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Friday, September 28, 2007

Running techniques - the same as Medical Products?

This post is an addendum to the previous post and is based on a comment left in response to that post, and some discussions I had with others.

It suddenly occurred to me that what the running techniques are doing is the SAME THING as is done in the medical industry. For example, let's compare an anti-inflammatory tablet, prescribed for the relief of pain and inflammation, with the running techniques.

How is an anti-inflammatory similar to running technique products?

Both will make promises. An anti-inflammatory promises pain relief, return to normal function and perhaps will allow you to perform normal daily activities that otherwise might be impossible. Pose and Chi Running make the promise that you will run faster, more efficiently and be less prone to injury.

Another similarity is that both have recommendations for use, either direct or implied. In the case of your anti-inflammatory, it says take two tablets, twice a day, with meals. Pose or Chi might suggest a reduction in training and they recommend strategies to overcome ankle and calf pain. This is a secondary recommendation. And it was pointed out to me by Anonymous, is something I never really denied, and I steadfastly stand by my assertion that the techniques keep this in the fineprint, when in fact it should be disclosed at the outset.

Then a third similarity is side-effects. What the anti-inflammatories will say is that excessive use may cause kidney problems, stomach discomfort and possible ulcers, and there is a small risk of cardiovascular complications. The running techniques? Well, that's where things get interesting. Depending on who you ask, they'll tell you that there are no side-effects, provided you do the technique correctly (and this is your obligation). Those who are less sure might suggest that the use of the running technique may result in calf and ankle problems. Granted, they will say this. But it's not disclosed on 'purchase', whereas the medical industry requires that the side effects be established before the product is even on the shelf.

So by the time you take your anti-inflammatory and pop it, you can be sure that what you are taking has been tested in laboratories, in animals and in humans. They have done extensive testing to know:
a) Does it work?
b) How much do you need to ensure that it works?
c) Are there side effects and when do they occur?

But there is ONE difference - and it's key

Is this the same as Pose and Chi? Answer - no. Firstly, NOT A SINGLE longitudinal study has been done to examine the efficacy of either. One study on Pose, and that produced results that have been used for marketing purposes, but could just as easily have gone the other way - imagine the following tagline: "Research suggests that this technique will increase your risk of ankle injury!" Doesn't quite have the same ring to it! But that's what happened, and so what was then done was a campaign to educate and inform potential 'customers' of this risk. That's the 'education' that is claimed.

Related to this is that no one has yet accurately established the dosage of a running technique. So we'll hear that you should "reduce" your training, practice the drills etc. We've already described the problems with that one - is it a viable and realistic proposition to "sell" a product that requires this from runners? I don't believe so. But more than this, there's no set criteria for how it gets implemented - it's every man and women for themselves, and if the technique doesn't work, well, that's just too bad.

So perhaps the better comparison to make is between running techniques and weight loss supplements. You buy a weight loss supplement and it promises "Lose 5kg in 2 weeks!", or "Toned and lean, guaranteed!". So you buy the supplement and nothing happens. No weight loss. If you complain, you learn that it's never the manufacturer's fault, it's YOURS because you failed to notice the fineprint that says you need to exercise 6 times a week and follow a restricted diet! That's irrelevant because you buy the product to do its job. You don't buy the weight loss supplement that promises: "Guaranteed weight loss IF you train 6 times a week and eat less food". That's the problem - liability rests with the customer and there are no guarantees. Just like with a running technique that is taught to a 'mass market'.

So what we have is a "comparison" which I make for illustrative purposes only. But really, we are hearing claims made about a product that is not proven to work, not proven to safe in the long term and yet is still prescribed as a 'treatment' for injury prevention. That's not a product that stands up to stringent standards.

And let me re-iterate that I actually think that the principles behind Pose and Chi are sound. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that in many aspects, Pose and Chi do the best job of explaing certain biomechanical principles that I've seen. Conceptually, they are fantastic. But the issue here is whether the wholesale teaching of running technique is BETTER THAN the simply applying the same principles on a case by case basis. That's the real issue, let's not confuse that with marketing smokescreens and mirrors...Does the teaching of a running technique over the course of a weekend or through a DVD or book do a better job on running technique than simply making changes from one individual to the next? The answer has to be no...

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


Anonymous said...

Re: "my assertion that the techniques keep this in the fineprint, when in fact it should be disclosed at the outset."

I pulled out the book "Pose Method of Running".

In the preface, "Let's say that you wanted to take up a new sport such as skiing, tennis, golf, ballet, or martial arts. Before you got into 'training' for those sports, you would be expected to learn how to do them ... By contrast, the advice given most beginning runners can be summarized as folllows:1) buy a good pair of shoes & 2) don't run too hard at first."

