Category Archives: Running Science

From the Expert: Dr. Mark Cucuzzella On Single Focus Running Studies

Posted by on Thursday, February 14, 2013 @ 7:55 am | Leave a reply

recent study of less than 40 East African tribesman showed that most  land on their heels while running at a slow pace on a compliant surface (not pavement) and when they sped up most changed their pattern to midfoot landing.  Some in the media then grabbed onto this small sample and somehow arrived at the following “conclusions”:

•    Barefoot running is not a good thing…the fad is over
•    This supports cushioned running shoes with elevated heels

The study looked at the Daasanach who are a pastoral tribe living in a remote section of northern Kenya. According to the New York Times, “Unlike some Kenyan tribes, the Daasanach have no tradition of competitive distance running, although they are physically active. They also have no tradition of wearing shoes.”The study looked at the Daasanach who are a pastoral tribe living in a remote section of northern Kenya. According to the New York Times, “Unlike some Kenyan tribes, the Daasanach have no tradition of competitive distance running, although they are physically active. They also have no tradition of wearing shoes.”

 

Let’s see now, the African subjects were running barefoot; but people land in different ways, and as you speed up you get more forward on your foot. Not surprising as anyone who runs, coaches, researches, or even observes runners knows .  There was absolutely no reference or relevance to injuries or footwear effects in this study. These happy tribesman were jogging slowly in their bare feet as they do daily, and I doubt any of them had or ever will have running injuries.

They were active tribal people (not habitual runners) running at a jogging pace.

This study reinforces what many of us in the Running Medicine field have been voicing for a long time. People are focusing on one variable and most often it is footwear or what part of your foot hits the ground first,  and ignoring the other 90% of the equation.

Runners get hurt by running.  Most often by running  too much, too fast, and often with poor strength and movement mechanics. Humans are also highly variable and it is doubtful any of us does or should land in the same way every time, on every surface , and at every speed.

No one of credibility in the professional field is telling runners to land on their forefoot or ball of foot in isolation, nor suggesting  for folks to chuck their shoes.  What is interesting in studies is they rarely agree on what a forefoot or midfoot strike actually is.  A true forefoot strike is probably along the base of the 5th metatarsal (outside edge of foot), not the ball of the foot or metatarsal heads.

As an often barefoot runner I land different on different surfaces at different speeds. On soft golf courses and easy pace, I roll nicely from the heel.  Running fast on concrete, I need to engage the foot more as shock absorber and to prestretch the takeoff muscle contraction.

Remember the key is running elastic– landing close to your center of mass, and engaging the posterior muscles (glutes).

I still stand behind what we filmed here as the Principles of Natural Running. Not where do we say that runners should aim to land on the ball of the foot.

Running barefoot in itself will not change most of the other variables contributing to poor form and injury, but it does have a role in the relearning process.

See our Stability and Mobility section on the Natural Running Center, and notice where the real improvements occur and do lots of progressive drills to rewire the movement pattern.

Another finding reinforcing what we know is that as the runners ran faster, they landed on their forefoot more often. This is normal and necessary.

Everyone’s form changes when they go from 9:00 per mile to 5:00 per mile. As one moves faster it is efficient to eccentrically stretch the triceps surae the load the Achilles spring. This is like jumping: .load, trigger, fire.

Instructing an 9:00 mile runner  to  emulate the 5:00 mile biomechanics is short sighted and one should not suggest it.

My personal take-home messages from this recent study of African tribesman and the “barefoot” attention that resulted from it is as follows:

•    Do not focus on footstrike in isolation
•    Gradually increase cadence
•    Mix it up….surfaces, shoes, barefoot,
•    Use your glutes and extend the hips from a stable core
•    Watching a barefoot runner land on their heel does not mean that we were not born to run barefoot or that shoes need a cushioned heel.
•    Have fun!

Click here to visit the Natural Running Center!

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Breathe Like a Singer!

Posted by on Monday, July 2, 2012 @ 2:57 pm | Leave a reply

Christopher Holloway is a classically trained professional opera singer and musical theater performer from Tampa, Florida.  In addition to performing, Christopher is also a private voice teacher with a Master’s Degree in Opera from Rice University.  He has been running for three years, and he made the switch to Natural Running and Newton in February of 2012.

Not surprisingly, when I tell people that I am an opera singer, voice teacher, triathlete, and runner, they look at me like as if I am an alien…  “Wow, I thought you’d be a little less, uh, FIT!..” hahah!  Singing is definitely an athletic activity, and I really believe that my knowledge of proper breathing techniques helps my running tremendously. 

