terminator (3)In Luke Dittrich’s July 22, 2012 Esquire  article “A Lament for Tyson Gay,” he explains it this way:

By almost every criterion, Gay is the better runner. He trains harder, gets off the blocks faster, has superior form. Even in purely physical terms, Gay has the sort of dense, muscular, compact body that was long considered the apotheosis of the human sprinter before that tall, lazy, gangly showboat [Bolt] loped out of Jamaica and changed everything.

The only area in which Gay falls short is the most important one…

And so the debate begins. Usain Bolt is the most celebrated sprinter in history. At the start of the 2016 Rio Olympics, he is poised to achieve an unprecedented “triple-triple”: gold in the 100m, 200m and 4x100m for the third straight time. Over the course of these past 8 years, he has dominated the sport of track & field with unparalleled aplomb and celebrity. On his way to two world records (9.58/100m and 19.19/200m), Bolt has beguiled, bewildered and charmed his way to the top. Unlike any other athlete of this era (with appreciation for LeBron, Phelps, Serena etc.), the fascination with his prowess is unmatched. Although under such circumspection, Bolt’s talents still remain a mystery. Everyone from sports announcers to mechanical engineers to even Bolt himself, are still trying to piece together a consistent, air-tight explanation for how the 6’5″ sprinter from Jamaica hits top speeds of 27.79 mph.

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Much of what we learn from kinesiological science is peripheral – results spawned from long-held beliefs, data that has been culled and massaged to support preconceived notions about human movement and performance. In an article on biomedical research published July 2016 in the Journal of the American Medical Association (“What Happens When Underperforming Big Ideas In Research Become Entrenched?”, Michael J. Joyner, MD; Nigel Paneth, MD, MPH; John P. A. Ioannidis, MD, DSc), the authors make an interesting observation: “When claims about high-profile, dominant “big ideas” are viewed against their mediocre benefits, it seems that [one] basic course(s) of action…is to reevaluate and reset the current focus…. In the current environment, scientists are pigeonholed in a narrow discipline and are penalized [if] they exit their specific niche. There should be incentives for scientists to acknowledge that their research focus should be abandoned and help them switch to another potentially more fruitful research area.”

What does this mean with regards to Bolt’s sprinting technique? To this day, sports scientists are buried in the “big idea” of vGRF (vertical ground reaction force), most notably presented by Weyand and others in 2000, which proposes that the forces our muscles generate at foot strike are the propulsive trigger for motion (J Appl Physiol (1985). 2000 Nov;89(5):1991-9. Faster top running speeds are achieved with greater ground forces not more rapid leg movements. Weyand PG, Sternlight DB, Bellizzi MJ, Wright S.). On the surface, this seems plausible – albeit with a warped and incomplete interpretation of Newton’s laws – that the harder we push into the ground, the faster we can accelerate ahead. Even Usain, in a YouTube post described his sprinting this way: “After the acceleration phase the goal is to: ‘Keep driving, driving, driving.. …. After completing the drive: ‘Get tall, knees up, dorsiflex, get your toes up, plant, push again.”  However, this theory and description quickly lose persuasiveness considering studies have shown that Bolt’s maximum power output doesn’t match his maximum running velocity and that “less than 8% of the energy his muscles produced was used for motion.” (On the performance of Usain Bolt in the 100 m sprint, J J Hernández Gómez, V Marquina and R W Gómez; Published 25 July 2013/European Journal of Physics, Volume 34, Number 5). O. Helene and M. T. Yamashita, in The force, power and energy of the 100 meter sprint, Am. J. Phys. 78, 307 (2010), further noted that the maximum force, the maximum power, and the total mechanical energy values produced by Bolt were, surprisingly, smaller in 2009 than in 2008 when he broke his own WR.

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What Bolt has recounted (“get tall, knees up, dorsiflex, get your toes up, plant, push again”) is considered the “classical” approach to sprinting. The difficulty in accepting this model is that Bolt truly doesn’t run that way. Hard to imagine, especially in the world of elite-level athletics where mechanics are obsessively critiqued over and over again, such a discrepancy between perceived and real-time action could exist. Show me where Bolt drives? Pushes? Plants? There is not enough time in the stride cycle for these things, where even the most minute fluctuations in timing are disastrous. His elongated stride? Notice how his foot touches beneath his body. His driving forward? Look at his compact thigh angle and hand position right before take-off. He pushes into the ground? The lack of complete knee extension at take-off indicates that his support leg is prepared for recovery mode. The research flounders, as scientists and bloggers attempt to correlate or reconcile his stride length, step frequency, taller frame, strength, acceleration, longer (relative) ground contact time, resistance to air drag, leg stiffness. Nevertheless, one of world’s foremost experts on human performance, SMU professor Dr. Peter Weyand (who has intensively studied Usain Bolt’s running characteristics and is the foremost proponent of the force-generation model), summarized in 2014, “Yet despite interest, incentives and intervention options that are arguably all without precedent, the scientific understanding of how the fastest human running speeds are achieved remains significantly incomplete.”

So what gives? Lost is the fundamental idea that “locomotion is a ‘falling-forward’ cycle, in which the body mass falls forward and then rises again. Mass that falls from a higher altitude falls faster…” (“The Evolution Of Speed In Athletics”, Adrian Bejan, Edward Jones and Jordan D. Charles – International Journal of Design & Nature and Ecodynamics, Volume 5(2010), Issue 3). This concept is not new. Throughout the ages, many have understood this relationship, from Leonardo Da Vinci (“Motion is created by the destruction of balance…”) to British physiologist Graham Brown (“It seems that the act of progression itself – the centre of mass of the body is allowed to fall forwards and downwards under the action of gravity….”) to the father of podiatric biomechanics Dr. Merton Root (“Vertical forces become less than body weight when the center of gravity of the body passes over the foot…”). In 2010, the lesser recognized study by F. Kugler and L. Janshen (“Body Position Determines Propulsive Forces In Accelerated Running”, J. Biomech January 19, 2010Volume 43, Issue 2, Pages 343–348) indicated that “…greater forward leans of the body which finally resulted in greater propulsive forces. Consequently, maximizing forward propulsion requires optimal, not maximal force application.”

