If you don’t know Adam Robinson, you should. By all accounts, Robinson is a modern-day polymath: robustly opinionated and ubiquitously coveted for his expertise. His palmares include being an American Chess Master, obtaining a law degree from Oxford University, co-authoring the New York Times best-seller Cracking the SAT, co-founding The Princeton Review, and applying his advisory elbow grease to problems facing the heads of some of the world’s largest hedge funds. You could argue that Robinson is a prodigy, someone having that rare intelligence that includes both mathematical and conceptual genius.

Robinson is self-described as “systems builder, wizard, shaman of global markets, manifester, do-gooder, alchemist, and embracer of possibility” (Wiser Conversations). His notoriety skyrocketed as a featured guest on several of Tim Ferris’s pods. When listening to Robinson speak, I’m struck by the athleticism of his brain – so nimble and quick-witted. He thinks for a living, immersing himself in projects of imaginative discovery, always expecting “magic and miracles.” He lives in the world of ideas, having recently delved into the concept of stupidity. As he discovered, “stupidity is not the opposite of intelligence, but the cost of intelligence overwhelmed by a complex environment.” He spent many months frolicking around with the idea, in preparation for a presentation that has evolved into the book How Not To Be Stupid (so engaging was the information that Warren Buffett, his friend and mentor, endorsed the project remarking that “you gotta get this information out into the world”).

Essentially, Robinson identified seven mitigating factors that define stupidity. By studying everyone from Olympic athletes to con-men, and everything from political blunders to hoaxes, he was able to pinpoint what “induces stupidity .” And although Robinson cautions that all seven elements (below) don’t have to be present, there is a definite and undeniable cause-and-effect relationship that compounds between them.

1. Being outside your normal environment

2. Information overload

3. Requiring intense focus

4. The presence of a large group of like-minded people

5. Being in the company of authority

6. Having physical or emotional compromise/stress

7. Sense of urgency or rushing

Looking at these factors (further discussed by Robinson on the RP Daily webcast), you may wonder how they relate to your running? Most runners, and running-predominate athletes are, paradoxically, a step away from malady. Yale Medicine reports that “at least 50 percent of regular runners get hurt each year”, so if you aren’t injured this year, there is a good chance you will be injured the next. Some studies put that number as high as 85% for every 1000 hours of running (IJSPT, 2012). In my probing to unpack the mechanism of injury, Robinson has led me to the belief that running, as a sport or activity, puts runners in the Stupid Zone. That by definition, runners are “overlooking or dismissing conspicuously critical information” invaluable to the execution of gait motion. Running, for most, is an “invitation to be stupid.” Why runners are tumbling into the inevitable abyss of pain is way more important that how.


Running isn’t bad. And being “stupid” during running isn’t a denunciation. “Last year, the current estimate is between 210,000-440,00 deaths from hospital error. That’s in a
good year, that’s in a normal year, because of the antecedents of stupidity”, reveals Robinson. Stupidity happens. Robinson has burrowed and discovered rich nuggets for examination and exploration. He’s offering us the “appropriate warnings,” to which human beings, unfortunately, tend to ignore. The challenge is more about what to do when you find yourself in the Stupid Zone, and how to successfully navigate it to your advantage. Knowing that every run has the potential for stupidity, gives you the power to sidestep pitfalls and control your daily performance outcomes.

In Part 2, we will further examine how Robinson’s precepts can be utilized to augment your running and keep you stupid-free.

Wiser Conversations / Ep 16: How Not To Be Stupid with Adam Robinson

The Tim Ferris Show / Ep 219: Lessons from Warren Buffett, Bobby Fischer, and other Outliers

The Tim Ferris Show / Ep 254: When To Quit: Lessons from World-Class Entrepreneurs, Investors, Authors, and more

The Tim Ferris Show / Ep 322: Adam Robinson – Outsmarting and Outflanking the Competition

The Nantucket Project / rp daily: What Is Stupid?
Yale Medicine / Running Injuries

International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy / Training Errors and Running Related Injuries: A Systemic Review

About PEAL: Tracy Steven Peal, Sr. is a Skill and Movement Specialist who specializes in biomechanical analysis and teaching proper form. His emphasis is improving Running Gait, and has worked many elite, pro, D1 and aspiring athletes. Triathlon, Track & Field, and Strength & Conditioning Coach. He has been engaged in the field of movement study for more than 20 years, as a Triathlon, Track & Field, and Strength & Conditioning expert. Tracy works directly with athletes, assisting clients with their recovery from a variety of sports-related injuries. Tracy is currently scheduling individual sessions to help show athletes how to avoid injury, recover quickly, and handle the stresses of training and competition.

