The Form Mistake Injured Runners Make

Dec 12 / Build Muscle

Those barefooted, Vibram-Five-Fingered evangelists may be on to something. In the first study to look at a direct connection between footstrike and injury, the researchers at Harvard University’s Department of Human Evolutionary Biology found that rearfoot strikers (those of us slamming our heels down in cushiony running kicks) have double the risk of repetitive stress injuries like stress fractures and shin splints than forefoot strikers.

The study analyzed data collected from 54 men and women long-distance runners from the Harvard cross country team. Seventy-four percent of runners reported a moderate or severe injury each year, reports Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. Looking only at repetitive-stress injuries like shin splints, rearfoot strikers had 2.3 times the injury incidence as forefoot strikers.

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“Forefoot strike causes less impact force on the body,” says co-author Daniel Lieberman, Ph.D., a professor of human evolutionary biology at Harvard and scribe of a popular barefoot running manifesto in 2010. “People forget that running is a skill, and if you don’t run properly, you’ll get injured.”

Landing on your forefoot, the way humans have run for thousands of years, produces almost zero impact on joints and bones, according to Lieberman’s 2010 study. But 75 percent of us now land heel first—cushioned running shoes made that possible (and comfortable)—which slams up to 3 times the body’s weight in impact force on your knees and legs. The raised heel bed in most shoes made it nearly impossible not to land on your heel if you naturally have a midfoot strike—though you can run with a forefoot strike in standard running shoes.

But forefoot running is not the whole answer to injury prevention, just a component, says Lieberman. “This is not a simple solution to a complex problem—you can’t change one thing and have everything be fine. You can still forefoot strike with poor form.” His advice: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

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“Remember, almost every distance runner gets injured,” says Lieberman. “But if you’re prone to repetitive stress injuries, you might benefit from trying a different running form. Forefoot strike takes more strength, a higher cadence, and shorter stride length. Transition gradually, otherwise you’re guaranteed calf strains and tendonitis.”

Need a quick introduction? Take off your shoes and do a quick jog on a hardwood floor. Without the give of cushioned running shoe, you’ll quickly feel the painful reality of landing on your heel. Now land on the ball of your foot. Feel the difference?

Also, try running quieter. Rearfoot strikers are a loud group, and by quieting your step, you'll automatically take weight off the back of your foot, bring your feet under your hips, and increase your turnover. To see it in action and get step-by-step instructions to nailing the form, head to musclemorphosis.com

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