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Striking Misconceptions

Sports Science Basics for Runners

By Dr. David Cosman in Hong Kong

Foot Action: Part 1; The "S" Word

As important as it might be for a top level sports doctor/scientist/therapist to have deep knowledge of foot mechanics and action, it's not so important for the runner because foot placement is a function of running technique, for good or for bad.

Unfortunately, many have been followers of the "forefoot strike" trend that is often misleading and problematic. While running, forcing your foot into what you think is a correct alignment or posture or placement is usually a recipe for disaster. There are better ways to get the best out of your feet.

Basic Fundamentals of The Running Technique:

The basic recipe to best initiate a forward motion or stride is as follows:

  1. Assume a tall or upright body posture; chest or "headlights" up. Of course not too high

  2. Keep your pelvis (hips) tilted slightly forward.

  3. Push the earth behind you one foot at a time (key word is "behind")

  4. Repeat step 3, keeping mindful of steps 1 and 2

With this recipe, you can become like a jet engine, using propulsion to thrust your body forward.

This uses Newton's third law, which states that for every applied force (extending your lower extremity and feet behind you against the ground), there is an equal an opposite force (your body is thrust or propelled forward).

The common technique of placing a foot in front of you does little to nothing in terms of forward body movement, but if you push the earth behind you one foot at a time, propulsion makes your body go forward. With this in the runners' mind, the primary thoughts regarding foot location should be, “what is going on behind me?” during propulsion, rather than thinking of or concentrating on “striking” or contacting on the foot that is coming down in front of you.

If your brain is thinking, “strike”, you will strike. Don't strike. Your strike might become over-strike, causing momentary deceleration or braking with each step. Don't strike. Striking can produce a shocking thud. Striking is for fighters and union workers.

The foot that comes down for your next step is called the “contact” foot. The contact should gently touch down on the ground slightly in front of you, but actually touching down under your center-line because your body is progressing forward. The foot contact is “ninja” or cat like, and the contact foot should immediately become the push-off or propulsion foot, noting that the main engine for the propulsion comes from pre-loading of the gluteal muscles.

The key to pre-loading of the muscle is a conscious contraction. With distance runners it is a quick conscious squeeze of one gluteal at a time. With sprinters, it is a much more forceful gluteal contraction with both increased mass and acceleration. This is a main component of the GMax description of running technique, named after the primary muscle.

Elite runners who claim to be “forefoot strikers” are not striking with their contact foot. They actually touch down just under their anterior plumb line with that gentle momentary ninja cat-like forefoot contact, and at the same time, their brisk and instantaneous gluteal contraction and subsequent thigh extension converts their lower extremity into a forceful & propulsive limb.

I do not mention forefoot or mid-foot or heel contact in the "basic fundamentals" because the contact is secondary to the basics. If your basics are bad and the contact is forced, it might result in a decelerative strike, like Fred Flintstone screeching on the brakes.

The term and idea of “striking” has swept the streets and paths for a few strong years, and the fad has inspired piles of shoes and injuries. Striking creates counter-productive friction and shock. Some strikers thud, some slap, and some focus on landing on their forefoot and bounce with too much vertical, using their calves to drive them up and down like pogo sticks. Imagine how much over-use foot pain can be prevented by natural foot placement with efficient running technique.

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