Then, "Someone who is used to logging 30, 40 or 50 miles a week .. may balk at the patience required to rework a running stride put in place by years and miles."

Chapter 3 ("The Best Time to Learn the Pose Method"), page 17: ".. because runners tend to focus on weekly mileage and P.R.s, it can be tempting to ignore the technique to 'get a long run in' or 'run a quick 5K'. Thus you should schedule your conversion to the Pose Method when your expectations for performance are the lowest ... any attempt to run either hard or far will cause you subconciously to revert to what feels normal to you ... The farther you go, the ore you will tend to run you used to, thus compromising your efforts to imprint the Pose Method as your new style."

On page 101 (out of 314) in Chapter 19, the author writes:

"... the initial phase of learning Pose depends so much on technique with so little emphasis on mileage."

"you'll move on to a set of drills that are oriented to developing the specific physical strength necessary to maintain the Pose form over greater and greater distances."

"You will be sorely tempted to skip over these drills and 'just run' ... do yourself a favor and really get the feeling of the Pose Method before you take your body out for a long spin."

The rest of the book, from Chapter 20 to 41 (over 2/3 of the book), is dedicated to the drills and exercises necessary to develop proper Pose technique. Again and again throughout these chapters, the author reiterates the need to remain dedicated to the development regime.

That is not "fineprint". Again, your argument's credibility disintegrates, unless you consider the majority of the literature "fineprint". If your bias cannot be mediated by basic facts, how do you expect a read to believe your opinion.

I have found most of your posts insightful and helpful in my own physical development. However, I am really stuck with this series on running technique. You have to get the basic and obvious facts correct, no excuses.

One quote above also directly addresses your idea that people innately develop their own foundational running style. True that each person teaches themselves how to run and walk, but it is a logical fallacy to equate the "natural" learning with "correct" or "good" technique. The author of Pose postulates that it is the years of "natural" self-taught technique that is the biggest obstacle in transitioning to a different (arguably better) technique. To put a fine POINT on the issue, the transition requirements for learning Pose are THE central issue addressed in the book and all of Pose literature that I have read.

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Thank you for the feedback

I can steadfastly say that I have read the literature, I know the drills, I am familiar with what you have written. But I am still firmly of the opinion that the extra details behind these methods (Chi is included, though we have tended to focus on Pose) are not disclosed at the outset - the book doesn't represent the commitment, remember, it's part of the package, once bought. To me, the key is the tagline - that's where the truth doesn't come out.

The promise made by Pose is "run faster, with fewer injuries". That is the core benefit (forgive the marketing speak). The "augmented product" is the book you speak of, and it's too late - what percentage of people considering the method will ever read what you have typed today? Even once the book is purchased, I can't believe that a product expects this of its customers, especially runners. If we did a survey, most people run to escape, for pleasure, and to keep fit - they never in their wildest dreams thought that 300 pages of literature and months of diligent training entered into the equation! If they wanted this, they'd have gone for martial arts black belts or advanced flying lessons!

And it doesn't have to be this way - people can run better without 300 pages and technique training for months, that's the point!

So yes, I acknowledge that the creators of Pose say all this, but they still sell the product and the concept without it, that's the problem regarding this one

Now the difference between tennis, skiing, golf and ballet is that you CANNOT do them unless you know how. Well, one can play tennis, but you'll be wasting your time unless you have some ability. Running is different - people can run, and do, very successfully without having to "learn" how to do it.

The augmented product, which is the level beyond the core benefit offered to customers, is a problem for me. I cannot believe that I am alone in adopting this position. As a runner, I am able to run 8 km every day, why would I ever even consider learning a technique that will force me to return to a beginner level for many weeks? Let me answer your question: I do it because the technique promises me faster running with fewer injuries.

Great. The next problem, and the one that I have stated repeatedly is the BIGGEST issue (rather than the packaging of the concept, which is how marketers win over markets) is that the same effects can be achieved incrementally. That runner, who is doing his 8km daily, can be assisted in correct running technique without needing a technique revolution - small changes can be made that will do the same thing. That has been the take home point of this series.

Then, your point about "natural" not being optimal is also noted, but again, you'll see this exact same phrase said more than once in the series. I agree with you on that one. But again, the point is that you don't need a special technique to learn optimal - incremental is better.

And then the final point is that the study from Cape Town in 2002 was done with:

The very best coaches - the founder and the first two qualified Pose coaches were out here.

