Recently, I overheard a manager of a running specialty store being asked how he fits people. His answer was surprising: “We generally don’t look at people run. The way you run is based on your body type and skeleton and that is all dependent on genetics. There’s nothing you can do to change the way you run. We fit them based on their foot type”
I totally disagree.
Running style is based on neuromuscular coordination, endurance, strength, and cardiovascular fitness. The neuromuscular system is is a dynamic, constantly adapting, complex interplay of balance, strength, coordination and timing which are based on proprioception, feedback, intent and previously grooved movement patterns.
Movement patterns are easily changeable. Just ask anybody who has played a musical instrument – they may initially struggle with a sheet of music, but as they continue to practice, their fingers, hands, wrists and arms begin to move in a fluid beautiful pattern where there becomes less and less conscious thought process. Ask any gymnast, hockey player, golfer or tennis player if they can learn to adapt to a movement skill.
We constantly see examples of stroke victims suffering hemiparesis who learn to eat, write and do other fine and gross motor skills with their non-dominant hand. The motor reorganization starts with awkward, poorly coordinated movements but with practice and determination, their neuromuscular patterns adapt.
If you want to get into running specific examples, ask the researchers and runners in this study or this study who learned to change their running gait mechanics with proper feedback and drills.
We fully know certain gait patterns increase the risk of injury. Or, on the reverse side, we know certain injuries are correlated to certain gait patterns. If the way someone moves is fundamentally incorrect, sloppy or unstable why wouldn’t we help them correct it? A competent understanding of anatomy, neurophysiology and biomechanics should be a prerequisite.
On the other hand, prescribing a shoe based on foot type doesn’t work because studies show that the static foot architecture simply doesn’t predict what happens to the foot when someone starts to run.
The most frustrating part of this story is that the shoe retailer in question is in a position of authority to many runners. In this case, the authority doesn’t have anatomical or biomechanical knowledge and certainly doesn’t stay up on the research.
Be careful who you turn to for advice – be it a shoe retailer or a healthcare provider. Many “authorities” are not that “authoritative”….despite how good they are at marketing.
Kevin Maggs, D.C., is the official Active Release Therapist for the Rev3 Triathlon series, and founder of the online run-gait analysis site Running Reform, http://www.runningreform.com