Natural Running Efficiency: Using Elasticity in the Lower Leg

Posted by on Thursday, July 28, 2011 @ 11:09 am | 212 Replies

By Douglas Bertram, MTCM, L.Ac.. Director of Field Marketing at Newton Running

Several studies have shown a direct link between Achilles tendon length and the amount of energy the tendon can store. The tendo-muscular structures of the posterior lower leg often become shortened by wearing shoes with an elevated heel. Shorter tendo-muscular structures significantly reduce the elastic recoil potential; therefore it is recommended to wear level running shoes. The ramp angle or heel-toe drop is determined by measuring the difference of height between the heel and the forefoot of a shoe. A heel-toe drop of more than 3-4mm will start to change the ability for the tissue of the posterior leg to store and release energy.

The plantar fascia also acts as an important spring. When landing on the mid-foot/forefoot with the foot under the center of mass, the longitudinal arch should lengthen. This lengthening of the arch stretches the plantar fascia and aids in shock absorption as well as increased elastic recoil. By releasing the stored energy from the plantar fascia, significantly less active muscular effort is needed to lift the foot back off the ground. Less active push off means less wasted energy. In order for the arch to naturally lengthen there must be enough room in the shoe. Ridged structures “supporting” the arch do not allow for this natural motion. Stiff running shoes and rigid hard plastic orthotics might have a place for some foot pathologies, but will significantly alter the natural spring mechanics of efficient running.

A slow cadence has the same effect of reducing efficiency. Optimal cadence is around 180 steps per minute because this is the speed of which tendon is able to store and release energy. It is the frequency of elastic recoil. Shoes that are made of soft “cushioned” EVA foam will slow down your cadence because it interferes with the body’s ability to sense the ground. The more “cushion” between your foot and the ground, the more time your foot will stay on the ground due to a reduction in afferent feedback. The quicker the foot can find the ground, become stable and release, the quicker your cadence will become. Most people will speed up their cadence by 10 -15 steps per minute by running barefoot or in lightweight firm shoes (firm under the ball of the foot, not the arch). Look for a shoe that offers a good amount of protection, yet gives good afferent feedback. This will help you take advantage of the passive energy of elastic recoil and make you a more efficient runner.

Finding The Proper Fit

Standing with your heels pulled to the back of your shoes, you should have at least a thumb’s width in front of your longest toe. Many people wear their shoes too short, too narrow and laced too tight. The unshod foot freely spreads upon loading, allowing the spring-like mechanism of the longitudinal arch to lengthen, and the transverse arch (from the 1st to the 5th metatarsal head) to widen. The spreading of the foot aides in both shock absorption and stabilization, as well as helps facilitate the mechanics of elastic recoil. If the shoe is too narrow and the arch too stiff, natural motion of the foot is prevented.

Lacing a shoe too tightly is a habit that forms from running in a shoe with a significant ramp angle, where the foot tends to slide forward, thus creating the need to lace tightly to prevent this motion. When transitioning into a level shoe, there is not the same need to stop this forward motion. The foot needs room to rise and fall to be efficient.

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212 thoughts on “Natural Running Efficiency: Using Elasticity in the Lower Leg

  1. Aimee Richards

    I am thrilled to be able to read more information about natural running. I found out about Newtons through the Road ID giveaway, and I’ve made my first mini-weight-loss-goal-reward a new pair of running shoes. I am having terrible trouble with shin splints, foot pain, achilles pain, and knee pain as I try to learn to run. I’m determined to get it, and I WILL SOMEDAY BE A RUNNER. :o ) I was surprised to read about the lacing of running shoes. Slipping around in my running shoes has been a real issue, and now I know why! As a teacher, I love learning. Now I have some new goals and information to help along the way. Thanks!

  2. Emelia Syll Moreno

    Hey, the information listed in this article is incredible. I was drawn to newtons from scanning through a triathlete magazine and I saw the athlete wearing them. I went to roadrunners asked about them , got the distance and fell in love. My running has improved, I am a more faster and efficient runner and to make things even better I have gotten my boyfriend into running with his first pair of newtons!
    I agree with not lacing the sneakers to tight (something my bf just don’t listen to me about.) Also I learned something new from the article! “Optimal cadence is around 180 steps per minute…”.

    Great, informative article! :)

  3. Emily

    Excellent article! I will now, NOT tighten my laces so hard. No wonder I feel “stiff” for lack of a better word while running. Thanks!
    Also, I must share this piece of great advice with my fellow running group…of Optimal cadence is around 180 steps p/m! I am definitely going to aim for this efficiency!
    And I think I definitely found the perfect shoe pertaining to me taking advantage of passive energy recoil so i can become a efficient runner! I will be sharing this article with my running group and many interested in natural running!

  4. Lisa Grassetti

    Excellent article! I was also told about the thumbs distance from your big toe. I know I haven’t followed that in the past and you can feel it when they are to small. I walk a few miles a day at least 5 times a week and I know how important it is to have the right sneakers on. Thanks for the info.

  5. Jeffrey Ku

    One recommendation I have for people new to trying Newtons or Natural running is to get a metronome. One that is small and that you can clip on your waist – I bought one from Amazon for less than $20. Set it to 180 and run. That optimal cadence will surely be an eye opener for many and will help to improve proper Natural running technique. I love my Newtons. I have qualified and set PRs at Boston and all triathlon distances in them. Keep up the great work!
    -Jeff

  6. Beau Carlson

    Love my newtons. Customer service has been good as well, bought mine at Road Runner and popped a membrane in first 100 miles, sent a new pair from Road Runner promptly and learned some more about these shoes. I used to rotate Nike Lunars, Frees, and Air Maxes, last couple months I have been treadmill and road running exclusively in my Newtons. Keep up the good work.

  7. Jennifer

    I find it interesting that when running barefoot, in Vibram Five Fingers (which my doctor advised me against using because of specific issues with my left foot), or in my new Newtons (which I LOVE and are JUST what the doctor ordered!), it’s so easy to run at a faster pace than usual! Thanks to the mechanics explained in this article, as well as others on the Newton Running site, I now know the mechanics behind the efficiency. Thanks for not only providing one of the greatest products I’ve ever bought, but also providing such great educational services!!

  8. Molly Cybowski

    I am trying to improve my running through education and that is how I ended up in Newtons! I have learned that I have a long way to go because proper form is easier said than done (apparently I am STILL heel striking). I will not give up! I do need to determine my cadence. I would like to thank another poster for the metronome idea! All in all, this was a great article, giving me lots to consider. When I run tomorrow, I will also pay more attention to the lacing of my shoes! Thank you Newton, not just for great shoes, but for the education you provide.

  9. nancy reid

    My hubbie is a former marathon runner and finished 8 including Boston!
    I am so proud of him. He agrees that lacing is quite important!

  10. Jason Morrison

    I was guilty of the last two (under Finding The Proper Fit ) and thought it would be odd to run in a shoe with that much room. I also had laced up my shoes too tightly. Amazing how much of a difference adjusting those two things really makes in a run.

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