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Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Do you believe in landing more on the balls of your feet?

Do you believe in landing more on the balls of your feet? Is the literature about people switching to this method correct in your opinion. Any light you can shed on this topic is greatly appreciated.
Gary responds:
Running on one's toes carries a high risk of injury to the lower leg, including stress fracture, tendonitis and muscle spasm.

Photo: The late Derek Turnbull - running efficiency personified!

When one is running at slow pace, the center of gravity falls directly down slightly forwards of the ankle bone. As pace increases, the center of gravity shifts progressively forwards to be over the ball of the foot.

The foot acts as a shock absorber by spreading out the shock wave over time. It does this first by acting like a leaf spring shock absorber and secondly by progressively distributing the impact in a semicircular track along the length of the foot, beginning at the outside of the heel, rolling along the outside border of the arch and then rolling inwards to the ball of the foot and then, finally the big toe. Phew!

A strong and flexible foot efficiently absorbs foot impact shock, storing this energy within the elastic tissues to release it during the push off phase of the running stride.

A runner with strong, flexible feet is "fleet-footed" - they float along with a breath-taking efficiency! Many, if not most runners, especially those with infelxible shoes and/or orthotics clump along doing battle with Gravity.

You can gather from the description above that orthotic are not a good therapy for runners. They interfere with the natural shock absorption of the foot, causing inefficiency while running, discomfort and injury.

If the feet are weak, get some Formthotics Shock Stop off this website, do the foot exercises on this website and do running drills such as those championed by Arthur Lydiard to develop running coordination and to strengthen the sinews of the lower legs.

Photos: Springing and Bounding Exercises, courtesy of Nobby Hashizune

In conclusion: If you land directly on the ball of the foot, you bypass at least 50% of the shock absorption of the foot. While this is fine (and necessary) for a sprinter or 800m runner, this style can be disastrous for long distance runners. Toe runners seldom survive for long as marathon runners due to injury.

So, 90% of your running is done with a light landing on the heel and pushing with a spring off the ball of the foot. As the pace increases, you shift further forwards. When sprinting you are up on your toes.

Stay clear of fads.

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