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Monday, September 24, 2007

Running technique - is there a 'right' way to run?

Running is a basic activity, right? If you want technical, you go to dance classes, or you join a karate studio, where an instructor will teach you HOW to perform that activity. Even swimming is a sport where the coach will stand along side you and demonstrate correct arm movement, position of the body, use of the legs, and so on. But running, that's inherent, we JUST DO IT (sorry, Phil and the Nike gang). Right?

Wrong...Well, wrong, according to what seems to be a growing trend among runners and running experts, who are coming up with "running techniques" designed to make you:

  • Faster
  • Less injury prone
  • More efficient when you run
These running techniques, the Pose method of running and the Chi Running technique, both make these claims. You can read all about these claims here and here.

Runners - a natural audience for these claims? Or a victim of marketing hype?

At first glance, and through your first few reads, it's quite an appealing concept. Why? Because runners seem to be eternally fighting against the spectre of injury. And what runner is not interested in improving their running times without adding on 20 miles a week onto their training. So the prospect of simply 'learning' a new running technique which makes you FASTER and LESS INJURY PRONE is too good to be true.

Speaking from my marketing training now, the core concept behind marketing is identifying a need, and then meeting it at profit. The need is clearly there.

Running injuries - more common than you think

Do you know, for example, that the average yearly prevalence of injury in runners is somewhere between 40 and 70%? In otherwords, between 4 and 7 out of every 10 runners will be injured per year! For example, a study by van Middelkoop et al found that 55% of runners had been injured in the year leading up to a city marathon. Other studies have produced even more alarming results - 90% of runners injured per year in training for a marathon!

Perhaps you are one of them - as you read this, you are struggling with shin splints, knee pain, ITB problems, stress fractures, muscle strains...you name it, we runners have it! What this means, then, is there is a massive need for SOMETHING that reduces injuries. Normally, we would think of shoes as doing this - after all, every running shoe comes with a promise:
"Anti-pronation devices limit movement of the foot, reducing the risk of injury in overpronators", or
"Forefoot and rearfoot cushioning devices reduce impact and the risk of injury"
and so on.

Problem is, the shoe industry has done little to impact on the injury statistics. So in 1970, the number of injuries in runners was the same as it is today! All the technological advances - air cushions, gel pads, torsion devices, straight lasts, medium lasts, roll bars - have done little to those injury numbers. Of course, one might argue quite strongly that more people are running these days, and so it's a different population compared to the 1970's, where only the genetically blessed runners were taking part in marathons. That would be another debate entirely, and perhaps in the future, it would be good to look at just how effective shoes have been in combatting and reducing injury risk.

Evaluating the scientific evidence for running techniques

Point is, injuries are happening to runners all the time, and now we have these two running techniques that make claims about solving ALL the problems we face. The point I want to make from this post is that what these websites (for Pose and Chi Running) are doing is exactly the same as what the running shoes have done for many years. That's the marketing angle - find the need, promise to meet it and you don't have to sell ever again - your product/needs sells for you! "You can run faster, with greater efficiency, and have fewer injuries!" Sounds too good to be true. But where do I sign up?!!!

A debate of the evidence is needed - your thoughts are welcome!

What we need to do now is find the scientific angle. And so what we'll do over the next few days is look at these running techniques in a bit more detail, and evaluate the claims they make. Where are they going wrong...or right?

We'll split this over a few posts, otherwise it will become a very heavy and very long post! But do join us as we examine running technique. I'm sure that many of you have tried Pose or Chi, or perhaps another technique we haven't mentioned. If that's the case, we'd welcome your feedback and input.

For my (Ross') part, I must state from the outset that I believe there is always part truth when it comes to this kind of claim. In fact, I was the 7th person in the world to 'qualify' as a Pose Running method instructor. The background behind that was that Nicholas Romanov, who developed the technique, came to Cape Town where I was studying in 2002 to perform a scientific study on the technique. I was involved in that study, both as a subject and then later to help instruct the runners. I've never really made use of my knowledge, for a number of reasons, some of which will be covered in the posts on this topic. But what I will say is that I believe there is some truth and validity in the claims, but they have been compromised by the efforts to get the method out as widely as possible. For more information, join us next time when we'll look at this in more scientific detail!

Bye for now!

Breaking news: Haile Gebrselassie has just broken the world marathon record - 2:04:26.
Check out the splits and race analysis here.


Ian said...

I am really looking forward to this series of posts. As a runner I've often heard about Chi vs Pose method running but have never really explored either of them further.

I've been running for over 3 years now and have always just gone out and run the way I feel natural running. I've often intended to sit down and research Chi vs Pose but never got around to it.

The closest I've come to altering the way I run is experimenting with a slightly shorter (thus quicker) stride.

Anonymous said...

Being a shorter runner (5'6), my natural instinct has been to shorten my already small strides going up hills, but I've never thought of altering anything else in flat surfaces.

Anonymous said...

I love reading Men's Health magazine and I came across an article on "Tarahumara Indians: The Men Who Live Forever." They have a certain way of running - and I decided to practice it.

I just found out about the POSE running method a couple of days ago. And it's the same running technique the Tarahumara indians use! Interesting!

Unknown said...

Just read this today, it's worth checking out:

Mark Milan said...

I've only just started running, and I soon was feeling strain in my shins, especially when running downhill. That's gone now as I altered how I run to reduce the stresses on my legs.

I think that's all anyone really needs to do; if you pay attention to the stresses your legs are under while running, you can try different things to find a running style that is suitable to you.

I say that while you run pay attention and relax your body as much as possible. I'm no expert, but this seems like simple commonsense.

Unknown said...

it depends on what you running if it is short distance like a 100m sprint you must give it all but when running a 400m you need to do it with as a plan like going hard the first 200m and then relax a 100m and give it full until the end