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Should You Change Your Running Technique?

2 Feb 2015
James Pope
Running technique is now seen as one of the most important aspects of staying injury free for runners and athletes. Understanding the theory and science behind running form is still a work in progress, and it’s a topic hotly contested by running experts and health practitioners. One topic raised in “Born to Run” by Christopher McDougall has a basic principle that if you have perfect form then you will remain injury free. Blaise Dubois, a physiotherapist in Canada preaches the same message. But is this really the case?

Both McDougall and Dubois encourage everyone to be in minimalistic footwear, low heel drop, and feet striking under the body to keep you technically correct and efficient. If this is indeed the case then running is simple, and every runner not running with this technique should be taught how to. But for me it is not as simple as this, as changing how you run needs to be thought through and specific.

Chrisitan Barton’s fantastic blogs articulate nicely that reductions in stride length can reduce peak ground reaction forces (or stress) on joints regardless of the footwear used, minimalistic or not. So the question I pose is “Why are impact or peak ground reaction forces important and should we be attempting to reduce these for everybody?”

I know of many runners with who have high forces, high peak moments, and run high mileage but do not get injured. So should we change their running style to something closer to the technique mentioned above to try and prevent injury? I would suggest we don’t, as trying to change running technique to suit “the” ideal can cause problems.  For instance, we have research suggesting that an increase in cadence or decrease stride length will reduce stress around the hip and the knee. That’s great! However, changing technique to reduce stress on the hip and knees may channel the forces elsewhere such as the calf and Achilles tendon, and create a problem in this region.

If people do have an injury to contend with on the other hand, such as kneecap pain, we have great justification to change a runner’s technique to specifically reduce the knee joint stresses and redirect them elsewhere. 

But what if it’s the other way around and we have a runner with a chronic Achilles problem… do we encourage more of a longer stride length and heel strike to reduce stresses and moments around the ankle?  This is maybe a discussion for my next blog, but my message is simple - if you want to change your technique then do so sensibly and for a good reason, do your research and be targeted and specific for the runner, not just because it looks better or because it is fashionable.

 

References:

  1. Harrison Philip Crowell; Irene S Davis (2011) Gait Retraining to reduce lower extremity loading in runners. Clinical Biomechanics Volume 26 Issue 1 Pg 78083
  2. R Squadrone; C Gallozzi (2009) Biomechanical and physiological comparison of barefoot and two shod condition in experience barefoot runners. Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness; Mar 2009; 49, 1 pg6.



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