To learn more, visit To schedule an appointment you can also reach Tracy at or 302.753.0220


Albert Einstein once remarked, “If you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t understand it yourself.” The philosopher and essayist Henry David Thoreau emphasized “Our life is frittered away by detail …simplify, simplify, simplify.” Columnist and author Amish Tripathi forewarned “[if] you want to convey a complex philosophy, it’s advisable to keep it simple, day-to-day lingo.” Great advice from some of the world’s most prominent and imaginative thinkers. Yet, where is that thin line between simplicity and inconsequence, between explanation and cliché? If it doesn’t come with easy-to-follow instructions, should we just chuck the damn thing out? Clearly, there is a complexity to quantum physics that would elude even the brightest child prodigy. And though Einstein is summarily recognized by the equation E=mc2, I’d bet my shirt the majority of people on this planet haven’t the slightest clue of its meaning or significance. And even though the Theory of Relativity is based on the straightforward premise that mass and energy are interchangeable at the subatomic level, it’s still a hard concept to wrap one’s mind around. Shakespeare had poignant insights into the human condition. None of my friends owns a copy of The Riverside Shakespeare.

Trust me, I’m not pointing fingers at anyone’s level of acumen. My point is that many things are just freakin’ complex – and worth examining in detail. Mr. Rogers, of television fame, challenged his teenage audience in the areas of information processing and critical reasoning. He felt that any child, with help, “could figure anything out if you take the time to walk them through it.” The work needed to unearth the truth is worth it. Now, of course, we will blame the onset of uber-tech, social media, an overload of options and distractions. We will observe the success of user-friendly products. We’re so overly accustomed to information being fed to us already pre-chewed and semi-digested, that any efforts to find the real news seems pointless. Instead of novels, we’re reading banal 140-character soundbites by chest-pounding Twitter warriors. Most of my clients (teens) are mind-numbingly obsessed with Tik-Tok or some other app du jour. There is a blight of short attention spans. Slogans work. Wordy descriptions don’t. I started this blog (The Educated Guide To Better Sports Performance) as a vehicle for a smarty-pants discourse on all things movement-related. And I’ve spent the past years attempting to dispatch the essential elements of athletic performance, in Whitmanesque-fashion, that contain their own multitudes for the masses.

If you know me, you know I’m a Pose Method guy (the definitive approach to motion mechanics). Nicholas, aka Dr. Nicolas Romanov/Pose creator, is my mentor. He reduced his methodology to three elements: Pose-Fall-Pull. That’s as rudimentary as it gets. So, when I hear people describe “Pose Method” as “running at 180 strides per minute” or “forefoot landing” or “leaning while taking short steps” or even worse, “controlled falling after the push-off,” I feel like casting them off the cliff, crashing to the earth far below. The real spirit of Dr. Romanov’s efforts was to tie together the many disparate, though interconnected, threads of the human ecosystem – and present them accessibly. The reaction to Pose abridged has often cascaded into jealousy, admonishment, misinterpretation and trivializing from peers and fellow scientists. There are general principles, beholden to natural laws, that govern who we are, why we are, and what-the-hell we are under the constant influence of gravity. Pose easily stretches across a wide range of disciplines and subjects. It requires some intellectual curiosity or a childlike tabula rasa. When I first met Nicholas, the depth of his didactic approach was very apparent in the reading list I encountered during my initial coaching certification. There were sections on Physics, Philosophy, General Science, Systems Theory, Biomechanics, Track & Field Training, and Running. These were written by authors as diverse as Aristotle, Ludwig Von Bartalanffy, Arthur Lydiard and Leonardo daVinci. It was mind-blowing to say the least (and a list I keep referring to year after year after year).

For a nerdy geek like myself, the thrill has always been finding the connections: Pose specifically, and life generally. What hidden truths did Romanov unscramble in his determined attempt to solve a seemingly simple problem: find the proper way to teach his graduate students how to run? I’ve been fascinated by the sheer inclusiveness and brilliance of his discovery. Ironically, he saw the lens of Pose through discus throwing, and relied heavily on the teachings of martial arts and ballet to formulate un système efficace. But as they say, with great power comes great responsibility. The rabbit hole of Pose has its struggles: his methodology snickered at, his ideas bastardized. For me, I have yet to find a manageable way to present the beauty of what is possible with movement in accordance with Nature. The Japanese have a word satori, which beyond its spiritual context, speaks to the deeper dive, the insight needed for the basic truth about a subject to emerge.

