Running form and the Shoe Industry: where do we go from here?

Running form and shoes are the biggest topics in the running industry right now. I’ve written about each substantially and while I enjoy the topic, I sometimes get tired of focusing so much time on them. I try and balance the topics out with that of my real love, how to train, but can’t quite pull away from the form/shoe topic as the demand for such information is high and the amount of misinformation out there is incredible. So, given that last week I asked you all what direction the shoe industry should go, I wanted to do a post analyzing our present state in terms of form and shoes.

At the same time, there has been a backlash against both minimalist shoes and more importantly running form that is demonstrated in such articles as Matt Fitzgerald’s latest one (here). First, let me say that I think disagreement is a good thing and I actually appreciate the back lash. As you may know, one of my central guiding principles is that we tend to overemphasize “new” discoveries until they settle down and find their rightful place. Secondly, Pete Larson posted a long but entertaining video of the Newton running shoe conference (http://www.runblogger.com/2010/09/newton-panel-discussion-on-natural.html) that also touched a nerve and needed a response.

I want to use this post to address the major issues in the running form and running shoe industry, and see where we are going and what mistakes are likely to occur.


History
It’s important to understand the history of the running form and running shoe movement. It’s often given lip service without considering where we actually came from. There seems to be this idea that running form or minimalist shoes are some new idea. In fact, I love how Newton basically stated they were the company that first started the minimalist shift…oh my.

Let’s start with running form. Back in 1964 a track coach named Toni Nett did a study on the foot strike of top German runners. He looked at these elite runners running 100m up to the marathon and studied their foot strikes during those events. What did he find? During the sprints, the runners landed up towards the ball of the foot and then let their heel come down afterwards. During the middle distance events, most runners landed what we’d call mid-foot. Finally, during the long events such as the marathon, runners landed what we’d call whole foot, making initial contact somewhere underneath that couple inch area from the front to the back of the arch. No heel striking going on, even at marathon speeds, for the majority of the runners. In the training literature from those days, you’ll see that most of it recommends Nett’s viewpoint. The few books on biomechanics I have from this 50’s-60’s era all show what is basically a midfoot/wholefoot plant as the way to run. There were some disagreements, but for the most part we can say that coaches did not support a heel strike. The ones who did mostly limited their support to slower jogging.

Where’d the heel come in to play?

Before 1980, the majority of the studies that I could find on running biomechanics focused on elite or sub-elite runners. For instance, a 1977 study by Cavanagh compared world class and good runners biomechanically and gave us all sorts of interesting biomechanical data. In fact in that study, foot strike was given little mention, although they did find that at foot strike the foot was parallel to the ground or slightly plantar flexed. What that means is that the runners either struck the ground whole foot or with a midfoot/forefoot initial touch. Additionally, the runners landed almost exactly under their knee with only around 2 degrees off from accomplishing this.
However, in the 1980’s something changed. The research started pointing towards distance runners needing to heel strike. A 1983 study by Kerr et al. declared that around 80% of runners heel strike. Thus the conclusion was made that heel striking must be how running was supposed to be done. All the way through to today, almost every research study I could find declared that running was a heel-ball-toe activity. Various justifications such as the role of heel fat pad were given as to why we should land on our heels. The funny thing is another study came out in 1983 that mimicked Nett’s study almost 20 years earlier. It looked at elite runners from the 100m on up, and found that around 76% made contact that would be either considered flat foot, midfoot, or forefoot. Similarly to Nett, he found that sprinters made contact up near the ball of the foot, while most distance runners landed flat.

What happened in the 1970’s and 80’s?
Why did we change? How’d we go from studies looking at footstike saying that heel striking was evil, to some that showed everyone should do it?

If you know even anything about the history of running, answer me this. When did the Running boom occur?

The 1970’s!

We went from a sport filled with elites or crazy people who liked running to one of the masses. Thanks to Frank Shorter’s marathon victory, Ken Cooper’s aerobics, and a whole slew of other factors, running started gaining popularity with the masses.

So by the time that 1983 study took place, we were no longer looking at just elite runners, we’re looking at recreational runners and the tides had turned. The demographics had changed, but had foot strike changed that much?

The shoe industry

Take a brief look at the history of running shoes and you’ll see a pretty abrupt transition point. Take a look at the pictures in this article and see if you notice anything:
http://runningtimes.com/Print.aspx?articleID=16929

What happened?

We went from a relatively flat, minimal shoe to an ever increasing “cushioning” system. It starts with slightly raised heel to give more cushioning and then transformed into a whole slab of almost inch thick cushioning for the whole foot. Our distance from the ground went from a few cm to almost an inch. It’s obvious what happened but the important question is WHY did it happen?

Like most crazy changes, there were several interplaying factors that led to the change.

1. Masses started running
No one worried about cushioning, as you can see, until the masses started running. As a whole slew of new runners who weren’t used to training for races or competition joined the running movement, the demographics changed from a slender fit runner to someone using running to get in shape. For people who have almost exclusively walked for 30-40-50years of their life, you often see them heel strike when they start running. Why? Because their initial speed is in that walk-run transition area so they kind of shuffle with an in-between running and walking motion. Secondly, they are used to walking, not running, and in a walk you heel strike.

2. Shoe companies used some misguided logic.
The running boom meant people going from nothing to running in no time. As you all know, rapid changes no matter what shoe you wear, causes injuries. So you get new runners who likely are getting some injuries and complaining about the hard shoes they have, being the new customer. The shoe companies had two options, and I’ve talked to coaches who were around during that time who corroborated this with me. The first option was what the coaches said: the problem isn’t the cushioning, it’s the heel strike, so the solution is change the foot strike. The second option was that runners needed heel cushioning. They chose option number two and that’s why you get the start of small heel cushioning devices.