In the past six months of running in Newtons shoes, the Natural Running technique has been a process that I have really enjoyed studying and implementing.   I am one of those success stories that are coming out about amateur runners moving to a zero or minimal drop shoe after experiencing extreme muscle and soft tissue pain in shoes with much greater drop from heel to forefoot (14mm drop in my shoes during training for my first marathon last November..it was AGONY!).  As I continue to get stronger, more efficient, and faster (and running without soreness or pain),  I am finding that proper breath is just as crucial as  the forward lean, landing on the lugs or flat footed, letting the heel settle, and lifting the legs from the core all at 180 strides per minute. You can have the most efficient and perfect footstrike in the world, but if your shoulders are up around your ears or if you are flexing your abdominals around your ribcage during inhalation or exhalation, you are going to be susceptible to a whole host of issues while running, especially with any speed or distance.

How does breathing in an efficient and relaxed way assist us in training and in racing?  The freer and more relaxed the breath is, the more efficiently you are going to be able to oxygenate the blood, and you will be able to take in more breath without wasting energy while running. 

Many will say, “But, Natural Running calls me to engage my core…like this (flexes abdomen revealing a stunning six pack of abs).”  Well, guess what?  Yes, we must engage the core, but we have to know WHICH muscles support the body and those which help us move more air in and out effectively.  The core of your body according to yoga and eastern religion is a few inches below your navel and 2-3 inches inward.  This means that we are to engage the lower abdominal muscles to hold ourselves upright not by flexing the abs!  It is definitely possible to engage the lower abs or core while relaxing the rest.  It is the same with classical singing and being able to make sounds without the need for amplification. The power comes from engaging the LOWER abdominals and compressing the air on exhalation.  Just as in regular life, when you speak, you don’t need to take much breath to make sound—when singing opera, the singer must inhale and exhale more air than “normal” humans take in.  Along the same lines, when we run we must take in and exhale much more air than when we walk. There is a lot of power in the breath. 

So let’s break down what happens when we breathe.  Just for reference sake, the diaphragm is a dome shaped muscle that at rest is below the ribcage and the lungs.  On proper inhalation, the lungs fill completely as a result of relaxed abdominal muscles (including the diaphragm).  In classical and in proper technical singing, this movement of air is punctuated by an engaging or expanding of the lower abdominal muscles to keep the abdomen and ribcage from collapsing during exhalation.  The only difference between classical singing breath and proper breath during running is the AMOUNT of engagement and lean out of the lower abs and the velocity of air that is exhaled (the air during singing is much more compressed, and the muscles of the abdomen don’t move as quickly back to their original position with empty lungs.  While running, airflow should be constant, and the diaphragm should be constantly moving). 

Okay, so now we know what happens when we breathe properly.  Let’s explore some exercises. 

One of the best ways to try this type of relaxed/easy breathing is by lying on your back and just breathing deeply through relaxed throat muscles as if you are yawning.  If you focus on relaxing the abdominals during the breath, you will see the diaphragm and the abdomen rise and fall, and your shoulders will not rise up and become tense.  Try to fill your lungs completely. Exhale completely. Notice the movement of the abdominals. I would also suggest that you try to inhale and exhale through BOTH your mouth and nose.

Inhale over 4 counts of approximately a cadence of 180 beats per minute, hold for 4 counts, then exhale over 4 counts.  Really move that air with the diaphragm, especially on the exhalation.

 To incorporate into your Natural Running form: Breathe in through your nose and mouth.   Expand the abdomen during the inhalation and do not flex.  Your lungs have reached capacity.  Now exhale, and at the same time try to pull the diaphragm and move the expanded musculature up and inward until the next breath is necessary (air often just falls in at the end of an exhalation as long as your abdominals are relaxed!!).  With the lower abdomen below the navel engaged or expanded but with the rest of the abs released you are going to feel extremely fat while implementing this technique.  This is inevitable and OKAY!  Vanity must go out the window!  You may not look as killer in that new racerback halter top or shirtless (for the guys out there) but you sure are going to be using the air more efficiently.  Forget about how you look; focus on how you breathe.  The low engagement of the “core” keeps the pelvis level from front to back, which is hugely important, but flexing the abs does nothing but waste valuable energy.

Running cadence should be 180 strides a minute (again, if you are running in the 5:00’s or 12:00’s it’s the same), so, 4 strides breathe in, 4 strides breathe out is ideal for the breath.  If you can inhale more that is wonderful–just make sure that the inhalation is the same duration as the exhalation (same is true for speedwork/racing—you may only get 2 strides in and two out). 

