The Sci­ence of Run­ning

By Alex Hutchin­son Can You “Feel” Good Form?; Stay­ing Caf­feinated; Stress­ing About the Runs; Dam­age-Re­sis­tant Mus­cles

Canadian Running - - SEPTEMBER & OCTOBER 2017 -

The quest for per­fect run­ning form isn’t quite as fren­zied as it was a few years ago. For a while, af­ter run­ners dis­cov­ered that switch­ing (or ditch­ing) shoes wouldn’t au­to­mat­i­cally make them im­mune to run­ning in­juries, stride train­ing was all the rage. Still, as the de­bates at this year’s Amer­i­can Col­lege of Sports Medicine con­fer­ence in Den­ver showed, there’s plenty of in­ter­est in fig­ur­ing out the best way to run.

What does “best” mean? That de­pends. You might be look­ing to re­duce your in­jury risk, or in­crease your speed, or im­prove your ef­fi­ciency so that it takes less en­ergy to run at a given pace. That last one is the eas­i­est to mea­sure in a lab, and most stud­ies over the years have shown that we’re pretty good at self-se­lect­ing an ef­fi­cient stride. Make a change to your stride length, posture, or arm car­riage and you’ll most likely get less ef­fi­cient in the short term. In the long term, over the course of months, you may adapt to the new stride and even­tu­ally get more ef­fi­cient, though that claim is hard to test in the lab and as­sumes your changes were well-cho­sen.

One study pre­sented in Den­ver of­fers a cau­tion­ary note to would-be form-chang­ers. Re­searchers at Utah Val­ley Univer­sity coached run­ners to im­prove their arm me­chan­ics and in­crease ca­dence (the num­ber of steps per minute). Af­ter a week, 3d stride anal­y­sis showed that the run­ners had suc­cess­fully re­duced their up­per-body move­ment, and they re­ported work­ing less in­tensely to run at a given pace. The prob­lem? Anal­y­sis of their oxy­gen con­sump­tion showed that they were ac­tu­ally burn­ing more en­ergy at the same pace.

This doesn’t prove or dis­prove the pos­si­ble long-term ben­e­fits of im­prov­ing your stride. But it does of­fer a re­minder that your sub­jec­tive im­pres­sion of whether you’re run­ning more smoothly isn’t nec­es­sar­ily an ac­cu­rate gauge. Your best bet is to work with a knowl­edge­able coach, or to use one of the new wear­able tech­nol­ogy de­vices like the Lumo Run that mea­sure var­i­ous as­pects of run­ning form and track changes over time. And if you’re rel­a­tively new to run­ning, re­mem­ber the one in­ter­ven­tion that ev­ery­one agrees will im­prove your form is lots and lots of run­ning.

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