding injury. For example, Usain Bolt, an eight-time Olympic champion and an 11-time world short-distance champion, runs a somewhat asymmetrical stride – he jumps slightly , preferring one leg over the other. According to experts, this is how he unintentionally but quite reasonably compensates for the consequences of scoliosis. His spine is slightly curved to the right, and his right leg is half an inch shorter than his left. If Bolt ran as written in the textbook, he would probably perform worse. Consequently, our body unconsciously optimizes running better than our mind would…. And this conclusion is supported by scientific research.
Heel impact studies
Although this technique is often subjected to ridicule, for most runners it is most advantageous from the energy point of view and at the same time does not increase injury . Therefore, most runners, including three quarters of elite half marathon runners, put their feet on the heel .
Attempting to change your running technique is unlikely to prevent injury, but it often degrades your performance. Several studies have asked runners to change their normal stride length and have found that
they need more oxygen to run at the same speed.
American experts observed sixteen triathletes who trained according to the method, which recommends placing the feet on the toes when running. After 12 weeks of training, their jogging was less effective than at the beginning. It turns out that the very attention directed to the form of running reduces its effectiveness . These results are consistent with the general rule of motion control – conscious attention makes them stiff and awkward. However, if you focus not on the movement itself, but on its goal, the body will organize itself better . Coordination of movements is largely unconscious, and this is especially true for basic movements such as walking and running.
It is generally accepted that excessive pronation of the foot can contribute to injury to the foot, knee, hip, and even back. However , decades of research have not found a significant association between pronation and injury risk . Experts even question whether gait correction will help reduce this risk. If pronation is caused by the bone structure of the foot and ankle, this cannot be changed. Orthopedic products can reduce the risk of injury, but it doesn’t seem to matter if they’re store-bought or custom-made .
There are special shoes designed to reduce pronation. However, research shows that these shoes do not always produce the expected effects. For example, shock absorbing boots do not reduce the impact force on the ground because the body seems to “want” some feedback from the ground and kicks harder to feel the impact through the cushion. According to Benno Nigg, a leading expert on the relationship between running shoes, gait and injury, this phenomenon is caused by the foot having a “preferred path of travel . ”
Thus, they usually continue to move as they are used to, no matter what sneakers they wear. If you follow this logic, the best protection from injury are those sneakers that facilitate the implementation of the usual movements, in other words, you need to choose the most comfortable shoes.
In one of Nigga’s studies, runners who were allowed to choose the most comfortable fit, stiffness, and material for running shoes suffered fewer injuries than a control group who ran without them. Based on this data and the results of forty years of research, Nigg gave runners just one practical tip: go shopping and try on shoes until they meet an exceptionally comfortable pair.
Playing with running
So, the body itself knows very well how to run safely and efficiently. It learns by trial and error, and the best way to help it learn is to allow that trial and error to be made.
It does not follow, however, that all advice on running biomechanics should be ignored. These guidelines can serve as a source of ideas for other running conditions to offer your body. Todd Hargrove advises to deliberately use the new technique for five minutes, then forget about it and run naturally as you are accustomed to. If there is something useful in a new technique, it can give a kind of “feeling” that unknowingly affects the running for the next few kilometers. It can be a midfoot run or a higher cadence – you don’t have to follow this technique, but you can try it. In some cases, changing the technique makes practical sense, for example, with a sore knee, since a blow to the forefoot displaces mechanical stress from the knee. But at the same time, a large load falls on the Achilles and the foot, one technique is not better than the other , you just have to choose the most suitable one.
The takeaway from these considerations is that there are many different running techniques, each with its own advantages and disadvantages. A runner can choose the technique that is optimal for him, but for this you have to try, try different options, running in different terrain, with different speed and degree of fatigue, in different shoes, and so on. As the runner’s movement improves, it may look more “training”, but over time these changes will become natural, and the result will be better than trying to consciously follow a particular technique.