THE first big study on barefoot running in Nature : Death to Heel striking

The barefoot debate is about to get a little bit hotter.

A new study to be released tommorow by Lieberman in Nature takes an evolutionary look at barefoot running. In the study, they compared barefoot and shoe running on a whole variety of factors in both regular shoe wearers, regular barefoot runners, and even Kenyans!

The study is entitled and I HIGHLY recommend it:
Foot strike patterns and collision forces in habitually barefoot versus shod runners

This is a timely piece as it adds more evidence to the article I wrote a couple days ago below (click here). The implications are great as they extend beyond barefoot running to foot strike too (heel vs. forefoot,etc.)I’ll highlight some of the findings.

Foot strike and Elastic response and energy transfer:

As I speculated in my article, footstrike greatly effects the elastic energy return. In their study, it was found that forefoot and some midfoot strikes “reduces the effective mass of the foot and converts some translational energy into rotational energy; the calf muscles control heel drop, and the FFS runner can take fuller advantage of elastic energy storage in both the Achilles tendon and the longitudinal arch of the foot.”
On this topic, Liberman speculates that the arch plays a key role in reduced oxygen cost of running in barefoot runners. Essentially during a mid/fore foot strike the arch can stretch over the entire first half of the stance phase, while during the rearfoot strike, it has to wait until the last part of this phase, thus decreasing energy storage and return.
Also, forefoot and some midfoot strikes allowed for greater energy transfer. When heel striking a large portion of kinetic energy dissipates. With forefoot striking, some of the translational kinetic energy converts into rotational energy.

Barefoot/Forefoot runners have a “smoother” ride: Difference in collision forces:

Barefoot runners “take shorter strides and to run with greater vertical leg and ankle compliance (the lowering of the body’s centre of mass relative to the force of the impact). This serves to blunt the transient force and results in a less jarring, ‘smoother ride’.” (Jungers, 2010)

Basically this means that because of the footstrike difference, the body uses the lower leg in a more efficient shock absorbing way. The foot is more plantar flexed and the ankle is more compliant. This creates a situation where the collision is essentially absorbed and spread out better.
In heel striking the collision forces are concentrated in one area, and very sudden. Meaning a large amount of force in one place, very quickly. Meanwhile in a more flat footstrike, as mentioned above, the impact is spread out, absorbed better, and not so sudden. This leads to peak vertical forces 3x lower in barefoot vs. shoe wearing runners and a rate of loading that is half as much for barefoot compared to shoe wearing runners

This difference may lead to injury prevention, as some studies have suggested that it’s not necessarily the total impact forces but the high rate of force in a very short time. (Look at the drawings in my article below and remember that barefoot running doesn’t have the initial peak impact force).  Still, the impact force debate can be VERY misleading.  Just a word of caution to read my other blog post on running shoes and realize that peak impact forces do not relate to injuries

Concrete vs. Dirt:

Another interesting finding is the adjustment of impact forces that occurs based on the ground you are going to strike. The study found that barefoot running produced less collision forces on a hard surface than a cushioned shoe.
Similar to the conclusions I came to in the Running shoe article(here), they found that leg stiffness was adjusted to control impact. This created a situation where there was no difference in rate or magnitude of impact loading based on the surface they were running on. As I have said many times, the body has a built in adjustment mechanism. It controls impact via adjustment of several different mechanisms.
So all those people who are worried about the impact forces of running barefoot on concrete should consider that when they stick a cushioning shoe on and heelstrike, there collision forces are higher!

In his accompanying article Jungers eloquently stated:

“Although there is no hard proof that running in shoes, especially hitech or PCECH (pronation control, elevated cushioned heel) versions, causes injuries, in my view there is no compelling evidence that it prevents them either10,11. However, there are data that implicate shoes more generally as a plausible source of some types of chronic foot problems12,13.”

Speed and footstrike:
One other interesting finding was that speed was NOT related to foot strike type or ankle and foot angles. That means, how fast the runner was in the study did not relate to how he struck the ground. That helps to get rid of the old argument that I have heard time and time again that footstrike depends solely on speed and that only fast runners strike midfoot because they run fast. WRONG.

From a range of runners running at speeds varying from about 7minutes per mile to ~4:20 per mile, footstrike didn't depend on speed.  Meaning that f

What causes heel strike?

“A major factor contributing to the predominance of RFS landings in shod runners is the cushioned sole of most modern running shoes, which is thickest below the heel, orienting the sole of the foot so as to have about 5u less dorsiflexion than does the sole of the shoe, and allowing a runner to RFS comfortably (Fig. 1). Thus, RFS runners who dorsiflex the ankle at impact have shoe soles that are more dorsiflexed relative to the ground, and FFS runners who plantarflex the ankle at impact have shoe soles that are flatter (less plantarflexed) relative to the ground, even when knee and ankle angles are not different.”