As is true of natural running technique, it will take some coordination and adjustment to master this kind of breath because along the same lines as heel striking goes against how we were born to run, tight abdominals and constricted breath have become the norm how we breathe because we mostly use our abs to hold ourselves upright. 

Add this focus on the breath to your Natural Running practice and implementation on the road or trail, and you will notice a significant change.  I sing better because of my running, and you can bet that I run better because of my singing!!!! #HelloBetter!

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How to Run the Boston Marathon 2012: Part III

Posted by on Friday, April 6, 2012 @ 10:46 am | Leave a reply

BY:

Mark Cucuzzella MD, Professor West Virginia University School of Medicine, LtCol US Air Force
2006 and 2011 Air Force Marathon Champion and Air Force Marathon Team Member since 1988

So how do you know you are running in your best hybrid mode? 

This is difficult because the sense at this level (Aerobic Threshold) is not as profound as Lactate Threshold (or Anaerobic Threshhold).  A slight increase from your optimal pace will switch you from hybrid to all gas without you realizing it, and the effects are felt miles later. Charging up hills early will tap your gas quickly.  If you want to speed up early….DON’T. Relax and maintain effort, not speed.  You should feel easy in the early stages, it is a marathon.

You must rehearse a bit in training.  I focus on relaxation and breathing.  If I’m breathing one cycle to 5 steps, then I’m hybrid.  If I’m breathing faster I’m using mostly glucose as fuel.  Belly breathe- allow lower belly to blow up like a beach ball on inhalation and pull your belly button back to your spine on exhalation.  Then you will fill the lower lung areas where oxygen exchange occurs. Notice the breathing efforts of those around you and many are rapid breathing- they tend to suffer somewhere past half way.  Rehearse complete relaxation from the top down- eyes, jaw, shoulders, allow your legs to relax and extend behind you, relax and soften your knees and ankles.  Find you own cue for this.  If you use the Heart Rate Monitor in training strongly consider one during the event.

In a marathon, the last 3-4 miles you will be mostly gas to maintain the same speed as fatigue sets in and heart rate rises.  The breathing is usually on a 3 to 4 steps per breath cycle- that is OK.  Still stay relaxed and use the cues that you have rehearsed to keep your form. Speed up only when you can “smell the barn”, this occurs when you see the Citgo sign (Mile 23).

Land softly, especially on the early downhills.  I run with a forefoot/midfoot landing harnessing elastic recoil. Focus on posture and hip extension. Use a slight forward lean from the ankles (think “face forward” and look ahead).  I’m never sore after marathons now and feel I can keep doing them until I enter the retirement home. I won the Air Force Marathon in 2:38 four weeks ago and feel fine now for another effort.  With good form it is “No pain…thank you”.

Your shoes matter too.  Make strong consideration to not running in minimalist racers unless you have trained substantially in them and adapted your structure to a natural barefoot style gait. I advocate gradually adapting all of your training into more minimal and level shoes.   If you relax your lower legs and load the springy tendons in your feet and Achilles, these shoes with no heel elevation put you in perfect position to allow natural elastic recoil of plantar fascia, Achilles, calf muscles, and hip flexors.  New research and runner’s experience is now making the case for running with a more efficient stride and questions modern running footwear. The evolving world of modern sports medicine is going back to the future too and rediscovering what evolution has taught us.  My shoe for the last 3 years at this race has been the Newton Distance.  A fast and efficient shoe for those who have worked on form.  For a library of information of footwear, running form, and biomechanics visit our website at The Natural Running Center( http://naturalrunningcenter.com). You can view lots of minimalist shoe information on http://www.tworiverstreads.com

Tomorrow: Now a few extra ways to get from start to finish quicker on the same gallon.  

(Click here to read part 1)

(Click here to read part 2)

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How to Run the Boston Marathon 2012: Part II

Posted by on Thursday, April 5, 2012 @ 11:42 am | Leave a reply

BY:

Mark Cucuzzella MD, Professor West Virginia University School of Medicine, LtCol US Air Force
2006 and 2011 Air Force Marathon Champion and Air Force Marathon Team Member since 1988

So how does this apply to you in your Boston Marathon, whether you are going to run 2:20 or 4 hours plus?

As you enter the weeks prior to the race here are a few strategies to help you set your plan.  Running your best marathon is part art, science, guts, faith in what you can do, and a little luck.  Running your best 10k is mostly about fitness. The best analogy I can think of is this: if you have trained your body properly with the right mix of aerobic level training and some up tempo stuff in recent weeks, you have built your efficient hybrid engine ready to race the marathon.  Many of you have driven in a Prius and watched the subtle shifts between gas and electric on the screen.  You do not perceive these shifts. Your engine(muscles) runs on a mixture of gas and electric, and how much of each depends on the effort.  This is why slow aerobic training is critical for marathon success, you build a massive electric engine.

