Friday, April 2, 2010

Running form: the heel strike

The past year there has been a question repeating in my mind about running.

Do I have the best running form I can? 
Do I have the running form I should? 
IS there a RIGHT way to run??

When it comes to where you strike your foot, there is a lot of opinion on what is right and what is wrong, but most importantly what is Natural! People have been running for ages and ages and only recently have "running" injuries skyrocketed: runners knee, plantar faciitis and even back pain "caused" by running. Is modern running to blame? I am starting to agree with the camp that says... yes.

How we land, the shoes we wear (or don't wear), cushioning when we run, natural form vs. forced form and injuries all seem to be intertwined.  I am going to be conducting a few experiments to chime in on the foot strike, running form, barefoot/shoe controversies swirling around!  

To start, I wanted to see what happened to my form when I was running in shoes and then without. I tested this on a treadmill because it was easier to catch my form on film.  I have in the past, tried to purposefully run on the ball of my foot both outside and on the treadmill. Here I am just capturing my natural form. 

When I jump on a treadmill and don't "think" about my footstrike, I very clearly end up with a heel strike: 

When you heel strike you can:
lock your knees
Move your center of mass so your body is working against your own momentum
Cause undo stress on your calfs and hamstrings
Cause unnecessary strain on your heel

I don't heel strike when I run down the beach to swim or in the grass without shoes at a picnic, why am I doing it here? 

Because my shoes allow me to. So I took them off. 

Toe pointed down, landing with my mid to forefoot

This took a lot of concentration and I felt as if I were going SO fast running on the front part of my foot! Also, I was incredibly sore the next day in my calfs and shins, that was something I was NOT expecting.

 You can run with a mid to fore foot strike in any shoe, try it. It takes training, concentration and relearning how to run. In the modern running shoe, you will be able to heel strike easily and without even noticing because of the cushion on the shoes and their engineering.

Is the engineering all that bad, how can it be when running shoe companies have been selling new and improved shoes like crazy for years? What's wrong with shoes offering cushion and support?  These questions about how I land, what my foot is doing and what my body is supposed to be doing have stem from a few things:

One: I am sick of buying new running shoes every 6 months or ending up with pain if I don't
Two: I think that we are fearfully and wonderfully made by a God who loves play and health. Nike's weren't created on the 8th day, so there has got to be something about the human foot that is good enough AS IS. 
Three: the book I am reading, Born to Run spends a NUMBER of chapters at the end talking about running shoes, our feet and our form and It is more than convincing. 

I have a lot more to write on this and the surrounding subjects! SOON, I will even be conducting some fun experiments for myself that you will probably get a kick out of, so stay tuned.

Have you thought about running form and where your foot strikes? Have you had injuries you think are related to HOW we run? 


Joey said...

nice post! never thought about it but i bet how i run contributes to the pain in my shins! and i know for a fact that i strike with my heel on the treadmill... probably outside as well. very interesting! :)

Julie said...

I should of read this post before my run on Wednesday:) Great pictures!! I hope that you have a wonderful weekend Mary!

cstironkat said...

I have not had any injuries but I don't run on treadmills. When I exercise indoors I use my wii and usually I do step aerobics.

I have never thought about how your running form can effect you chances for injuries. Something to think about.

Have a great Easter, Mary. Kouga dog and I have a doggie egg hunt to go to tomorrow and then we are going to play in the lake. Do you have Easter plans?

Mary said...

My next post on this will be my form outside!! I am excited about the little experiments! My Easter plans are just the weekend with my Mom and church on Easter!! Should be wonderful!! Happy Easter to all of you too!

Missy said...

That's so interesting! I had been getting SUCH bad pain in my shins when I ran on the treadmill, but if I focused on landing towards the balls of my feet the pain went away. Very interesting post today!!

The un-Zen Runner said...

I've always wanted to take pictures of myself running with shoes vs. without. Very interesting. I'll have to try this.

Doug said...

Mary, good job on the switch. The reason your shins and calves hurt the next day is because you were utilizing muscles that until then, were barely used. Your legs have to get accustomed to your new form. Very cool that you took video and got stills.

Have you heard of anyone using the Newtons? They are designed for forefoot strikers.

Also, great times on your recent mile repeats. What an improvement you made just by switching shoes.

Mary said...

Hey Doug!! I have looked at the Newtons, but am less familiar with them than with the free's. I am going to be moving to a more minimal running "style" and would love to try everything. My run on Sunday included one mile without shoes, I am trying to build my feet muscles up!!

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