I just want to make clear that when it comes to optimizing running efficiency and reducing injury risk, the forefoot strike is not the only answer. Your torso position during running can also be used to enrich your biomechanical efficiency and injury prevention outcomes.
How do we best use our torso position during running, so that we can run with greater efficiency and stay out of the injury ditch? The proper running posture is shaping up to be: LEAN forward, not backwards with your center mass (torso and head).
Why Leaning Forward is Better for Performance and Injury Prevention
Much of your forward momentum AND impact protection during running is tied up in your forward lean which keeps forward momentum well-sustained with little mechanical costs. Additionally, leaning forward during running ensures better mechanical support in shaving down high brake forces and can be the mechanical tweak you need for an immediate boost in advancing your performance objectives.
If you pay close attention to the running style of the best distance runners in the world, Haile Gebrselassie and Kenenisa Bekele (shown below), just to name a few, have a noticeable forward lean (especially Bekele) which puts them in a much stronger economic position because of the consistent shift away from high braking, clearing the way for more forward momentum to be sustained.
Running Backwards vs Winning: Running Too Upright Means Doubling Down on a Losing Hand
I thought it would be very important to address some of the negative outcomes associated with running too upright or running ‘backwards’ and it how may undermine your performance efforts and set the stage for injury.
Firstly, running too upright may decelerate the body too much, for too long, whereby a prolong brake force duration is significantly linked with runner’s knee and chronic exertional compartment syndrome (persistent throbbing lower leg pain during running). Secondly, leaning too far back during running requires too much time and effort to shift the body’s mass into the proper place for proper execution, making unnecessary use of the leg, especially the knee! Your center of mass (torso and head) continues to lag behind, countering forward momentum, putting you in a vulnerable economic position. It’s hard to make headway when you are running with the brakes on! Additionally, the lower leg is forced to overreach during touchdown which may result in higher-than-normal levels of loading during stance in efforts to tug the lagging center of mass up and through each step.
In taking another hard look at how running too upright can be a heavy assault on the lower leg, John Stiner, licensed massage and bodywork therapist at Stiner Massage in Durham, North Carolina, provided more examples of how running too upright can have consequences on running performance and injury prevention.
In his view, running too upright relies on cheap power of the calves, instead of using the cheap muscle power of the shins, thus the calves are forced to heavily subsidize propelling the lagging center mass up and through each step which could exponentially energy drain. Moreover, the glutemax is not loading or pre-stretched, so there’s never ‘shifting up’ into the real mover and stability muscles of the glute. The glutemax should be fronting much of the stress, not the knee or calf. As a consequence, to initiate the next step, the runner has to start over each stride, with nothing in return going forward — no glutemax, no hip extension, which the sum of this equals too much stress and stiffness influsing the knee when you are running in the “wrong direction”.
Since upright running, or running ‘backward’ seems to be a lopsided way to run that involves unnecessary use of excessive muscle power from the lower leg, may welcome the emergence of premature muscular fatigue and the inability to land softly, more responsively with the foot, making running more rough and tumble when it shouldn’t be!
Leaning forward during running however, creates an enabling environment for your mechanics to be much better ordered, curbing high brake force, reducing drag, relieving stress and strain from the knee, keeping you well-supplied with forward momentum.
If you’ve enjoyed this post, you’ll also love my YouTube channel: here, where I provide more underlying evidence of the importance of barefoot running in how it can help speed things forward in terms of mechanical improvements and performance gains! You can also follow me on Facebook: here, where you can enjoy good discussions about barefoot running, minimalist running and minimalist running shoe reviews!
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BSc Neurobiology; MSc Biomechanics candidate, ultra minimalist runner & founder of RunForefoot. I was a heel striker, always injured. I was inspired by the great Tirunesh Dibaba to try forefoot running. Now, I'm injury free. This is why I launched Run Forefoot, to advocate the health & performance benefits of forefoot running and to raise awareness on the dangers of heel striking, because the world needs to know.
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