3. The use of a force platform
In the 1970’s and 80’s the use of a force platform to measure ground reaction forces became standard. As so often happens, when we can all of the sudden measure something we couldn’t before, we put too much meaning into the results. It happens with every measurement, VO2, lactate, heart rate, etc. What happened is that all of the sudden the researchers and doctors saw the large amount of impact forces that the body withstood during running. They saw numbers that were several times the body weight of the runners. I don’t blame them for thinking “wow that’s a lot of force going up the leg! We should add something to reduce that.” Using this logic, you got companies slapping as much cushioning as they could get on the bottom of the shoe.

The problem is that they didn’t know what those numbers meant. They had no idea if 2-3x BW was bad or caused injuries or if the pattern of the GRF mattered at all. It just sounded like a lot of forces, so we should try and minimize it. If you’ve read this blog before, you’d know that the total GRF isn’t that important. It’s the rate of loading, and the initial peak that is present in the heel strike but not midfoot that seems to be a big deal.

That’s the short version of how we got to where we are today. Briefly let’s go over the minimalist movement:

Where did the minimalist/barefoot movement start?
Cross country runners, coaches, and competitive runners. I’m not going to claim to know the exact dates or even give a time frame, but I do know that for decades competitive runners and coaches have been on the forefront of such changes. Everyone’s heard the Stanford cross country story of them doing barefoot jogging and that’s how Nike came up with the Free. What most people fail to realize is that this was going on around the country with many competitive teams for years. It’s what you did. I remember back in High School doing cool down laps around the inside of the track barefoot. Similarly, my High School coach would have us take our shoes off and do barefoot strides to work on form. In particular, we had one runner who was very good but a bad heel banger (what we called heel striking…), so to force him to change coach would make him do barefoot strides on the track. And we certainly were not unique. You can go much further back then my high school days and find similar stories about barefoot running. You can go back to the days of Percy Cerutty making his athletes take their shoes off and run barefoot through the sand dunes and hills as part of their workout if you want to. Similarly, I can give you stories of individuals training exclusively in racing flats or a similar flat. The point is. It’s not new, no one suddenly invented minimalism. It’s just gained popularity in the mainstream as a backlash to the increasingly big shoes.  It was bound to happen sometime, it's just that a series of events propelled it into the masses.

Where do shoes and form go from here?
In my previous blog post, I asked you where the running shoe industry was going. There were some great answers given, but most focused on the minimalist approach. For the most part, I’m right there with you, but I’d like to suggest that we err on the side of caution. Pete Larson posted an interesting panel discussion at a Newton shoes conference that gives some interesting insights into where the shoe industry might be headed. You can watch it yourself, but let me highlight a couple of things I noticed. I’m doing this not to critique the panelist but to point out that we have a LONG way to go in understanding running form.

1. The center of Mass.
The foot does not land underneath the COM. Pete dissected this. I dissected this. Research dissected it. I found a study as far back as that 1977 Cavanagh study that found elite and good runners landed an average about 25cm in front of their COM. Landing underneath the COM is a great CUE, however it should not be used as a descriptor.

2. Barefoot running isn’t a cure all.
Despite how many times it is said, people can still land heel first when barefoot. You see this in the Lieberman data. Why? Because of so many years of ingrained motor programming. Even with the sensory feedback, it’s not enough to tell the body to change.

3. Stop trying to get quick.
Several panelists talked about trying to land under the COM to minimize the GRF. Let’s get something straight. You need time for impact forces, as I’ve pointed out here before. They are going to occur. And guess what, as you go faster you need more GRF…. It’s not evil. Look at Weyend’s studies on GRF and running, faster sprinters impart more force into the ground than slower ones. Or put in other words, the faster you run, the more GRF you’re going to need. If you ever want to run fast, you’re going to have to increase GRF. So, don’t get obsessed with minimizing total GRF. If you do that, you’ll be going really slow and running really strangely. Do NOT fall into this trap.

4. There is a difference between Dynamic and Static abilities.
While balance is important, standing on one leg is completely different from the balance it takes to be on a foot for .1-.2 tenths of a second. Many experts, beyond those on the panelist, often say balance on one leg to check for running related balance. However, the idea that single leg balance in a static position relates to the balance needed in the dynamic state of running is weak at best. It’s falling into the same trap that stretching fell into. For years people thought static stretching was essential for dynamic flexibility. It’s only recently that people have realized that the range of motion a person can go through in the running motion has little relation to the range of motion they go through statically.

For example. The athlete below couldn’t touch his toes statically, but looks pretty flexible dynamically:








5. Newton doesn’t care about performance?
Okay, this one seems a little harsh. But after sitting here and listening to Newton people talk about how you “lift the core” and heel to move and not push using your hamstring, I think it’s reasonable to say the above. It’s kind of scary that a shoe company that supposedly thinks their product will improve performance basis its ideal running form on a bunch of bunk ideas/science. At the very end of the panel, someone questioned Newton on this, and they basically said that only in “sprinting” do you need to push….So my conclusion is that newton’s are built for running 8+min miles all day…wonderful

6. Walking, running, and sprinting blend together
It’s important to remember that walking, running, and sprinting blend together. Walking is the most distinct and different but there is going to be a speed that is called the walk-run transition that represents a transition point. During this phase it feels awkward to run so slow or walk so fast. Thus, as mentioned earlier, a lot of times you get a weird kind of mix shuffle action at these in between speeds. It’s one of the reasons why new runners who jog really slow adopt a heel strike like shuffle. At these speeds, the Newton panel is correct in that you don’t need much hip extension/force application because it doesn’t take much force to move. But as we get faster into a run and then into a sprint, research shows that more force application is needed and along with that more hip extension occurs. This should make sense, as the muscles around the hip function as the speed governor. Want to speed up, use them more. Which brings us to the run/sprint transition. Unlike walking, sprinting is very similar to running. The difference is force application and range of motion. The hip extension is greater, the leg cycles through a greater motion, and the arms go through a greater range of motion. But it’s the same basic motion, it just happens faster and in a greater range of motion.

