• My Name is Tina, and I’m an Aggressive Heel Striker.

    September 19, 2011

    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    sl3-b sl6-b

    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.

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    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!”

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    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.

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    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.

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    I ran a little over a mile on the treadmill while being videotaped.

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    Then, the data was downloaded onto a laptop and reviewed.

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    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!

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    { 98 comments… read them below or add one }

    Parita @ myinnershakti September 19, 2011 at 4:23 pm

    What a cool experience. I actually used to strike heel first as well. Running that way caused me SO much pain in my knees – to the point I woke up in the middle of the night unable to move my leg. I strike with the middle of my foot first now, and what a difference that has made. No more knee pain! Good luck, Tina!

    Reply

    Anne September 19, 2011 at 4:54 pm

    I really like “Podrunner Intervals” It’s a podcast with bpm music for running. The recently did a “speed bump” series specifically designed to get from a 150 to 180 pace! http://www.djsteveboy.com/intervals.html

    Also, try running barefoot in the grass for just a short distance sometime (like across a soccer field or something). It’s impossible to heel strike without shoes on.

    Reply

    Tina September 19, 2011 at 5:24 pm

    @Anne: Thank you for the recommendation!

    Reply

    Jill Will Run September 19, 2011 at 5:19 pm

    That’s so cool that you got this opportunity! I wish companies like this were here in Vegas so I could have opportunities like this. I had the chance to try an Alter-G treadmill, but it turns out there isn’t one here in Vegas for me to even get on!

    Anyway, you may want to look into the ChiRunning program. It will help you with form and cadence. The Cadence app is great, they’ve done a lot of work on it since it debuted. Also, the paceDJ app allows you to build a playlist of your music based on target bpm.

    Good luck, I hope this helps your hip troubles!

    Reply

    Tina September 19, 2011 at 5:24 pm

    @Jill Will Run: I was actually checking out some ChiRunning stuff this morning. It’s really interesting!

    Reply

    Jill Will Run September 19, 2011 at 5:28 pm

    @Tina: Watch the videos online, they’ll help. If you could ever get to a ChiRunning clinic/workshop… do it! I learned a lot from attending one, more than I got from the book. (and the book is great!)

    Reply

    Lisa (bakebikeblog) September 19, 2011 at 5:26 pm

    wow – what an awesome test facility! I bet that most runners could benefit from analysis like this!

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    chelsey @ clean eating chelsey September 19, 2011 at 5:47 pm

    That is SO interesting! But I totally believe it because I find when I run slower, I am more apt to get injured and am way more sore! When I quicken my pace a little bit, it feels so much better.

    Reply

    Sienna September 19, 2011 at 5:53 pm

    I’m finishing up PT for a knee injury and super tight IT band and have to do those same strengthening exercises. I wish I’d known when training for my first marathon how important strong legs and hips are to injury prevention!

    Reply

    Ashley @ Coffee Cake and Cardio September 19, 2011 at 5:54 pm

    What a fantastic opportunity. I did a similar test a year or so ago, nothing as cool as the NB lab’s though, but I had a hard time changing my stride. I was grateful to have found shoes that worked best for my form, but it was still touch changing my technique. Did they give you any advice on changing your form over time or is it more about strengthening your current form?

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    Molly @ RDexposed September 19, 2011 at 6:18 pm

    Jealous! I want to do thiiiiiiisss!!!!!

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    ciely September 19, 2011 at 6:24 pm

    I immediately thought of you when I saw this picture of a pug in the water on a chair http://www.desiretoinspire.net/blog/2011/9/19/mondays-pets-on-furniture-part-1.html

    Reply

    Tina September 20, 2011 at 8:03 am

    @ciely: Haha! So cute! I love the pug! :)

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    Jenn September 19, 2011 at 6:27 pm

    Awesome post, Tina! I did a ton of research on why the heck I continued to be injured when I would up my mileage safely and cross trained. I finally figured out that I needed to shorten my stride and up my cadence, along with incorporating PT exercises like those you mentioned. The PT exercises, along with the usual foam rolling and shortening my stride have helped emensly! The only complaint I have is that forcing myself to learn to mid strike has caused my calves to scream at me during and after each run! Those little muscles are working so much harder now. A little less than a month out from the Nike Women’s Marathon and hoping all my hard work pays off! Love your blog and good luck with your hip!

    Reply

    Tina September 20, 2011 at 8:02 am

    @Jenn: Thank you!! :)

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    Meghan@themeghamix September 19, 2011 at 7:02 pm

    How cool! My personal trainer hubby has been giving me pointers on my running form (I tend to be a heel striker, too) and it’s helped – but boy it works muscles I didn’t know I had! (Here, here, @ Jenn!)

    Hope that the PT is really helpful for you in preparing for your marathon injury free.

