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Why You SHOULD Change Your Running Technique – Impact

There are very few topics in the sport performance world that I feel compelled to debate until they put me into the ground. However, the topic of running mechanics is one that gets me fired up. I’ve been through endless running and biomechanics related continuing education courses, and have had the pleasure to pick the brains of several great running minds including Olympic track and field coach Loren Seagrave. But even through all of this, it is funny to me that my high school and college physics classes (I almost majored in physics) are what drive a large part of my argument as to what is the “correct” way to run. I am a numbers guy, but I will spare you the endless research references and just stick to the science based facts and the laws of physics.

As a triathlon coach, I would never look at someone flopping around in the water like a dying fish and say “well we just need to work with their natural swim stroke.” Swimming is the most technically demanding endurance sport there is. Having an effective and efficient swim stroke takes lots of time and effort. Running is no different. Having an effective and efficient running gait takes a lot of time and effort. So why are there people out there still arguing that you should not try to get someone to change their “natural” running style? I put “natural” in quotes because these days, natural stems from years of doing a lot of walking and not a lot of strenuous physical activity.

Going back to the swimming example. We all know that in order to become more efficient in the water, there is a good chance that you will end up slowing down for a bit while you learn correct mechanics and body positioning. But, as you become more efficient, you eventually speed right back up to where you started or beyond, but with a lesser energy expenditure. Again, running is no different. Learning to change any motor pattern, especially in older athletes, is difficult and takes persistent consistent effort to make a permanent change.

The people I aim to call out here are the hardcore frontside heel strikers. This is when the heel is the first thing that makes contact with the ground and the foot makes full touch down out in front of the runner’s hips (Center of Mass). I won’t make a hard sales pitch to these folks on midsole running until the next installment. We will go one step at a time. Pun fully intended.

There are a number of different schools of thought on proper running mechanics. Between them all, there are three big commonalities that boast the greatest benefits to runners. In no particular order they are: Reduced Impact, Elastic Recoil, and Reduced Energy Expenditure.  These my friends, are the reasons why you (if you haven’t already) should consider ditching your antiquated running style.

So what is “correct”? Let’s take this in light of what makes the most sense. Since I quickly realized how long this blog would be if I explained all three at once, I am going to touch on these three topics one at a time. Surely leaving you on the edge of your seat, begging for the next Installment. The first item on the list is Reducing Impact.

IMPACT. Let’s face it, running is tough. Especially running long. Muscle vibrations due to ground impact forces are one of the the leading causes of muscle fatigue while running. The “wall” everyone refers to during a marathon usually comes from tiny tears in the muscles due to ground impact forces. You know when you feel like you are running on wooden stumps? Not fun. If it were a nutritional issue we would call that a “bonk.” A little endurance lingo 101.

Anyways, now for the physics lesson. During a heel strike mechanic, the foot usually contacts the ground out in front of the center of mass (hips). For any force that is at an acute angle in relation to the ground, there are always 2 components of that force. In this case, there is a force at an angle traveling a straight line from the runners hip through their ankle. Then there is a component of that force that is the result of gravity pulling us down that travels through the center of mass, and one from forward motion. So when we actually make contact with the ground a few things happen. One, due to Newton’s third law, there is an equal and opposite reaction right? Well that means that the ground opposes all of those force vectors that we just created. The opposing gravitational force pushes us up…not too bad. The opposing forward force pushes us backward….WAIT! BACKWARD! Yes, the ground is pushing you backward when you land out in front of your hips, thus robbing you of some of that forward momentum you worked so hard to create. In the speed development world, we call this front side contact and is often referred to as SPEED ENEMY #1. Moving on, the resultant angled force down the leg gets both backward and upward force, focused at the ankle, knee and hip joints. In biomechanics we call this a shearing force. This might not be so bad if we had a single bone in our leg and no joints. But we don’t, so the knee joint takes the bulk of the shearing forces. Why? Well an object in motion will stay in motion unless acted upon by an outside force. So when the ground is pushing back on our foot and tibia, the forward momentum at the femur wants to stay on its path, which is forward and down towards the ground. Just think about that for a second. Picture your femur trying to stay in forward motion as your tibia is forced backward by the ground. Now picture that every stride you take. Got knee pain? The other downside to contacting out in front of the body is that the leg lands almost fully extended, which does not dissipate much impact force at all, sending more shearing forces to the hips and more fatiguing vibrations through the muscles.