As applied to running, these insights were systematically presented and expounded by Dr. Nicholas Romanov (Pose Method), and the only model that acknowledges how Bolt effectively utilizes gravity, specifically gravitational torque, to his advantage (“Analysis Of Usain Bolt’s Running Technique”, http://www.posemethod.com). Romanov articulates how Bolt, as if released from a slingshot, receives a horizontal propulsive thrust from the angular acceleration of his Center of Mass (COM). Since force is a vector property, this angular acceleration is determined by how optimally Bolt rotates on the fulcrum of his foot at the peak of maximum leverage. As a biological system that must organize and integrate a complexity of elements in the blink of an eye, Bolt handles force via the experience of rapid accumulation and loss of bodyweight during the stance phase. This “experience” provides a feedback signal common to all bipedals, a temporaneous equilibrium used as a perceptive nudge to move us from one foot to another. Without succumbing to the potential degradation of momentum, Bolt is able to maintain a more consistent velocity, moving his body in a continuous flow of energy. In its simplest terms, he is falling better, more powerfully and with less wasted effort.


It’s now time to start looking outside this simplistic model of sprinting as force dependent. Although the basic F= ma and stride length x stride frequency formulas hold true when discussing the general principles of physics, all the forces that are operating in a system of movement must be taken into account. There is no factual evidence that sprinters are best served by intensifying force application. The reality is this: sprinting requires the remarkable ability to absorb, withstand, control, recoil and transfer the forces they encounter. Bolt’s genius is his skill. Of similar brilliance was Jesse Owens, whose legendary coach Larry Snyder described his footstrike as “the lightest tread I have ever seen.”    (“The Training Of Jesse Owens,” 1956, Clinic Notes, NCAA Coaches Association). When Bolt sprints, it has been equally written, “The metal of his spikes clacks against the surface of the track like a tap dancer’s shoes on the stage.” (Sports Illustrated, July 2016, Tim Layden).

These are hardly the descriptions of hulks brutishly striking the ground! Of note, according to David Epstein, author of The Sports Gene, biomechanical analysis of the speed of Jesse Owens’ joints shows that had he been running on the same surface as Bolt, he would have been within one stride of the modern champion, almost indistinguishable. Those who oppose what Bolt accepts cannot match his speed. They lose time with every step, their inefficiency both unnecessary and counterproductive. He is a warrior at one with his environment. His emotional focus and mental toughness almost superhuman. Win or lose (and I’m betting on the former), Bolt has set a unique standard of athletic precision. Watching him, I’m reminded of a quote by Tony Robbins: “Push will wear you out. When you’re pushing to do something you only have so much willpower. But when you’re being pulled, when there’s something larger than yourself that you’re here to serve, [it] brings you energy, transforms.” As they say, sometimes the answers are right in front of you. High-profile, dominant ideas be damned.


About four months ago I started cooking. Life circumstances nudged me away from the kitchen for over 20 years, and current life circumstances have pulled me into this previously unfamiliar space in my home. I didn’t know what to expect when I first delved into the pots and pans, but what I found was an extreme pleasure in the creative process of cooking. Great cooking, or gastronomy if you will, is a complex mesh of food science and art: how do we properly utilize our knowledge of chemical reactions and nutrient interaction to develop the flavors integral to great tasting food? And the means to this end have infinite possibilities, as unique as each cook’s culinary acumen, cultural traditions and palette.

Yet, for as individual and endlessly varied as food preparation is, there are rules to the game: improvisation aside,
standards abound from cooking methods to levels of doneness and seasoning to appropriate storage procedures. “[It] must be admitted that understanding the scientific principles of boiling an egg will be more useful to many more people. If all you have to eat is an egg, you had better know how to cook it properly.” (Hervé This, Molecular Gastronomy). Still, the majority of us ignore the science. We assume the “composition and structure of food” chemistry and focus in on the craft of cookery – transforming and manipulating our groceries into delicious edibles. It’s almost as if, absent-mindedly, we put that steak onto the grill with knowing expectation that its composition will change into something we enjoy. The essence of great cooking can be tasted when inspiration meets knowledge meets skill – culminating in memorable and blissful indulgence. Who of us doesn’t remember each and every morsel of the best things we’ve ever eaten?

Running is no different. I’ve spent most of my blog space proselytizing the biomechanical side of it, trying to help you understand the kinematics behind running movement. You’ve read about everything from footstrike patterns to falling angles. You’ve heard all about my pet peeves with regards to the teaching of better running form, as I’ve tried to be a guidepost for your quest to move efficiently and injury-free. But what I neglected to remind you, through the preaching and research, is that this is also an artistic pursuit: great runners move so effortlessly and beautiful. Like eating, running is about transcending the science; here, by coordinating the sum of our physical parts beyond the over-simplified idea of “putting one foot in front of the other.”

Timing is critical. Great chefs have a “feel” for when things are done or should be added. Comparatively, great running technique is about sensing the proper time to act. The patience in letting a soufflé rise is akin to allowing the body to rotate precipitously – and trusting the outcome. We can’t control the science, the interplay of forces (external and internal) that dynamically create the movement impetus. But we can negate it’s effects by not following the recipe, by adding too much or not enough to the mixture: acting contrary to our anatomical design and basic human need.

So many of us cook without formal training – and it shows. We lack the accumulated know-how and finesse of an experienced chef. Why we’re blown-away by tremendous food quality, depth of flavor, presentation and clever cart du jour comes as no surprise. Eating well makes it difficult to do the alternative – just consuming calories for the sake of biological necessity (economics aside). However, we do it anyway. Grabbing something out of sheer hunger. In the same vein, substandard running (rife with injury and poor performance) doesn’t stop us. We have an appetite to move: stress relief, weight loss, competition, endorphin rushes. Artifices that motivate us to put on our shoes and head out the door. Are there times when these cravings should be ignored? When our urges obstruct our running precision? Where aptitude needs to be the precursor of refinement?