You are starting the race with one gallon in the tank- assuming you have eaten a nice meal the night before with a breakfast top off.

  • If you are in all gas mode, your engine will run about 1.5 hours at a strong pace….then you are out of gas.
  • If you are mostly electric you can run all day, but maybe not so quickly.
  • If you are using the proper mix you will go quick and efficient for duration of your event, and you can even do some topping off along the way.

The glucose utilizing pathway (glycolysis for the science folks) is the gas. This is your stored liver/muscle glycogen and blood glucose (pasta meal and breakfast) – easy to access for ready energy.  The fat utilizing pathway (gluconeogenesis for the science folks)  is the electric.  In marathons you must be in hybrid the entire race.  Hybrid is where your energy (ATP) is coming from both sources.

Many runners are in great “10k shape” (an all gas event), then run their marathon in the gas mode- and usually crash.  Glycogen sparing strategy need not apply in races of less than an hour as long as you had a good pre-event meal to fill the tank. In marathons and ultras- top end fitness matters little and can only be applied very near the finish. Glucose gives 36 ATP per molecule, fat 460 ATP per molecule.  You must tap into the fat burning tank. Now you know how a bird can migrate 7000 miles without a Powerbar.

Tomorrow:  So how do you know you are running in your best hybrid mode

(Click here to read part 1)

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How to Run the Boston Marathon 2012: Part I

Posted by on Wednesday, April 4, 2012 @ 12:06 pm | Leave a reply

BY:

Mark Cucuzzella MD, Professor West Virginia University School of Medicine, LtCol US Air Force
2006 and 2011 Air Force Marathon Champion and Air Force Marathon Team Member since 1988

I’ve had the pleasure of running the Boston Marathon 18 times with a string now of 10 consecutive.  My only misses were for military and work duties and a foot surgery.  In all these efforts had 5 under 2:30, 6 between 2:30 and 2:35; 3 between 2:35 and 2:40; 3 between 2:40-2:44; and one DNF (my first one in 1989 with all the rookie mistakes J ). My best learning experiences were when the men and women started together and I had the privilege of running alongside and witnessing the patient approach and incredibly efficient running  of the top ladies.

In the 1998  Fatuma Roba, the Marathon Gold Medalist in Atlanta and 3 time Boston winner, scooted over the ground with an incredibly efficient motion.  She hydroplaned along the ground, hips extending, arms relaxed, and face always relaxed.  She stayed out of trouble by tucking behind the lead pack of more aggressive ladies.  I followed behind the train and we hit half way in about 1:13.  Fatuma then opened her stride up in the second half moving away from all of us to run a 2:23.  An amazing second half effort.  I was pleased with a 2:27 that day and credit Fatuma as any thoughts to go faster sooner were mitigated by her patience.

A few years later in 2001 I witnessed multiple world champion and Boston winner Catherine “the Great” Ndereba employ the same strategy.  Her light springy stride and complete relaxation of effort were a contrast to other ladies in the pack who’s body language and breathing displayed they were putting out more energy than Katherine.  As a group we hit the half in 1:14.  Katherine kept relaxed down the last set of downhill during mile 17 then tightened the screws with a huge acceleration over the Newton hills, running a 50 minute last 10 miles for a 2:24.  Katherine helped my day.  By cueing off her pacing and relaxation I ran an  even race and finished in 2:29.

The other runner who taught me to have fun out there was the legendary 3 time Boston winner Uta Pippig of Germany.  In 1997 I ran with her until she dropped me at Cleveland Circle mile 22.  The crowds loved Uta and the noise escalated as she approached.  She smiled the whole way.  Maybe this was her cue to relax, feed off the crowd’s energy, and have fun in the moment. In marathoning you must be present in the moment; not thinking about how far you have to go,  what you may feel like later, wondering if you are going to slow down, fearing  the wall is coming.  Uta ran a strong fourth place that day in 2:28 and I finished a few strides back in 2:29. She is an example of how our brains govern our effort….when we are positive it flows.

All of these ladies made sure to get their fluid and nutrition at all stops. The few extra seconds used here paid dividends down the road.  They ran over the road not into the road, especially on the downhills…you could hardly hear them land as they did not employ hard heel striking technique.  Their posture was tall and their arms always relaxed.  But most vital was their efficient energy conservation and utilization strategy.