“Differences between RFS and FFS running make sense from an evolutionary perspective. If endurance running was an important behaviour before the invention of modern shoes, then natural selection is expected to have operated to lower the risk of injury and discomfort when barefoot or in minimal footwear.”
This essentially means, we’ve got millions of years of adjustment and fine tuning that went on to allow us to run barefoot with minimal risk. In addition, Lieberman points out several evolutionary changes that aid running. The development of the arch, which is essential for elastic energy return, is one of them.

Conclusion and Practical implications:

This study provides further evidence to some of the issues discussed previously in regards to barefoot running. For runners, the major implication could be on foot strike. It’s more than just barefoot running, it’s footstrike that matters. A lot of the differences in collision force are due to footstrike variations. For years, shoe companies and others have said that heel striking is the way to go. Elite runner Mark Plaatjes even made the same argument earlier this week in a well written paper. Lieberman’s article helps lend credence to what I and many others have always speculated. It’s not.

The human body was designed to run with a forefoot/midfoot strike and shoes cause us to run barefoot. In one of the nature barefoot articles there is a great picture illustrating this (Picture can be found here). It is of 2 Kenyan boys running on a dirt road. One is barefoot and landing whole foot, one in shoes, slamming his heel into the ground first.  Shoes decrease proprioception, change ankle kinematics and allow the body to change it's landing habits. 

Therefore, the major finding is that footstrike may be more important than running barefoot or not.  Granted running midfoot is hard with heavy shoes.  The study shows that footstrike was what mattered.  Barefoot runners who landed heel first still had much higher impact forces than when striking forefoot/midfoot. Similarly, the rate of loading was still much higher in barefoot heel strikers than barefoot forefoot strikers. This finding that footstrike matters is something that track coaches have been saying for decades.  One of my big mentors, Tom Tellez, has been preaching this for a long time.

More focus should be focused on changing footstrike with barefoot/minimalist running used as a way to aid that change. 

A change to barefoot running should be accompanied by a change in running style to a midfoot/wholefoot/forefoot one.  For information on how you should run read this (here) and watch these (here and here) (no I don't think Pose or Chi are wonderfull...)

Lastly, I think the take away message is that the human body is more complex than we give it credit for. The fact that it alters footstrike and pre-activation and numerous other mechanisms based on what is on the shoe or what ground you are going to strike is amazing. Think about that for a second. A couple years back Adidas tried to sell a shoe with an expensive microchip that adjusted cushioning each stride. The shoe cost several hundred dollars. The problem is, we already have a mechanism that does that for free….ourselves!

Lastly, a word of caution.  This study will catch on fire.  The major newsgrabbing headline will be the impact forces.  However, that is likely a gross oversimplification of the process.  Like with other variables (VO2max, lactate,etc.) don't get tied to one while missing the big picture.

If you enjoyed this or any other article, please help get the information out there and pass it on. Much appreciated.

To read more about barefoot running and running shoes read the below article on Why Running shoes do not work:

I'll leave you with a wonderful video of barefoot forefoot striking from Dr. Lieberman:

Why Running shoes do not work: Looking at Pronation, Cushioning, Motion Control and Barefoot running.

           The running shoe model needs to be fixed. Pronation, Motion Control, Cushioning, and Stability shoes? Get rid of them all.

          It’s not just barefoot running and minimalism versus running shoes, the either/or situation many portray it to be. It’s much deeper than that. It’s not even that running shoe companies are evil and out to make a profit. Shoe companies may be accomplishing the goals they set out for, but maybe the goals their aiming for are not what need to be done. The paradigm that running shoes are built upon is the problem.
          Running shoes are built upon two central premises, impact forces and pronation. Their goals are simple, limit impact forces and prevent overprontation. This has led to a classification system based on cushioning, stability, and motion control. The problem is that this system may not have any ground to stand on. Have we been focused on the wrong things for 40+years?
         I’ll start with the customary statistic of 33-56% of runners get injured every year (Bruggerman, 2007). That is kind of mind blowing when you think about it. Since there are a ton of injuries going on, let’s look at what shoes are supposed to do.

      As said earlier, shoes are built upon the premise that impact forces and pronation are what cause injuries. Pronation, in particular has been constructed as the bane of all runners. We have become inundated with limiting pronation via motion control shoes. The central idea behind pronation is that overpronating causes rotation of the lower leg(i.e. ankle,tibia, knee) putting stress on the joints and therefore leading to injuries. Running shoes are therefore designed to limit this pronation. Essentially, running shoes are developed and designed to put the body in “proper” alignment. But do we really need proper alignment?
         This paradigm on pronation relies on two main things: (1)over pronation causes injuries and (2) running shoes can alter pronation.

