Ever since athletic competitions began coaches and athletes have strived to make their running more efficient. Despite this there has been considerable debate over what techniques actually create a more efficient style. Classically an 'Endurance Template' has been recommended:
While this has been widely used there is minimal evidence to suggest it's a recipe for success or a running style we should all aspire to. Recent research from Cardiff Metropolitan University has highlighted that multiple factors can affect efficiency but a key factor appears to be how a runner pushes during propulsion. Dr Isabel Moore and her team identified that as a runner's economy (a measure of efficiency) improved, their leg position at toe-off changed; the knee was slightly more flexed and the ankle slightly less plantar flexed:
Source: Moore et al. (2016) Open Access
Let's look at this with 2 runners as an example:
If we can improve push off we can, in theory, improve efficiency and potentially make someone faster. The challenge is determining how we might do that with each individual. We would hope that the right running cue could help the runner on the left change her position at toe-off and become less 'bouncy'. Recent developments in mobile technology allow us to measure vertical oscillation in clinic and determine if this 'bounciness' changes with gait-retraining. In the case of the lady above she was running with an ankle injury which may well have affected her gait and would also need to be addressed to help efficiency.
It's important to recognise with running that there are many factors that interlink and influence performance and load on the tissues. There's no one-size-fits-all approach! They key is finding what works best for each individual runner. This was highlighted recently by a patient advised to increase his cadence (amount of steps per minute) to reduce injury risk. While this can indeed be good advice for some it certainly isn't a cure-all! In this gentleman's case it lead to a stuttered running style with very little length in the stride (picture on the left below).
A final, crucial point to consider is that video alone cannot tell you what style is best for you. It's really important to see how changes to your running gait feel and whether they actually feel easier. It often takes time to adjust to changing your running and it can feel difficult initially but if a running cue feels like a lot more effort it's probably too big a change.
For more information on running gait analysis or to arrange an appointment please get in touch with Tom one of our senior, highly trained Physiotherapists or contact us on 01273 667826 at one of our physio clinics.