On the other hand, those that adopt a foot landing position under the hips see much different force distribution.  So instead of creating speed stealing shearing forces, we create compression forces. What are compression forces? Compression forces are basically any forces that push us straight up or down. Why is that better? Our skeletal system is made to handle plenty of compression forces. When you stand in one spot, you are being compressed by gravity. I often use the example of standing on a soda can. We have all stood on top of a soda can once in our life. You notice that the thin aluminum structure can withstand your body weight as long as no lateral force is applied to the can. If the can takes on a lateral force…CRUNCH! Our bones are similar in that they can handle FAR more compression forces than the combination of compression and lateral forces simultaneously, previously dubbed shearing forces. Another example are the columns that hold up hundreds of tons on a bridge.

Now you may also notice from the picture that bringing the foot under the hip causes the runner to land with the leg slightly bent. This does a couple of very important things. One, it delegates some of the impact from the knee joint and quads to the hips and glutes. These are stronger muscles that can take a little more beating. The other thing it does is it actually allows the muscles to store the energy from the impact and use it to propel the runner forward. More on that in Volumes 2 and 3.

Going back to the resultant vectors of ground impact, you’ll notice the difference in the direction of force applied to the ground as compared to the frontside heel striker. The Bareminchisole runner applies force backward and downward, which results in the ground causing upward and forward forces. We do want to go forward right? That’s what I thought. The angle of the shin in relation to the ground determines the amount of force that is directed forward. So the deeper the shin angle upon ground contact and take off, the more force we are directing forward. The more force we direct forward, the longer our stride gets. Thus, we go faster.

In short, it all boils down to the direction of the force and leg extension upon ground contact. If you are out in front of the center of mass with an extended leg, the ground resists your forward motion, and there is no shock absorption, thus causing lots of muscle vibrations and shearing forces to the knee and hip joints. If ground contact is made under the center of mass with a slightly bent leg, the body undergoes mostly sustainable compression forces, and the opposing forces actually aid in forward motion.

As if IMPACT wasn’t enough to get you fired up, during the next installment, we will talk about Elastic Recoil and the amount of time you can save during ground contact.  You will be amazed, surprised, and astonished all at the same time.

If you want to receive other free training articles, tips and tricks, don’t forget to sign up for our Performance Newsletter. Until next time.

~Dale


Power Analysis – Tour Down Under Race Winner

Ben Swift of HTC Highroad won stage 2 of the Tour Down Under that is currently taking place in Australia. Conveniently enough, Ben rides and races with a power meter. Even more convenient is the fact that his power file was available for download here.

As a coach that utilizes power, and has clients that use power meters, I just wanted to take a second to highlight a few areas of note from the race file that might help you train and race smarter. Doing a few calculations based on the information that was given (assuming the TSS was correct) I have determined that his functional threshold power (FTP) is right around 382 watts. Looking at his bio on the HTC team website to find out his weight (65 kg) his watts/kg at threshold would be 5.88. That’s pretty dang good, especially for a guy who ends up winning in a sprint finish.

First, and for any of you triathletes that plan on doing some road racing, take a look at the cadence distribution for the race winner. It is not necessarily the person that pedals the most that wins the race:

Highest percentage of time was spent NOT pedaling

As you can see from this snapshot, almost 17% of the race he spent NOT pedaling. This worked out to be almost 37 minutes of the 3h 37 minute race that he spent saving up useful energy. Had he spent the majority of the race on the front of the peloton, this time spent not pedaling would likely have decreased significantly.

The next highest bar, coming in at around 12.5%, is the 95-100 rpm range surrounded on either side by 90-95 and 100-105. This is also a good lesson for people to look at. By increasing your cadence you are decreasing the watts per pedal stroke that you are having to put out, something that will help to “save” the legs for when you need them to be the freshest.

Race Data Breakdown

Alright, that’s enough with the cadence, let’s look at some other data.

To the right you can see a variety of general stats from the race. 2522 kJ of work equates to a lot of calories that needed to be consumed during the 3.5 hour race. Although he likely could have made it to the finishing line without fueling properly, there is not much chance he would have had the energy needed to put forth a race winning sprint effort.

His TSS (Training Stress Score) of 175.6 (originally stated in the blog as 178) provides an indication of how much “stress” this race would have on him and how long it might take to recover from that effort. The 0.712 that is in parenthesis to the right of the TSS value is an indication of the intensity of the race. To put this into context, this numbers are lower than what I see from my athletes on a faster Saturday morning group ride.

