What were you doing at 18? Me? I was trying to get my footing as a student-athlete at Penn Sate. The lure of fraternity and dorm parties was definitely at odds with any academic rigor I could muster. Coupled with a less-than-productive end to my first varsity basketball season, I became the poster-child for college age zeitgeist: angst-ridden, self-doubting, distracted and somewhat overwhelmed. Many of you, though, were high school seniors at this age, riding the wave of upperclassmen superiority, college-bound apprehension amid the melancholic change from parental dependency to full-flung independence. Either way, it was tumultuous times.

Selemon Barega is an 18 year old from Ethiopia. He now owns the Diamond League record (@Diamond_League) and the 4th fastest 5000m time in history, running a scorching 12:43.02 on August 31 in Brussels ( Already with an impressive CV (gold medals in the 2016 World and African U20 Championships, 5000m and 2017 World U18 Championships, 3000m), Barega finished 5th at the 2017 IAAF World Championships in London behind notable runners Mo Farrah and compatriot Yomif Kejelcha. This year, he has reached personal-bests in the 3000m (7:37.54) and 2 miles (8:20.01). Many believe, with some reservation, that he is the next great middle-distance superstar (video below).

A self-proclaimed student of the genre, Barega admits to have studied some of the greats, Haile Gebrselassie and Kenenisa Bekele, for inspiration. “I have [watched] videos of every top athlete,” he says. “I am a big fan of Kenenisa and Haile. I admire Kenenisa’s successes and his records. I love the tactics that Haile implements in his races.” Although he gained both tactical and experiential lessons from the cynosure of track legends, Barega displays the confidence – and running acumen – of his predecessors. Side-by-side, there is a marked, calm resemblance between he, Haile and Kenenisa:

In previous posts, we have discussed the necessity of technique – specifically the runners ability to maximize the falling center of mass over the foot. Despite the flubdub of rumor flying around the running forums (drug and age allegations), what Barega possesses is independent of those contrivances. The only true barometer: running skill. During the last 250m of the race, when he outkicked Kejelcha and 2nd place Hagos Gebrhiwet, the announcers even exclaimed “look at the young Barega bouncing on his feet, his toes barely kissing the ground…it looks easy!” How else would you blow past someone who “we know is in supreme shape!”; essentially, negating the concept that pure physiological progress reigns supreme.

So important is technique that even the elite coaches are spending the time attempting to optimize running stride. In a recent article, Bernard Ouma, coach of the two fastest 1500-meter men of the year Timothy Cheruiyot and Elijah Manangoi, explained that “there was only one thing he has tried to fix: Cheruiyot’s running form, punctuated by his distinctive forward lean.” “These are old habits,” Ouma says. “You might not be able to change much, but you can influence them toward good performance. I’ve been working on his [stride], which [was] very long but [is] shortening now” ( ). Which in layman’s terms means decreasing ground contact time and resistance, while accentuating acceleration. Even an analysis on world-record holder and premier long distance runner Eliud Kipchoge (, by Pose Method guru Dr. Nicholas Romanov, reinforced that during Nike’s attempt for a sub-2 marathon, Kipchoge displayed a “big angle of falling [that was] was easily visible throughout the race. Indication of falling by support foot heel moving up was consistent and correlated with close to the vertical body position throughout the race.” Similar words could easily be spoken about Barega.

I don’t want to be 18 again, though from my older perspective, I’m still intoxicated by the blooming fervor of teen spirit. Barega is by far the best U20 3-5k runner worldwide. With Kejelcha at 21 and Gebrhiwet at 24, he is clearly the younger outlier. Athletes who wear the rose of youth upon themselves are infectious, brash. Those older, sometimes more thoughtful, methodical. Let’s hope, that in this case, that unbridled, exuberant potential is not wasted. The cat is out of the bag, and on the prowl.

Race Video:

 Screen Recording_2018-09-02


America’s #1 Sports Performance Coach & Gait Analyst

STOP YOUTH SPORTS INJURIES: What Every Parent Needs To Know


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.”

