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Saturday, April 20, 2013

How Do I Run Minimalist Style?

Please note that what you read in this post is absolutely not all encompassing!  These are solely the basics!

It's been awhile since I've specifically talked about running in a "minimalist" shoes(or natural style)  and running in a standard or "by design" type of running shoe.  BTW:  the "by design" term is my own lingo.  I thought it appropriate due to the fact that the shoe was or is "by design" intended to serve a specific purpose.  It has been developed for a specific foot type, body type, and running style, etc.  

I know that in many of my posts I have written about using a softer heel strike by adapting the mechanics of those used with minimalist shoe running but then realized I've never really explained with any detail how to do this.  Well, here it, after a little prefacing first!

To help with understanding certain elements such as the thinking behind shoe design and the mechanics of running, I think you will get more out of this with the following information:

There is and continues to be an immense amount of research, trial & error, product testing, study of joint mechanics,  loading and impact forces, amount of time to complete the running stride from pre-loading to terminal stance and toe off.  Then there is muscle activity during specific phases of the running stride along with the breakdown of the amount of time spent in the different phases of running.  All of this is measured and documented with extreme precision.  
It's amazing how much research has been performed and how much empirical data has been acquired through the study of running and walking.
It's because of this information that we know "just running" is much more than just running!  This is the reason for the large amount of various running shoes besides the marketing angle by shoe companies.  The fact is, many people have no clue on how to run (I do not mean this in an insulting, condescending or offensive manner! Please know this!) in a manner that is efficient and long lived (meaning without acquiring an injury over time).  So, in an attempt to compensate for what many do so very poorly, an infinite amount of variously designed shoes are produced in an attempt to accommodate for where we fall short.

Quick diversion here:  For the seasoned runners reading this, I'm sure you can relate to being somewhat frustrated to find out that the shoe you have been running in over the past year to 18 months is no longer the same shoe when you return to the store and are told that your model of shoe is no longer in production.  This is in part because of so much research and theory from the vast amounts of data collected.  And it's not just biomechanical and physiological data.  It's also about the construction of a shoe with improved single and dual density soles along with material that "breaths" or retains it's impact absorbing properties.  Then there is the current trends to be considered in the aesthetic appearance of a shoe.  The absolute bottom line is of course is the cost to produce a shoe and increase the profit margin.  

However, there is an unending combination of theory and technology to be combined.  So much so that every several months to a year the "Newer & Improved" version has debuted and taken the prior models place.  After all, if ever THE ONE SHOE TO BEAT ALL OTHERS was created, well...what fun would that be?!

OK, back to topic:  There are four phases of running that will be mentioned and of which will be our main concern.  The quicker you get through each phase and with the greatest efficiency is after all something that is extremely important to the competitive runner or any runner that wants to improve their running performance.  

Note however for the more experienced and researched runner, these 4 phases do not make up all of the phases of running.  The running stride is broken into many smaller phases.  To make things more technical and complicated, some of these phase have interchangeable designations.  

Some examples of these phases are:  

  • Initial contact 
  • Loading response 
  • Mid-stance
  • Terminal stance
  • Toe off
  • Pre-Swing
  • Swing phase  
  • Forward swing 
  • Double swing 
  • Foot descend  
Note:  These phases are not all necessarily in this specific order.  In addition to these phases, you have an opposite phase occurring in the opposite lower extremity.  To simplify things significantly but still maintain its' informative value, I'll be referring only to the following phases of running:

1.  Heel Strike
2.  Mid Stance
3.  Gears 1 - 5 (Gears 1 - 5 is not an official tag for the phases of running.  Tagging it this way  makes it easier to make sense of.  Getting through these gears quickly and efficiently is crucial to maintaining speed). 
4.  Toe Off

In this post, I've used a shoe made by New Balance.  In the next post on this blog, I'll will give details of running in a by design shoe. 

The Minimalist Foot Mechanics Explained  

By looking at the picture, you can get a general idea of the differences in styles of foot mechanics and running.  New Balance has even indicated on the bottom of their shoe the optimal area of heel strike and ground contact.

New Balance Minimus Zero:

1.  The heel strike shoe as you can see is on the posterior and lateral aspect of the shoe.  To be able to land with this part of your heel and foot, the ankle and knee joints are in a more flexed position prior to making contact with the ground.  In this position, the landing is softer due to the braking action of the leg and thigh muscle vs. the force on the ankle or knee joint.  More forward speed and momentum are maintained, thus acquiring 1st gear more quickly (the red target).  

2.  Mid Stance when running in minimalist shoes, the mid-stance is just slightly longer than in by design shoes.  This does not mean that you are on your foot longer though.  This just means that your foot is spending less time on the heel while maintaining better forward momentum and speed.  It's also at this time in which a significantly more amount of muscles within the foot (intrinsic muscles) are working.  This is one reason why minimalist shoes when used properly, are an excellent deterrent to plantar fasciitis and tibialis posterior tendonitis.  

New Balance Minimus Zero Road Shoe

3. Gears 1 - 5 is where peak muscle recruitment has occurred.  The energy built from muscle recruitment is now being transformed in to kinetic energy and is revving up to 1st gear.  As we continue to move forward, the kinetic energy is propelling us through 5th gear and to maximum speed.  While in my graduate program,  a professor of mine made an analogy regarding the gears.  He talked about why our feet are shaped the way they are.  The most logical and common sense answer to this is if our feet were straight across, then we would all walk like a duck!  But by having graduated toes, we are able to transition smoothly over the end of our feet in an efficient and smooth manner.  Just think if we all walked around like Ralph Macchio in the Karate Kid!

4.  Toe Off is the beginning of the "double leg swing" phase.  Toe off may not seem very important at first.  However, after the toe off, you are in the double leg swing phase.  In other words, you are in the air.  During toe off, you can either propel yourself forward, or you can propel yourself upward.  The relevance of toe off to minimalist shoes is that to avoid firmer heel strike and greater deceleration,  as happens with by design shoes, there is a much stronger tendency to propel yourself forward to avoid meeting the ground more forcefully.  This then improves your running efficiency and speed.

In Summary, running minimalist:

  • Decreases force of heel impact and deceleration with heel strike
  • Decreases total time of contact with the ground
  • Decreases time to toe off
  • Increases the amount of muscle recruitment in the feet, legs, thighs, and hips
  • Decreases the amount of time spent during the "double leg swing" phase which is the equivalent to decreased vertical motion and increased forward motion, and this = SPEED BABY!!
  • Movement and use of the longitudinal and transverse axis of the foot are 100% engaged.  Trust me, this is good.  Movement of these axis' seriously deter plantar fasciitis and tibialis posterior tendonitis.  Like I said, many many topics were left out. 

Whew!!  I have to tell you, it's taken me a few days to write this post.  Minimalist shoe running though is not for everyone!  Running in this manner does take skill and concentration.  But once you've experienced the benefits and challenge, you'll never want to go back to a by design shoe!

Up next is the "by design" shoe running mechanics!

Happy Bipeding!

Brad Senska, PT, DPT, BS, ASTYM.

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