            Looking at the first premise, we can see several studies that do not show a link between pronation and injuries. In an epidemiological study by Wen et al. (1997), he found that lower extremitly alignment was not a major risk factor for marathon runners. In another study by Wen et al. (1998), this time a prospective study, he concluded that “ Minor variations in lower extremity alignment do not appear conclusively to be major risk factors for overuse injuries in runners.” Other studies have reached similar conclusions. One by Nigg et al. (2000) showed that foot and ankle movement did not predict injuries in a large group of runners.

             If foot movement/pronation does not predict injuries or is not a risk factor for injuries, then one has to question whether the concept is sound or working...
            Looking at the second premise, do shoes even modify pronation? Motion control shoes are designed to decrease pronation through a variety of mechanisms. Most choose to insert a medial post or a similar device. In a study by Stacoff (2001), they tested several motion control shoe devices and found that they did not alter pronation and did not change the kinematics of the tibia or calcaneus bones either. Similarly, another study by Butler (2007) found that motion control shoes showed no difference in peak pronation when compared to cushioning shoes. Lastly, Dixon (2007) found similar results showing that motion control shoes did not reduce peak eversion (pronation) and didn’t change the concentration of pressure.

This is sort of a double whammy on motion control shoes. If excessive pronation does not cause injuries to the degree that everyone thinks, and if motion control shoes don’t even alter pronation, what’s the point of a motion control shoe?

Impact forces are the other major scoundrel of running injuries. The thinking goes like this, the greater the impact force on the lower the leg, the greater stress the foot/leg takes, which could potentially lead to injuries. To combat this fear, running shoes, particular cushioning ones, are to the rescue. Let’s take a look.

The first question is, do cushioning shoes do their job?

Wegener(2008) tested out the Asics Gel-Nimbus and the Brooks Glycerin to see if they reduced plantar pressure. They found that the shoes did their job!....But where it reduced pressure varied highly. Meaning that pressure reduction varied between forefoot/rearfoot/etc. This led to the interesting conclusion that their should be a shift in prescribing shoes to one based on where plantar pressure is highest for that individual person. It should be noted that this reduction in pressure was based on a comparison to another shoe, a tennis shoe. I’m not sure that this is a good control. Basically, this study tells us that cushioned running shoes decrease peak pressure when compared to a Tennis shoe.

In a review on the subject, Nigg (2000) found that both external and internal impact force peaks were not or barely influenced by the running shoes midsole. This means that the cushioning type does not change impact forces much, if at all. But how can this be? I mean it’s common sense if you jumped on concrete vs. jumped on a shoe foam like surface, the shoe surface is softer right? We’ll come back to this question in a minute.

Impact Forces: The picture gets cloudier:

But it’s not as simple as described above.
In an interesting study by Scott (1990) they looked at peak loads on the various sites of likely injury for runners (Achilles, knee, etc.). All peak loads occurred during mid-stance and push off. This led to an important finding that “the impact force at heel contact was estimated to have no effect on the peak force seen at the chronic injury sites,” and led to speculation that impact force did not relate injury development.

Further complicating the impact force idea is that when looking at injury rates of those running on hard surfaces or soft surfaces, there appears to be no protective benefit of running on soft surfaces. Why is this? Because of something called pre-activation and muscle tuning which will be discussed below.

Supporting this data, other studies have shown that people who have a low peak impact have the same likelihood of getting injured as those with a high peak impact force (Nigg, 1997). If you want to complicate things even further, impact seems to be the driving force between increased bone density.

As a coach or trainer this should make sense. The bone responds to the stimulus by becoming more resistant to it, IF the stimulus is not too large and there is enough recovery.

Underestimating our Body: Impact forces as feedback:

Back to the question I asked earlier: How can impact forces not change based on shoe sole softness and why isn’t running on hard surfaces lead to more injuries?