I recently read, and was dumbfounded by, two of Pete Larson’s (anatomy and exercise physiology professor at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, NH) companion internet posts – last year’s “On Running Form, Variability in Elites and What This Means to You (And Me)” and his recent blog, “On Human Variability, Running Shoes, and Running Form: The Importance of an Individualized Approach.” The gist of Larson’s (aka Runblogger) argument, woven into the subtext of both articles, is thus: although he tends “to agree that there is probably an optimal way for a human to run, due to the anatomical variability inherent in the human species, he doubts that a “single perfect running form” could be applied to “every human who runs.”

To support his viewpoint, Larson leans on his biological knowledge of beak differentiation in Galapagos finches and blood vessel branching characteristics in cats to drive home his point about the biomechanically-varied footstrike in elite Boston marathoners. In the former case, he hypothesizes that “variation is normal…[it] serves as the raw material upon which natural selection can act in the process of evolution”, and has recently concluded, as humans “we also exhibit anatomical and physiological variability just like any other species does.”

It does make sense. The evolutionary mechanism of adaptation is obviously necessary for animal species survival. In humans, this morphing of anatomical characteristics is how we got up on two feet in the first place. Without change (nontropy), permanent existence is unlikely. All biological systems are in a constant interaction with their immediate environment – the flux of this relationship creating the breeding ground for alterations in structure and behavior. But, the “myth of variability” can be intrinsically seen when looking beyond these mutations of physical attributes, shifts of integration necessary to sustain compatibility with nature. Scientists, like Larsen, are reductionists who study these changes in vitro, becoming lost in the minutiae of things like finch beak/feline arterial differential data without a clear understanding of how specific genealogical traits relate to the principles that guide us – if at all. Their concepts about movement lack dimension. Why do we all run differently? What effects do observable variants like abnormalities, impingements or impairments have on our ability to run well?

On planet earth, these general rules will always apply: Life is movement, movement exists in a gravitationally-driven field and without gravity movement wouldn’t exist the way we know it. From birth, our motor development hinges on this delicate interaction: the desire to move and the fear associated with this movement. When first walking, babies literally “let go”, quickly stepping or shuffling from one safe hold (couch, table, mother’s leg) to another. This leap of faith, this temporary loss of balance is a must – yet also the price of freedom. As I watch and coach running daily, it fascinates me how far we’ve come from these innate beginnings.

Originally, we play with the possibilities of what our bodies can do. We begin to see the limitless potential of movement. Then something happens. We fall and hurt ourselves. We become more aware of how others move. Almost subconsciously, we begin to build walls to “protect ourselves.” We stop running with abandon. Although cursed with a higher level of consciousness than animals, we often fail to choose the proper posture for our movement. This “free will” of choice is what makes humans unique in the animal kingdom, but can limit us as well. As Dr. Nicholas Romanov explained, “the bee has an innate instinct to build the beehive with perfect construction. At this point, the bee’s ‘creativity’ is ended, illustrating that instincts are very restricted …Human progress starts, where instincts end and goes beyond this point.” We can run better. Instead we become movement victims, choosing our running style by copying from someone who copied it from someone else and so on, until we’re running with no quality. Instincts fall prey to imitation.

Not so with animals. Percy Cerruty, renown Australian running coach (of Olympic gold medal miler Herb Elliot) observed that “amongst other things I learnt from the study of the racehorse was that they all moved exactly similarly: that a silhouette of one going fast fitted exactly into a silhouette of another – extent of leg-throw – movement of legs – head and neck angles and relationships – all identical. Whether heavily built or lightly, long in the legs or not so long, tall or short.” So, if we accept that all species of animals move similarly (or the whole domain of animals, birds, insects and fish according to Aristotelian thought), it would suggest that evolution is really about changing the variables to match the situation as a subplot to finding the most suitable way to get from Point A to Point B.


To argue, like Larson does, that the varying heights, weights, gender and physiologic make-up of runners allows for an idiosyncratic approach to (running) movement, disavows the physical presence of gravity and our need to take advantage of it. “The gravitational field of the earth is easily the most potent physical influence in any human life. When human energy field and gravity are at war, needless to say gravity wins every time. It may be a man’s friend and reinforce his activity; it may be his bitter enemy and drag him to physical destruction,” stated Structural Integrationist Dr. Ida Rolf. Humans are systems within systems, that consume, expend and channel energy. As varied as we are (color, shape and size), we all have the same basic framework, abide by the same rules.


In the “On Human Variability” article, Larson gets bogged-down on “footwear options, genetics, dietary habits and history of past physical activity” as signs that we are nothing like our barefoot running ancestors, who were seemingly able to run all day while playing or “persistence hunting.” Yes, we are far-removed from indigenous populations like the Tarahumara or Hadzabe. They have a distinct running style worthy of emulation. Why? Because they fearlessly run on their own terms (often, fast and far) without the need of doctor visits – and for the majority of us this belies possibility. Ultimately then, the myth of variability, defined in our excuses for running poorly and hurt, are the mistakes we make in simple execution.

Currently, researchers are scratching their heads while trying to establish a running paradigm by ascertaining its symptoms. In a recent New York Times article, Dr. Steef Bredeweg of the University Medical Center Groningen, Netherlands, in reference to how best to train novices and prevent injuries said, “we don’t know what is the right thing to do.” A closer look reveals that without a measuring stick regarding human running form, chaos persists (note how many of you have or suffer from running-related injuries) as design fails to correlate with function.

Larson is even at a loss, while interpreting the article “Effects of Shoe Cushioning Upon Ground Reaction Forces in Running.” (Clarke et al., International Journal of Sports Medicine, 1983). In the end, the randomness of the “impact force vs. shoe design” data seems to have left him exasperated. He figuratively throws up his hands, re-emphasizing that “that runners are variable, and we each have different needs on an individual level.” True, all runners have different needs, but they all have the same necessities. Footstrike pattern, shoe selection and aerobic capacity may be varying but efficient movement is not. Despite how you land, getting the body in right position to move forward is non-negotiable.