The most intensive instruction possible - two days of theory and one full week of training, twice a day with individual attention and supervision

The most stringent level of scientific control possible, including diet, shoes, training volumes, participant feedback etc.

And still, most of the people were heading for calf injuries within the week. Now, I realise you'll argue that these people didn't follow the 'book'. But the point is, the book is the fineprint. That point will be argued, I have no doubt. And of course, people are welcome to their opinions, that's what we invited from this series, so I'm only too happy that you've responded. But you go to that website, you listen to the talk of the coaches, and they're not selling a 'three-month', step by step, patience comes first, sequential approach to learning running. They are selling a weekend course, a package with a DVD and a book and every man for himself, learn it if you can package.

The study found, conclusively, that the eccentric load on the ankle is increased. It also found that eccentric load on the knee is reduced. They CHOSE to announce to the world the knee finding - the ankle one is very real and concerning. If the Pose Book is to be believed, then simply training the ankle to handle the load is the answer. But hang on, why don't we train the knee, do some strength exercises, just like it says on page 101? We could save people a lot of time and money, by simply giving them knee exercises. Why transfer that loading to another joint and then strengthen it? Just doesn't add up for me...

But thank you for your words about the other posts, and for the comments on this one. You have given food for thought, and that's my goal. You suggested expect people to believe our opinion - not at all. We don't ask anyone to believe, and the last thing we do is expect them to follow what we write. We just invite debate, so thank you for that.

I hope this will not put you off future reads - we'll move onto doping in sport next and maybe some discussion on supplements after that!

Best regards

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Just one final point I wish to make, having read the comments again, is that to date, no one has established the NEED for the technique, nor the fact that it has long term benefits. The need for the technique is the theory that running is not taught as a skill, combined with the injury incidence. Both are circumstantial, and in particular, the incidence of injury theory can very easily be argued both ways - there are many confounding variables.

What is perhaps more important is that the claims made are not substantiated, except by one study that found reduced eccentric load on the knee. And that study has been dissected, because they're only telling you half the story. That's a big problem, because even though they build in pages and reams of "insurance" regarding the ankle and the learning of the technique, the evidence still suggests that doing the technique properly increased ankle injury risk. So all that has been done is to shift the vulnerable joint from the knee to the ankle and then strengthen it instead. That's what the science says.

But we get a bit side-tracked on the marketing and packaging of the thing, and we can debate what constitutes 'fineprint' all year, I suspect. I feel that if I buy a product, I should know what my obligations and responsibilities are first. If I went to a car dealer and bought a luxury Lexus, the last thing I'd expect to have to do is build it myself and take three months to learn how to drive it! The Pose and Chi techniques are not, then, in my opinion, viable products. That's apart from the scientific evidence that is conspicuous by its absence.

But, let's move onto world records in the marathon and doping scandals in sport now! It's been a fascinating series, challenging to write (and probably to read!) and hopefully, it's done something constructive!


Anonymous said...

When I decided to learn Chi rather than Pose, it was partially my perception that Pose wanted its users to stop running for weeks that swayed me to Chi. And I would say that the most profound impression from the Chi book is the mantra "Gradual Progress". The course I did - after I'd already been using the book for months - showed me where I'd misunderstood things and was helpful as well as massive fun.

A benefit of Chi has been the element of mental effort. I've got to know my own body far better. To some extent I can observe a stress in a muscle and correct my running to relieve it.

As for my own injury state, it was plantar fasciitis that caused me to look at "injury-free" running. That's got hugely better in the past two years. I have a knee problem on one side, but again thanks to Chi's emphasis on observation, I know what causes it. I just lack the control to do much about it for more than a little time. I'll get there though.

Anonymous said...

Nice post. It was really an insightful read. Keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...

I found your blog the afternoon after trying to implement the Pose technique. I wish I would have found it sooner as I would have been even more conservative in my morning workout (6 x 100m at a very moderate pace/cadence).

Long and short of it, I've had a history of patellar-femoral pain in one leg and thought a change of technique/surface/shoes could be the ticket to pain-free running in addition to previous rehab sessions. As advertised, I felt little stress on knees or quads, not much on the hamstrings (I am strength trained) but my calves and feet are sore.

How much of that is due to poor application of the technique, I can't say but I intend to have my wife video my form for analysis.

One other observation - the Pose technique appears to be much like running down a set of stairs: ball of foot strike, use gravity, and to increase speed increase your cadence. Is this analogy correct?

Anonymous said...

With respect, a few questions.

How is the core benefit of Pose/Chi different than the following tag lines of popular running books? Where is their disclaimer?

