Last weekend, I had an incredible time in Portland, Oregon and learned a lot at the RunLab Clinical Gait Specialist class. I have every intention of blogging about the takeaways from the class but it left me with the topic of foot striking lingering in my head most. When I began graduate school, the minimalist running shoe trend was hot-to-trot after many distance runners read the book, Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen, written by Christopher McDougall in 2009. The book brought on a fanfare of minimalist shoe advocates, as well as the feverishly debated topic of whether minimalist footwear would decrease the incidence of injury and enhance performance due to the promotion of a mid-foot strike or forefoot strike compared to rearfoot strike.
The minimalist running shoe trend is not nearly as popular as what it was 2009-2014, but then came the maximalist shoe. I have seen a lot of research on minimalist shoes, but not a lot on maximalist shoes. I asked Dr. Kimberly Davis, founder of RunLab Austin what the evidence-based research supports about the maximalist shoe and she basically said research results regarding any type of shoe are the same. What exactly is that?
Despite the technological efforts of the multi-billion dollar running shoe industry, injury rates have remained constant over the last 30 years (Rixe et al.,2012). Technology meaning all shoe types; traditional, minimalist, and maximalist have the same injury rates, but with different common injury locations in the body. Okay, so injury rates are the same regardless of what type of shoe you are in. What about foot striking patterns? I know I frequently have runners tell me that they have a rearfoot strike and want to “fix” it because “everyone” says its bad. Is it true that the world’s best runners are forefoot strikers?
In a 2013 video analysis of 903 Danish runners, Bertelsen and colleagues observed 97% of male and 99% of female runners displayed a rearfoot strike. No wonder many runners tell me they have a rearfoot strike, because most do! At the 2009 Manchester City Marathon, researchers captured the foot strike pattern of 289 recreational marathon runners, observing a rearfoot strike in 88% of the runners and increasing to 93% by the 32k, suggesting with fatigue, mechanics can change (Larson et al., 2011). It is not just the recreational crowd that has a prevalence for rearfoot striking. Video analysis research conducted at the 2004 Sapporo Half-Marathon, observed 75% of 283 elite level runners displayed a rearfoot strike.
Guess what folks? It is not necessarily bad to rearfoot strike and it is not necessarily good to mid-foot or forefoot strike either. Shoes aren’t what help you stay injury free or perform better, your mechanics do, because it is your mechanics that will ultimately decide what your body does when you are in flight during the swing phase, the deceleration towards the ground, and when you are in ground contact. No matter what type of shoe you are in, there is one thing that is certain, each foot will contact the ground and distribute forces through the segments of your body. Do not think that a cushioned shoe will minimize what happens to your body if you have poor mechanics. There are no buffers or shocks that you can purchase for your body. But you do have buffers and shocks naturally in your body. They are called the arch of your foot, muscles, tendons, ligaments, and joints. Suzy Q’s Hoka’s aren’t necessarily better than Jane Doe’s Altra’s if their mechanics are bad. By the way, I am talking ground up mechanics with and without shoes, all segments of the body.
According to Dr. Davis, runners should have multiple types of shoes in their “toolbox”. Don’t marry one type of shoe because first off all, if your mechanics are good, it doesn’t matter what type of shoe you are in. Secondly, some shoes are better suited for speed and some for distance. Just like some non-running shoes are better for strolling around Disneyland and some are better for looking cute at happy hour.
I look forward to sharing more about the RunLab Clinical Gait Specialist class once I have the time to jot it all down and I should probably wait until I am certified to fix all my readers mechanics. Everyone wants to avoid injury and many want to be faster, more efficient runners, right? Soon I will have all the tools in my toolbox to help many more runners. By the way, if you are reading this blog on the internet, please like and follow the Run With Gina page on Facebook!
Bertelsen, M. L., Jensen, J. F., Nielsen, M. H., Nielsen, R. O., & Rasmussen, S. (2013). Foot strike patterns among novice runners wearing a conventional, neutral running shoe. Gait & Posture, 38, 354-356.
Hasegawa, H., Yamauchi, T., & Kraemer, W. J. (2007). Foot strike patterns of runners at the 15-km point during an elite-level half marathon. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 21(3), 888-893.
Larson, P., Higgins, E., Kaminski, J., Decker, T., Preble, J., Lyons, D.,..., & Normile, A. (2011). Foot strike patterns of recreational and sub-elite runners in a long-distance road race. Journal of Sports Sciences, 29(15), 1665–1673.
