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.