7 Misconceptions about Running Exposed

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1. There is no correct way to run.

There is no perfect way to hit a forehand in tennis, or to drive a golf ball, or to kick a soccer ball, but the degree of divergence from the accepted norm in each of these activities is relatively small.  When you look at runners who have excellent form, the similarities are more numerous than the differences. According to FootEducation.com,Good biomechanical form leads to less initial shock, shorter ground contact time, increased stride frequency, greater power output, and quicker recovery.  Fortunately it is not necessary to be a top runner to have excellent biomechanics, although the converse is not true.  In short, proper movement in all sports increases the enjoyment of the activity, improves performance, and reduces injury rates.

2. The longer the stride, the faster the speed.

A long stride with a high cadence and proper biomechanics will result in faster speed, but a long stride that is the result of improper form will reduce speed and efficiency. When your foot touches the ground too far in front of your body, that is, when you over-stride, you land heavily on your heel, increasing the braking effect of your foot contacting the ground. The Science of Running has found that when running properly, your foot should make initial contact with the ground under your center of gravity. Concentrate on running with a quick and light stride.  Running hill repeats is a good way to develop this ability.

3. Humans did not evolve to run on very hard surfaces.

In fact, humans did not evolve running on soft surfaces, and certainly not on golf courses!

Take a trip out west, maybe to Colorado or New Mexico and run barefoot on a trail.  The surface under your feet will be just as “soft” as the ground in Tanzania, the location of the Rift Valley, and the cradle of human evolution.  In fact, it is much easier to run barefoot on a smooth asphalt road than on a natural trail because the surface of the road is extremely predictable.  On the other hand, if you have the luxury of living on a golf course in a temperate climate, try to run barefoot on the grass whenever possible!

4.Humans were meant to run heel-to-toe.

Watch an adult who has grown up without shoes run barefoot.  He or she will make initial contact on the ground with the forefoot/midfoot, not the heel.

According to ChiRunning founder Danny Dreyer, even when an adult who is accustomed to running heel-to-toe in conventional running shoes runs barefoot on a hard surface, they usually switch to forefoot/midfoot striking immediately.  Running heel first is just not an efficient way to absorb shock or store elastic energy.  Your body’s ideal initial contact with the ground is actually slightly toward the outside edge of your foot, just behind your fourth and fifth metatarsals. The foot then naturally rolls slightly inward along the transverse arch as the heel descends to touch the ground under the control of the medial and lateral arches of the foot (plantar fascia) and the posterior muscles of the lower leg (gastrocnemius, soleus, and Achilles tendon).

5.  Reports indicate that most people do strike heel first when running.

That’s true, but almost all of the reports have focused on runners wearing “traditional” running shoes.  The first major study that considered runners wearing traditional shoes, minimal shoes, and going barefoot, was done by Daniel Lieberman and his team at Harvard’s Skeletal Biology Lab.  As reported in Nature magazine (“Biomechanics of Foot Strike”, January 28, 2010), the study showed that running with a forefoot/midfoot strike diffuses the shock of initial contact and appears to be a more natural way to run.

Two years later, Adam Daoud, along with Daniel Lieberman and four other authors from the same lab, published an article in Medicine and Science in Sports Exercise that gave the results of a longitudinal study of runners and injuries.  The study clearly showed a significantly higher incidence in the frequency and severity of injuries associated with heel striking, as opposed to forefoot/midfoot striking (“Foot Strikes and Injury Rates in Runners:  a Retrospective Study”, July 2012)

6. Major shoe companies have spent millions of dollars developing running shoes that improve human biomechanics.

The modern running shoe didn’t exist until the early to mid-1970s.  Before that time running shoes were light and flexible and had a much lower profile than today’s shoes.  The change in the shape of these shoes can be traced to Bill Bowerman, the founder of Nike, who believed that a more cushioned heel would allow a runner to run faster by lengthening his/her natural stride and contacting the ground heel first, rather than forefoot/midfoot.  Unfortunately, lengthening your stride in this way alters a natural pattern of movement and reduces your speed and running efficiency. In addition to slowing a runner down, contacting the ground heel first also excessively stresses the bones, joints, muscles and tendons from the toes through the spine. While running with a proper stride, you should land quickly and lightly on your forefoot/midfoot closer under your center of gravity. Unfortunately all major shoe companies eventually copied Bowerman’s design and, until very recently, improvements to running shoes have been limited to attempts to alter a defective original design.

7.The foot and lower leg are not designed for the high impact of running.

The multiple joints of the foot along with strong flexible arches, a powerful Achilles tendon and calf muscles, and strong muscles and ligaments supporting the knee are perfect for both suspension and propulsion, according to WedMD. Running has been an important component of human evolution, allowing us to escape immediate danger and pursue prey over long distances.  Along with walking, running is a natural form of locomotion.

For more information of obtaining the perfect running form, read our full interview with ChiLiving founder Danny Dreyer.