Hello, Run With Gina readers! I am super excited to be heading off to Portland, Oregon for a gait specialist class. This will be an awesome opportunity for me to gain the skillset to perform running gait evaluations through an effective, systematic, and evidence-based clinical approach that can be readily put into practice with those that use my coaching services towards the goal of my brand; to reduce injury potential and increase performance potential in the marathon running community.
In preparing for my class, I have been brushing up on my functional anatomy. If you have followed my blog posts, then you know I am no stranger to functional anatomy. Even with the knowledge I have been blessed to obtain, while studying for my upcoming course, I had some ah-ha moments that I knew I needed to share with the running community, especially those that hit the gym along with their run training.
In my “Powering through with your arms” blog post, I mentioned that sometimes we have muscle imbalances from activities of daily living or from pattern overload from our hobbies, including resistance training. At one time in my life I was a run of the mill gym junkie and as I mentioned in the arms blog post, sometimes what we do to try to enhance our fitness outside of running, may impair our running, such as unknowingly using gym equipment that we think is benefiting musculature, but really isn’t and is contributing to already existing poor movement patterns. In the current blog post cover photo, you see pictures of three common exercises you may have done or have seen others doing in the gym; lateral flexion with dumbbells, Roman chair leg raises, and the seated hip abduction machine. Additionally, there is an illustration of a pelvis in an anterior pelvic tilt. Anterior pelvic tilt is a common muscle imbalance in a society of people that sit and commute to work, only to sit down all day at work, then sit on a commute home, sit and eat dinner, and then sit and chill on the couch during a Netflix binge.
What exactly is happening in an anterior pelvic tilt? The iliacus and psoas (iliopsoas) sometimes simply and improperly referred to as “the hip flexors” are tight, in a shortened position. By the way, there are eight other muscles that contribute to hip flexion. Also, tight, in a shortened position in an anterior pelvic tilt are tight erector spinae muscles that may contribute to low back pain along with a weak gluteus maximus and abdominal muscles. Exercise selection for someone with an anterior pelvic tilt needs to be properly planned and the images of the common gym exercises above are horrible options for someone in an anterior pelvic tilt, nor do they accomplish what the gym user is trying to accomplish and will be picked apart below.
Lateral flexion with dumbbells: This exercise is common for someone that is trying to “work their core”. The muscles involved in this exercise are the quadratus lumborum and the internal/external oblique muscles. These muscles go from the ribs to the pelvis or other structures that directly contact the pelvis. Does it make sense to do a weighted flexion towards something that is out of alignment in the first place? I don’t think so. During functional movements, walking or running, will you ever be standing in place and flexing to the side? I don’t think so. Were these muscles highlighted in my, “Getting to the core of core training” blog post? Yes, they were and what was not on the list of exercises to strengthen the external and internal obliques? Lateral flexion with dumbbells was not on the list. Not a great exercise and back in the day I did them before I knew any better.
Roman chair leg raises: Just like the lateral flexion with dumbbells, this is an exercise people do to “work their core” or lower abdominals. Again, this is a horrible exercise for many in our society with an anterior pelvic tilt. Does it make sense to do repeated hip flexion movements when the muscles that do the motion of hip flexion are in a tight, shortened position? No, it doesn’t, it only contributes to the problem. That said, this exercise was not on the list of core exercises either. Yep, I am guilty of doing this exercise too before I knew better.
Seated hip abduction machine: Mercy! This one makes my blood boil. This machine in the gym claims to strengthen the “outer thigh”. Really, what is that? The muscles anatomically located on the outer thigh would be a small section of the tensor fascia latae, which is an abductor muscle so it is activated on this machine. But this muscle has a propensity to be tight/overactive in runners and I called this muscle out in my, “PFPS and ITBS, WTF” blog post as the true culprit in what people believe to be iliotibial band syndrome, so why does a runner need to be strengthening an already tight structure? She doesn’t. The other muscle located 100% on the “outer thigh” is the vastus lateralis muscle, but that guy is buried under the iliotibial band for starters and more important, it doesn’t create the action of hip abduction as this machine is doing…it creates the action of knee extension. How is this muscle being strengthened on this machine if the person is seated in a chair in knee flexion, when its function is knee extension? It’s not. There are many other muscles that contribute to hip abduction that this machine may be strengthening, but none are located on the outer thigh. However, the prime mover for someone in horizontal (femur) abduction, which is the seated position on this machine, is the piriformis muscle. You can read about that little guy in my, “Why do I have a pain in the butt? The pesky piriformis” blog post. Once again, this machine is working a muscle that has a propensity to be tight! You don’t strengthen tight muscles folks, you release and stretch tight muscles. I used to hit up this machine too, as did most females in the gym looking to get slender and/or more toned leg muscles. We were bamboozled!