7. Pay attention to the track coaches
Number 5 brings us to the above statement and one of my other favorite statements: Coaches innovate and come up with it Scientists explain why it works. Whenever it happens the other way around, it goes horribly wrong. You can look at shoes or the rise of hard interval training/low volume mileage during the 90’s. Yes, I am being harsh, but for the most part the top track coaches have been teaching correct biomechanics for decades. Yes, we argue about subtle differences like a pawback and dosiflexion, but no one is saying don’t apply force. That’s what scares me. With running form gaining in popularity, you see good intentioned people getting horrible ideas on what actual running form should look like. You can’t really blame them. For example, the scientists were taught heel-ball-toe growing up. It’s hard to completely change your ideas and know where to look for correct information. Bottom line is I’d put my trust in the trial and error of elite coaches and elite athletes figuring things out, instead of the people who are trying to make a buck off a trend with the masses.

The point isn't to needlessly critique shoe companies or the panelists in the Newton shoe conference.  In fact, many do excelent work.  The point is that we should be careful with where we go from here.  We don't want to make the mistakes of the past and rely on bunk science, incorrect ideas, and bad interpretation of research.

Part 2 will be on how do we figure out what's right and where do we go.

49 comments:

  1. wow. as a self-proclaimed science nerd i love reading your posts! i'm a new reader so i have lots of catching up to do. but i can't wait to read more

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  2. Anonymous5:22 PM

    One point that needs to be brought up I that not everyone who runs has an interest in competing or racing. You make some great points related to performance but I think that the newton panel discussion was more about how to run injury-free. I think Danny Dryer was justified in saying that newton was the first company to start this trend. Their whole company is based on this way of running. Only now are some if the big names planning in offering lower heel shoes. I think the fact that a shoe company has such an intelligent approach should be noted. I can't say the same for Nike, etc,.

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  3. Anonymous5:25 PM

    Wonderful posts Steve- keep us thinking and reading. Thanks so much

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  4. marathonmaiden and anonymous #2- thanks a lot. Glad you found it interesting

    Anonymous #1= Good point about performance. I deal mainly with performance and since most runners reach a point where they care about PR's, the majority of runners are concerned with performance. The bottom line though is if you run right, you maximize performance and injury prevention.

    I think the comment about newton starting the trend is way off. I know it's fashionable to hate on Nike, but Nike started the movement before Newton did. They released the Free. While you might not agree with the execution, the premise was similar, mimic barefoot running. Newton went with trying to use technology to mimic the appearance of barefoot running (thus midfoot strike), while Nike went with the idea of mimicing the Center of Pressure data of barefoot running. Anyways, the reality is no shoe company started the trend. If there wasn't a demand, there wouldn't be a shoe. We've had racing flats for a long time, and before any of the shoe companies tried to capitalize on the minimalism thing, most minimalist trained in flats like Puma's H-streets for example.

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  5. Anonymous7:45 PM

    Steve,
    My opinion is that Nike free is nothing like the Newton. The free 7 has a big heel and way too much arch support. The free 5.0 and free run are only slightly less shoe and the 3.0 still has a 4mm heel/forefoot differential. And even though it was marketed as a "barefoot" shoe they seemingly made no effort at all to educate about no heel striking and forefoot/midfoot form, which is kind of the whole point, isn't it? Newton on the other hand, based their whole line of running shoes on this premise and made "educating" the consumer about proper form the forefront of their whole marketing platform.
    Were there other options prior to Newton, yes, although not many. But what I'm saying is that they deserve a little credit for their effort. They took a big risk (even knowing they were right) when no one else in the industry was willing to. I think that instead of saying they started the trend it would be better to say they were the first company to respond to the trend properly.

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  6. Anonymous- I think you missed the point slightly. I agree the Free doesn't have what most would consider ideal properties. However, the point is that Nike was the 1st company to jump on the barefoot trend. Go back and Look at the Center of Pressure data Nike put out when the Free first came out. The free at least looks like barefoot running in their data.

    Newton took a different approach. They used different technology to accomplish the barefoot thing. Instead of focusing on COP data, they went for look. Thus you get lugs designed to make you hit midfoot.

    You can argue which one is better, but that's not the point. The point is that both tried to capture the barefoot/minimalist trend. Neither created it, and Nike came first in addressing it. Does it matter? Not really, but I felt it was worth pointing out to clear up the story.

    Also, as far as form goes. Does it matter that they are educating their consumer when they are educating them wrong? I mean ya they've got the footstrike mostly right, but the rest of it is based on Chi nonsense. So, in my opinion, it's little different than the other big shoe companies that showed runners how to run heel ball toe. Both are wrong. One is a little worse, but both are providing incorrect education.

