Okay, not really. But it may be close.
I’ve been fascinated by running gait for a number of years, mostly stemming from my attempts to explain why barefoot running could be better and the desire to improve my teaching methods. The more I dig, the deeper the mystery becomes.
The problem: There are A LOT of people that claim to know precisely how we run… and they have fundamental disagreements with others that claim the same.
A good example is my foray into the Podiatry Arena forums. When discussing barefoot running, there’s a good deal of citation occurring to support various opinions, then accusations of cherry picking research to support one side or another.
The very fact that there’s enough variability in the published literature should be a huge red flag for all parties involved. Specifically, the results of the entire body of research may not be as valid as we’d like to believe.
In other words, if there’s research that supports both sides of an argument and no consensus that one side is “right”, we should question the research itself.
When it comes to running, it shouldn’t be a surprise that research is often conflicted. Based on very basic observation and anecdotal evidence, we know there’s INCREDIBLE variability in how people run. A runner that overstrides and lands heavily on their heel is going to have a different muscle activation pattern than a runner that runs with a ‘natural” running gait. There will be different stresses on different areas of the body.
Furthermore, we know there are a lot of factors that affect how we run. For example, shoes and orthotics affect how various body parts work. Even more profound- the same shoes may affect different individuals in different ways.
Based on these assumptions, it is difficult to use any research conducted over the last 30-40 years as a generalization of how we’re supposed to run. If the shoes worn by participants adversely affected the gait of the subjects and the researchers did not account for that as a confounding variable, the results can only be generalized to those subjects in the study wearing those particular shoes.
Of course, those that have a strong opinion will argue the research that supports their particular opinions is somehow better. They will fall for a typical confirmation bias and filter the data that refutes their point of view. Sadly, I’ve found very few professionals that acknowledge this. This is a major reason why I recommend “Tread Lightly” so often; Pete Larson and Bill Katovsky, while proponents of “natural running”, provide the most objective analysis to date.
Can This Problem be Solved?
I see two solutions to this problem:
First, everyone that has an interest in running gait would have to acknowledge there’s more than one way for people to run, and running gait is affected by factors like shoes. All research then has to be classified based on factors like the gait used by the runners, whether they’re running on a treadmill or solid ground, or what they have on their feet.
Second, if we insist on coming to the conclusion that there IS a right way to run, we have to abandon all previous research that failed to account for how the subjects ran. We would then have to test a multitude of variables across multiple dimensions with a huge pool of subjects. Only then could be confidently say there is a right way to run.
I see some people working on the first option, which is great. Unfortunately I doubt the second will happen; too many people have already intellectually committed to previous research without acknowledging the obvious limitations.
What do you think? Leave your comments below.