The problem is, once again, we underestimate the human body! It’s an amazing thing, and we never give it the credit it deserves. The body adapts to the surface that it’s going to strike, if you give it a chance. The body adapts to both shoe and surface adjusting impact forces via changes joint stiffness, the way the foot strikes, and a concept called muscle tuning.
An example of this can be seen with barefoot running, the diminished proprioception (sensory feedback) of wearing a shoe negates the cushioning of the shoe. Studies using minimal shoes/barefoot have shown that the body seems to adapt the impact forces/landing based on feedback and feedforward data. When running or landing from a jump, the body takes in all the sensory info, plus prior experiences, and adjusts to protect itself/land optimally As mentioned above, it does this through a variety of mechanisms. Thus, you stick some cushioned running shoe on the bottom of your foot and the body goes “Oh, we’re okay, we don’t need to worry about impact as much, we’ve got this soft piece of junk on our foot
        One concept that needs to be further discussed is muscle tuning. It’s a concept recently proposed by Nigg et al. in 2000. He sees impact force as a signal or a source of feedback, as I stated earlier. The body then uses this information and adjusts accordingly to minimize soft tissue vibration and/or bone vibration. His contention is that impact force is not the problem, but rather the signal. Muscle tuning is essentially controlling these vibrations via a variety of methods. One potential mechanism is pre-activation. Pre-activation is activation of the muscles prior to impact. In this case it serves as a way of muscle tuning to prepare for impact and in addition can alter muscle stiffness, which is another way to prepare for impact. Pre-activation has been established with multiple EMG studies.
         Shoes not only impact this, but surface type does too. As mentioned previously, the change in running surface did not impact injury rates. Why? Probably because the body adapts to running surface. In an interesting study measuring muscle activity, O’Flynn(1996) found that pre-activation changed based on surface. To prepare for impact, and presumably to minimize muscle/bone vibration, when running on concrete pre-activation was very high, when running on a soft track, not so much.

     What all of this means is that the body adapts via sensory input. It has several different adaptation methods. A shoe influences how it adapts. The shoe is not doing anything to alter cushioning, it is simply altering how the body responds to impact. It’s a significant mindset jump if you think about it. Here’s the summary:
The type of shoe and material of the shoe changes impact NOT because of alignment of the lower leg or because of changes in cushioning. Instead it changes impact characteristics because it alters the sensory feedback
In conclusion on the cushioning concept. Well, what are we trying to cushion? Heel impact forces have not been shown to relate to injuries, in fact in one study low impact runners had a 30% injury rate compared to a 20% injury rate in high impact runners. Shoe midsoles do not change, or marginally change impact forces anyway. So, not only may cushioning not be the answer, the shoes might not even be doing their job. But what about those shoe cushioning studies showing improved cushioning with their new midsole?! Well, the majority of that testing is done by using a machine to simulate the impact forces that you experience during running. That means, yes it may cushion an impact more, but it doesn’t take into account the role of the body adjusting impact based on feedback.
The reason cushioning doesn’t work? Because the body adapts based on feedback and feedforward information. These results prompted one notable researcher(Nigg,2000) to call for the reconsideration of the cushioning paradigm for running shoes.
Barefoot running?

Quickly, this topic could not be complete without a brief mention of barefoot running. An interesting thing to note is that the initial peak impact force is absent in barefoot running when compared to running with shoes. What this means is that, the impact forces look like (A) for shoes and (B) for barefoot. That initial little blip in A is the initial impact force. There is a hypothesis that this initial impact force is related to injuries.

A recent study by Squadrone et al.(2009) compared running shoes, barefoot running, and running in Vibram Five Fingers. They demonstrated reduced impact forces, shorter ground contact and stride length, but increased stride frequency while running barefoot (and in Vibrams) as compared to running with shoes. This is not unexpected, but shows that running shoes do in fact alter our normal strides. An interesting point is the reduction in stride length but increase in stride frequency. Shoes tend to promote this longer stride at a consequence of ground contact times and frequency. This happens because of changes in feedback signaling, increased likelihood to land on heel stretched out, increased weight, all of which lead to longer times on the ground. It’s interesting to note that elite runners all have short ground contacts and high frequencies (as demonstrated by the often quoted Daniels study of 180 strides per minute).
Tying this to the discussion above on the body controlling things based on sensory information, when running barefoot, there is a higher degree of stiffness in the lower leg. Increased stiffness can result in an increased SSC (stretch shortening cycle) response, resulting in greater force on the subsequent push off (2001). Dalleau et al. demonstrated that pre-activation causing increased stiffness improved Running Economy. In his study, the energy cost of running was related to the stiffness of the lower leg (1998)

Another recent study found that knee flexion torque, knee varus torque, and hip internal rotation torque all were significantly greater in shoes compared to barefoot. What does all of this mean? Potentially, this means more stress on the joints in this area. Jay Dicharry put it best when he said:
“The soft materials in modern running shoes allow a contact style that you would not use barefoot. The foot no longer gets the proprioceptive cues that it gets unshod. The foot naturally accommodates to surfaces rapidly, but a midsole can impair the foot’s ability to react to the ground. This can mute or alter feedback the body gets while running. These factors allow a runner to adopt a gait that causes the elevated forces observed above.”