Ida P. Rolf, Ph.D.
You just bought a new Lexus. You decide to teach your kid how to drive. You both get into the car, with him or her behind the wheel. You pull out of the driveway, and then you instruct your child to “smash into the nearest wall!” Imagine how dumbfounded your teenager would be. But you explain, “Hey, since crashes could be a part of your driving experience, I think we better go out and teach you how to crash more effectively.” Obviously, this seems like a ludicrous idea and somewhat over-the-top. Why not just improve the driver’s skill behind the wheel and lessen the chance for collision, or even avoid the situation completely?
It has been well-documented that a surprising number of injuries that befall athletes are of the non-contact variety. Without the impetus of a strike or blow to the body, athletes are continually suffering a host of repetitive and overuse trauma. These injuries can be as subtle as musculoskeletal aches and pains, and as debilitating as ACL tears. With so many young athletes affected by this epidemic, the predicament of how to keep your child injury-free remains elusive to most people.
The problem is simple: athletes don’t move properly. They don’t sprint correctly, jog correctly, throw correctly, jump correctly, lift correctly, condition correctly nor change directions correctly. If they did, they wouldn’t get hurt. A lot of well-intentioned coaches, therapists, physicians and researchers have attempted to combat this problem with a seemingly logical approach to prehabilitation and general preparedness. However, by reducing this issue into either isolated factors (“get stronger”, “stretch more”), specific culprits (the core, non-firing muscles), or research-supported protocol (foam rolling, dynamic warm-up), the actual reason why-kids-get-hurt has been misconstrued. Lost in the reductionist dogma so prevalent today, is that all movement is a consequence of interrrelated actions. These actions, done poorly, and deeply rooted in athletes’ understanding of how to move themselves or an object from Point A to Point B, is the genesis of non-contacts sports injuries.
There has been conjecture, based on scientific data, that most significant injuries happen to athletes while they are decelerating; specifically, absorbing forces when landing from a jump or while changing directions rapidly i.e. cutting. A belief in this premise leads to the conclusion that learning to decelerate perfectly is the answer. Which is why the prevailing formula pushes towards the idea that the more we get accustomed to forceful impact, the more resilient our bodies will be. Unfortunately, consistent exposure to high velocity force, has a deleterious, not adaptive effect. This is akin to our “drivers learning how to crash better” example. Thinking that the body can be trained to overcome forceful tension and pressure is a mistake often conveyed from examination room to gym floor to playing field. Cars don’t survive crashes. Neither do we.
I see this far too frequently. We make athletes lift more, run harder and compete incessantly weekend after weekend believing that this is way to athletic prowess. And when they get nicked up, the advice is simple and straightforward: just rest up for a bit then repeat – with even more vigor. Because if that much didn’t stop the injury from happening, then that much more surely will. We are not designed to generate or consume heavy doses of external force. We are designed to attenuate and channel these forces to boost our speed, strength and performance. What matters most is our finesse and efficiency when interacting with our environment, not our muscular efforts. The objective is to redirect the accelerated, rotational forces of movement – not to try to stop or overcome them. Moving energy is a flow, not resistance and loading.
Most of my athletes never sustain these commonplace injuries. I don’t have clients waiting for surgery. If I do, it’s because they haven’t been compliant or followed protocol, or left the program too early. Athletes aren’t injured because of gender, genetics, bad luck, strength imbalances, inflexibility, fatigue or overuse. These are symptoms, not determinants. The keys are in your hands. Make better choices and drive well.
America’s #1 Sports Performance Coach & Gait Analyst

The Question of Variability: Runblogger and Burfoot and Biology, Oh My!

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.”

Hard or Soft?





What struck me so paradoxically, in Gina Kolata’s column”For Runners, The Soft Ground Can Be Hard On The Body” (, 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.

Running Economy

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.”

Ask The Trainer





For the past year or so, I’ve been working closely with my friend and colleague Dr. Lee Cohen ( 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.


Are You Fit?

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.”

Ritzenhein UNPLUGGED

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:, 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.

Call of Duty

Like most Americans, I take much for granted. The air I breathe. My right to speak my mind. Freedom. Yesterday I had an opportunity to work with Air Force servicemen and servicewomen at McGuire AFB. My goal was to introduce them to the concepts of “efficient, injury-free running.” I was somewhat apprehensive prior to arriving at McGuire, not sure what to expect and unsure of their expectations. I was scheduled to do two 2-hour sessions, one at 9am and the other at 2pm. Like most situations, I had a game plan yet was prepared to adjust on-the-fly if necessary. The clinics were arranged by 87th Air Base Wing MSgt Jason Harrison, an Arkansas native, who had contacted me with hopes of finding an answer to his chronic shin splints.

Fortunately, it was a beautiful day – 73 degrees, breezy and brightly sunny. Both sessions went well, much more relaxed than I had anticipated. The early morning group included MSgt Harrison and 87th ABW Communications Squadron Commander and triathlete Major Heather Blackwell (the 87th AWB is one of the five “wings” on McGuire and is responsible for USAF installation support via logistics, deployment, contracting and protection). On the asphalt “block” I instructed, demonstrated and cajoled them through a battery of exercises, working through the proper foot strike, body posture and muscle actions necessary to run more fluidly. The post-video analysis proved that they were much more aware of their running form. The second group was larger. I exhorted them as they ran with their arms above their heads and in-front of their bodies. By the end, they too had a better grasp of the principles and structure I had communicated.

