Tread softly

Canadian Running - - THE SCIENCE OF RUNNING -

Some peo­ple run like nin­jas, f loat­ing past noise­lessly. Oth­ers – well, let’s just say you can hear them com­ing from a dis­tance. Are the nin­jas, with their soft land­ings, less likely to get in­jured? The idea sounds plau­si­ble, but re­searchers have had a hard time prov­ing that it’s true. The lat­est look at this ques­tion comes from Har­vard Univer­sity re­searcher Irene Davis, who re­cruited 2 49 fe­male run­ners, mea­sured their biome­chan­ics – in­clud­ing their “ver­ti­cal im­pact load­ing” – and then fol­lowed up to see which run­ners got in­jured over the next two years.

The re­sults, pub­lished in the Bri­tish Jour­nal of Sports Medicine, showed that 144 of the run­ners suf­fered in­juries, and there were no de­tectable dif­fer­ences in the ver­ti­cal im­pact forces of the in­jured and non-in­jured run­ners. But Davis and her col­leagues dug a lit­tle deeper, and com­pared run­ners with an in­jury se­ri­ous enough to re­quire med­i­cal at­ten­tion to the small group of 21 run­ners who re­ported that they had never suf­fered a run­ning in­jury. In this case, there was a dif­fer­ence: the never-in­jured run­ners did in­deed land more softly than the in­jured group.

In­ter­est­ingly, all the run­ners in the study landed heel-first (this was one of the in­clu­sion cri­te­ria), so the re­sults don’t tell us any­thing about how what part of the foot should land first. In­stead, they con­firm that it’s pos­si­ble to run softly even as a heel-striker. Davis sug­gests that keep­ing cues like “run softly,” imag­in­ing you’re run­ning on eggshells, or sim­ply try­ing to run as qui­etly as pos­si­ble can help shift your stride to a softer land­ing. This seems like good ad­vice – but it’s also im­por­tant to re­mem­ber that any in­jury-pro­tec­tion ben­e­fits are sub­tle. Your best de­fence is still avoid­ing do­ing too much, too soon, too fast.

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