The one thing that non-barefoot/heel strike proponents use to dismiss midfoot striking/barefoot running is the Achilles tendon. They say, correctly, that the load on the Achilles is higher in midfoot striking runners. The Achilles is meant to take a large load. The problem is we’ve weakened the Achilles through years of wearing shoes with their elevated heels. Essentially, we’ve created the Achilles problem with the shoes meant to prevent it. The Achilles is designed to operate in a rubber band like fashion. . During impact such as the braking or contact phase of running, the achilles tendon stores energy and then subsequent releases that energy via recoil during the take off phase of running. The Achilles, can store and return approximately 35% of its kinetic energy (Ker, 1987). Without this elastic storage and return, the oxygen uptake required would be 30-40% higher! So, in terms of performance why are we trying to minimize the tendonous contribution? It’s like giving away free energy.

Running shoes do not utilize the elastic storage and return as well as barefoot or minimal shoes. More energy is lost with shoes than with barefoot running (Alexander and Bennett, 1989). In addition, in some models of shoes, the arch is not allowed to function like a spring. The arch of the foot can store around 17% of kinetic energy (Ker, 1987). Given these results, its not surprising that running barefoot when compared to running with shoes is more efficient. Several studies have shown a decreased VO2 at the same pace with barefoot running, even when weight is taken into account. This should be no surprise as I mentioned above, without elastic recoil VO2 requirement would be 30-40% higher. Running in a minimal shoe allows for better utilization of this system.

So, the take away message is that shoes change natural mechanics to one that creates mechanical changes that are not optimal for running fast (decreased stride frequency, increased ground contact, decreased stiffness of the system, decreased elastic contribution, and on and on).

Tying it together with elites:

Looking at elite athletes, when racing and training, they generally have higher turnover, minimal ground contact time, and a landing that occurs closer to 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? I have no idea.


In conclusion, I’m not some fanatic saying everyone ditch shoes now. Chances are you’ve been running in shoes for 20+ years. Your bodies done some adapting during that time. You’ve got to gradually change if you want to undue some of the changes.

The purpose of this article wasn’t to talk about the benefits of barefoot running. Instead it was to point out the problems with Running Shoe classification. It’s based on a cushioning/pronation paradigm that simply is not as true as they want us to believe. That paradigm needs to be reevaluated. It’s not founded on good science but rather initial ideas that made sense with no science behind them, but upon further review may not stand up to testing. A recent study found that using the good old shoe classification system that everyone uses, had little influence on injury prevention in a large group of Army Basic Training participants (Knapik, 2009). They concluded that selecting shoes based on arch height (like all major running magazines suggest) is not necessary if injury prevention is the goal. I guess that means the systems broken…

Where do we go and how do we fix it? I have no idea. Sorry, no genius answers here. My inclination is that we aim for letting the foot function how it is meant to function, or at least come up with some shoe that may alter foot mechanics but while still allowing feedback/functionality of the body. The first step is looking at the foundation on which running shoes are built upon, the motion control, stability, and cushioning paradigm. My take is that it needs to be reevaluated. I’m going to end with something I’ve already said, but it’s an important concept to get across:

The body is more complicated and smarter than we give it credit.
The type of shoe and material of the shoe changes impact or stride characteristics NOT because of alignment of the lower leg or because of changes in cushioning. Instead it changes impact and stride characteristics because it alters the sensory feedback. The brain is a wonderful thing.'

If you found this article to be informative, I'd appreciate it If you passed it along.  The goal is to get research based data out there so people can be well informed.


How to Increase Flexibility Instantly!


The above video is of me showing a trick on how to increase hamstring flexibility instantly.  Why you would need to do this, I'm not sure.  The only time I've ever seen a purpose for it is when my sister had to do the V-sit and reach for the President's Physical Fitness test.  Other than that, it's just kind of a fun trick to do to people.

Contest time!:
Let's see if anyone can come up with a reason why the trick works.  Throw guesses out there, it doesn't matter if it's way off.  Eventually, I'll post the reasoning of why I think it works.
 Whoever comes up with 'correct' or  plausible or interesting answers, I'll send all of them a couple good powerpoints by experts in the field that I have that aren't online anywhere.  That means, give it a go, use your brain, and I'll send e-mail you some powerpoints.

 One is a very interesting look at Thyroid function and athletic performance, including blood work from world class athletes.  Another is a presentation on Strength training for endurance athletes (runners, cyclists focused) that does a great job of summarizing all the research.  So Guess Away!


Revisiting Running once vs. twice per day

This is a sort of mini blog post.  Dathan Ritzenhein (sub 13 5k runner for U.S.) posted an interesting blog about how his training has changed from his High School days until the present.  It's a good read and can be found below:

There are several things that stood out, but one comment he made in particular seemed relevant to this blog.  Someone asked him about how there doesn't seem to be many days where he does medium distance (10+mi).  Instead several of his easy days are split doing 5mi in the morning and 5mi in the afternoon.

For those who have followed this blog for a while, you might recall where I touched on that exact subject a couple months ago:

First here:
Singles vs. Doubles- Is 9miles once better than 4.5mi twice? Maybe not.