Between the sessions, MSgt Harrison took me to lunch and gave me a tour of the base. McGuire AFB is actually a “super” joint base, combining with the US Army installation Fort Dix and Lakehurst, the Naval Air Engineering Station. Driving through each base, I was awed by its enormity – and the complex organization necessary for daily and crisis operations. The hierarchy of communication, responsibility and action needed is mind-boggling. I was reminded of human movement, which requires the same dense network of interrelationships to work dynamically. We take for granted the interdependent chain of gravity/body mass/support/bodyweight/muscle effort that defines motion. When this “finely calibrated cycle of support” (Romanov, 2008) and energy transformation is interrupted, we experience deterioration in our quality of life. The fragility of our existence can be felt on so many levels.

During the second session, Major Blackwell awarded me a Commander’s Coin for Excellence. I was very appreciative and humbled by the gift. I held it understanding, that in some small way, by helping those who serve and protect us, that I become entwined in the fabric of life. Ut Unum Vincere.

LAB RAT: A Tale In Two Parts

ACT 1: I’ve heard a lot about biomechanist Irene Davis and the Running Injury Clinic at the University of Delaware. Dr. Davis’ “research is aimed at understanding the relationship between the lower extremity structure, mechanics and injury.” I recently learned that Davis and her students were soliciting barefoot/minimalist runners to participate in a footstrike study the lab was now conducting. Intrigued, I contacted the lab and scheduled my appointment. There, I met PhD candidate Allison Altman, who had me fill-out a release form before outfitting me with a myriad of motion sensors on my hips, lower torso, knees, ankles and feet. Afterwards, she explained the test guidelines: after a brief warm-up, I was to run 5 minutes in my current running style (forefoot), then 5 minutes on the midfoot before 5 more minutes while heel-striking. Finally, Allison would watch me run in my bare feet for a final 5 minute interval.

Donning a pair of retro Nike Air Pegasus (because of their neutrality, she told me), I ran my initial 5 minutes hyper-focused on my forefoot landing: the rigid, over-cushioned awkward-fitting shoe inhibiting my ability to feel the ball of my foot. The next five proved even more challenging as I attempted to locate my midfoot (an anomaly I’ve argued against in a previous blog). Allison tried to quell my confusion, explaining the midfoot as a neutral landing of my whole foot. A simultaneous crash landing, I joked. She did a good job coaching me through it, cuing me whenever my forefoot began to sneak ahead of my heel. After another rest break, it was time for the 5 minutes of heel-striking. Ironic how I was now emulating that despicable heel-toe pattern I’ve fought against for so long. In retrospect, though, I’m glad I had an opportunity to step back into heel-striking mode. Feeling totally uncomfortable, despite Allison’s urges to “pull my toes up more,” my stride floundered, quads tightened, hip flexors strained as I continued to reach forward. With each irregular step, I never wished so emphatically for my feet to be free. I found it difficult to comprehend why anyone would run this way, forgetting that without my present knowledge, I would be that same person. Needless to say, my final barefoot period was nirvana, as I rhythmically pulled my feet from the conveyor belt. There was an immediacy to every step I took – something that science fails to translate.

ACT 2: I received a frantic voicemail from my friend, Sally Higgins, a PT and newbie Pose Coach. Sally sounded so incredulous as she described what she had heard the night before at a free lecture given by Dr. Irene Davis. As the story goes, Dr. Davis answered Sally’s inquiry as to Davis’ thoughts about Dr. Nicholas Romanov’s Pose Method and its application to minimalist running, by stating “how bad his [Romanov’s] science is.” She further added that it none other than Chris McDougall (Born To Run) who had “changed her mind” about the possibility of landing on the forefoot…How strange, considering that McDougall, a writer, backed into being the poster-boy for the barefoot running craze, while acknowledging to not being an authority on running mechanics. Not surprisingly, McDougall had gone to Romanov in Florida to correct his form, and even had sessions with Romanov-devotee, the Brit Lee Saxby. For Davis to so abruptly dismiss and denigrate the Pose model, while backhandedly endorsing the minimalist/forefoot ideology, is ultimately irresponsible. Again, this points towards science taking a reductionist approach to observing a complex topic (Even Altman had argued, in a phone conversation prior to our meeting, that the lab was concerned with “biomechanics, not efficiency”). Unfortunately, behind this facade of inconclusive data and a dearth of common sense, scientists like Davis are able to mold the public perception of running technique. A week later, Higgins heard McDougall (to his credit) denounce Davis’ “science” and supported the tremendous benefit of the Pose Method towards efficient, pain-free running. With all of the information available to us, do we really need someone who champions “the technological advancements [in running shoes] over the last 30 years” to tell us how to run?