At a Cafe, Awaiting the First Cup of Coffee…
This morning, maybe because I haven’t yet had coffee, or that I missed some sleep, or because last night I crossed paths with an individual who refused to acknowledge available evidence because of some sort of bias or prejudice, I’m irritably typing away.
Actually, it began yesterday when my friend Jeff Robins at Runnergy sent an email link to some YouTube videos of running tips by Ian Adamson of Newton running shoes. Jeff knew that as a Pose Method running coach I’d have some sort of response. Indeed, there were a number moments in the video clips where I recognize how Nature and physics would reveal Ian’s errant and misleading beliefs surrounding running form. But, before pointing this out I’d sit through a lengthy footwear orientation Ian was giving at Jeff’s store that night.
At its conclusion I volunteered my perspective— “I’d have something to say about that…”— but immediately retracted it knowing full well the futility of such as exchange. But, the speaker, a diminutive Aussie with enormous calf muscles— think Popeye forearms above the ankles— twice encouraged me to participate. It seemed he wanted to hear what I had to say.
Curiously, Ian’s talk on running technique, shoes, and human history was, according to another runner present, “exactly like” a running technique clinic I’ve been giving for a couple of years, now. Indeed, it was eerily similar. While the Dan Lieberman videos and slides of barefoot versus shod running and vertical ground reaction forces were not unexpected, other, more arcane references showing how shoes actually deform the natural shape of the foot, several comical and frightening iterations of fashionable footwear, and images of other cultural disfigurement were surprisingly familiar. The talk also paralleled the Runnin’ Nekkid chapter in my book, Fitness, Straight-Up. What differed dramatically— incredibly— were our conclusions about correct running form.
But, Who Cares?
Correct running form matters because each year tens of millions of runners are injured by their sport. That’s running— something as natural to humans as breathing. The medical / shoe industry complex offers nothing but expensive and ineffective nostrums in the form of medicated shoes and remedial to radical treatments. In more than forty years of trying, this group hasn’t come to a consensus as to the real causes of routine running injury, nor have they even come close to solving, much less preventing the problem. Desperate runners continue to spend billions of dollars barking up the wrong tree, only to end up chasing their tails, year in and year out. Correct running form has largely been written off mainly because very few can agree on just what it might be, or even that it is a meaningful variable to begin with. Sadly, because industry imperative is to serve the shareholder, solutions will come from outside the medical / shoe industry complex. Physicians aren’t much help, either. Many of their ilk still consider running to be an egregious insult to the body structure.
It’s now becoming clear that the shoes we had once trusted to improve our running safety and performance actually kept us from using our natural running form. By getting ahold of exactly how running works we runners can now reclaim our inherent fluency of movement. But, arbitrary tips don’t cut it. Only by carefully realigning ourselves with Nature and the physics that shaped our bodies and determined our movements are we able to enjoy the safest, most fulfilling, and fun running experience. In short, you care about this because you are the runner.
A Point of Light, in the Darkness.
Eventually, a journalist penned a best-selling story (Born to Run, 2009) about a tribe of barefoot ultra-distance runners in the badlands of Mexico, and his own enlightening journey back from running injury to natural running bliss. In doing so he would point out the folly of the medical / shoe industry complex, and the vain attempts and attitudes involved in treating endemic running shoe injury. But, this conversation was initiated in the United States in the late 1990s by Russian emigre Nicholas Romanov when USA Triathlon added Romanov’s Pose Method running to their coaching platform. Then, normally progressive minded multisport athletes were receptive to sound, well-reasoned solutions and Pose Method filled the bill. With its conceptual model of running, step-wise methodology of instruction, clear standard by which to evaluate correct versus incorrect technique, and solid scientific supporting evidence, a universal running technique would become available to any runner. This, about a decade before the form / footwear debate would begin heating up. Yet, there was resistance.
You see, as uniquely human as running is, so is narrow, agenda-driven thinking. It’s plagued us from the outset, tribe to tribe, and manifests today. Consider the recent insensitive and clearly calculated release of Innocence of Muslims trailer, a YouTube parody of the origins and tenants of Islam and its prophet Mohammed, and the seemingly related extremist anti-American violence in Egypt, Lybia, and Yemen, and elsewhere. Certainly, the gravity of running injury and correct form aren’t comparable to the violent world events, but the mindsets are. Coaches, physical therapists, podiatrists, and the shoe industry— those who enjoy the lucrative niches they’ve eked out— have little motivation to challenge the status quo, even as a bona fide solution is presented. In fact, they’re willing to go on the offensive to prevent the ground from giving way beneath their enterprise. Difference— useful or otherwise— is threatening.