Sorry for going off here, but did you notice I mentioned four of my previous blog posts? If you haven’t read all my blog posts, hop to it because the info I share is not only valuable, but is free to read for crying out loud. Free! Everyone’s favorite four lettered word. Have friends that can benefit from me and my knowledge that aren’t on Facebook, send them to runwithgina.com. Becoming a more efficient, faster runner doesn’t happen just by throwing one leg out in front of the other repeatedly. It doesn’t happen from a lot of speed work. It doesn’t happen from constantly fatiguing yourself. It happens by understanding how the body works from head to toe, inside and out, metabolically, physiologically, and functionally. Making the most of your efforts on the road, trail, treadmill, and even the gym by training smarter, not harder is how you achieve your best as a runner. That’s what I’m talking about! Are you ready to be the best marathon runner you can be? Hit me up at firstname.lastname@example.org to find out what your true potential is.
Two weeks ago, I was inspired to write my nutrition blog based on conversations I had with a few runners that made me realize how much people don’t understand physiology. Sports nutrition is all about physiological needs, which is different than needs for activities of daily living. I hope all that read the nutrition blog post gained that understanding. I discussed macronutrient needs and, more importantly, intensity-based fuel utilization. At greater intensities, carbohydrate metabolism reigns supreme, yet we have a limited storage capacity to get us to the marathon finish line. This problem is solved by becoming a more fat-adapted athlete, or more easily achieved through race day carbohydrate consumption. Even the fat-adapted athlete requires race day carbohydrates because they are a major player in metabolizing fat storage into fuel.
The complaint from many runners is that their stomach cannot tolerate carbohydrate gels and/or fluids and the research shows that marathon runners under fuel. As stated in the previous blog post, the current recommendation for carbohydrate consumption is 30-60 grams per hour, up to two hours of running and even greater for runs longer than two hours. The reason is that carbohydrates provide an ergogenic effect, which means they are “performance enhancing”. Run out of gas in your fuel tank and you will not get anywhere anytime soon, including to the finish line. Makes sense, doesn’t it? Research reveals 73% of marathon runners consume less than 30-60 grams per hour of carbohydrates during a marathon race (Stellingwerff, 2012).
Recently, nutrition researchers have been heavily studying gut adaptability to increased carbohydrate for an ergogenic effect. The topic is way beyond my scope and the understanding of my readers. But in basic terms, the stomach can be “trained” to tolerate and uptake more carbohydrates. Exercise physiologist, Dr. Trent Stellingwerff conducted a case study of nutritional and training periodization variables on two Canadian elite marathon runners. He developed nutritional periodization strategies which included but not limited to adapting the gastrointestinal tract to accept increased fluid and carbohydrates on race day. Gut adaptions in the form of an increase in carbohydrate transporters allowed a higher level of carbohydrate gel consumption and fluid on race day, allowing for a maximal ergogenic effect of the carbohydrates. The elite runners reduced their personal best time in the marathon by 2:36 and 5:30 by training their stomach to tolerate 30-60 grams of carbohydrates per hour. Remember, the faster you are, the less room for improvement there is. These are elite runners. Elite runners improve by seconds, not minutes. The last time the world watched an elite runner decrease his marathon time by more than two minutes, it was by Eliud Kipchoge in the Nike Breaking2 Attempt, where many other variables were intentionally manipulated to achieve superior results.
How might the nutritional strategy of adapting the gut to tolerate more carbohydrates impact me and you, the run of the mill recreational marathon runner, coupled with appropriate (smart) training? How about up to a 4% improvement in race time!?! Research has supported adapting the gut to tolerate carbohydrates on race day, along with a well-designed and executed training plan and racing strategy, could improve a marathon time from 3:50 to 3:40. So how many of my readers have missed their goal time, Boston Qualifying time, or even worse, their acceptable Boston time by a minute or two? If your training is on point and your daily nutrition is on point, it is time to change your race day nutrition strategies to keep your engine running.
Runner Image: Darryl and Tricia Sol
Stellingwerrf, T. (2012). Case study: Nutrition and training periodization in three elite marathon runners. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 22, 392 -400.