Unbelievably, Larson (and journalists like Runner’s World magazine editor-at-large and former Boston Marathon winner Amby Burfoot, who reasoned “it’s hard to turn running-form theories into physics, which depends on universal laws” Really?), cannot connect the dots. Shoe design, genetics, psychology, anthropometrics and physiological limits are easy targets for scientific analysis, providing a smoke-screen which unexpectantly clouds the study of human locomotion. Brilliantly presented by Mabel E. Todd in the 1937 book “The Thinking Body”, her observation, though in opposition to Larson’s views, plays as one of the beat ad hoc definitions of running mechanics I’ve ever read: [a] “pattern…of many small parts moving definite distances in space, in a scheme perfectly timed, and with the exact amount of effort necessary to support the individual weights and to cover the time-space movement.”

When Larson shows still images of the top five finishers in the 2010 Boston Marathon – Robert Cheruiyot (the eventual winner), Tekeste Kebede (2nd place), Meb Keflezighi (5th place), and Ryan Hall (4th place) – the irony is significant. Choosing a “standardized moment in the gait cycle” to compare these runners preposterously contradicts his insistence on stride variability. Why not show them all a few frames later, when they all demonstrate the position where bodyweight balance is poised on the fulcrum of the ball of the foot? We all must go through this position [see all photos]. Knowing that proper establishment of body mass on the ground is essential, the quibbling over footstrike variance is a non-sequitur. Why argue about footstrike (or arm carriage, or body orientation for that matter), rather than acknowledge the common errors in timing and anticipation of ground contact?



The greatest obstacle facing the modern runner (and modern running performance) is the inability to fix his or her relationship with gravity. The creation of the variability myth enables the self-serving ego of the runner and the business of running research. There are costs for our individuality. Just because we see differences doesn’t mean they should exist. I help athletes reinterpret their perception of movement and become more conscious with their running. Larson, like so many others in the field (Burfoot, Ian Hunter, Alberto Salazar, Steve Magness), can’t comprehend that variability predicts a conceptual void.

Instead of providing the American running community with cohesive answers, they skirt the issue with misinformation and unanswerable questions regarding training, diet and footwear. Variability is all about what decisions we make before and after our bodies reach the tipping point. Instead of defending the heel-striking of three-time U.S. Olympian Abdi Abdirahman (as Burfoot does in the addendum to Larson’s “On Running Form” piece), when will we realize the important question is “How much better can we be?” The answer is simply articulated by Dr. Rolf: “When the body gets working appropriately, the forces of gravity can flow through.”

Last weekend I had the opportunity to be a part of the 2011 edition of the Wineglass Marathon. Thanks to Sheila Sutton (assistant race director), I was invited to present a couple of lectures during my stay in Corning, NY, and otherwise mingle with the few thousand runners in attendance. There was a two-day (Friday and Saturday) expo held inside the Corning Community YMCA where the runners, vendors and race staff congregated for the usual pre-race/last-minute frenzy.

In between lectures I did some gait analyses (notably with new client Jennifer Brower-McNutt, former 2004 Olympic Trials marathon participant) and answered running-related questions. Jen, and another of my athletes (John Weiner, 49, who ended up finishing 4th overall) were running the 1/2M, so I bundled-up early Sunday morning and headed towards the starting line at Campbell-Savona School. Just prior to the race start, many of the runners lined the school’s hallways (it had started to rain outside), going through the usual stretching and idle chatter routine. Typical of runners, in between calf and quad stretches plus keeping-myself-warm bouncing, was the predictable query posed to anyone within earshot: Am I prepared?

The question was always answered with positive reinforcement (“you’ll be fine!”) – and even more so when the questioner assured the listener that “I got my miles in.” It’s as if those five magical words were the key elixir to surviving any test of human stamina. Having those miles under one’s belt, although seemingly effective, has yet to guarantee any type of success regardless of the distance run. In fact, despite the folklore that “you gotta get that 20-miler in” pre-marathon, how many of you, or people you know, have suffered in that final 10k regardless of their “long run” preparation.

So, if endurance doesn’t give you endurance, what the hell does??? In a leap of faith few are willing to accept, it may sound illogical at first but is truly at the heart of maximizing your running potential: Speed is the foundation of endurance. I first learned this concept from my friend and mentor Dr. Nicholas Romanov (Pose Method) and have witnessed it’s veracity with my own athletes and clients. The adage of “building your endurance through long, slow distance (LSD)” to give you the physiological base to tackle endurance challenges is misleading. Coaches from Arthur Lydiard to Bill Bowerman have stressed, in one form or another, the necessity of optimizing one’s aerobic capacity. Perhaps because of the prevalence of the “jogging” culture, which has led to a boon of recreational runners, or the narrowly-scoped obsession of the scientific community with the physiological effects of prolonged exercise, the concept of running better is all about heart and lung capacity. Unfortunately, all LSD gives you – with a modicum of aerobic benefit – is the ability to move slowly over periods of time while exposing yourself to fatigue, bonking and injury. If our aerobic reservoirs were the linchpin, then why doesn’t someone like Lance Armstrong, whose aerobic engine is legendary, run the fastest marathon times? You may argue that cycling requires different muscles or skills than running, which would point to something else at issue here: technique.

With good technique comes speed, and with speed the potential to endure. Remember, the fundamental requirement is how precisely a runner can interact with the forces available (gravity, ground reaction, muscular stretch-reflex), visible in how effectively he or she can remove their foot from the ground. The kinesthetic awareness that allows the body to move forward hinges on the understanding that there is an exact time-frame for economy – one that is beyond the amount of oxygen consumed per kilogram of bodyweight per minute. The less time you can spend on the ground, the less taxing it is to the muscular system and the less oxygen needed to fuel stressed-out muscles. Humans are built to survive (i.e. slog through marathons), but at great cost. Speed, in the true sense, is that proper combination of skill/effort/awareness/precision you’ll never find while running slowly for slow’s sake (although I want to point out that jogging can be treated as more skill development for improving one’s running technique).

Great distance runners can perform at a sub-5:00 pace, mile after mile. Yet, even Ryan Hall (after Sunday’s 2:08/5th place performance in the Chicago Marathon), commented that he needed to improve his “turnover” and drop his 1/2 marathon time to solidify his Trials and Olympic chances. The idea of strengthening one’s ability to accelerate in shorter intervals succeeds on many levels, physically and emotionally.