And a follow up here:
Evidence for Doubling: Training in a glycogen depleted state.

Similarly to Dathan and his coaches, I think that splitting up runs can be very beneficial.  My HS guys often do 5 and 5 for example.  Above I speculated on several reasons for why they work so well.  Interestingly, here's Dathan's take:

Now I do not do many medium distance runs because I will usually do a long run once ever two weeks, and the other week I have a big workout that totals a lot of volume, as much as I would get in a long run. The workouts are very hard though so I need the days to be split up to recover fully for the next one. If I did a medium run it would not be enough rest for me. I did run them before with Mark and Brad, but I was always more sluggish for the workouts.

Short doubles allow for recovery while still getting in a high volume of work.  I think it's time to throw out the notion of a longer run always being better than a couple short runs.

 My contention is that once the base of general endurance is built up to a high level, is there really going to be much of a stimulus in doing 10-12 miles at an easy pace? Probably not.  Similar to what Dathan says, it seems like that if you have a long run or a high volume workout once each week, that is more than enough to maintain general endurance.  Thus the easy runs serve as recovery and support for the harder workouts. 

I think this applies to other sports such as swimming or cycling too.  You have to remember the purpose of each training session.

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Video: Hill Sprints and Running Form Analysis


Hill Sprints/Form Analysis from Steve Magness on Vimeo.

This video is a combination of form work and sprint work. As those who have read this blog know, I’m a big believer in sprint training for distance runners.  The video shows Will doing hill sprints and then a frame by frame analysis of his running form where I'll walk you through some of the things I look for and see.

Generally, we start with hill sprints and progress to sprints on the track. There is something to be said for learning how to run fast.

The partial goal behind these hill sprints is not only to work on mechanics and pure sprint speed, but to accomplish some nervous system adaptations too. Distance runners rarely work maximally. Doing these sprint type workouts are great for activating a large amount of muscle fibers, including the rarely recruited Fast Twitch fibers. Increasing the total amount of fibers that can be recruited increases the muscle fiber pool which the athlete can “access". The more fibers available, the more can cycle in and do work, or do work when everything is fatiguing.
Also, you get some nice adaptations with muscle stiffness and reactivity. If you think about it sprinting is essentially as a specific a plyometric activity as you can get. So, we’re also working on decreased ground contact time at the same time.

In this video, Will is doing a set of hill sprints after a 9mi run. He’ll progress from here to doing some flat sprints and then turning that into a bit of speed endurance with some longer sprint work (100s..150s, etc.).

Below is my notes on his running form during the sprints which I’ll go over in the video.  You'll probably notice two main things that I don't believe in that is prevelant in some other sprint coaches theory.  First, is the pawback.  It's not something to try for or is actively done.  Secondly, is the step over concept.  Don't believe in that one either.

1. Loaded up and about to extend the hip

2. Don’t worry about step over the knee. Recovery mechanics are a
result of other mechanisms (hip extension, stretch reflex) rather than consciously trying to do it.

3. Drive phase- needs to think more vertical. Partially caused by too much of a forward lean from waist.

4. Arms are good. Don’t cross midline. Note that the stopping point of the arms also corresponds to stopping point of knee drive. Everything’s tied together.  Arms and legs work in sync. Just a NOTE: not with will but othes a lot of time reaching out with heel is tied more to arm movements than what there doing with legs. If the arms contin to cross chest then legs have no choice but to keep going too.

5. Good position here for Will
6. Great landing for Will who used to heel strike a bit. Landing is pretty much at a 90degree angle under his knee. Flat footed. Note also that there was no pawback of the ground.

7. And there we go, landed, loading up. Recovery leg isn’t too far behind coming through.

So, in conclusion:

1. The #1 thing is landing/footstrike and Will nailed that. For most HS kids, the rest is bonus and tweaking. Getting him to get think more vertical when running fast will allow for more ground to be covered and this is partially tied into the slight forward lean. That would also help the recovery leg come through a little better.
But overall, for Will it was very good. You have to remember to look at it from an individual perspective and look at where they’ve been and how far they’ve come.

For more info for sprint training for distance runners read some of the articles here or here
 Glad to here anyones critiques/comments.

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New Wonder Drugs in Endurance Sports coming soon...

New Drugs in Endurance Sports Coming...

This is not something I really look forward to writing, but I figured I might as well get the word out there to the general public. The recent admission of Mark Mcgwire made it relevant again. I'm doing a research paper on the mechanisms of EPO/RBC production in response to hypoxia. So, I've had to delve into some complex stuff. For this post, I'll highlight some of the negative stuff I've found, meaning new drugs aimed at EPO increases. Several new drugs aimed at EPO increases are in the clinical trial stages.