    That's the point of the whole article. When Nike or Adidas or whoever started adding cushioning, they too based it on their knowledge of "correct" running form. They pushed their techonology (cushioning) as part of a heel-ball-toe platform. We don't want to make the same mistake. Newton for example bases their shoe on Chi Running form for what I gather...Well, once again they are basing it off an incorrect idea. Newton makes good shoes now, but so did Nike/Adidas/Puma in the early days. My fear is that their wrong ideas makes them push their wrong idea (chi running) into incorrect shoe ideas. Which means, we're no better off now with "minimalist" Newtons then we were with heavy cushioned shoes.

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  7. Anonymous9:11 PM

    My biggest gripe is that most shoes inhibit proper form because of an unnecessary raised heel. At least Newton's remove most of that obstacle. Whether or not you run with good form is up to you but at least you'll have a better shot at it in a shoe that would allow your foot to function as close to a "barefoot" as possible. Whatever we believe is "proper" form can be debated for a long time to come.
    p.s. I run in Vibram Bikila's and vivo barefoot Evo's because they are some of the few options that do not have an added heel. I've been considering trying the Newtons but haven't as of yet.

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  8. Finally someone who notes the difference between elite runners and non-elite runners. The style at which I run my 10 km/h LSD's is way different from how I run my 19 km/h 200's on the treadmill. Telling me how to run my LSD on asphalt by looking at elite track distance runners or kids playing in an African village just felt wrong.

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  9. best article I've read on the topic Steve.*****
    Also glad you addressed some of the problems of Chirunning and running Guru's in general.
    Pete magill told me; " when you see a running guru coming your way, run as fast as you can in the oposite direction"! :]
    i have a pair of the Newton distance Racers.
    I wore them in the London Marathon and the Liverpool 1/2 marathon this year, i set P.B.s at both events but I put my improvement down to my new coach and not the shoes!
    I found the Newtons good over long distance races, i have quite high arched feet and land fore-midfoot, they help reduce shock and I finished the marathon without and problems.
    But I find that I don't really like them for short distances, too heavy, not flexible enough.
    They do not give any feedback due to the thick lugs under the midfoot and they don't let the arch of the foot act in a natural way!
    anyone wanting a barefoot feel should give them a miss, if on the other hand you want a shoe for long distances training or racing and have a HIGH ARCH then maybe they would work for you!
    I don't think I'd buy another pair, unless they drop the price.
    P.S. I WOULD NOT CLASS THEM AS A MINIMAL SHOE,
    They [Newton] are just jumping on the band wagon.

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  10. As a newbie to minimalism (started with Newton 9 months ago and a marathon, then switched to VFF 4 months ago and planning to run a Marathon in October, with also a try to Terra Plana EVO and Kigo Edge) I found your article tremendously interesting. Great piece of work and research.

    FRED (http://www.wanarun.net/blog/author/fred)

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  11. Steve,

    I enjoy reading your posts. It definitely satisfies the inner nerd (when the post doesn't completely fly over my head)!

    Curious - you stated that most elite/good runners land 25cm in front of their COM. 25cm = 10in. the elites/good runners are landing on forefoot or midfoot an average of 10 inches in front of their center?!? While I believe the data you cite, i find it more than a little unnerving how many other posts i've read about landing directly underneath your body.

    Thanks for your efforts!

    Rob

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  12. Another fine post. I use barefoot running to understand the technique and search for a shoe that will compliment that technique (by the way, it's not a VFF - I should post on that). My opinion is that shoes have been defining technique/form/whatever rather than working in concert with it.

    Whether a runner is running for fun or performance, education is a must and the first lesson is "you are not like the person next to you."

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  13. Anonymous11:40 AM

    @ jamoosh -
    I agree 100% with your comment. Very well said.
    Just curious though, what shoe do you use?

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  14. Question for Steve?
    just did a session in my Newton distance racers [not used them for a long time] noticed that my foot arch is not compressing when I run in them due to the lack of flex in the shoe, could this affect the natural stretch reflex in my calf and tendon?

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  15. Your first link (to the Fitzgerald piece) is incorrect, and instead goes to the history of running shoes.

    Also, thank you so much for this! A fantastic summary.

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  16. Joel- Thanks! I've fixed the link.

    Rick- If it limits arch compression by a significant amount or changes, it definately could impact elastic energy return. I'm not sure I could tell you how much, but I'd experiment around and see if you notice a difference running in them versus other shoes.

    Jamoosh- Excellent point!! I love your conclusion that shoes have been influencing form and not working with that. Thanks for sharing that, I agree 100%.

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  17. Fitz seems to change his mind more often than my wife changes her mind on which dress to wear before a night out!
    His book Brain training had a whole chapter just on running form, i guess its all in aid of bringing out more books ?
    This video shows just what can be achieved with a new runner, impressive stuff http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fgTsc6FF6Uc
    Newton shoes; i compared my newtons with both my asics Hyperspeed and modified {cut down heel for zero lift]Nike Frees.
    At speed in the nikes and hyperspeeds i can really feel my arch compressing and springing back, but the newton's feel like wearing two planks of wood on my feet, very little arch movement.
    back in march I liked the Newton's but after running with more minimal shoes for the last 6 months my perceptions have changed and i wonder how i managed to race in them before.

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  18. Anonymous2:01 PM

    The running shoe need to be customer centered. The profits will then come. But to attempt to be profit centered can drive customers to choose to find another product, and the company will then loose out. I hope shoe companies learn take note of this lesson, for those who do will be rewarded.

