Forefoot strike running: Do you have enough calf muscle endurance to do it without a cost ?

Below you will find an article on footwear and running. Rice et al concluded that 

“ When running in a standard shoe, peak resultant and component instantaneous loadrates were similar between footstrike patterns. However, loadrates were lower when running in minimal shoes with a FFS (forefoot strike), compared with running in standard shoes with either foot strike. Therefore, it appears that footwear alters the loadrates during running, even with similar foot strike patterns.

They concluded that footwear alters the load rates during running. No brain surgery here. But that is not the point I want to discuss today. Foot strike matters. Shoes matter. And pairing the foot type and your strike patterns of mental choice, or out of natural choice, is critical. For example, you are not likely (hopefully) to choose a HOKA shoe if you are a forefoot striker. The problem is, novice runners are not likely to have a clue about this, especially if they are fashonistas about their reasoning behind shoe purchases. Most serious runners do not care about the look/color of the shoe. This is serious business to them and they know it is just a 2-3 months in the shoe, depending on their mileage. But, pairing the foot type, foot strike pattern and shoe anatomy is a bit of a science and an art. I will just mention our National Shoe Fit Certification program here if you want to get deeper into that science and art. (Beware, this is not a course for the feint of heart.)

However, I just wanted to approach a theoretical topic today, playing off of the “Forefoot strike” methodology mentioned in the article today.  I see this often in my practice, I know Ivo does as well. The issue can be one of insufficient endurance and top end strength (top end ankle plantar flexion) of the posterior mechanism, the gastrocsoleus-achilles complex. If your calf complex starts to fatigue and you are forefoot striker, the heel will begin to drop, and sometimes abruptly right after forefoot load. The posterior compartment is a great spring loading mechanism and can be used effectively in many runners, the question is, if you fatigue your’s beyond what is safe and effective are you going to pay a price ? This heel drop can put a sudden unexpected and possibly excessive load into the posterior compartment and achilles. This act will move you into more relative dorsiflexion, this will also likely start abrupt loading the calf-achilles eccentrically. IF you have not trained this compartment for eccentric loads, your achilles may begin to call you out angrily. Can you control the heel decent sufficiently to use the stored energy efficiently and effectively? Or will you be a casualty?  This drop if uncontrolled or excessive may also start to cause some heel counter slippage at the back of the shoe, friction is never a good thing between skin and shoe. This may cause some insertional tendonitis or achilles proper hypertrophy or adaptive thickening. This may cause some knee extension when the knee should not be extending. This may cause some pelvis drop, a lateral foot weight bear shift and supination tendencies, some patellofemoral compression, anterior meniscofemoral compression/impingement, altered arm swing etc.  You catch my drift. Simply put, an endurance challenged posterior compartment, one that may not express its problem until the latter miles, is something to be aware of. 

Imagine being a forefoot striker and 6 miles into a run your calf starts to fatigue. That forefoot strike now becomes a potential liability. We like, when possible, a mid foot strike. This avoids heel strike, avoids the problems above, and is still a highly effective running strike pattern. Think about this, if you are a forefoot striker and yet you still feel your heel touch down each step after the forefoot load, you may be experiencing some of the things I mentioned above on a low level. And, you momentarily moved backwards when you are trying to run forwards. Why not just make a subtle change towards mid foot strike, when that heel touches down after your forefoot strike, you are essentially there anyways. Think about it.

Shawn Allen, one of The Gait Guys

Footwear Matters: Influence of Footwear and Foot Strike on Loadrates During Running. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise:
Rice, Hannah M.; Jamison, Steve T.; Davis, Irene S.

Running Ugly Sometimes Wins Marathons.

There are many running gurus out there. There are numerous running form clinics out there.  Everyone knows someone that can tell you how to run better and show you things you should be doing to improve your running.  But should you listen ?  That is the problem, should we listen ?  There is the old adage that “if it ain’t broken, don’t fix it”.  Sometimes that is true as well. But lets face a fact, most people that come into our offices do not come in with the request to make them a better runner, rather they come in asking us to help them resolve a problem or injury that is stopping them from becoming a better runner.  