Runner's World Run Less, Run Faster: Become a Faster, Stronger Runner with the Revolutionary FIRST Training Program (Runners World) (Paperback)

Runner's World Performance Nutrition for Runners: How to Fuel Your Body for Stronger Workouts, Faster Recovery, and Your Best Race Times Ever (Runners World) (Paperback)

Brain Training For Runners: A Revolutionary New Training System to Improve Endurance, Speed, Health, andResults (Paperback)

Runner's World The Runner's Body: How the Latest Exercise Science Can Help You Run Stronger, Longer, and Faster (Runners World) (Paperback)

Alberto Salazar's Guide to Road Racing : Championship Advice for Faster Times from 5K to Marathons (Paperback)

None of these books have disclaimers that you might get injured following their system, although i'm sure it is in the literature itself. It is only fair that if you are going to take Pose/Chi to task all these authors should be taken to tast as well. Seems like the same marketing speak as Pose to me. What is the difference/why the bashing of Pose's marketing?

Second question - You mentioned above that nobody has established the need for running technique. Do you know the statistics on how many runners are injured per year? People just expect that running is going to injur them. Runner's world is still in business selling people band-aids for their injuries which is probably a large reason there is a fear of things like Pose. If you are making a living selling pain killers and something comes along that might eliminate pain - you need to find a new way to make a living.

Why is it accepted in the running community that you must teach runners the speed and duration of runs but not the mechanics? This one baffles me. Every runner is told "get a coach" "do Jack Daniels' "Do this workout at this intensity" etc.

Yet, when technique is taught THESE SAME PEOPLE say you don't need to be told how to run, just go out and do it and your body will figure it out.

This is hypocricy, if my body will figure it out, I don't need a coach to tell me how far and how fast, my body will tell me. This is a massive double standard here.

Thank you for the opportunity to ask these questions.

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hi Anonymous

Thanks for the questions and comments.

There are some pretty fundamental differences between the positioning of Pose and the training guidelines you refer to.

Those training guidelines are not positioning themselves as treatments for anything, to the best of my knowledge, though I suspect you'll argue this point. The problem for Pose is that it's positioned itself like a medicine as a cure for an identified problem, without developing any basis for its effectiveness.

And yes, I'm well aware of the injury rates, but to use that as "proof" that Pose is required is a very, very weak argument. For one thing, if more people are running, then the pool of runners has expanded to include people who should not, for biomechanical reasons, be runners. And so the fact that injury rates have stayed the same is an indication that injury prevention has improved. But then I'm sure you're aware of this argument.

So far from seeing Runners World as a band-aid, which it doesn't proclaim to be, the POse advocates have seized on circumstantial evidence, developed their brand positioning, done no research to back it up, and then marketed the product as a cure. That's the problem.

So it's not hypocrisy on my part. To suggest that a book on exercise science and the runner needs a disclaimer is absolutely ludicrous. I know the book you're talking about there (the Runners Body) because as its author, I know what it's purpose was, and it doesn't have anything like the same value proposition for the consumer as Pose does. The problem is not the theoretical basis, it's the value proposition offered to the consumer and the brand positioning, the market speak is very different.

The entire premise of your argument is flawed, because you assume that people would naturally default into the right kind of training and the right diet and the right volume of training. Why should this be so? Training is a completely different thing from the act of running. Running is what is called phylogenetic, training is not. You may wish to enamor yourself of the key point that people do not get a technical thing like training right.

Your argument is akin to saying that people should just be able to drive a car. Why bother learning? The point is that knowing how to balance volume and recovery and intensity is not intuitive, and that's why people need coaches. Knowing how to run - that's crucial to survival, and it's something we all do naturally. That's where the difference comes in.

Now, I'm not sure whether you've read any of the other posts I've written on this topic. I suspect not, or if you have, then you've missed a great deal, because I haven't set out to "bash Pose" as you put it. I presented Pose theory in a very positive light, suggested that it had a great deal of merit, but that the premise on which the package was sold was flawed.

You might like to read these articles, because I've discussed in great detail the lack of scientific evidence, the little evidence that is available, and the implications thereof. Because unfortunately, your "evidence' that people get injured is NOT the basis for saying people need to learn technique,as I've said.

Finally, it's clear where your own bias lies, and so perhaps important to say that incentives must be disclosed. Just as you have called out RW for pushing band-aids out of "fear" of Pose (which is not true, by the way, because when Pose was first being marketed, RW carried much of the material and articles proclaiming its virtue), you too have an agenda, it's very clear. Either as a Pose coach, or someone for whom the technique has worked. Either is fine, it's just interesting to me that you'd attack other methods (in this case, training books which don't even compete) instead of trying to provide evidence to defend your own.

