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There is a Right Way To Run, and I Challenge Skeptics to Prove Me Wrong

Posted by on Mar 14, 2012 | 26 Comments

We’re doing the world a disservice by continuing to promote bad running form.  This extends to the process of developing and selling shoes that promote bad running form.  We should collectively work together to promote the idea that there is a better way to run, which I like to call “natural running.”  The natural running movement is based on a simple principle:

There is a right way to run and humans innately know this.

This idea encompasses barefoot running, Bareform, ChiRunning, Pose, the stuff VivoBarefoot and Newton teaches, and the stuff pretty much any elite coach teaches.  It can be summed up easily:

Running form should involve an upright posture with short, quick strides and the feet landing under the center of gravity.  Running form should NOT involve the foot landing on the heel in front of the body.

I challenge anyone to prove this wrong.  Better yet, just provide a shred of evidence that would indicate this statement could be wrong. Prove that our continued promotion of bad form is in any way justified.

How did I come to this conclusion?  Let’s look at the evidence.

1. This is how children run.  If you have kids, take off their shoes and watch them run.  They run with a quick turnover with their feet landing under their center of gravity.  It is safe to say good form is innate.

2. Raised heel shoes corrupt our natural good form.  The moment you place a raised heel shoe on a child, they begin heel striking.  After a few minutes, they begin overstriding.  This does not happen if they wear any sort of zero-dropped shoe.

3. Prior to the introduction of the raised heel trainer, almost all runners ran with this natural form.  This goes for elites and recreational runners.

4. Without modern cushioned trainers, heel striking combined with overstriding is pretty much impossible.  Arguing that this flawed gait is somehow “normal” or another variation of our naturally-occurring form is flat out stupid.  If we can’t do it without the cushioned heel, HOW COULD IT BE NATURAL?!?

5. There is no peer-reviewed scientific evidence supporting the superiority of overstriding with a heel strike.  None.  Nada.  I could extend this idea to say the entire process used to fit raised heel shoes is not supported by research.  It’s a castle build on a foundation of bullshit.

6. The only reason we need raised heel trainers is because we’ve already corrupted runners by introducing raised heel shoes in the first place.  Once you place someone in raised heel running shoes, you create a dependence on that paradigm due to the physiological changes that occur.  This is why people have to transition back to more natural running form.

There’s the argument.  I challenge anyone in the running community to prove me wrong.  Give me any bit of evidence that justifies the continued selling of raised heel shoes… except for reason #6 above.  The running industry has long argued that it’s more important to get people running before teaching the basics of good form.  Given that it only takes about 45 seconds to teach the basics of good form, we can no longer ignore the responsibility to teach this.  Give me a legitimate reason all of us shouldn’t be actively working to promote good form.

 

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26 Comments

  1. L
    March 24, 2012

    You’re on the right page here by stating that most people heel strike while walking. The thing you’re missing and what Jason briefly mentions in his reply is the difference in gait cycles between walking and running. When we walk there is always a moment of double support (both feet in contact with the ground) when we heel strike. In other words you haven’t toed off with the trailing foot when the leading foot plants it’s heel. This isn’t the case with running. When your leading foot plants, your trailing foot is already completely off the ground. This means when walking, only half your body weight is landing on each foot, whereas in running it’s your entire body weight. Obviously there is more force when running as well due to velocity and vertical displacement etc.

    In essence, the only reason we have a heel (and it is important) is for walking gait.

    • L
      March 24, 2012

      sorry, the above was supposed to be a reply to Rob Y

  2. Stephen
    March 19, 2012

    Jason, your work is great and I love following it.

    I pretty much agree with your points, but they mostly defend that there is a natural way to run. The bridge that this is the right way to run needs to be defended better.

    There is a natural way for humans to eat: grab food with your fingers and eat. We can defend this as natural without proving that it is better than using utensils.

  3. Scott
    March 19, 2012

    Once again, so many words for something so simple. Maybe this is why I’m dumb and fit.

  4. Chadisbarefoot
    March 15, 2012

    “There is no single right way.” – Jason Robillard, from the new Merrell catalog.

    I know, I know. Just messing with you, Brother. But that’s what it says. lol

    • Jason
      March 15, 2012

      They left off the rest of the quote:

      “There is no single right way… as long as you don’t overstride.”

      ;-)

  5. charles_yo
    March 15, 2012

    actually, proving you wrong is pretty easy, i hate to tell you. just because you discovered something that works for you is like someone who discovers religion: they can’t wait to tell you about it and they can’t understand why everyone doesn’t fall under the same spell as they did.

    and, disclaimer, i’ve been running in minimalist shoes, of different configurations, since 1984 as well as maintaining a store that has everything from flat 3 ml barefoot shoes to heavy motion control shoes. No, i don’t disagree with all of your claims, but i think that you’re making mistake presenting all of them as a panacea.

