A few weeks ago, the folks from New Balance invited me to visit their facilities in Lawrence, Massachusetts. They offered to give me a tour of the manufacturing factory and analyze my running gait in the Sports Research Lab.
With my recent hip issues, I was all over their offer to analyze my gait. I don’t think it could have come at a more perfect time.
The team at the NB Sports Research Lab is made up of individuals with backgrounds in mechanical engineering, anatomy, biomechanics, and physics. There’s also a physical therapist on staff.
The Sports Research Lab creates new products and innovations by studying athletes, biomechanics, and sports, which involves the use of some really awesome state-of-the-art biomechanics equipment:
- Motion Capture System capable of analyzing movement quantitatively or qualitatively at over 1000 pictures per second. <— wicked cool!
- Glass Top Force Plate capable of analyzing forces athletes apply to ground in all directions while camera captures foot landing on plate from below.
- MTS System capable of replicating exact force pattern applied by athlete over the course of a marathon to a shoe in 15 minutes.
The force plate: A glass plate mounted on a concrete and steel structure and made with piezoelectric crystals, measures a runner’s force in three directions: left-to-right, forward-to-back, and vertically.
What loading rates look like: The data from the in-shoe pressure system used in the New Balance Sports Research Lab can be converted to three dimensional animations of the runner’s strike, illustrating the impact on the runner’s foot through the stride.
The Lab’s mission is to simply build the best shoes possible through research, testing, and education, which also means analyzing and sometimes dissecting their competitors’ products. Check out their “shoe graveyard!”
For my gait analysis, the team put me on a treadmill with an aluminum belt, surrounded by high-speed cameras and lights that captured every little detail of my run.
Are you wondering about the aluminum belt? I was too.
The aluminum doesn’t allow any sort of ‘give’ like a regular treadmill belt. This way, the team can pick up even the smallest differences in the body and shoes that they are testing.
I ran a little over a mile on the treadmill while being videotaped.
Then, the data was downloaded onto a laptop and reviewed.
The results: I’m “one of the most aggressive heel strikers” that the Lab has ever seen. Boy, do I feel special!
As an aggressive heel strike runner, the way I run generates a lot of force, which, obviously, has lead to some injuries. The folks at the Lab explained that I can avoid experiencing this large impact by increasing my cadence and shortening my stride. A higher cadence will encourage me to run lighter, resulting in a more efficient form (my right foot also rotated out) that helps to prevent injury. Additionally, landing on the mid-foot (not the heel) helps to avoid injury caused by impact.
The guys at the Sports Research Lab suggested slowly increasing my cadence to 180 steps per minute (or 3 per second). They said my current cadence was around 150, so instead of jumping up to 180, I should gradually increase over the next several weeks. They recommended downloading a metronome app on my iPhone to help me pick up my cadence as I run. I downloaded a free one called ‘Metronome,’ but I think any of metronome apps will work. I also stumbled upon this app called Cadence Run DJ for $0.99 that finds songs that match your desired cadence. (I’m going to download it as soon as I finish this post.)
I used the metronome app on my long run over the weekend, and I was surprised that the beat was a lot faster than I expected. At first, I really struggled to keep pace, but when I shortened my stride, it got easier. (Hmm… it’s funny how that happened?) I tried to keep the beat in mind for my entire run. It was tough when I was tired, but I think increasing my cadence and shortening my stride helped me survive fifteen miles with minimal pain.
The physical therapist at the Lab also suggested a few hip strenthening exercises for me since weak hips could also contribute to my pain. He recommended doing Lateral Leg Lifts, Clamshells, and side walking with a resistence band to fatigue a few times a week. Right now, I can only do 2 sets of 15 reps on each leg, but the goal is to work my way up to do more.
I’m still working on the cadence thing, but it seems to be helping my hip. I guess only time will tell? Just 48 days until the New York City Marathon! Yikes!