The belief that speed cannot be trained year-round is a falsehood. Much research has proven the positive cardiovascular results from repeated interval training. The blueprint is the knowledge of what intervals will bring out your best? How many? How often? With proper interval work and ample recovery, the lessons learned during speed training pay dividends for elite and recreational runners alike. Which leads us to the ultimate question: how fast can you be?





What struck me so paradoxically, in Gina Kolata’s column”For Runners, The Soft Ground Can Be Hard On The Body” (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/19/health/nutrition/19best.html?_r=1&ref=personalbest), was not the inconclusive responses to the question at hand – Is it better to run on hard or soft ground? – but rather Ms. Kolata’s comment about her own running dilemma: “every time I push off of on a soft surface, I twist my ankle.”

Although Ms. Kolata was clearly just adding a personal anecdote to bolster the story, it undoubtedly echoed the views of University of Texas at Austin exercise physiologist Hirofumi Tanaka who “aggravated” his knee injury and “sprained his ankle” when using a dirt path during his rehab. To him, the “soft and irregular surface” was the culprit. Kolata did her editorial diligence, interviewing several experts, including her coach Tom Fleming. Still, it seems odd to me that modern man is so ill-prepared to run on anything outside the most tempered surfaces, while our less civilized ancestors mucked around for years in nothing more than a leather sandal or bare foot. And even stranger are the controversies and misinformation buzzing around the subject.

When did we lose the ability to just go outside and run? At a time when our technology and problem-solving seem so far-reaching, why are we still in a quandary over how to perform the most fundamental of human tasks? The answer is simple, yet lurking outside the radar: gravity.

What befuddles scientists, coaches, athletes and runners, like Kolata, is the understanding that the propulsive impetus in running is gravity-driven. Gravity (plus friction) holds the landing foot in place while the body has the opportunity to rotate over this axis (imagine holding a pencil upright then letting it fall towards the table). If the fulcrum created by the foot remained, the body would topple rapidly towards the ground. However, it’s this resultant pull of gravity forward and downward, coupled with the removal of the foot from ground support, that allows our bodies to move horizontally. This process (repeated over and over, from foot to foot), is the true definition of running. A timely spring-release of the foot from any stretch of grass/dirt/asphalt/track, therefore, becomes the primary responsibility of the runner and, most importantly, the clue to assessing our injury-proness.

Kolata may feel it interesting to examine the effect of surface type on impact forces and injury potential, but I think this drastically misses the point. With regards to a soft, undulating surface, the angle of our footstrike and the time it takes for us to remove that foot is essential (I often train my form by running on ice). The conventional wisdom offered by Dr. Stuart J. Warden, director of the Indiana Center for Translational Musculoskeletal Research at Indiana University, to “get a pair of comfortable shoes and run on whatever surface they prefer” seems illogical considering the scope of the questions posed in the article.

It took many years for a forefoot strike to become common knowledge (although the photo accompanying the article suggests otherwise). I guess it’ll take more time for that push-off, regardless of the terrain, to be deemed unnecessary as well.

In his recent post “Running Economy: Overrated and Misunderstood” (Running_Economy.pdf), Steve Magness, exercise scientist and newest addition to the Nike Oregon Project team, bemoans the “sad state of a lot of physiology research out there”  which has streamlined exceptional running performance into a neatly tied package of  running economy (RE), maximal ventilatory intake (VO2max) and lactate metabolism threshold (LT). To him, these physiological markers are informative yet underwhelming. “There are no easy variables that can tell us how good of a runner you are or can be.” Really? So, what methods can we use to predict and evaluate running performance? How then, do we address the most cogent underlying question of What makes a great distance runner?

Magness attempts to answer this question by explaining that although “it would make sense that the ‘better’ ones running form, the more efficient” that person is, someone like Alberto Salazar (who had poor mechanics) was efficient based on the current scientific nomenclature. The problem, he states, is that RE is a complex variable, and that there are “three types of efficiencies that govern how [economical] a runner is in a whole body sense” – mechanical, physiological and neural. According to Magness, “some parts of you will be very efficient while others won’t.” In this way, RE “reflects the sum of all those parts.”

There is some truth to what Magness says. In “Web of Life”, Fritjof Capra reveals that in the systems thinking view, “the essential properties of an organism, or living system, are the properties of the whole, which none of the parts have. [These properties] arise from the interactions and relationships among the parts.” By defining RE as the relationship between several types of efficiencies, Magness owns some understanding of the the parts contributing to the whole. However, states Capra, “the belief that in every complex system the behavior of the whole can be understood entirely from the properties of its part” is the central idea of the reductionist approach of modern movement science. So Magness is just as guilty as the scientists he criticizes – by reducing RE to smaller parts and missing the point that the properties (of efficiency in this case) are destroyed “when the system is dissociated, either physically or theoretically, into isolated elements.”

It was biologist Joseph Woodger in Biological Principles, 1936 (cited by Capra), among others, who emphasized that “the key characteristics of the organization of living organisms was its hierarchical nature.” In other words, there are multileveled systems within systems. In humans, every step we take displays the connectedness between balance and falling, support and motion, thought and action. Economical running form relates to our ability to interact with our gravitational environment.  Our bodies are already attuned to the slightest fluctuations. All we need to improve is a better sense of our “loss” of bodyweight when falling forward during the gait cycle.

It’s not about the body becoming more efficient “at sending the neural signals from the brain to the muscles,” as Magness argues. The brain does not determine “what muscle fiber to fire to do a certain movement.” Muscles have pre-determined functions as agonists/antagonists. It’s not our job to tell them what to do. This is handled by the precise, dense network of interactions that criss-crosses anatomical, physiological, psychological, emotional and biomechanics barriers. We are still discovering how to predict and define the potential of human performance. Capra summarizes that “all scientific concepts and theories are limited and approximate.” Science can never provide any complete and definitive understanding.”