    1. this is how children run – um, no, this is how children SPRINT. not how they automatically run distance.

    3. prior to the heels being added, distance running was the niche of the niche sport. very few people were out jogging around for their health. you generally had the hard core out there, and even then i can handily send pics of people running the boston marathon in the late ’60′s landing on their heels. Are you going to claim that the shoes from that era were horribly imbalanced? Look at the numbers and demographics from Boston (which i’m refering to as a useful benchmark given that they have along history and act as good as a sample size as we’re likely to find)

    5. there is no-peer reviewed scientific data over hte long term that supports your supposition either. its all short term, such as the Harvard study, one that they admit in the beginning was only going to go for two weeks and that shoving all their test subjects into the same control shoe was not likely the best start anyway.

    You act like no one got injured “back in the day”, which is bullshit as well, and i’m tired of people believing that it was some runner’s paradise back before the evil shoe companies stuck heels on the shoes. sorry, but we did get injured back then, just like now. some more than others, period.

    Making the case that we’re all born to run is basically wrong as well. we have different body types and the mesomorph simply isn’t going to run the same as the ectomorph. I’m not born to play middle linebacker for my favorite team, nor to sumo wrestle. Creating a circular arguement that people only heel strike because of the horribly evil shoe companies dastardly plot is silly. its not hard to find plenty of evidence that different biomechaics exist and should be accounted for, from children to adults.

    • Ramzev
      March 15, 2012

      Charles, Unless I missed it, you don’t refute this, “Running form should NOT involve the foot landing on the heel in front of the body”

      You make some arguments that maybe shoes aren’t the cause, that could be a different discussion, but I believe the thesis of Jason’s piece is that running heel first is not healthy. Do you agree or disagree with this?

      Since you run in minimal shoes I would assume you have good form, and I also would assume that there is a reason you believe this form is better; do you pass this information on to your customers?

      • Jason
        March 15, 2012

        Jay Dicharry’s research indicates landing on the heel doesn’t generate more force than a midfoot landing… as long as the foot lands under the center of gravity. This suggests foot landing isn’t terribly important. After watching a lot of barefoot runners, I more or less agree with this.

        Overstriding is the real problem. It completely negates the body’s ability to absorb impact, even if they land on their midfoot. Humans don’t innately do this. It’s not a good argument, but no other animal does, either.

        In short, there is absolutely no reason we should continue to support overstriding as a viable means of running.

        • L
          March 23, 2012

          As an exercise physiologist with a fascination with biomechanics I would argue in support of Jason’s claims. I understand where Charles is coming from in that everyone is different. Some people run for years using a heel strike gait and never seem to get hurt. However, many people do get hurt. If you take a minute to understand what is happening when you heel strike or overstride vs when you forefoot or midfoot strike you will understand how well designed the human leg and foot is for proper running form. Muscles have visco-elastic properties meaning they act like they shocks on a car. The legs essentially have springs and dampers which only work when running properly. That is, as you land on your forefoot or midfoot, the large calf muscle (gastrocnemius) eccentrically contracts (or lengthens while contracting) which dissipates the force from impact. If you land on the heel, you eliminate the lever arm present when landing forward on your foot and all the force must then be absorbed by the skeleton.
          When we run, up to 15x our body weight is transferred from the ground into our bodies. The skeleton simply cannot cope with this amount of force over time, whereas the muscles have relatively fast healing times, thus even if they are injured from the abuse they will heal much faster than bones, ligaments etc.

    • Jason
      March 15, 2012

      Actually, my points are more like an atheist pointing out the inherent flaws of religion. ;-)

      You’re attributing characteristics other minimalist proponents use for their argument to the argument I present here. I did not mention injuries (minimalist runners get hurt, too), that all people should be runners (born to run argument), and I did not assign the “evil” judgment to shoe companies. I work with many shoe companies… I know what happens behind the scenes. Read through my other stuff. You’ll find we agree on all these points.

      For your other objections:

      1. I disagree. Kids do not overstride with a heel strike when running at any pace unless they are taught (implicitly or explicitly).

      3. Distance running was a niche prior to 1980, but it was extraordinarily popular at various points in history. Check out the history of pedestrianism. Those folks made some of the feats of our modern ultrarunners look silly. And they weren’t wearing Nike Shox. It’s more likely the modern running shoe developed as a result of the modern running boom, not the other way around.

