Running Form = Running Injuries

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Harvard researchers just wrapped up four years of studying the Harvard running teams (track and cross-country) investigating whether running form correlates with running injuries. The results were pretty eyeopening.

After setting out to see if how the foot hits the ground determines if a runner will get injured, Harvard researchers found some pretty telling evidence:

To look into the issue, Mr. Daoud, who had been on the cross-country team as an undergraduate, and Dr. Lieberman not only gained access to the team’s training database, they also gathered the team members and videotaped them.

No one is always a forefoot striker or a heel striker. Your form depends on many factors, including your speed, the terrain, whether you’re tired and so on. But most of us have a predominant strike pattern, and so it was with the 52 Harvard runners. Thirty-six, or 69 percent of them, were heel strikers, while 16, or 31 percent, were forefoot strikers. The proportions were similar regardless of gender.

More interesting was the distribution of injuries. About two-thirds of the group wound up hurt seriously enough each year to miss two or more training days. But the heel strikers were much more prone to injury, with a twofold greater risk than the forefoot strikers.

So, the results are in. There is a correlation between heel-striking when you run and how often you are injured. This is the same line of thinking that Christopher McDougall talked about in his book Born to Run, and I have blogged it about before. Even before the evidence was released I was a firm believer that heal-striking when you run is what causes the vast majority of running injuries. In addition, according to McDougall, the thicker the heel on the shoe, the harder the body has to strike the ground, causing more trama and force on the body, and therefore, more injuries. Personally, I have adopted a toe- or forefoot-strike when I run, and it has completely changed not only how I run, but how I feel when I run. I feel lighter, faster, and more powerful–all of which come in handy when I’m on coming down the home stretch of a triathlon!

QUESTION: How do YOU run? Are you a heel-striker, or a toe-striker?