So does this mean that a pro race was easier than a Saturday group ride in Memphis, TN that is almost the same duration? No, these numbers mean that this race was less stressful on his body than a hard group ride would have been for an athlete with a lower threshold power.  Riding at 270 watts for Swift who has an FTP of around 380 puts him in his Endurance Zone, whereas riding at 270 watts if your FTP is 280 puts you very close to your threshold – huge difference in relative energy costs between those two zones.

If you watched the finishing sprint you can see that Swift jumped early and held on for the finish. Although his peak maximal power was relatively low at 1225w, he won the race due to his ability to maintain a high average wattage over a 10-15 second span (1105w over 12 seconds).

So what kind of sprinter are you? As the season approaches and you are out practicing your sprints, remember that they are not always won at the last second with a huge spike in power. Do a few maximal effort sprints and hold that power as long as you can. Then go home and take a look at the chart. How sharp is that power drop-off for you? If you see a big spike on the left side of the chart followed by a steep descending line right after it you would be best served waiting until the last possible second to uncork your sprint for victory.

If you see that initial spike from the sprint followed by a relatively shallow drop off in power then you are the type of sprinter that needs to go from a further distance out and hope to hold everyone off to the line.

Too much data available to talk about everything. Let me know if you have specific power analysis questions that you would like answered in a future blog.

10 Tips for Cycling Beginners

Wow, stopping at 10 tips was really hard, so hard I didn’t stop. Few bonus tips thrown in there. Feel free to add to the list! Soon to come – 10 Tips for First Time Group Rides and 10 Tips for First Time Road Racers.

1. Always make sure tires are properly inflated prior to riding – under-inflated tires lead to pinch flats, and fixing flats is not real fun.

2. Learn to change a flat tire PRIOR to having one out on the open road.

3. Always carry a cell phone – especially if you did not listen to tips 1 and 2. Bikes are machines and machines occasionally fail which may result in the need to call for assistance. The rider of the bike is human and humans occasionally fail (search: Bonk, Hitting the Wall, glycogen depletion, etc) which may also result in the need to call for assistance.

4. If you are buying a new bike, make sure you get one that is your size and then be sure you get fit to the bike. Correct bike fit should lead to many comfortable miles in the saddle. Incorrect bike fit can lead to you finding a different hobby.

5. Makes sure contact points are comfortable – this includes feet, hands, and the nether-region. Any of these being uncomfortable can make riding miserable and may result in you finding a different hobby. Tried to fix one of these with no success? Make sure you have followed rule #4.

6. Always carry a few bucks and some form of identification. If the human riding the bike does fail, limping to a gas station and refueling may save that dreaded call for assistance. You do not want to make the call, and odds are the person you are calling doesn’t want to spend their Saturday morning driving 20+ miles to pick you up. If the bike fails, someone may be nice enough to give you a ride and a few bucks for their effort would likely be appreciated.

7. Do not do the same ride, at the same intensity, every day. You will get bored and so will your body.

8. Find a local group ride that is “beginner” friendly. Odds are there is one or more in your area where the speed is controlled, group riding pointers are offered, and the environment is a good one. Riding with a group can be a lot more fun than riding alone.

9. Do not worry about average speed. Doing so will cause you to violate tip number 7. There is a lot that can impact your average speed, here are some things that can decrease average speed: Number of stop signs you encounter, number of people you are riding with, number of cars that caused you to slow down, whether you were riding uphill or downhill, the wind, the cold, the rain, how hydrated you are, how many dogs you had to sprint away from, how much recovery time was necessary after sprinting away from the dogs, just to name a few.

10. Just because it works for someone else does not mean it will work for you – this applies to choice of saddles, type and hours of training, choice in cycling shorts, the list goes on and on…

Bonus: Find an experienced rider and ask questions. Clean and lube your chain regularly. Learn the basics of bike maintenance. Always have some backup food in your pocket. Buy a good pair of bike shorts…

Gear Review: CW-X Stabilyx Running Tights

Getting in the thick of the Holiday season, everyone is wondering what to get that endurance junkie that has everything. I know. It seems impossible. We usually end up buying anything that we want anyways, which makes gift giving a little difficult. And usually buying anything else we want would involve a second mortgage or selling your second born child, and that’s never a good idea.