For the past year or so, I’ve been working closely with my friend and colleague Dr. Lee Cohen (www.drleecohen.com). Dr. Cohen is the podiatric consultant for the Philadelphia Eagles, 76ers, Wings and a host of collegiate and high school teams. I met him through the usual “know somebody” network, and he was gracious enough to let me sit-in on his patient consultations. By hanging around once a week, I was able to increase my knowledge of postural structure, foot mechanics and gait analysis – and improve my diagnosis and corrections of running-related injuries. Collaborating with Dr. Cohen, however, took some time to cultivate. Solving structural issues by alignment alone had been a successful approach for him, though there seemed to remain 15-20% of his patients (mostly involved with athletic activity) that continued to suffer problems. I was stubborn in my insistence that there needed to be another side to the treatment protocol for his patients and athletes: help them move better. Ironically, it wasn’t until Dr. Cohen and I taped a video together that he was “sold” on my ability to provide an alternative method to refining stride mechanics. He heard me run! Or actually, he didn’t hear me run. Surprised by the quiet lightness of my stride, Dr. Cohen then understood how my knowledge could augment his practice. Ever since, we’ve been tackling many issues in tandem. Now, I’m a permanent fixture at his various offices and on his website.

Each week, I answer one of the many questions proposed by his patients. Below are the first three installments. For future updates, please click on the “Patient Education” link and find the Ask The Trainer section.


I am a runner with flat feet and I suffer regularly from overuse injuries to my foot, ankle, and knee, what is my problem and how can I run without pain?

A common cause of chronic pain and overuse injury of this type is a mechanical problem called over pronation of the foot. Normal pronation occurs when the foot rolls inward and the arch of the foot flattens. In a runner with flat feet or other issues the foot will often hyper-pronate, or roll too far inwards. This will throw off the balance of the foot and leg and can cause shin splints, runner’s knee, bunions, tarsal tunnel syndrome and more. Often the pain can be avoided with motion control running shoes and custom insoles, but many experts maintain that while this method gets rid of the pain, poor mechanics still inhibit the runner’s full potential. To fix this problem many athletes turn to elite running coaches and movement specialists. At Tracy Peal Speed, we advocate a cutting edge running technique called the Pose method. The Pose method is proven to reduce shock on the knee as well as preventing injury. These results are achieved by keeping the body well positioned over its general center of mass so as to work with gravity rather than against it. To learn more please contact us.

What are some pros and cons of barefoot running and how can I learnmore about the technique?
It seems reasonable that shoes, especially running shoes, would represent the most technologically advanced approach to enhancing human locomotion mechanics – but this is not the case. Barefoot running enthusiasts point out that shoes alter natural foot placement, moving impact from the forefoot and balls of the feet to the heel by adding cushioning and mechanical support. In their opinion, this causes the small muscles of the foot and leg to become underdeveloped through disuse. Advocates of barefoot running also suggest that this method can help strengthen these muscles to increase performance and prevent injury.
While barefoot running may improve health, combining performance, efficiency and injury prevention involves more complexity than simply removing ones shoes and running. For this reason a competent running coach or movement specialist should assist and advise any athlete who is interested in barefoot running. For an introduction to barefoot running and a sample drill check out this video.

How should a long distance runner approach rehabilitation of a knee injury so as to return to training as quickly as possible?
It is important to remember that with any injury, especially a knee injury, the injured part of the body is far from the only area affected. Muscles that have been unused during the rehabilitative process may have weakened, so it’s imperative to minimize effort and stress on the knee when returning to running. Jumping back into training without the proper attention can lead to an overuse issue or a recurrence of the previous injury. For this reason we emphasize Gait Retraining, in addition to normal strengthening and flexibility routines. This approach is essential to providing the proprioceptive feedback an athlete needs to stride efficiently, regain strength and return balance to the leg.


Well are you? And if so, how do you know? America has long had a fascination with fitness and the customary qualities associated with a “fit lifestyle”: health, vigor, youth. Thinking Jack LaLane (may he rest in peace) through Tony Horton will conjure up images of physical fitness culture that has progressed from simple bodyweight calisthenics to a kitchen-sink mentality combining such diverse elements as yoga and high-intensity jumping drills. If you’re a couch potato, how do you get started? If you’re already running 5 miles per day and lifting weights, how do you know you’re doing the right thing? And if you’re injured, what do you do now?

I recently conducted some informal research (at Barnes and Noble, no less), looking for answers to the questions posed. The bookstore seemed the logical place to find expert information on the subject of health and fitness. A mere five minutes in the store, led me to the following book and magazine titles (I took photos just to make sure I was accurate): The 4-Hour Body, The Primal Blueprint, Healing Spices, The Men’s Health Big Book Of Food, Bold & Healthy Flavors, Sonoma Diet, The G Free Diet, Lose Up To 10lbs in 2 Weeks, From Belly Fat to Belly Flat, Abs Diet, Eat to Live, Power Juicing, 101 Muscle-Building Workouts & Nutrition Plans, Sexy Forever, The Flex Diet, The Metabolism Miracle, Eating For Life, The Paleo Diet, Cinch!, Change Your Brain/Change Your Body, Body By Design, The Life You Want, The Happy Herbivore, Crazy Sexy Diet, The Lean Belly Prescription, Bring It!, Now Eat This, How Not To Look Old, Get Energy!, 101 Workouts, The Daily dozen, The New Evolution DietWhole Living, Natural, Health, Life Extension, Diet & Exercise, Yoga, Yoga for Fitness, WeightWatchers, Self, Shape, Fitness, body Fit, Health & fitness, Oxygen, Muscle & Fitness, Men’s Health, Men’s Fitness, Fitness Rx, Women’s Fitness, Women’s Health, Experience Life, Pilates Style & The Well-Being Journal. Upstairs there were another eight cases of diet, exercise and women’s health-related books, ad nauseum. Not to mention, the amount of titles about running, endurance running, track & field and triathlon training.

With such a plethora of information, where does one begin? On one hand, we embrace the easy fixes – the trendy solutions to our fitness desires and overweight woes, and on the other, celebrate the extreme success stories of endurance and athletic feats that eludes the majority of us. You may get up from the couch and start walking, finding yourself three months later in a local 5k race. You may look at the scale and venture to dream about completing a marathon or triathlon. Whatever your aspirations, there are some common-sense guidelines to follow.