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  19. Steve,
    Someday a loved one's life may be dependent on getting consistent motion in their life. They start running at a 10min/mi. pace. Considering your scoff at "8+ min. miles all day" I assume you would either a) tell the loved one they are not really a "runner" which would demotivate them back to the couch or b) tell them to speed up and absolutely land 25cm in front of their COM and absorb impact forces at high risk vs. their current fitness level or old injury; and eventually they get injured which also puts them back onto the couch.

    Shortly thereafter their health fails and they perish. How does that feel? The application of one running prescription (technique/speed) to all runners and all running scenarios is shortsighted. In some professions they call that malpractice.

    The confusion comes not from misinformation, but lack of information. You are simply adding to that confusion unless you clearly indicate the running context of your recommendations and acknowledge there are as many ways to run as there are runners/running scenarios. If your posts are about elites for elitists, simply state that. Ie. "If you want to run a 4:01.02 min. mile, here is how some of the elites do it."

    That is way different from "If you want to run 8+ min. miles all day and never get injured, here is how many people do it." And it is not just your loved one at stake - a true advocate of health, fitness through a love of running would hopefully understand that.

    Respectfully,
    David.

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  20. Rob/Eva- Ya you have to land slightly in front of your center of gravity because you need that time to absorb the impact before you start the propulsion phase which happens once you are under your CoG and can "push off". A better cue is to land with the foot/ankle under your knee. That's what really happens and what ensures you don't overstride.

    David-
    Let's not jump off the deep end here...I think you misinterpreted what I wrote. I have nothing against 8+min/mile running. I've done some myself and realize that one day that will be moving pretty good for me. My point was that, the way Newton described running is that ONLY sprinters needed to apply force/use the hip extensors/hamstrings. Which is wrong. If you want to run fast, whether that is 4min/mi or 10min/mi, if it's fast for you, you better be using those muscles.

    As to the rest of your post, I'm not sure I understand. It is almost IMPOSSIBLE to land under your COG. Landing 20-25cm in front of the COG isn't going to increase injuries. That's just slightly in front of your COG and insures that you don't overstride. Go watch Danny Dreyer of Chi Running fame run and that's where he is landing. He's not landing under his COG.

    Your comment came off as rather harsh and maybe if you took the time to read the site, you'd realize that I don't prescribe ONE dogmatic way to do things. By definition there are certain biomechanical principles that are more efficient. Each runner will deviate from them to a degree based on their individual physiology, but that doesn't mean we scrap the principles.

    I make no dogmatic recomendations and you misinterpreted my 20cm comment. I don't need exact numbers, I just know that to minimize the impact transient, you better land midfoot/forefoot close to your COG, but it's impossible to land under your COG. In that study it was an average of around 20cm or so, to give a ball park figure.

    If you think I'm giving back advice that is harmful, feel free to point it out. If I'm wrong, I'll admit it, but I am confident that what I post is backed up by science and practice, and I'll gladly explain any of it to you.

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  21. David- Just realized you were a Chi Runner and that's where the anger probably stems.

    Let me be up front: I think Chi teaches incorrect biomechanical principles. It is better than the way most people run (heavy overstriders) so I don't completely hate it and it is a step up. It's just that I'm a perfectionist and I think running 100% correct is better than running maybe 70% correct.

    You don't have to agree, just keep your mind open and read what I write and hopefully it makes you think. Don't overeact and get emotional about it.

    For instance, read Pete Larson's analysis of the COM thing:
    http://www.runblogger.com/2010/08/on-running-form-ii-where-should.html

    The idea of landing close to your COM is correct, and the use of land under your COM as a CUE is good, but to use it as a literal description is wrong.

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  22. Sorry if my comment was interpreted as harsh - there is hardly any anger here. I needed a real life example to make my point. Which was that stating absolutes is dangerous. And that stating conclusions without the full context leads to confusion.

    For example, in your response two concepts were 'wrong', another 'impossible' and there is a '100% correct' running form. I again think there are too many variables to make these kinds of absolute statements. Your blog of course.

    David.

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  23. Robert Osfield5:27 AM

    I would to concur about that fact that no runner running at constant speed can land with their feet under the center of mass, Chi Running and others might advocate it, but it's physically impossible.

    Why? It's very simple mechanics, if you landed with you foot below your centre of mass then the average position of foot whilst touching the ground will be behind the centre of mass, and the upward force you generate will produce a rotational force around the centre of mass and rotate your body about the centre of mass and you'll end up falling over flat onto your face.

    The only times when you could land with your foot underneath the centre of mass below your body is when you are accelerating - here the average force vector is learning forward and up through the centre of mass, and/or when you are running into a strong headwind and you need a forward lean to the average force vector to counteract the drag.

    I have read the ChiRunning book, and practice a number of techniques from the book when running, but the suggestion of landing underneath the centre of mass is nonsense and really detracts from otherwise good advice. I listened to the Newtwon panel discussion and was appalled to see the Newtwon representative time afte time repeating the notion of landing with your foot underneath the centre of mass. Sir Isacc Newtwon will be turning in his grave.

    No matter what technique you run, when running at a steady state you land with your foot behind your centre of mass and lift it behind your centre of mass. The shorter your foot is on the ground the closer your touchdown and lift-off will be to the centre of mass, but when at a steady state you foot will never land at or behind your mass otherwise you'll need to push off strongly to start accelerating just to avoid falling on your face.

    As Steve says one needs to view the talk about landing under your centre of mass as a cue, not as a physical fact. Personally I'd advocate never mixing teachings which are wrong, even if they might lead to better form. Rather fix the language so that it helps runners with better cues that also fit the actual mechanics of what is going on. Steve's suggestion of using the cue of landing with your foot underneath your knee is good one.