As athletes, most endurance folk look for anything that might give them a competitive edge. As a coach, I obviously put the emphasis on proper training and making sure the athlete is technically sound. Don’t get me wrong, I am obsessed with love new gadgets and products, and that’s why I was more than psyched when I had the opportunity to try out some of the more technologically advanced tights on the market (thanks to Andy at CW-X). Like all other products, I approached with caution when it came to believing their claims or falling into their cleaver marketing jargon although I did like the idea and science behind their design.

First Impression

When I got the Stabilyx tights they looked like most other tights on the market with one big exception, their trademark Support Web™. So I guess that means they don’t look like other tights on the market. I digress. So the Support Web™ is layered throughout the tights and is suppose to offer extra stability and support to the most impacted muscles and joints during running. This specific model is advertised to offer the most support to the core and knee joints. When you touch the fabric on the tights you will notice there are different elasticities throughout. Some much stiffer, and some very elastic (just plain lycra). If you have been watching sports these days you will notice this resembles kinesiology tape.

My biggest problem with tights in the past has been sizing. I don’t have the body type of the average runner or endurance athlete. More like a football player, turned triathlete, pretending to be a runner. So needless to say my legs are bigger than the average Joe. Personally this has posed a problem over long distances because bigger muscles obviously are a bit harder to carry, but the big problem is that larger muscles incur much more vibration from ground impact. This increased vibration causes micro tears in the muscles which can lead to premature muscle fatigue. Anyways, when they asked my size I went by their sizing chart and it was spot on.

Testing

The first outing I did in the Stabilyx was a short 4 miler during our weekly group run. It was 32 degrees outside and I was amazingly comfortable in the tights. As a coach I consider myself very kinesthetically aware of my body. Almost as though I invented RPE. Just kidding. Anyways, one thing I noticed on this run was that I felt as though I was already warmed up even during the first part of the run. I never felt the usual tightness in my calves that I normally do when I forgo my normal active dynamic warm up routine. The rest of the run went as normal. The tights performed to my expectations but I was not completely sold on their performance enhancing abilities. What can we really tell from a 30 minute run anyways right (trying to add in a sarcastic inflection but it’s not really working for me)? So, I decided I would put them to the test later in the week.

A couple days later I was eager to run the new sections of the Wolf River Greenline so I set out on a 2 hour jaunt with one of our clients who is in the midst of training for a half iron distance race in January (in Israel, don’t freak out). I wanted to see how his mechanics were holding up towards the end of a long run, but I was also curious as to how I would hold up since I had not run more than an hour and a half at one time over the past 2 months. So we set out and I got the same feeling of being warmed up already. As we pushed on I continued to feel pretty good. Being a strict midsole runner, and a bigger person, I usually get a little calf and quad fatigue around an hour and fifteen minutes into a run but the hour mark flew by without any issues. I was surprised to say the least. As the hour and a half mark passed I was sure I was going to start to feel some fatigue..simply because I passed my most recent long run time…but it never came. An hour and 45 passed, and I actually felt pretty fresh. As we approached the 2 hour mark, I was pretty pleased that I felt like I could keep going for a while longer, and I only had some fatigue in my calves. My normal quad and knee soreness was absent. Intriguing…

Conclusion

I was convinced that I was at least going to suffer from DOMS (Delayed Onset of Muscle Soreness) which is normally caused by muscle breakdown during exercise. But, again to my amazement, I had zero soreness. Not the next day, or the next day. I did not even wear the tights for recovery purposes after the fact which is also a possibility for the Stabilyx. Needless to say, the CW-X Stabilyx get my full seal of approval. Of all the posted benefits, the biggest benefit for myself during exercise is the decrease in muscle vibration which, in turn, reduces muscle fatigue. Although I can only speak for myself, I can see how the Stabilyx can be great for those runners with questionable mechanics and strength as a limiter. Although I am a purist and don’t think anything should do the job that our muscles and ligaments are meant to do, the added stability from the Support Web™ can help reduce the risk of injury, but don’t replace doing the necessary training to become a strong and balanced runner. But lets face it, the less time it takes to recover from a workout, the more quality workouts we are able to get in, the greater the peak in performance we can create.

About CW-X

CW-X makes a number of different styles of high end technologically advanced tights, shorts, shirts, socks, and other compression and conditioning gear. The Stabiliyx retail for around $100 but they make less expensive models as well. In the Memphis area you can only find the CW-X Conditioning Wear at Breakaway Running.

If you have any questions about CW-X products or would like us to review a different product, please feel free to contact us.

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