What’s more, many coaches fancy themselves in some way anointed, and privy to divine wisdom. Ego undermines progress. Same here, except I give credit where it’s due. While a couple of others of note from the last century had observed what Romanov had, only Romanov connected the dots and created a system of movement. Just as we refer to Sir Isaac Newton’s irrefutable Laws of Motion, I predict eventually Nicholas Romanov’s Laws of Movement will become de rigueur. Biomechanics will one day stop ignoring gravity’s role in locomotion. This is the crux of the issue, the hairline separation of perspectives that opens a gulf between runners, coaches, and industry.
While it’s generally recognized that the natural and fluid movement observed mostly in kids and primitive peoples includes a forefoot landing, precision is largely overlooked. It’s not a forefoot, midfoot, or toe landing, but only a footfall onto the ball of the foot that allows the body’s spring system to work as it should. It’s a good start, however, that forefoot landing is beginning to replace the formerly “correct” but crazy notion of heel strike, engendered and perpetuated by the shoe industry. (A heel strike is common among runners wearing big bulky shoes, and is a tragic technique error admonished way back the early 20th Century by Nikolai Bernstein— the guy who coined the term biomechanics.) The real magic in running is what happens in between touchdown and toe off, and this is the main point of contention. If what Romanov describes is true— that this is where gravity effectively slings the runner forward— then everybody else is wrong. No one likes to be wrong, and people will go to great lengths to save face.
Conflict of Interest
So, even knowing this, it’s still irksome when the mouthpieces of a prevailing dogma offhandedly and vehemently denounce competing ideas that offer legitimate supporting evidence. It’s especially conspiratorial when these denigrators stand behind the ostensibly objective curtain of accepted “science” without providing substantive specifics of their own, on par with Romanov’s.
Their usual appeal to authority, as Ian tried— “Most scientists don’t accept Romanov’s concepts”— falls flat, with a thud, as logical fallacies always do. Plenty of physicists, biomechanists, and engineers do appreciate Pose Method. But regardless, the veracity of any argument dealing with physical laws does not hinge on peer acceptance, though journal publication might.
Science by the way is not impervious to nefarious manipulation by those with a pulpit, and something to gain or something to lose. The cigarette industry has been successful in this regard. Remember, the “Four out of five doctors recommend…” campaign? So have the coal, oil, and gas industries and their beneficiaries. You’re hearing it now in the “Global warming is a hoax,” hoax, and in the disingenuous Congressional rationale behind loosening hard won environmental regulation. As well, shoe industry “science” has created a body of fictional premises on which to base heel lift, visible cushioning technology, and orthotic, motion control rationalizations— conflicting counter evidence be damned. Note too that the running shoe industry was for cushioned, motion control shoes before they were (forced by recent research and attendant market pressure to be) against them. Understand that Ian is paid well to tout Newton running shoes— if not a disqualifier, that’s certainly a weighty disclaimer.
While entrenched skeptics would never (save for a better opportunity) change their stance, reasonable people would agree that ever mounting specific studies are substantiating the Pose Method.
Outside Looking In
Of course, Ian, a mechanical engineer with a Master’s degree in Sports Medicine, a world champion adventure racer, and long-time shoe industry insider asked me if I were a scientist— an ad hominem jab at my credibility. Nope. I’m just a dumb fitness trainer who over the last 29 years of professional experience has witnessed the fashion cycles of science-based belief. Medical, health, nutritional truths change like the seasons. Until recently, medicated shoes were endorsed with “science,” never mind that the injury rate of runners continued to climb. The challenging voices were drowned out by the din of that conventional wisdom, “to run safely and comfortably, you must have proper running shoes.” That is until Christopher McDougall’s previously mentioned book came out and shined light on Daniel Lieberman and Dennis Bramble and their radical suggestions that running barefooted was integral to human development. When you think about it, it’s self evident, but we’re taught to believe otherwise. So, while not a scientist per se— my college degree is in English writing, and I’m far from fluent in mathematics— I understand language, logic, and can comprehend abstract concepts. It could be exactly this that makes me even more qualified to appreciate ideas outside the belief system and rigid indoctrination of the mainstream. Remember, much of what is mainstream now was at one time a radical notion on the fringe of accepted thought and belief, and that “you don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.”
So, when it comes to correct running form I can fully describe it, document each of its components, run it myself, and quickly teach it to others. You don’t need a Ph.D. to understand it— just an open mind. You would, however, need at least a Masters degree to overly complicate something as fundamentally human as running.
The Burning Question
So what lit this fire was when Ian dropped a shoe from his hand to the floor to demonstrate that gravity only pulls down. He said gravity cannot pull anybody or anything forward— not even a rod rotating about it’s support on the ground. Hell, he’d have been more accurate had he claimed that the world is flat! And this is where I spoke up then tried to back out of further comment before being cajoled by Ian into continuing. I knew attempting to reason with belief could only fail, nonetheless I bit. (There was a videographer present but I think he’d stopped recording by this point. Still, I’d like to see and hear the exchange as I’m sure my memory is imperfect, and my attitude was no more gracious than Ian was willing to participate in my explanation.)