    It's especially important to sort this now that we've seen clearly that shoe manufactures are misinformed, if some of crucial industry professionals can't get it right how are the everyday runners supposed to?

    Many thanks to Steve Magnus for a great blog and illuminating this issue. Fingers crossed Newton and other shoe companies will read it and start to engage with proper science and engineering analysis rather than pseudo science that some are currently peddling.

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  24. David, I think that Steve implies almost the opposite of what you've suggested: regardless of your ability, you should be striving for better form and efficiency, even if this is strictly to remain injury-free.

    In other words, the same rules apply for elites and joggers.

    Cheers,
    -Mark

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  25. Question;
    In ChiRunning they tell you to keep a level pelvis at all times, yet this seems incorrect as it's natural to drop the pelvis at max hip extention, otherwise your stride length will be cut short!
    which is correct?

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  26. This is anecdotal and goes way back to when I sprinted. When I ran the quarter in high school (sub-50), I did so on my toes. Anything longer, though, and I landed on wherever it was that I landed.

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  27. Anonymous12:11 PM

    Steve,

    The irony here is that you have used landing under COG as a descriptor yourself.

    "Looking at elite athletes, when racing and training, they generally have higher turnover, minimal ground contact time, and a foot strike that is under their center of gravity. Since the majority of elites exhibit these same characteristics while racing, it makes sense that this is the optimal way to run fast. So, why are we wearing footwear that is designed to increase ground contact, decrease turnover, and promote footstrike out in front of the center of gravity?" - From your post on why running shoes don't work

    I would suggest, when finding out new information, cleaning up your own work before criticizing the work of others. I.E. go back to your running shoe post and add a foot note to the comment quoted above stating that it is actually impossible to land under COG.

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  28. Anonymous-
    I admit when I make mistakes and have mistakingly said that in the past. But if you read the post you quoted it's really a result of hasty writing.

    Go back and look at my big post on my views on running form and you'll find:
    "Ideal landing is close to the center of your body and directly underneath the knee."

    That's been my consistant stance for a long time. I sometimes have made the mistake of saying under the COG, but the difference is I've been consistant in saying under the knee, close to COG, and I correct my mistakes.

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  29. Anonymous12:59 PM

    Steve,

    Fair enough. However, as the reader, I don't know if the post is written in haste or with attention to detail. Also, if any other running coach made the excuse of "hasty writing" I'm assuming you would be all over them. "hasty writing" simply doesn't cut it in the world of scientific writing. Blog writing, sure.. Science, not so much.

    As you know, shoes are a very hot topic right now. What about the person who stumbles across that post because they are looking for information on shoes and does not read any of your other posts? That reader would be under the impression elites land under COG. They read that one post and go on their way, thinking that Steve Magness observed elites landing under COG.

    I know I'm nitpicking here, and my goal is not to be annoying. It's simply to point at that it is more beneficial to your reader to correct your mistake where the mistake is. I shouldn't have to read through several posts to get correct information. It should not be that hard to add a foot note or editors note saying that elites actually land slightly in front of COG. Maybe you do correct your mistakes, but my example above is a glaring mistake that has yet to be corrected (at least at the point of the mistake)

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  30. Anonymous- I appreciate you pointing out my past error.

    I agree that hasty writing doesn't cut it in scientific writing. But as you're well aware, this is a blog. I write it to inform and help others, but I don't get any $ out of it, so most of the time I write it quickly and don't go through it a second time. Thus why you see spelling mistakes and the like.

    I just read a comprehensive scientific research paper on biomechanics, and they too made the COG mistake. In this instance it was because of "lazy" writing. The author clearly knew they didn't and mentioned data to show it was slightly in front, but because we hear certain things repeated so often, they become second nature and we repeat them. I've been guilty of it before too. My goal is not to say Newton is bad or Chi is bad or whatever is wrong, it's to get us to rethink those things that we take for granted.

    The bottom line is I've posted 200+ blog posts and I am bound to make mistakes. My hope is that the reader is smart enough to do more than take one single line out of a post and grasp the bigger concept.

    As for my critiquing of other sources, I check multiple sources to grasp their main arguments before critiquing. It would be easy to nitpick and grasp one line like you have pointed out in my blogs, but I do my best not to do that.

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  31. Anonymous3:21 PM

    Ignore the critical posts. They are out of line. Keep up the work for all runners Steve. Thanks.

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  32. Yes, don't worry about the critical comments - especially those that have a hidden agenda. Just keep posting Steve - this is one of the best blogs on running going.

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  33. what shoud i say?
    all i care about is i really like this footwear, its being known by many people around the world..because of its good quality and unique design..and also had been proven and tested by science..barefoot running shoes

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  34. Anonymous1:26 PM

    Craig Alexander wears Newton Distance for his running leg of a triathlon. He won the 2009 Ford World Ironman Championships while wearing the Distance for the marathon. He had the fastest marathon of the day. Seems like the Newtons were designed for performance.

    Also, if you look closing at the bell curve of the impact force of a landing foot, the highest peak is when it is at the center of gravity. The foot may touch the ground in front of the center of gravity but will not experience peak force until under the center of gravity. There is a lot of misunderstanding of the science.

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  35. Anonymous- Running fast or slow in a shoe does not mean it's designed for performance. Haile Geb could run fast in a brooks beast. The point I was making is if the designers/founders think that pushing off/hamstring activation does not contribute to running, then it can't be designed for maximing performance because you have to do this to do so.

