I’ve had a little extra free time lately (Pure Michigan…), so I’ve spent some time on the barefoot forums. As has been the case since they first came into being, there’s a mix of regulars with tons of experience and a few newbies. The conversations with the newbies are interesting. There’s a strong tendency to do the following:
1. Ignore advice from experienced barefoot runners.
2. Begin giving advice based on their limited experience.
3. Promote one particular method without really having the experience to fully weigh the pros and cons and how a given method generalizes to a wider audience outside themselves.
Over the last year or two, I’d like to think we’ve made incredible strides toward assessing the complexity of running gait and correctly identifying some elements that matter and some that don’t. I think Pete Larson and Bill Katovsky’s book ‘Tread Lightly’ perfectly exemplifies the progress we’ve made.
[Sidebar- if you haven't read it, order it today. It is a MUST READ for all runners, minimalist or otherwise.]
In essence, I think many of us that have maintained a degree of skepticism about running gait would agree- there are no easy answers. Most would probably agree there is such thing as better running form and worse running form. Most seem to agree that severe over-or-under-striding is not good. Most also agree that the arms shouldn’t cross the center line of the body.
Beyond that, there’s little agreement on the details. Pretty much anyone and everyone that conducts research, coaches, conducts clinics, or has a “method” of teaching better running form has different ideas. Here’s the key-
All of the ideas will work for some of the people some of the time, but none of the ideas will work for all of the people all of the time.
For example, there seems to be a renewed interest in cadence. Specifically, there seems to be a growing movement that supports the idea of cadence being fixed at precisely 180 steps per minute.There’s little or no empirical research that supports this, and there’s a slew of anecdotal evidence that refutes it. Yet it’s still being discussed.
The problem, of course, is 180 steps per minute IS the ideal cadence… for some of the people some of the time. That results in a confirmation bias of sorts. If 180 works for you, a filtering process happens. You seek out evidence that supports it and filter incoming evidence that refutes it, thus giving you unreasonable confidence in your belief.
What does this mean in practical terms?
- If our goal is to improve our own running, we need to study multiple methods and experiment to find which is most effective for us as individuals.
- If our goal is to engage in theoretical discussions, we need to research the pros and cons of the methods we’re discussing and recognize none can be generalized to the entire running population.
- If our goal is to teach others, we need to study multiple methods to be able to match our teaching methods with the needs of our clients.
- Above all, we have to understand that running form is NOT fully understood.
Running gait is unbelievably complex and we’re not close to understanding all the variables. There are no easy black and white answers… only shades of gray. If we’re going to continue to progress, we need to recognize that none of us have all the answers. We need to be more ope-minded. We need to question our own beliefs. We also need to seriously question those that claim to have all the answers.