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Who has the correct technique?

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Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Who has the correct technique?

You all know that I am an avid runner and that I really enjoy working out in general, but as I am getting older, I do notice that I have more aches and pains than I used to.  I don't let it stop me, but I have been adjusting my running to allow my body to feel more comfortable; for example, I no longer push myself to bust out a 6 min/mile for 4 miles straight, I changed to a faster pace for usually 2 miles and then slow it down to a lesser pace depending on how my body feels for the remainder of my run, and I can run for longer.  But, even some days that was a nightmare on my knees, so what have I done to make my runs more enjoyable and efficient without any of the pain?  I changed my technique to that of the barefoot runners, and it has really changed my running; my times are better (effortlessly running 6.5 minute miles without realizing it!!), my joints have no pain, I feel like my posture has improved immensely, and running on my heels feels like a real drag and super hard!

I am sure that many of you have heard of Chris McDougal's book "Born to Run" as it was a New York Times bestselling book and it has really changed my running and outlook on feet in general.  There are other books out there too, such as ChiRunning and Barefoot Running that basically tout the same way of running from a different perspective. The thought is that the super cushioned shoes that we spend hundreds of $$ on, are great but they weaken the natural muscles in our feet that were created to help us run and support our muscles....we have atrophied those muscles over the years, thus many long distance and long term runners have major injuries over the years and lead to us no longer being able to run, which makes runners sad!

Now, I am in the transition phase, thus I have the Nike Free shoes, for a few reasons: A) I get pedicures and I like having soft feet that aren't callused B) I live in a city where finding used needles on the ground is not an abnormality C) I think I know a little too much about tapeworms and various parasites to expose my bare tootsies to running just yet :) and D) I am addicted to my Nike + and track all of my runs and I love the accuracy of the speed.  So, in this transition period I started with running in the new form 100% of the run for 4 miles, that was a HUGE mistake, I could barely walk for the next two days, so I decided to run 1/2 and 1/2 then few runs, then I have increased from there and I am about 80%/20% now; it is getting to the point that it feels weird to run the old way with heels hitting first now!

What is this new form for running?  The Taramuhara Indians in the Highlands of Mexico are these almost super human athletes who run miles and miles per day with virtually no issues of injuries and they were the tribe studied when first understanding barefoot running. They have one major rule: if your body feels tired and doesn't feel like running, don't push it and stop.  So, onto the form, most of us run and slam our heels down first, this can cause major stress and pressure on your joints, leading to injuries of the meniscus over time, not to mention shin splints, and other injuries (I am going to lend a whole blog to various running injuries and how to treat tomorrow), and the form that these running tribes is to land on your forefoot (the balls of your feet).  Planting on your forefoot creates a minimal impact force on your knees and other joints, plus it strengthens the muscles in your arches, which is usually a weak muscle for people that can lead to the need for orthotics and a lot of foot soreness and discomfort. Because this is how the body is made to actually run, it uses less energy to run this way, you use the natural "springs" in your feet and calf muscles to propel yourself forward, and running in lighter shoes (i.e. Nike Free shoes or the Vibram five fingers shoes)literally makes our feet lighter to lift up every time we step.  Studies have shown that using lightweight shoes (as mentioned above) or barefoot uses 5% less energy, but you are training your body to use different muscles, so in the initial re-training period you are burning more calories by strengthening new muscles.  Plus, when starting this new running form, it is encouraged that if your feet feel sore, or you feel really tired, just take a break and walk, then re-start, or you can go back to your normal running for a bit then re-start, but in all honesty, I notice now that the forefoot technique feels a LOT easier to my legs!

Now, when first changing to this new form, you are at risk of acquiring Achilles tendonitis if you go too quickly, so it is recommended that when you first purchase these lightweight shoes you walk only a mile in them to see how sore your feet are and increase activity from there, there is a good training schedule for people with weak feet:
And average feet (i.e. no need for orthotics):
I will, as noted above, discuss injuries that can occur from running, but I do feel so much better with less aches and pains since starting this new running technique AND I am running faster virtually effortlessly!  So, give it a try, let me know what you think, and I think this is a great way for people who aren't runners and want to start to give it a try!!

Yours in Good Health


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