I don’t believe in anything; I accept, based on best evidence. This is my position on Pose running. I detail this on the Huffington Post in Correct Running Form, and in my book, Fitness, Straight-Up. Another of my articles posted at slowtwitch.com is used as an Athletics Wiki reference on Pose Method, and I co-authored a short article with Nicholas Romanov (Founder of Pose Method) on the Pose, Fall, Pull concept of running in his Training Essays, Vol. 1 book. All that will put into context what I say in the above mentioned Huff Post blog article: “No one runs until they fall.” Forward with gravity, that is. Naturally, Ian agrees that every race, or every run begins with a lean in the desired direction, but says that the Fall ends there. Sorry dude, the Fall continues every step of the way, and I have evidence. I can show you with video, scientific papers, and a personal demonstration. Now, if you’ll let me… But, he didn’t.
As it went, I stood and pointed out that the shoe and a runner are different. I was perhaps a bit patronizing as I held a shoe and gestured toward Ian, contrasting the obviously not so obvious: “shoe / runner; shoe / runner.” When I stood in front of him with my hand several inches in front of his chest and asked him to fall (towards me, like a broomstick) he collapsed straight down onto the ground. Really? That’s how you run? Weren’t we just talking about a falling rod pivoting over its support on the ground, just like the body does between mid stance and toe off when running? He knew very well what I meant by Fall, yet, he chose to ridicule the explanation. I said, “I can’t work with this,” and took my seat. Ian refused to play even after he invited me into the game.
Real But Routinely Ignored
I asked then, if not from the Fall, where does running acceleration come from? “From the glutes,” said Ian. He means propulsion from the powerful hip extensors— the gluteus maximus muscles— which calls to mind such convoluted coaching as foot drag, paw back, and push-off. Great, then show me. He didn’t. Although some have claimed mere muscle activity is indicative of direct muscular contribution to horizontal displacement, the normal error is in ignoring the clear and measurable Fall and acceleration due to gravitational torque that occurs during every step of human running while the runner remains in the Pose position.
Also ignored is the primal grace of young children running beautifully without the slightest awareness of glutes, running technique, or specialized shoes. They just naturally Fall forward and keep pace with their foot turnover…as do Pose runners.
Again, if you want a brief description and a few illustrations and references, read the full text of my Huff Post article, Correct Running Form. If you want the concept, the Method, and the math, reference Romanov’s book, The Pose Method of Triathlon Techniques.
Now, if you want to feel this Fall yourself, stand about foot from a wall, in a stance that you’d use for jumping rope, and pivoting on the ball of each foot allow yourself to lean (Fall) into the wall catching yourself with your hands. Then, step back another six to twelve inches and repeat. Notice when the Fall is greater so is the force into the wall. This is what happens in running but instead of hitting the wall or falling to the ground we change support, repeating the sequence as we go. The greater the Fall the faster we run— to a point. Our usable range is between 0° and 22.5°. Within that 12 to 1 o’clock span the gravitational pull (as always) is down, the resultant vector is increasingly forward, and the elastic / muscular push is up. Ultimately, the rotational movement of the Fall translates into horizontal motion because the body is pivoting around its point of ground support, the ball of the foot. So, for fraction of a second, down equals forward.
But We Already Know This
I reiterate: a dropped shoe is different than a falling rod. A falling rod is effectively the same as the human body between mid stance and toe off, and can be seen as the line connecting the ball of the foot to the general center of mass. Mid stance is momentary balance, where the center of mass is directly over the ball of the foot. The Fall is anywhere afield of balance, where gravity’s downward pull is accelerating the center of mass in some direction— usually forward, in the case of running. Neurophysiologist, Graham Brown noted this in 1912 in Note Upon Some Dynamic Principles Involved In Progression, and so did Dudley Morton, MD in the 1952 book, Human Locomotion and Body Form: A Study of Gravity and Man. The Pose Method running technique would be built around this fact in the 1970s by Nicholas Romanov. Hell, even five hundred years ago Leonardo da Vinci would describe how “Motion is created by the destruction of balance, that is, of equality of weight, for nothing can move by itself which does not leave its state of balance, and that thing moves most rapidly is furthest from its balance.”
By the way, this is precisely why during our evolutionary development we grew taller— to raise our center of mass so we could better Fall and harness gravity for efficient locomotion. This, alongside other morphological and physiological changes brought us from our ancestors of short legged tree dwellers up to longer legged terrestrial hunters and nomads. Human runners! (Of course, there’s heated debate about these facts, too.)
Now, Onto My Second Cup of Coffee
Whew…catching my breath from the flurry of typing I’ll wrap here. I wonder, how would it be if we runners were able to easily align the natural structure and function of our bodies with those physical forces that exist right now in our three dimensional world so that we might be able to run farther, faster, and with less likelihood of injury without having to rely on shims, splints, and other costly nostrums? Maybe health, fitness, and running joy doesn’t just come in a box with a barcode, but really by thinking outside the box of convention.