Recently, a good friend wanted me to listen to a podcast. The guest of the show is a noteworthy biomechanist. I listened, and quickly cringed at her hackneyed approach to the subject of running mechanics and injury (basically, her remedy was to just take off your shoes and go). I was annoyed enough to stop what I was doing, sit down and frantically send him my thoughts – in full page glory. Upon reading my rant, he joked, “Wow, a lot here, but that’s what makes you special and great. I see this as a huge positive as it simply gets people thinking that mechanics matter and gets them to look to a running coach for a solution rather than a shoe. Few people will understand the intricacies and details. They will hear expensive sneakers make me run the wrong way, I need someone to teach me the right way. “

In many ways my friend is correct. It’s a tough pill to swallow for me, because those nuances are what makes my job so cool, the journey so rewarding. ‘We have to get better at thinking,” says Ryan Holiday in Stillness is the Key, “deliberately and intentionally about the big questions, on the complicated things. There is no intellectual shortcut.” As I work on a translation of one of Romanov’s books with a colleague of mine, it’s easy to envision Nicholas as the covert Russian spy, tempting our minds with nootropics of knowledge, prying open our craniums with the speculum of dogma. It’s hard to resist. My floodgates have already opened. At this point, I refuse to be an apologist. One day, perhaps, I will find the magic words that will satisfy both brevity and succinctness of thought. Until then, I’ll live by the paraphrased words of Roger Smith (A Sense of Movement: An Intellectual History) who pleaded that there should be a willingness to engage a “vivacious interest” in the realm of human movement and performance, understanding the relevance “culture, aesthetics, anthropology,” and more have on our commonest gestures evolving towards the grand spectacle of sport. “We need to look and think and study deeply if we are ever to truly know,” Holiday aptly concludes.

PEAL / @tracypealspeed

Skill Acquisition Specialist Speed & Movement Coach

Edited by @runningultras

#sportperformance #sportstraining #posemethod #nicholasromanov #satori # rogersmith #stillnessisthekey #thesenseofmovement #einstein #running #speedtraining


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


On this, the last night of 2017 – with the temps in single digits and the LOML, charitably, making a difference in a less fortunate part of the world this week – I figured what would be better than settling-in with a glass of wine, keeping warm and writing a year-ending blog post. I always feel that writing is cathartic, an opportunity to be creative and illuminative; though, I’m sure it often seems like I’m just being petulant. There are probably some deeper demons at work here, something inside needing to be exorcised: some point to be made, perspective to be argued, frustration to be reckoned. And it doesn’t help that in my field, opinions are like assholes…I find pointing that out to be kinda irresistible.

Initially, I was going to critique an article that was sent to me by my good friend, one who takes great pleasure in my misery, antagonizing me with a never-ending barrage of harebrained quotes, videos, research articles and op-ed pieces from the dopey world of sports science. He loves raising my ire – usually with the hope that I’ll be so pissed that wild horses couldn’t stop me from lashing at my laptop. Venting aside, I do feel a responsibility to set the record straight, provide some logical counterpoint to the nonsense that’s often spewed in the name of science, training or (gulp!) common sense. Yes, I know that the public can be easily mislead by force output capacities, joint moments and stretch-shortening cycles – but who is out there protecting them from gibberish? Surprisingly, as I sat down to re-read the article (, I couldn’t pull the trigger.

About midway through, I stopped reading. Who cares? I thought to myself. Yeah, I could’ve painstakingly gone through the article, countered every “fact”, and delivered a pretty solid rebuttal amid beautiful photos of Usain Bolt or Wayde van Niekerk sprinting splendidly toward some medal and proving how off-the-mark is author Cody Bidlow. But again, why does it matter? We’re often spending so much energy trying to disprove someone wrong, that there’s little time being spent on what matters most: the power of our rightness. The year 2017 was challenging on many fronts. I found myself compromising a lot. In the end, it didn’t leave me happy.

I’ve been fortunate to have learned from some really great teachers. Their knowledge and expertise has shaped me, and given me a unique skill set. I found over the course of the past 12 months that bargaining takes a heavy toll. Alliances are necessary, concession is not. Sometimes the price was way too great, whether I was debating on social media or coaching a team or consulting. As I’m poised to jump into 2018, I’m excited again. Fresh start. Do it my way. Call bullshit? Yes, that will never change. But instead of solely whining about some research geek or complaining about some coach I don’t know, its time to celebrate the things I do that are right. tracypealspeed is primed for big changes and bigger challenges. Trusting the process has never been easier.

#speed #speedtraining #biomechanics #sprinting #posemethod #running #sportscoach


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.

Bolt Gatlin IMG_2591

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.

Screen Shot 2016-08-08 at 8.49.24 PM

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”, 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.


Lost In Translation: The Beauty of Efficient Movement

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?

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.

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.

The Biomechanics of Snow Shoveling

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.