    Secondly, go reread my post on the Center of Gravity. I point out that fact. But so what? Whether you heel strike, midfoot strike, or forefoot strike, or land way out in front or close to your COG the peak vertical GRF will be when the foot is underneath the COG. So using loading/peak GRF takes place under the COG as a descriptor is useless. It's going to happen no matter what. I do agree that their is a lot of misunderstanding of the science though...that's what I was trying to point out...

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  36. Anonymous7:42 PM

    Nice job. I assume you meant mm instead of cm at the beginning when talking about the increase in shoe padding. Again, nice job. Looking forward to the next part.

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  37. Anonymous3:26 PM

    I started as a very competitive runner at distances from mile to marathon. I have coached for decades with very good results and I have studied the literature on the subject of form since the early 70's. I would like to add my thoughts on 2 points:
    1. I see both sides of the "disagreement" about planting the foot under the COG saying basically the same thing in different ways. Neither of which are for the right reason. Both the Pose Method and Chi running model the ideal motion of the foot as being circular. I think everyone agrees the the foot should be directly below the knee during the plant. The part everyone misses is that the force applied to the ground has a duration. Most students of form advocate a short duration with a high cadence, but there is still a finite length of time where there is contact with the ground. Similar to dribbling a basketball, the force of the foot/leg on the ground is like a spring, following a sine wave. At initial contact with the ball, the force starts small with relaxed arm muscles. The force then increases as the deflection of the arm increases. As the the arm approaches the point of maximum deflection and the basketball is decelerated down to zero velocity, the forces hover at their highest level. The high force continues just long enough for the ball to accelerate and build velocity back downward. The force decreases with decreasing deflection until contact is lost and the arm is fully relaxed again. If you put the maximum force/deflection point of your stride under your COG, the initial contact will be about 20 cm (8 in.) ahead of that. You are both saying the same thing.
    2. Just as important is the understanding that the real myth is believing that the feet/legs should exert force in any direction but down. Down meaning relative to your body center-line, which if running with a slight tilt does include a small vector component rearward relative to the ground. I strongly disagree with any statement implying that a runner in steady state should use hamstrings, glutes, calves or any muscle to push themselves along. This is a very bad CUE. The act of pushing down along your center-line is the only acceptable motion unless during severe acceleration i.e. beginning a sprint race. Going back to the spring/basketball analogy, just as the initial contact of foot plant will be about 20 cm ahead of COG, the last contact with the ground should not be more than 20 cm behind the COM. Over-striding behind you is just as inefficient and damaging as the heel-strike in front. I have seen many mid-foot runners relieve chronic knee pain by simply going to a higher cadence. They are forced to pick their feet up quicker which allows their knee joints to move in their natural plane of rotation. Leaving the foot down too long, pushing backward, toeing off, distorts the circular motion, the sine wave and slows their cadence. None of which is good.
    I tell my runners to plant their feet under their COM and immediately pick their feet back up. That leads to about 40 cm of "on the ground" stride length. They never have both feet on the ground at the same time and they do not push back, only down. It is extremely important, vital, to end the stride as relaxed as it started, with maximum force applied only when under your COG. Pushing off is something entirely different than good running form.

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  38. Tim Tancos9:12 AM

    I am a new Newton runner as I was looking for a lower heel shoe for a while. I think they are great for training but will stick to my racers for racing in. I would like to try barefoot running but it scares me to even think about it. There is no way I could run barefoot where I live! I will see how these Newtons pan out and might use them as a transition into running in lower shoes with less midsole.
    I am new to the blog, and find it very thought provoking - thanks.

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  39. Anonymous11:03 PM

    Hi, just happened onto this blog - great stuff! I am a 57 year old (holder of Masters Deg in Exercise Physiology from Ohio State, although I work in a totally different profession ) long time runner who now runs about 20-25 miles per week and does occasional 21 minute 5K's for fun and fitness. The $64,000 question for me is, assuming that the current crop of mainstream running shoes do not necessarily "have it right", what shoes currently available have it "most right" for folks like me. I presently run in Asics 2160's and like them, but like is a relative term and I am certainly willing to try something new in the interests of some moderate performance increases and potential greater running efficiency and injury prevention.

    Tim

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  40. Enjoyed this posting and comments.

    I have transitioned to Barefoot (& some huaraches) over the last 18 months, and have found a joy in running (particularly BF) that I never had before. I'm not fast, & simply want to have a great time & be able to tackle many more surfaces with joy -- (oh, and increase my distance so that I will be able to do halfs & fulls, BF. Did just do a Half with huaraches (& last 0.75 BF!). I spend my running time paying attention to how I'm running, my cadence, where I'm landing, how "easy" I am not only with my feet/legs, but the rest of me. Are there tension spots that are limiting what I'm doing? How is my posture, shape of my spine, orientation of my head, am I leaning forward or back, level or bouncing.

    And as my steps get shorter & faster, (I image a little steam engine with wheels going round & round ....) I see more & more the long & leggy strides of the shoddies. And the bouncing heads. Hmmm, doesn't feel good to watch .......

    I look forward to more postings.

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  41. The term haute couture is French for high fashion and describes apparel and accessories that are usually very expensive.

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  42. Aneapy4:46 AM

    There's something I noticed missing from your post, the introduction of the treadmill. Perhaps this is where the heel-ball-toe and the use-no-force ideas came from. I noticed that when I run on a treadmill, I roll my feet a lot more than on regular ground. When I'm on a treadmill, I'm also not pushing off at all because the ground comes to me. When I'm running on regular ground, I have to apply force to get faster. I haven't been able to find studies about the relationship of treadmilling to the alteration of running form. What do you think?

