Study: Changing Running Stride Does More Harm Than Good

This article that I’ve now seen posted by three running friends seems to deserve a
response. One was a neutral “hey check this out” post, one was using it as an
excuse to continue running with terrible form and one bashed it in order to
promote Chi running.

See the full article here:

http://running.competitor.com/2013/09/training/study-changing-running-stride-does-more-harm-than-good_41136

From the article:

Sixteen runners were recruited to participate in the study. They were asked to run at 16 kph (6:02 per mile) and their rate of oxygen consumption was measured to assess their running economy. Their stride rates and vertical displacements (or bouncing) were also measured. The treadmill used for the experiment was tricked out with a visual and auditory feedback system for cadence and vertical displacement.

The researchers gave each runner a target cadence and vertical displacement to aim for in a second go at running at 16 kph with a breathing mask on. The targets were intended to slightly increase each runner’s stride rate and slightly reduce his vertical displacement from current levels. The runners were able to hit these targets with relative ease with the aid of the visual and auditory feedback provided.

“Alterations led to an increase in metabolic cost in most cases, measured as VO2 uptake per minute and kg body mass,” the researchers confessed.

Back to my commentary:

This guy has funny running form
This guy has funny running form

First, the research study was 16 runners and with such a small sample size I’m not sure what conclusions can be made. Next it was a short term study not a longitudinal study over several weeks allowing runners to adjust to a new running form and have the accompanying muscle development that would go with using a different stride. So basically I think the study is junk.

In response to the “Running form doesn’t matter” or “You will naturally arrive at your most efficient running form over time by logging miles and listening to your body.”—I’d say yes, BUT,…. While I agree there is not a single perfect stride or perfect exact movement that can be applied to all runners, there are certain ranges of movement that are like guard rails to keep you on track. For example the whole heel strike vs. forefoot strike debate needs to be moderated with how far in front of your body is the strike happening and the loading rate on the leg. A severe heel striker hitting way out in front of their center of gravity and pounding the pavement with a slap of the foot is not running efficiently. A heel striker hitting just slightly in front of their center of gravity and maintaining a cadence above 170 might not be that bad! Should you force the runner to strike with their forefoot to satisfy that specific element of Chi running, POSE method or whatever other exact specification you’re relying on? No. Should you get the heel pounder, floppy foot runner to adjust some? Yes.

In response to the “One session of Chi Running and you’ll feel it is easier to run and be more relaxed!” — Keep in mind; these changes take practice, patience and many, many miles to accomplish. A single session of adjusting bounce and how hard you strike the treadmill will NOT arrive at a more efficient stride.

My personal anecdote on running form efficiency comes from a study I participated in at the University of Florida Running Medicine Clinic. I ran with shoes on the treadmill at 7:20 pace for a while and they measured my caloric needs by having me wear a mask that measured my breath as I exhaled. Then we repeated the same thing a week later but I ran barefoot. Most people in the study burned more calories and more fat running barefoot. Keep in mind all runners in the study were screened to be forefoot strikers so the transition to barefoot should be fairly easy. The obvious connection in my mind was that even though they were forefoot strikers, doing a different or new thing requires different muscle recruitment, makes you a little nervous and uncomfortable and therefore a slightly higher heart rate and caloric expenditure would be expected. But wait! My results were different. My heart rate was lower running barefoot and my caloric expenditure was LOWER running barefoot. Why? I run in near-minimalist shoes frequently. (Kinvara, Pure Flow, NB 1400, Type A5 racing flats) My body is used to less support and taking the weight off my feet felt fine. I was relaxed, rolling along and comfortable. So maybe over time, the other runners would also become more efficient at barefoot running with practice? I don’t know but it seems logical to me! We are all a research study of ONE.

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