      5. Agreed, but it doesn’t dismiss the fact that the modern trainer was not developed using any sort of empirical research. It was based on a small group of runners that landed on their heels (itself not necessarily a bad thing), aesthetics, and assumptions. Same goes for the shoe fitting process used by the majority of running stores, and there is emerging data supporting that point. Pete Larson gives a pretty good explanation here: http://www.runblogger.com/2010/07/pronation-control-paradgim-is-starting.html

      I generally agree that the entire barefoot/minimalist movement has made some fanatical claims that simply aren’t true. My goal is to critically examine these claims and encourage others to do the same. There’s a lot of research going on right now. Much of it is answering questions about the role of things like cushioning, shoe weight, cadence, foot landing, etc. None of it supports the overstriding/ heel strike method of running.

      It’s a little bit like tobacco. Back in the day, many believed smoking actually made you healthier (mostly due to laughable marketing). Research emerged. Minds were changed. The same thing is happening here.

      • Ryan
        March 15, 2012

        The tobacco comment is interesting. As far as I know the research has been done on cigarettes which contain hundreds of other ingredients (variables) other than tobacco. Yet people see the research and blame tobacco. I’m not sure how the researchers controlled for variables such as rat poison, tar, and the other crap cigarettes contain.

        Point being: Is there any research that actually shows tobacco itself is bad, and to what degree? And of so, how were those other variables such as rat poison controlled for?

        Not saying cigarettes are good, just curious as to how we know it’s the tobacco and not the hundreds of additives that are causing harm.

        • Jason
          March 15, 2012

          The problem with tobacco research is twofold. First causal studies aren’t done on humans, which means we have to generalize animal research to people. Second, the research that DOES point toward tobacco being bad for humans is correlational, which means we cannot make a causal jump.

          Aside from that, you point is also valid. It’s difficult to isolate specific chemicals that may cause problems, especially given the issues I mentioned above.

          I over-use it, but a better analogy is to compare the raised heel trainer to baby formula.

          • Ryan
            March 16, 2012

            The tobacco comparison is like the recent “barefoot” study where the participants wore socks and had weights on their feet. Nobody was actually barefoot in the study but it is touted as a barefoot study. Close enough right? Just like sending people a survey, finding that there is a correlation between smoking and death is enough to blame tobacco. This protects the “tobacco” companies by placing the blame on a plant instead of the RAT POISON etc that is in cigarettes. Science is reported in such a way that protects companies. The tobacco companies finally admitted their product can kill but of course it’s the “tobaccos” fault, not theirs. Same thing that goes on with food. It’s not the GMO, the hormones, the pesticides that are causing harm….it’s red meat!

  6. S Elliot
    March 14, 2012

    Interesting study by CU http://t.co/zzqhmvH7 . The shoes I was told were Nike Mayflys.

  7. Rob Y
    March 14, 2012

    Once again, mostly agree with everything you say. I’d add to this list:

    #7: There is absolutely no reason to design shoes with narrow toe boxes. Can’t we make shoes that are more anatomically correct to allow for good snug fit in the heel while at the same time allowing for ample toe splay?

    My biggest beef with shoes these days is the tight toe boxes and extremely raised heels. However, with good form and by sometimes necessity I have no problem with having ample cushioning as long as the shoe is low or no drop. Then again, as I’ve learned, if you’ve got good form you can run in just about any neutral shoe on the planet w/o any issues.

    • Jason
      March 15, 2012

      I agree. From what I understand from designers, the narrow toe box is still used to help hold the shoe on the foot. I would say a narrow toe box is the second worst problem after raised heels.

  8. deeago (Diego)
    March 14, 2012

    Jason,
    question: how should I WALK? HAve you thought on this?

    • Aaron
      March 14, 2012

      Yep, running with good form is fairly easy, once you get the hang of it. Walking? Not so much.

      • Rob Y
        March 14, 2012

        Which is why I maintain that heel striking, by itself, isn’t necessarily a bad thing; most of us do it all the time walking (I know I do it barefoot). There must be some reason we have thick padding on the entire bottom of our feet! Now overstriding AND heel striking is a totally different story.

        • Jason
          March 15, 2012

          I would agree with this. There’s a fundamental difference between running gait and walking gait. Most adults seem to walk heel first, then roll over their foot (much like bad form running). We can do that because there’s little impact, unlike running.

  9. Matt BATES
    March 14, 2012

    No one can refute that we don’t need raised heel shoes to run with better form. NO ONE!!!!!!!!!!!!

  10. Brian G
    March 14, 2012

    Raised heel trainers are like crystal meth. Folks start using them to “help them out” and then they develop a physical dependency on them that is very hard to break. Of course, no one ever needs to use that crap in the first place.

    • Jason
      March 15, 2012

      I like the crystal meth analogy. ;-)

  11. trissa
    March 14, 2012

    this is gospel truth. Going to be sharing this. It was through ditching my shoes that I discovered imbalances that I am now addressing that shoes just “masked.” I also go barefoot virtually everywhere, until I am asked by some store owner to put shoes on. Great article as always.