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  43. I'm not sure why anyone should be bashing the Newton product or concept. Like every other minimalist shoe on the market, it falls on a continuum of minimalism and serves as an excellent transition shoe(the best transition shoe on the market in my opinion). It's a shoe that accommodates a runner who has been wearing 'big bulky shoes' his/her entire life. The different models of Newtons have different properties which allow for a safer transition to minimalism -- AS LONG AS THE EDUCATION PIECE IS ENFORCED. A minimalist shoe is the least amount of shoe a given individual can wear, while reaping the benefits of minimalism, but at the same time not get injured -- This is different between each individual and also different WITHIN each individual as his/her form, strength, mobility, stability, and motor control all adapt. I personally like the lug system in Newtons, but I also think it has more value in marketing than it does in actual performance benefit. (Can you blame them for trying to market the product well?) They also put a hard plastic plate in the forefoot which stimulates better proprioceptive input upon initial contact, provided that you forefoot strike. Do they have a perfect shoe that accommodates everyone right now? No..but the MV2 is coming out very soon which will be Newtons first true racing flat. I've seen the prototype in action -- Much more minimal than the current Newton shoes on the market. It's still just another minimalist shoe on the continuum of minimalism. There's no way you can say the Science is 'wrong' with Newton's technology. Current Newton shoes are not supposed to be a 'barefoot-style-shoe' -- They are further up on the minimalist continuum before a runner is biomechanically ready to jump in a 'barefoot-style-shoe', which accommodates 'most' all aspects of running barefoot.

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  44. Very interesting I'm very new to running & have learnt allot reading this article. I've been very wary of bare foot chi running movement simply because it came accross as a fad or trend. Now i understand its nothing new & as i get faster & run more i will probably land more mid foot & then look at more minimal shoes so i shouldn't worry to much about it.

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  45. Thanks for the interesting article! I just started the couch to 5K and I'm so determined to be a better runner! I appreciate the tips. :)

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  46. Anonymous12:19 AM

    @ bdodoson:

    Newton shoes ARE supposed to be a barefoot-style shoe.
    In fact at a previous running panel discussion, Newton's Danny Abshire described his shoes as "better than barefoot".

    Look at the website:
    http://www.newtonrunning.com/run-better/natural-running-styles
    "Barefoot running enthusiasts turn to Newton Running to enjoy barefoot running form while protecting their feet from road hazard, debris and excess exposure to cold and heat. Newton Running's entire product line was designed specifically to encourage barefoot running form. Our shoes are light-weight, minimalistic and nearly level to the ground. A firm, biomechanical top plate in the forefoot allows your foot to sense the ground as it would if you were running barefoot."

    What Newton won't tell you is that if you are already a forefoot striker, the "encouragement" the shoes give you to land forefoot will exaggerate your action so much that you will probably end up with calf strains and/or Achilles trouble. As a result, the company's education efforts now involve Newton Natural Running™ Certified Coaches, a move that implicitly acknowledges that just giving people the shoes is not enough - they actually have to be taught how to run in them if they are going to avoid injury. A comment form a PT about increased injury rates in people wearing Newtons was included in the Runner's World article Steve referenced.

    We're not bashing Newtons, but trying to balance the hype. And, as Steve has pointed out, trying to address the biomechanical inaccuracies the company is perpetuating.

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  47. Anonymous10:26 PM

    I thought http://naturalrunningcenter.com/ had some good info.

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  48. How much did Nike pay you to write this?

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  49. Enjoyed the article Steve, thanks for another one! - and the subsequent posts.
    I've been barefoot running since June 2012 (bar winter so have to resort to the Dreadmill :-(...)

    I agree with you Steve on your point that you can still heel strike barefoot - but what barefoot does (if you do it regular) is that it soon tells you off almost immediately when your running form isn't right. This would apply to heel striking because if you heel strike for any length of time barefoot YOU WILL get pain from your heel, even if it takes a few days to surface (it's inevitable)

    - and the beauty in running barefoot is that if you "listen" to your footland you can tell if the heel is striking first. But this is my experience - I've watched my running on video and see that running barefoot for a month or two managed to convert my form from heel strike to forefoot strike (the reason why I chose to run barefoot in the first place), you just have to be attentive to your footlanding and you have a far better chance of doing this without shoes!

    switching the subject slightly, I think BFR is also suitable for beginner runners. Let me tell you why.

    - Beginners start out running only small distances and often using walk/run intervals to gradually build stamina (ideal for starting barefoot!) - an experienced runner converting to barefoot would find bfr frustrating as the distances have to be kept to a minimum and this would feel like going backwards (I know you can run some mileage in shoes and then a little BF but the barefoot soon becomes more appealing and therefore often the focus and this is why experienced runners often try Too Much, Too Soon) - so beginners have the advantage of only wanting to run short distances anyway - why not START running from barefeet and learn good running form from the ground up?

    Your thoughts ? Anyone?

    Barefoot running for beginner runners? (why not)

    If you start of with, say 1/4 mile and then increase your distance by 1/8 mile every other run - if all is ok carry on increasing, if not take one step backwards

    I would include running in minimalist footware in this approach also, of course, although personally I like barefoot whenever practical - there's nothing worse than treating minimalist footware like running shoes though (asking for trouble), treat running in minimalist shoes the same as you would running barefoot - sloowwwwly..! don't try running 10K's in vff's when you first start out! (ouch)

    www.myrunningtips.com/running-for-beginners-2.html
    (for more on this topic)

    Andy



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