Lab Rat

Lumo Run: Div­ing Deeper into Run­ning Met­rics

Canadian Running - - FEATURES - By Alex Hutchin­son

Dur­ing a re­cent in­ter­val work­out, a cy­clist pulled up along­side me to give me some point­ers. I would run faster, he said, if I tucked my left el­bow in. This is by no means an un­usual oc­cur­rence for me. My run­ning form re­ally is so awk­ward-look­ing that com­plete strangers are fre­quently un­able to re­sist try­ing to help me.

You might won­der why, af­ter 25 years of run­ning, I haven’t fixed it. The truth is that run­ning form re­mains a hotly con­tested topic among sports sci­en­tists. It’s clear that some peo­ple run more ef­fi­ciently, and with a lower risk of in­jury, than oth­ers. But fig­ur­ing out what needs to change, how to change it, and how to as­sess whether the change has been suc­cess­ful re­mains a dark art – es­pe­cially if you don’t hap­pen to have a state-of-the-art biome­chan­ics lab to as­sess to your gait.

All this meant that I was ea­ger to try the Lumo Run, a tiny oval pod launched last sum­mer that clips to the back of your shorts and mea­sures a set of stride pa­ram­e­ters. Some of the mea­sure­ments, like ca­dence (the num­ber of steps you take each minute) are recorded by gps watches, fit­ness mon­i­tors and smart­phone apps. But Lumo also of­fers more spe­cial­ized met­rics like bounce (up-and-down mo­tion of your body), brak­ing (how much you slow down with each foot strike), ro­ta­tion (twist­ing of your pelvis) and drop (how much each hip low­ers).

The first prob­lem I en­coun­tered was that you need to run with an iPhone to get real-time feed­back on your form. Lumo also of­fers real-time tips to help you im­prove weak ar­eas: if you’re bounc­ing too much, for ex­am­ple, the app might sug­gest that you imag­ine you’re try­ing to bal­ance an egg on your head. For those who don’t like run­ning with a phone, for­tu­nately, you can still run with the pod, sync the de­vice af­ter­ward and then re­view the col­lected data.

Lumo’s ver­dict, af­ter a few runs, was that my bounce and drop were pretty good, but my ca­dence, brak­ing and ro­ta­tion were ap­palling rel­a­tive to the norms their re­search team has iden­ti­fied. (For ex­am­ple, they sug­gest that bounce of less than five per cent of your height is a good tar­get.)

I think it’s good that, rather than sim­ply dump­ing a bunch of data off to you, they of­fer some con­text and goals for each vari­able. That said, it’s worth tak­ing these goals with a grain of salt. My typ­i­cal ca­dence of around 167 steps per minute for easy runs is be­low their goal of 180. But the long­stand­ing hype about the “magic” ca­dence of 180 is based on ob­ser­va­tions of Olympic run­ners dur­ing races. Ca­dence in­creases with run­ning speed, and other stud­ies have found that elite run­ners drop be­low 180 strides per minute when they’re run­ning slower than about 3:00/km.

When I took the Lumo out for quicker ( but not 3:00/km!) tempo runs, I found that my ca­dence in­creased to the mid-170s and my bounce got even smoother, but my brak­ing and ro­ta­tion got worse. These are the kinds of ob­ser­va­tions – teas­ing out the sub­tleties of how my form changes at dif­fer­ent speeds, and of­fer­ing some tips for how to ad­dress neg­a­tive changes – that seem like Lumo’s big­gest ben­e­fit for some­one like me. I’ll also be cu­ri­ous to see how dif­fer­ent types of shoes af­fect sub­tle stride met­rics like brak­ing.

Ul­ti­mately, what wear­able tech­nol­ogy is good at right now is ob­ser­va­tion. Lumo gives me fas­ci­nat­ing form data that, un­til re­cently, would only have been avail­able from a so­phis­ti­cated univer­sity lab­o­ra­tory. Whether fol­low­ing the app’s per­son­al­ized coach­ing ad­vice will re­ally make me faster or health­ier re­mains spec­u­la­tive at best – but for ded­i­cated run­ning nerds, the data it­self is pretty cool.

Read Alex Hutchin­son’s reg­u­lar col­umn ‘The Science of Run­ning’ on p.38

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