Anonymous said...

Hey Guys,

Thanks for the quick reply! I am not a coach of any kind, I am just someone who loves running and is very curious about all of this.

Like you, i'm highly skeptical of marketing claims. I still do not see how there is much of a difference between the books I listed and the claims Pose makes.
One says "Run Faster, Become Stronger" the other says "Run faster, run injury free" (you already knew i'd argue this point as you said). Isn't "become a stronger runner" a "treatment" for weakness?
Lets face it, just about everybody is making some outrageous marketing claim these days, so it is a good thing you are analyzing these claims and do so in a positive way and constructive way. I would like to see you continue your series and focus on books like "Run Less, Run Faster", the claims it makes, and the validity of these claims.

I am still a bit hung up on one thing.

How/why does the body figure out biomechanics before speed/distance?
I mean most recreational runners I know tend to figure out a distance and speed that works for them long before they are very efficient biomechanical runners.

It seems like BOTH things would either be intuitive or need to be taught. To me it is a little bit of both. Your body knows "how to run" but a little coaching will make you even more efficient. your body will figure out distance/speed but a little coaching will help you progress faster and safer (both cases assuming "good" coaching).

So my frustration lies - and let me be clear here - not with anything said on this site, but rather the people who say "just go out and run, your body knows how to do it....but you should follow VDot charts, do tempo runs etc."

The reason i'm posting it here is because it is the best open forum i've found on the subject, not because I think you fall into that category. As you've mentioned you've discussed the benefits of Pose already.

So really, we are in agreement about most things. If you care to do so I would love for you to expand on what you have already said, and as i've mentioned i'm specifically interested in why the body figures out mechanics before speed and distance. And I understand the training benefits for people that race but what about recreational runners, I think a plan focusing mostly on mechanics and less on time/distance would be good, whereas for college/pro/elite runners focusing on time/distance and less on mechanics might be best. What do you think?

LG said...

So Anonymous, are you saying that before one has ever run, say, a marathon, one should just trust that one's body already knows HOW to train for it because one also knows HOW to run? That seems a bit naive to me.

Anonymous said...

Guys,I just found your site today - been doing a fair bit of reading on it, and you have some great topics and good info, but... (here comes the bad bit)

A couple of your series have led me to conclude that your thinking is shoddy. After a decent start you tend to grasp at straws that seem irrelevant.

For instance your Ed Coyle series was a case in point where many learned people eloquently and credibly supported the gist of his study and gave credible reasons for the weaknesses and why these shouldn't negate the study in its entirety, while you guys clung to a small technicality. I believe the appropriate cliche to describe your attitude is "throwing the baby out with the bathwater".

Same thing here; your article is supposedly about technique - is there a correct technique and can it be taught etc. - with a focus on Pose. You conclude that technique can be taught and that Pose is pretty close to optimal, yet go on to lambast it because it requires re-training and gradual build up. You go on to say that the take-home point of this series is that a runner can achieve the same with small incremental changes without a drop-off in their training. You go on about there being no studies this and no studies that... have you studied these claims of yours? Have you published results? If not, how can you make these claims, and how can you state that the same can be achieved in other ways. And you carry on talking rubbish about Pose not making it plain that their method requires strengthening and a big drop-off in training, when you have been conclusively shown to be wrong, time and again.

You guys are inconsistent in your approach and consistent in your stubborn denial of facts. I must make the unfortunate conclusion that, while the site is interesting and informative, you guys are poor scientists.

P.S. I must add that I am not a Pose runner.

Anonymous said...

Since this is a scientific community I thought I would add some thoughts.

I read Chi running, and it is too un-scientific for me. Making a "claim" that you will run 70% faster is impossible. So, if I run a ten minute mile and become a Chi runner I will suddenly run 3 minute miles? Rubbish! Even the website says "run injury free" by becoming a Chi runner. I guess no one has ever been injured by trying Chi Running? Chi is Pose Running with nice marketing (the name is catchy) and a "spiritual feel".

"Spiritual feeling" is for me to figure out, not some one to tell me what I should feel or how I should feel. I don't care how you cut it Spiritual feeling is not scientific at all. With all of the comments about measuring injuries from runnners in this article, how could you even start to measure spirituality?

Hello science meet mareting....

I think Pose is applying smarter science by saying retrain your body in increments. Technique is important, learning to run the way you would run bare foot before you had shoes is the way to run.

BTW I am not a pose runner either, nor do I advocate running by Pose. There are better techniques out there.