Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Fore Foot Running

As promised I have decided to blog about my attempt to change my definite heel strike running gait to fore foot strike instead. I would firstly and most importantly I like to say this will not be a scientific account and should not be taken as advice or recommendation. I will however endeavour to read around the subject and use my knowledge of bio mechanics to discuss and debate the issue on a higher level each time I blog.

I am an Osteopath and a recreational runner and have often wondered about the in depth bio mechanics of running.  As a student we were taught by a non runner but someone who logically went through bio mechanics of gait but in the main during the walking phase.  To those of you who have done some bio mechanics of both walking and running you will know that the phases and mechanics of both are very different.  Add into the mix, weight, sex, posture, previous injuries, other sports undertaken , shoes, foot arches, pelvic mechanics etc etc and you start to realise that the straight bio mechanics is ever changeable and never simple to state as absolute for all.  It is for that reason that I find it hard to read books that state how the body reacts during movement as the norm for everyone, when I believe there have to be anatomical differences that change each person bio mechanics.

As a  keen runner and as an Osteopath that treats a lot of runners from sprinters to ultra runners I have to admit that over the last year my urge to learn more to provide even better treatment to runners ( I am pretty hot already!!), has increased. So last night I ventured out to my first seminar on the subject of biomechanics and running by Dr Paul Barrett an expert in the subject.

During the evening it was reported that 80% of distance runners were rear foot strikers  (Kerr et al, 1983)and Elite sprinters have only forefoot contact.  Although this information was given I did note the date of this research at 1983, hardly up to date.  I am also a highly trained Osteopath with an underlying belief that if 80% of us run that way then perhaps that is the natural form.  I do however want to challenge my beliefs hence this trial on myself and if I am honest I would give anything to be faster!!

What interested me most about the evening was the impact force that runners that heel strike put through their talus (bone that joins the foot to the leg bones) and that heel strike blocks the forward momentum of the runner. So in my non Osteopathic head I instantly thought if I could just run through my forefoot I would instantly run 6 minute miles!!!! (currently 10 minute miler!)  My Osteopathic head started to consider all the runners to whom I had noted restricted talus articulation and the techniques I currently use to address this. Was forefoot running something I should consider more carefully.

So today I went straight out and started to run with my impression of a forefoot gait inspired but lacking any real knowledge.  Again in my non Osteopathic head I gave no thought to the muscles, especially my calf muscles  and achilles and the change in their use, I just wanted to try it. I would have given one of my patients a telling of if they had done that!.  I actually have to admit that I really enjoyed the run.  I did choose a fairly flat route, my first careful decision, but then I just played with it and to be honest the time on the run just flew by as my concentration was directed to my feet rather than worries of the day or aches and pains. The only side affect was being almost unable to climb the steps at work today as both my calves and quads are wondering what has hit them. Again I am now thinking thin thighs!! Now I really have lost it.  As I write this I can also feel my gluteals lets hope I'm walking in the morning.

Speaking of aches and pains I think I should give a little of my sporting background.  I played National League Division 1 Volleyball for over 15 years and as such my knees have been overused over this time with I am sure the early signs of osteoarthritis.  This results in knees that I treat very carefully and make sure that I get my pelvis and muscles that surround the knee treated on a regular basis.  This has allowed me to continue my much loved running but I had noticed that the regularity of knee pain during my runs had increased of late.  For those interested I am now 43 and as such retired from serious volleyball.

So imagine my surprise when once I started the forefoot (I use that term lightly until I really learn the technique) running I had no anterior knee pain and didn't have any post run which has fairly much become normality for me these days.  Now although that may sound like magic it was the first day and if I was doing this as a proper research base there was no control or blind trial (trying to remember the skills of my dissertation days!!) so perhaps it was just a good day for the knees? Watch this space.

Over the next few weeks I intend to build up the length of time I use this type of gait.  I do not however plan to run "barefoot" as I regularly run through mud, dog muck, horse manure, thorns etc etc and as much as I would like to do this trial proud I have no intention of taking off my trainers for anyone!.  I know some of you will be yelling at me that my trainers could be restricting my movement and I am not getting the full effect but just let me try my way.  I am a neutral runner, as is my shoe so in theory I just have less proprioception and more support and most importantly a water/poo proof cover.

As to a training plan...well that is proving hard to find so I shall use my knowledge of training and try to add a mile every couple of weeks.I will remain running at least 4 times a week but will not use the new gait on every or during all of a run. As a keen runner I am unwilling to give up my level of fitness so will continue to average about 25 miles a week, hopefully increasing once muscles are strengthened.   I will update you when I have a full plan arranged.  If anyone has one they would like to recommend just send it to and I'll give it close consideration. Otherwise I am dredging up my knowledge from gym instructor days.  I would also like to experiment and not follow what has already been done.  Lastly on my training plan I am also aware that I should try to lose some weight, at least half a stone to take some of the force off my forefoot, so I may well blog on that too!!

Finally for those on twitter you may have seen that some how I am being goaded into completing a half iron man...well just to let you know THAT AIN'T GOING TO HAPPEN but I do think that perhaps I need some sort of finale to my training blog so will be considering a race to enter where I try to run the whole way with my new style, just need to work out time scale. Better also prepare myself to accept my prize for first female crossing the line with my new found speed!! ha ha ha.  May just enter the over 85 group and hope I am the only entrant.

Love to hear all your feedback and thank you to all on twitter today for you inspiration.  I have books arriving that you have recommended so will update my thoughts when I have read them. Anyone have any research papers to recommend then just let me know and I can review them.

Feel free to check my credentials out at  

Helen Bullen
BSc (Hons) Osteopathic Medicine
10 minute miler!!


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