Lastly, I'll briefly mention some of the things I've learned in the past couple weeks about drug use in cycling.

HIF-PH inhibitors:
What is so special about this drug is that it isn't synthetic EPO. It is not injectable either. It's simply a pill that you swallow.

Instead of using artificial EPO injections to increase Red Blood Cell mass, and thus performance. Athletes will soon be using this drug which is an HIF-PH inhibitor. What does that mean?

HIF is the pathway that controls EPO gene transcription. In each cell, this pathway regulates a number of different responses related to hypoxia (lack of oxygen). Normally, the pathway is activated by hypoxia, or an increase in Reactive Oxygen Species (think of Free Radicals and antioxidants..). Under normal conditions, the main portein HIF-1a is basically destroyed. Under hypoxic conditions, it isn't destroyed. This is a big simplication of what happens but you get the picture

When HIF-1a isn't destroyed and is stabilized it leads to an increase in EPO gene transcription and ultimately translation. That basically means that more EPO is made. EPO then can go to its receptors on young RBC's and prevent them from being destroyed. This all leads to the increased RBC mass/hemoglobin that we all are familiar with.

This new drug is an inhibitor of mechanisms on the HIF pathway. Normally, with oxygen present, the signalling mechanism in the HIF pathway that says increase EPO gene expression is degraded. Only in hypoxia is this substance not degraded, and thus allowed to "escape" and increase EPO gene expression. However this drug inhibits, or stops, the degradation. Which basically means, it's like if the cell was always in hypoxia. So, EPO gene expression keeps happening. This in turn means more EPO, more RBC mass, and ultimately better endurance.

So, you see why this could be bad for endurance sports. It's rumored that some cyclists have already gotten ahold of it. Testing for it is beyond my expertise, but I'd imagine it would be tough to do since you'd have to test for this specific inhibitor, and not the EPO, because the EPO would be natural in your body. In addition, it's a pill that you swallow. It's not injected. That's pretty big too, because, first off, it's easier to convince an athlete to take a pill. Secondly, it's easier for the athlete to justify taking a pill. Lastly, that means it's harder for law enforcement or those crazy Tour de France police guys to raid houses/cars looking for syringes and vials...There won't be any.

Drug #2: Hematide:
This is a new drug that is also not synthetic EPO. Instead, it is a peptide that has been found to mimic EPO. Basically, structurally it is nothing like EPO, but functionally it does the same thing. So, even though it's not EPO, it can come in and bind to the EPO receptors and create an increase in EPO/RBC.

So, if you see times dropping, you might know why...

Secondly, since this seems to be the drug post, I'd like to post some of which I learned about drug use in cycling.

Basically, cycling is dirty. Really dirty. Why is it dirtier than track?

That answer is simple. It's systematic doping by doctors. Each pro team has it's own doctor who keeps tabs on everything. As a whole it seems like most in the professional cycling world have accepted it as a necessity. If you listen to what some of the Tour doctors have said, they basically make it out as though cycling the Tour at the speeds and intensity required now is impossible without the use of some sort of drugs. They look at giving drugs like Testosterone as simply replacing what is lost and correcting a medical problem. Hormone levels drop significantly with hard exercise like that done in the Tour, so doctors justify giving drugs as simply returning these levels to their natural place.

Drugs are also ingrained in the culture. Since the beginning of major cycling competitions, some sort of drug has been used. This goes from the late 1800's to the 1960's when anti-doping was created. It was an accepted fact of riding. Of course it wasn't as sophisticated as now, but taking any number of drugs (they seemed to have dried everything...cocaine, strychnine, morphine, amphetamines, whatever) was the norm. Then all of the sudden anti-doping was instituted. It's hard to break completely free from what is ingrained in a sport.

At least now they have the hematocrit ratio to keep things under check a little. Before that, it was not unusual for cyclists to have Hematocrit's at very dangerous levels (upper 50's). This created the situation where you had cyclists having to take an aspirin every day as a blood thinner and also wear a HR monitor to sleep so that when there HR dropped to low while sleeping they had to get out of bed and exercise.

Generally, whenever the hematocrit is above 50, it gets dangerous, and pretty much no one has one above 50 naturally.

In track we still don't use the 50 hematocrit level as a deterrent. If you want a glimpse of the problem we still have in track, in 2006 23 athletes at the European Championships had hematocrits over 50, and none tested positive, even though they were almost assuredly on something.

The point of this post is to get rid of some of the naivety in regards to drug use in sport. It's the hidden underbelly of almost every sport and the more it gets out the better.

