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Athletic development specialists dedicated to the art and science of excellence in movement

Reasons NOT to Coach Running Form: Part II

Here is Part I...

After the recent 10000m events at Track and Field Olympic Trials, BYU’s biomechanics lab compiled an excellent photo montage of each runner’s footstrike.  See Men's 10k and Women's 10k for the complete photo montages.

Below I have complied photos of heel strikers from the fields (Seven out of twenty four men, seven out of twenty three women)

 

 

If you follow running you know that heel striking is often scorned as the "incorrect" way to run.  Yet if heel striking is such a death knell, how did these runners qualify for the United States’ most prestigious track and field meet and fill approximately 30% of the field? 

Sure, they might have reached that level despite their gait, but if you believe the extremism of the barefoot/minimalist movement, they shouldn’t have made the field to begin with….

Consider this excerpt from Vibram:

“Humans are not meant to heel strike heavily, particularly when running.  Try running without shoes on; you will see what we mean.  Running barefoot with a strong heel strike will send you to the sofa to let your bone contusion or fracture heal.  One of the goals of Vibram Five Finders footwear is to encourage forefoot striking, meaning your forefoot will contact the ground first then engage muscles in your feet and lower legs as your heel touches down.  This style of running may be safer and lead to fewer injuries.”

Interestingly, Dr. Lieberman of Harvard, a leading player in the minimalist movement notes that “no study has shown that heel striking contributes more to injury than forefoot striking.”  Perhaps one reason is that an “incorrect” heel strike may be protective given other limitations in the body (dysfunction is often defensive).

Maybe I’m putting too much weight into a commercial advertisement from Vibram, but as we have said repeatedly, footstrike is simply one component of the stride and one part of the brain’s overall movement strategy.  One theory behind a heel strike is that it is how some people gather information about the ground below. 

A narrow focus on footstrike ignores many key factors.  All components of the stride are part of the body’s overall movement strategy.  No matter how you manipulate footstrike, whether by taking the shoe away or by adding more shoe (or an insole) you can’t ignore the rest of the body.    

The idea that minimalist footwear will drive runners toward a midfoot or forefoot strike has long been a dubious claim.  However, in our “sound-bite” world, footstrike is an easy thing to peck at.  A series of still photos from a single track meet is not definitive evidence in either direction, but given the extremist position of the minimalist movement, you would not expect the fastest people in the country to run so “incorrectly.”

Consider the stride of Germa Mecheso, now an American citizen but a native of Ethiopia.  The minimalist party line is that less shoe will promote a more “correct” midfoot or forefoot strike.  Many would have us believe that built-up American shoes are toxic for gait.  So if there is anyone who should have the ideal footstrike it’s the fast dude who grew up in Africa, right?…Yet what does his stride look like?

In sum, effective strides come in many shapes and forms.  To label footstrike and running form as “correct” or “incorrect” can be misleading.   Our point is not to support any particular footstrike, but instead to remind everyone why it is important to consider overall movement strategies. 

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