1. Get a medical check-up – Before starting any fitness regime, you should (if you haven’t exercised in awhile) make sure you are physically fit enough to get physically fit. If you have a history of problems (from cardiovascular to musculoskeletal) have a professional doctor or chiropractor sign-off on you starting to exercise.

2. Find professional help – Although many of us have some background with working-out, it’s always best to elicit the help of a coach or trainer. Checking qualifications and/or testimonials is a must. Your goals will be more achievable if you have a specific course of action, and the chance for injury or poor results is lessened with the proper help.

3. Be realistic about your goals – You may want to climb Mt. Everest, but understand that there’s a progression that should be followed. When I’m dealing with athletes, there is a sequence of knowledge, understanding, awareness, perception and practice that must be adhered to. As they say, you have to crawl before you walk, walk before you run.

4. Eat better – With all of the diet and nutrition books on the market, there is an obvious concern for what what eat. In the same way that exercise programs are based on general principles with individual applications, so too is your nutrition plan. Again, a metabolic evaluation can provide insight into what your body is lacking and help you make intelligent food choices. You’ll never go wrong with organic choices, smaller more evenly distributed meals and an avoidance of processed foodstuffs.

If you want to eschew all of this advice and do-it-youself, I have one suggestion which is based on our most basic evolutionary need: move. And all movement begins with knowing yourself, feeling your own bodyweight in motion, freeing your mind from restrictions. The effect will be a youthful energy that imbues your life. In the end, you’ll hopefully have less days of inactivity. Although, as one woman advised me in the bookstore, “When it’s too much, I just go home and have a cookie.”

Dathan Ritzenhein is considered the “future of American distance running.” His career, earmarked for greatness, has followed an inconsistent trajectory. Having won championships and setting records in distances from 3,000 meters to the 1/2 marathon (for a complete bio and race results history click on the following link: http://www.usatf.org/athletes/bios/Ritzenhein_Dathan.asp), Ritzenhein has fought innumerous injuries while dedicating himself to becoming the world’s best marathoner. Frustrated by a ninth-place finish in the 2008 London Marathon (and plagued by calf pains), he left his coach of five years, Brad Hudson, and joined Alberto Salazar and the Nike Project in Oregon. (Salazar, now with cross-country coach Jerry Schumacher, is employed by Nike to oversee and coach a coterie of elite runners including Ritzenheim, Kara Goucher, Matt Tegenkamp,  Amy Yoder Begley and Alan Webb).

Ritzenhein has been most susceptible to stress reactions and fractures of his metatarsals. These issues have led to inconsistencies in his training and racing. I can remember a blurb in ESPN the Magazine (2008) describing the G-Trainer antigravity treadmill he used to accumulate “130 miles per week during his rehab.” Supposedly, an elite racer’s running form is an individual thing. Writes Jennifer Kahn, in the New Yorker piece The Perfect Stride: Can Alberto Salazar Straighten Out American Distance Running?, “Many top distance runners have idiosyncratic form, and adjusting even a minor detail of a racer’s alignment can trigger a cascade of changes: subtle shifts in knee or foot position that can make a runner vulnerable to injury.” Consequently, when Salazar “tinkered” with Ritzenhein’s form, more than one eyebrow was raised. Salazar, winner of the Boston Marathon and three-time winner of the New York equivalent, was known for an inelegant stride and, plagued by the injury bug himself, forced to retire in his prime. He first addressed Ritzenhein’s “near horizontal arm carriage”, emphasizing the fists being held higher up, in what he termed the “nipple to nipple” position. “According to Salazar, this strained the forearm, and thus, through a long chain of physiological connections, the leg muscles,” Kahn commented. After a great start under Salazar’s watchful eye (an American record in the 5,000m in Zurich and a blistering 3rd place finish in Birmingham, England for the World Half-Marathon Championships), Ritzenhein again fell prey to injuries that curtailed his 2010 NYC Marathon preparation. Here, he finished a disappointing 8th overall in a time (2:13:33), his slowest in years. Strained tendons in his left ankle caused him to pull out of the recent Bupa Great Edinburg XC Race. His preparation now is for the 2011 Virgin London Marathon.

Salazar has argued that for Ritzenhein to compete for the top echelon, he would need a more radical overhaul of his running form. “To compete against the best you’ve got to fix this…But there’s a risk. We may injure you.” Such absurd comments are what perpetuates this myth that there is no correct running technique. Whatever you have is God-given, argues Kip Keino, Kenyan Olympic champion. Clearly, the plethora of injuries in Ritzenhein career have pointed to some sort of biomechanical malfunction. Salazar has noted (in a Q & A piece in Runner’s World July 7, 2010) that “Gordon Valiant – the head of biomechanics for Nike – did an evaluation of Dathan and was able to find some things that are unique to Dathan with the way he runs and strikes the foot. With that (study completed), we now have some modified inserts. I wouldn’t call them orthotics – just an insert into the shoe where he has an abnormal amount of force near his third metatarsal. It seems to have alleviated his symptoms completely and we’ve retested him in the lab and shown those forces have been lessened tremendously.” In the same article, Ritzenhein admits that he “was definitely more of a heel-striker” and is “getting to his mid-foot more…”

It amazes me, when looking at the photo stills of Ritzenhein running, that Salazar, Valiant, Lance Walker (Michael Johnson’s Director of Performance) and even Ritzenhein himself (!) fail to grasp the concept of movement. As I’ve discussed in previous blogs, all movement is a result of a pivoting from a fixed point. We reference this as falling. We are propelled in running by falling forward from the axis of ball of foot when it’s connected to the ground. During this brief period of support, the Center of Mass (COM) of our bodies is allowed rotate via the vector resultant of gravitational torque. Gravity is essentially pulling us toward the earth. To avoid a complete plunge – and redirect ourselves horizontally – we must change our foot support in a timely manner. Any delay in this process (support-fall-pull-support), induces more stress on our joints and connective structures. Instead of a uniquely orchestrated confluence of gravity, ground reaction force, friction, muscle elasticity and contraction, an inefficient runner must use more effort and absorb more impact. The position of the initial footstrike is decisive for determining the stride efficiency.