Tomorrow: So how does this apply to you in your Boston Marathon, whether you are going to run 2:20 or 4 hours plus?

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Metatarsalgia

Posted by on Monday, January 16, 2012 @ 3:32 pm | 2 Replies

Forefoot pain (metatarsalgia) is a condition indicated by pain and inflammation under the ball of the foot. This is increasingly prevalent in runners who are making a change to minimal footwear, barefoot running and Newton Shoes.

As with virtually all running injuries, forefoot pain is a result of doing too much, too fast, too soon. When people blame the shoes, consider whether they would have had the same thing happen running barefoot or in minimalist footwear? It’s a lot like saying “this helmet injured my head”, “this oven mitt burned my hand” or “these shorts tore my ham string.”

The bio-mechanical sensor plate in all Newton Shoes can lead people to believe the shoes are too hard and stress their feet. It actually works the other way around. The midsoles of regular running shoes are unnaturally soft (compared to the natural surfaces we evolved to run on), commonly leading to large, uneven depressions where the EVA foam collapses. Unlike Newton’s Action/Reaction technology, EVA never fully recovers, leaving an uneven surface under the foot.

The unfortunate result for many runners is misaligned metatarsals as the foot adapts to the soft surface and digs increasingly deeper holes into their shoes. Over years and decades it is common for people to end up with badly misaligned bones, like uneven keys on an old piano. Returning to a naturally firm surface like barefoot, minimal or Newton Shoes can be a painful experience as the bones realign, pulling on connective tissue and stressing the nerves.

Leaving the condition untreated can lead to other problems such as stress fractures of the metatarsals or Morton’s neuroma. As with most medical conditions, the cause should be removed (often too much too soon) and then treated. Once addresses, it is important to ensure good running form and appropriate running shoes, with a conservative amount of time to adapt.

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The Problematic Cross-Over Gait pattern. Part 2

Posted by on Wednesday, November 9, 2011 @ 11:58 am | 1 Reply

Here Dr. Shawn Allen of The Gait Guys further discusses this gait problem in running form. The Cross-over gait is a product of gluteus medius and abdominal weakness and leaves the runner with much frontal plane hip movement, very little separation of the knees and a “cross over” of the feet, rendering a near “tight rope” running appearance where the feet seem to land on a straight line path. In Part 2, Dr. Allen will discuss a more detailed specific method to fix this. You will see this problem in well over 50% of runners. This problem leads to injury at the hip, knee and foot levels quite frequently.

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The Problematic Cross-Over Gait pattern. Part 1

Posted by on Wednesday, August 24, 2011 @ 9:54 am | 2 Replies

Here Dr. Shawn Allen of The Gait Guys works with elite athlete Jack Driggs to reduce a power leak in his running form. The Cross-over gait is a product of gluteus medius and abdominal weakness and leaves the runner with much frontal plane hip movement, very little separation of the knees and a “cross over” of the feet, rendering a near “tight rope” running appearance where the feet seem to land on a straight line path. In Part 2, Dr. Allen will discuss a more detailed specific method to fix this. You will see this problem in well over 50% of runners. This problem leads to injury at the hip, knee and foot levels quite frequently. To date we have not met anyone who had a good grasp on this clinical issue or a remedy quite like ours. Help us make this video go viral so we can help more runners with this problem. Forward it to your coaches, your friends, everyone.

Thanks for watching our video, thanks for your time.

-Dr. Shawn Allen, The Gait Guys

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Gord’s Running Store Hosting Newton Natural Running Symposium July 11/12

Posted by on Thursday, July 7, 2011 @ 8:33 am | 1 Reply

Next Monday, July 11 and Tuesday, July 12, come to Gord’s Running Store in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, for a Newton Natural Running ™ Sympoisum and Form Clinic with Newton Running’s Director of Education and Research, Ian Adamson.

Learn the principles of running biomechanics, injury prevention and how to adopt a natural running stride.

The natural running presentation begins at 5:15 pm at Gord’s Running at 919 Center Street NW, Calgary, Alberta, and the form clinic is on Tuesday at 7:00 pm.

For more information, visit www.NewtonRunning.com or www.GordsRunningStore.com.

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Chiropractor Recommends Newton Running Shoes

Posted by on Thursday, June 30, 2011 @ 1:37 pm | Leave a reply

Chiropractor Dr. Lane just posted this video explaining why he recommends Newton Running shoes to his patients and delves into what differentiates our shoes from other running shoes in the market.

Thanks Dr. Lane for the cool demo of the Action/Reaction Technology and explaining the principles behind natural running form!

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