In this video, the two elite runners are clearly not made from the same mold.  There is no question, even to the uneducated eye, as to who is the more comfortably appearing and “cleaner” runner.  The fella in the orange represents much of what we are all told a runner should look like posturally.  But, it is clear that the fella in the blue is having no problems keeping a comfortable stride with the guy in the orange even though is form looks labored from a postural stand point.  But remember what we always say, what you see in someone’s gait is quite often not their problem, it is their compensation to cope with a problem.  And compensations are needed because we are all never 100% clean and biomechanically efficient. Back to our point, telling Mr. Blue to retract his head and lift his chest may not be what the run doctor ordered.  Changing this one glaring fact could be the thing that injures him or reduces his efficiency amongst other things.  Just because you don’t like what you see doesn’t mean it is wrong for that person or that it needs to be changed. This is why a clinical examination along with a gait analysis is imperative for solid advice. For example, what if this guy has a scoliosis or some other structural problem that has made his thoracic spine more kyphotic  thus producing a more accentuated cervical lordosis and an extended and protracted head carriage ?  Changing in this case that posturing may not be possible for him or may create problems elsewhere.  AGain, just because you do not like it doesn’t mean you should change it.  

So the next time you are at your local store or some marathon event tent and getting form running advice from an “expert”, take it with a grain of salt because there are so many pieces of the puzzle that they are not seeing or understanding.  This is the big problem with the internet and all of its guru’s and their advice.  The next time someone says, here is our go to video for resolving shin splints, take it with a grain of salt. Even if it is us giving the advice on one of our podcasts, because without the examination probably 90% ?? of the information is absent.  If you make a change in someones form, there must be a reason and a goal and you must be prepared to catch any fall out from those changes and know what to do with them.  This is where clinical experience comes in.  So the next time your favorite running site or running magazine gives what appears to be sound advice for chronically tight IT bands, think it over, take it with a grain of salt, and make a sound judgement based on what your body is doing with its unique limitations and pay attention to the results and possible positive and negative outcomes.  Change is inevitable, but is it good for you ?  That is the question.

Oh, and by the way,these were the marathon’s leaders, Benjamin Bitok and Nixon Machichin, both of Kenya. Bitok (in blue) went on to win in 2:13:21, 46 seconds up on Machichin.  

It just goes to prove that what good running looks like ,and should be better in our perfect little world, and of what the websites and magazines tell us about what is right, doesn’t always lead to improved performance.  However, we wouldn’t suggest you start running with Bitok’s form because he is awesome (even though some kids in his home land may do just that because modeling is the greatest form of compliment.)  But, what do we know ? We are just two more self-proclaimed guru’s trying to set the record strait, from our experience and perspective. 

Shawn and Ivo, 

the gait guys

More Power Leaks: Part 3

Good Morning peoples! A few weeks ago, we introduced posts about potential areas for power leaks. click here for #1, click here for #2

The common areas for leaks are:
great toe dorsiflexion
mm strength test
loss of ankle rocker
loss of knee flexion/extension
loss of hip extension
loss of balance/ proprioception

let’s take a look at a video of the next 2, with Dr Ivo and his partner in SCR, Dr John Asthalter:

Power leak 2: Muscle strength test

you need adequate strength in both the short and long extensors of the toes, for arch integrity, the windlass mechanism as well as appropriate ankle rocker

Common compensations include:

externally rotating the foot and coming off the inside of the great toe. this often causes a callus at the medial aspect of the toe. This places the foot in more pronation (plantar flexion, eversion and abduction) so it is a poorer lever.

lifting the foot (and bending the knee) excessively (knee flexion > 60 degrees) to create clearance of the toes for swing phase. This is sometimes referred to as a steppage gait.

hiking of the hip, again to create clearance for the foot

Power leak 3: ankle rocker

ankle rocker is needed to move the body mass forward in the gravitational plane. It is one of the 3 rockers (for a rocker review, click here).

Compensations for loss of ankle rocker can include:

premature heel rise

shortened step length

excessive pronation through the mid foot

external rotation of the lower extremity and “rolling off” the inside of the great toe

forefoot strike gait

Ivo and Shawn. Giving you the information you need to make informed clinical decisions and build better runners, wherever you go! Spread the word of gait literacy!

Here is a decent video on how to do the “100 up” and age old running practice technique developed as discussed in a three-page essay from 1908 titled “W. G. George’s Own Account From the 100-Up Exercise.” According to legend, this single drill turned a 16-year-old with almost no running experience into the foremost racer of his day.

In George’s words: “By its constant practice and regular use alone, I have myself established many records on the running path and won more amateur track-championships than any other individual.” And it was safe, George said: the 100-Up is “incapable of harm when practiced discreetly.”