From the first image of Ritzenhein (S1, moving left to right), you can see that his left foot is landing ahead of his COM. This causes the bent “K” posture you see in S1: head and chest forward, hips back (Salazar has been critical of the cant of Ritzenhein’s pelvis). It’s not until S3 that Ritzenhein achieves the falling stance (Pose Method) – prior to that he’s just “catching” his body up to the point of ground support on his left foot. Now here’s the moment of choice: Ritzenhein can either allow forward momentum to continue or he can interrupt it. He doesn’t and his body drifts vertically. In S4 you can see that he’s making the common mistake of “toeing-off,” trying to propel himself through the multi-joint extension of his ankle, knee and hips. It is misunderstood that the toe-off is necessary to create propulsive force (“sprinter’s slap” as Salazar has interpreted). Obviously, with Ritzenhein’s bodyweight ahead of the pivot point of his left foot (S3), the push-off phase in S4 redundant. Subsequently, this makes his right leg extend, right foot dorsiflex and oversupinate and left leg recover late (S5-S6). He remains a heel-striker.

The domino effect from improperly landing is rehashed over 26,000 steps in a marathon. What’s not understood in Ritzenhein’s circle of influence can be summed up by a quote I have of Dr. Nicholas Romanov’s:

Nature doesn’t care about fitness or high performance. We are equal facing gravity. It is about how much gravity we want to consume, both in time and space.  This is what develops our body and mind. Injuries occur from losing the fight with gravity.

Dathan, if you’re reading, give me a shout.

My wife calls me Shovel King. Honestly, it has little to do with my proficiency for moving snow; rather, due to some obscure psychological drive, I’ve actually started shoveling our walkways and driveway. It’s not that I didn’t shovel before. It’s just that I was the supreme procrastinator, usually waiting for everyone else to be out there before dragging myself into the cold. I could blame my reticence on an abhorrence to domestic chores, especially outside ones (cut the what?). I rationalized that I didn’t need to shovel since we both drove 4-wheeled drive cars. I dunno? Perhaps it was last year’s heavy snowfall that awakened my inner-shoveler. Or that my father’s sacrosanct shoveling was imparted into my DNA. Regardless, I’ve been out there diligently this winter, braced for more. Kind of like the Forest Gump character – I just got up and started shoveling.

According to Susan Spinasanta, Senior Medical Editor for SpineUniverse (“Tips for Back Pain: Digging Your Way Through Winter”), “many people suffer from muscle fatigue, low back strain, vertebral disc damage, and even spinal fractures during the winter season.”  Each year, an estimated 1,200 deaths are due to heart attacks brought on by snow shoveling. People who have high blood pressure, high cholesterol or smoke are at greater risk. We’ve all heard the cautionary advice regarding the inherent risks associated with snow shoveling. Does this made us better prepared to battle the elements?

Snow shoveling is exercise. Those people contraindicated for physical exertion should take precaution. The rest of us, it is suggested, should warm-up, stretch and consume fluids frequently while shoveling. We are told to take frequent breaks. In Popular Mechanics’ “16 Cardinal Rules for snow Shoveling,” writer Roy Berendsohn discusses proper clothing (“loose-fitting layers”), proper snow removal (“move the snow from the center of the rectangle to the nearest edge”) and teaming up with neighbors to “get the job done quicker.” These are all harmless, innocouous recommendations. From a straight physiological perspective, these guidelines are typically given to anyone performing an aerobic-based exercise routine. In many ways, snow shoveling places a greater demand on the body than 45 minutes of cardio in the gym. Why? Because the during the act of shoveling, states Staurt McGill (professor of Spine Biomechanics at Waterloo University) shovelers “bend over to pick up the snow and then twist to dispose of the snow.”

“Biomechanics dictates that the further the load is away from its axis (fulcrum), the heavier it will feel and this will necessitate that a muscle will need to produce grater amounts of force (torque) to move the load,” explains McGill. Snow shoveling represents a Class 3 lever system, meaning that the axis of rotation (fulcrum) is at the opposite end of the lever arm from the resistance (snow), with the applied force (muscles effort) situated between them. Because this type of lever requires higher force production than is capable in this circumstance, injury potential is high. The resistance of the snow is effectively greater than the arms can overcome. The result is the misuse of the lumbar muscles of the back. To decrease the mechanical disadvantage, McGill suggests keeping the snow closer to your body and bending “your knees and push[ing] your hips back so you can maintain a neutral spine.” Berendsohn agrees that you must use your legs as you move from a “squat position to an upright position,” plus, keeping a hand close to the shovel blade and “not to twist as you throw the snow.”

Leverage aside (note the many ergonimically-correct shovels available), I’m sure someone has determined the muscles involved in picking up and moving a shovel of snow and devised a program specific to strengthen those groups. This is one idea. However, let’s look at it another way. Anything that I hold is essentially a part of my overall (body)weight. The snow is attached to the shovel, the shovel attached to the handle, the handle attached to my hands and my hands are attached to me. By moving me, I am essentially moving the snow that I’m holding. To think of the snow as a heavy object I’m holding carries too much psychological and emotional apprehension (this feel heavy). When you hold a shovelful of snow, your muscles will tense enough to support you and the snow. From there, it’s then a matter of moving you (and therefore the snow) to remove the snow. In between shovels, you should maintain a relaxed, knees slightly- bent posture, with your weight situated on the balls of your feet. Slipping is always a concern. By having your weight on your forefoot, you improve your balance and proprioception of movement. Unstable footing loses the support needed for force production. Use lighter loads, more frequently. Try tipping the shovel blade down to dispose of the snow – allowing gravity to intervene. I sometimes utilized the “pushing the snow” method by allowing my weight to be “held” by the shovel. At the proper blade angle, the snow becomes a poor support for your bodyweight, allowing you to pile up small drifts along the asphalt with little effort.