Base training is NOT just easy running. Looking at Sprinter's periodization

Long to Short/Short to Long: What we can learn from Sprinters regarding base building:

For the endurance people reading this, you might not be familiar with what the title means. In sprint training, there is a constant debate over whether a long to short or a short to long program is best. A long to short program is one that starts with longer work and progresses downwards as the season progresses. A short to long program is essentially the opposite, starting with very short speed/acceleration work and extending it as the season progresses.
A quick example of a long to short program would be that of Lashawn Merritt’s coach Dwayne Miller, which can be found here ( As you can see, he starts with longer stuff (2mi runs) and progresses all the way down to 30.40.50m sprints. On the other hand an example of a short to long program would be that of David Lease (coach of Jason Gardner). The focus from the beginning is very short sprint/acceleration work that gradually gets longer, to a point.
Over the past couple weeks I’ve spent a good deal of time reading about sprint training and listening to some of the excellent audio interviews with sprint coaches on the athletics Canada and UK coaching websites. It’s really interesting to see training from a different perspective. One thing coaches need to be cautious about when venturing into new event areas is forgetting that critical eye that we’ve developed in our own areas, that hasn’t been quiet developed for the new area of interest. When you don’t have that critical eye, it’s easy to accept everything you hear as absolute truth because it sounds good. However, just like in the endurance area, there are many different successful coaches with many different philosophies on training/biomechanics/etc. This is another topic, but I’ve seen several distance coaches pick up sprint training/biomechanics only to partially grasp the concepts, thus not really applying it very well their athletes.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have a heavy sprint influence in my own coaching. The two biggest influences on my coaching both come from a sprint background. One is obvious and that is Tom Tellez, the legendary sprint coach. The other is my old HS distance coach, Gerald Stewart, who did not start coaching distance until my sophomore year in HS. For 20 or so years before that he’d been a sprint/field coach, and a successful one (coached a HS sprinter to 10.28 FAT). All that being said, I think it gives me a decent perspective on looking at sprint training from an endurance perspective.

This brings us back to the topic first introduced, what’s better a short to long or long to short program. Both have worked equally well in producing great 100-400m runners. My contention is, why is it an either/or thing?
From an endurance perspective, we all know the importance of a base. The endurance work we do allows for more specific work to be done and for the athlete to be able to better absorb that work. Improvement generally comes with being able to handle more amount of specific work. Longer work provides the body structural and metabolic improvements which allow it to handle more work. For example, the ability to restore Creatine Phosphate is reliant on a strong aerobic system, as is the ability to clear lactate, Hydrogen+, etc. The quicker the body can return to normal, the more work can be done before hitting fatigue.
On the other hand, it doesn’t quiet make sense to develop specific speed endurance before developing speed. How do you extend the speed if it is not already developed? Developing speed endurance is essentially about extending the speed that is developed. So, having a foundation of speed to extend is essential.
Without dragging this on for too long, does it not make sense to do some pure sprint work, 20-30m flys or even 30m starts, near the beginning of the training, while at the same time doing some longer distance work? The takeaway message is perhaps a extremes to specificity model might provide the best of both worlds. An endurance base is converted downwards as it gets more and more specific, while a speed base is extended. Why does it have to be either/or?

What this means for you an endurance coach is to rethink your definition of a base. A base is traditionally thought of as only aerobic mileage. We are covered when progressing downwards to intervals after our endurance base, but we’re not covered on the speed side. A base also needs to be developed neurally, biomechanically, and structurally. A base is preparing the athlete for the training that needs to be done. A multifaceted base including work done to develop general endurance, pure speed, structural integrity, and good biomechanics better sets the stage for continued progression than one of just easy to moderate endurance work.
In practical terms what does this look like? A sample week below for an easrly base period for HS distance runners doing 60mi per week:

Week 1:
Monday- 7mi Moderate progression run (easy gradual progression down to threshold)
Tuesday- 10mi of easy distance running
Wednesday- 3x60m, 3x100m sprints, full recovery, distance run in morning
Thursday- 10mi of easy distance running
Friday- General Strength Endurance circuit, consisting of:
200m- 40
15xpush ups
10xsquat jumps
20m bounding
Do 3x with 5min rest b/t
Saturday- Long run-11-13mi
Sunday-rest/light run

Week 2:
Monday- 20min threshold run split up (12min, 2easy, 8min for example)
Tuesday- Easy distance
Wed-8x8second Hill sprints, full recovery
Thursday- Easy distance
Friday- Easy run with 8x30sec at goal race pace in the middle w/ 2:30 easy after
Saturday- 12mi Long run w/ slight pickup the last mile
Sunday-easy/light run.

With the above 2wk schedule, you have a lot of general endurance with some touching on high end aerobic running in the progression run. Sprint work forms the base of speed, neural work, and biomechanics. The general strength work provides a base of strength and structural support, and the long run provides some general strength endurance. The pace work is easy, yet provides a transition into specific endurance and extending that in later periods.
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