    Reply

    Lindsey @ Cardio Pizza September 19, 2011 at 7:02 pm

    Since learning that I was once a heel striker as well, the shortened stride and landing on the mid foot tips have GREATLY improved my running and hip pain. I actually don’t have any hip pain now when I run. But if I notice it starts to come on, it’s usually my form slacking…and by fixing it, the pain goes away. It’s really amazing!

    I also have found that being very consistent with core training has helped to diminish my hip pain.

    Reply

    Mary @ Bites and Bliss September 19, 2011 at 7:48 pm

    I hit my heels, too but not too aggressively. At least, I don’t think! It’d be cool to have it analyzed like that, though.

    Reply

    BroccoliHut September 19, 2011 at 7:58 pm

    What an awesome experience! I would for someone to analyze my gait and tell me how to fix it!
    I suffer from a lot of running-induced hip pain, so I will definitely be applying their advice.

    Reply

    Katie @ Plates and Paste September 19, 2011 at 8:01 pm

    So cool! There’s a Fit2Run place in the mall near me that analyzes your gait. Of course if wouldn’t be near as good as New Balance, but I’d love to try it.

    Reply

    Amanda September 19, 2011 at 10:38 pm

    Very Cool! When I lived in MA, I hit up the NB Outlet in Lawrence all the time!

    As an exercise physiologist, may I make a suggestion to help you quicken your cadence and shorten your stride? Try thinking of running with perfect upright posture, keeping your shoulders right over you hips. Many runners with long strides reach their chest forward and lean into their run (to keep up with their stride). If you run completely upright, it is easier to turn a quicker cadence, lighten your stride, avoid back, hip and knee (IT band) injuries, and you recruit more core muscles….so when you run, think posture :-)

    Amanda
    Exercise Specialist in PHX, AZ

    Reply

    Tina September 20, 2011 at 8:01 am

    @Amanda: Thanks, Amanda! :)

    Reply

    Mandy @ The Fat Girl's Guide to Life September 19, 2011 at 10:46 pm

    This was incredibly helpful, Ms. Tina! I wonder how many people think they hate running because they are aggressive heel strikers or have any number of other pain-inducing habits. I’m sort of newish to your blog. Have you talked about the type of gait a runner should aim for in any of your posts? Or have any resources like this?

    Thanks in advance!

    Reply

    Tina September 20, 2011 at 8:02 am

    @Mandy @ The Fat Girl’s Guide to Life: Check out this post: http://carrotsncake.com/2011/08/new-balance-media-retreat.html It talks about the Good Form Running organization. Hope this helps!

    Reply

    Abby @ Abz 'n' Oats September 19, 2011 at 10:56 pm

    What a cool opportunity! Hopefully some of the things you learned will be helpful! I’m definitely going to check out the hip strengthening exercises you posted! :)

    Reply

    Lu @ A Mix of it All September 19, 2011 at 11:07 pm

    Today I did an interval workout and made a conscious effort to change my gait. I had to really think about it, but as soon as I did change it my knees stopped hurting and I didn’t tire as easily. Best of luck on your training!

    Reply

    Stellina September 19, 2011 at 11:18 pm

    This is really interesting. I bet they could find out why I sometimes have ankle pain after running. Hmmmm!

    Reply

    Lauren @ Sweet and Twisted September 19, 2011 at 11:31 pm

    Very cool! I often wonder if they’re just winging it with shoe designs – I guess not! ;)

    Reply

    Hayley @ Oat Couture September 20, 2011 at 3:35 am

    This looks great, so handy to be tested so thoroughly. I did something similar but not quite as high tec and the result was that I overpronate. The right shoes seem to have fixed it but I still have trouble with my hips so the exercises you mentioned at the end will definitely be getting tried! Thanks! :)

    Reply

    Jessica @ Early AM Runner September 20, 2011 at 6:14 am

    I’ve currently got an SI Joint injury (hip area)…also try hip raises. Lay on your back and lift from your hips slowly keeping your tummy tight and lower one vertebrae at a time. You might also try single leg squats as you want to keep strengthing all those muscles in the quads to prevent muscle atrophy from a week hip. Oh and foam roller your IT Bands!

    Reply

    Tina September 20, 2011 at 8:01 am

    @Jessica @ Early AM Runner: Thank you for the suggestions! :)

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    Emily @ Life on Food September 20, 2011 at 6:29 am

    What an interesting post! Makes me wonder about my strides. I hope you can continue to run pain free!

    Reply

    Amy September 20, 2011 at 6:38 am

    So cool! Thanks for sharing this experience with us. Heel striking is something I definitely need to work on.

    Reply

    Malia @ Life is Good Girl September 20, 2011 at 10:16 am

    I never thought about changing my cadence. I think my stride is also too big. I just downloaded the metronome app so I’m gonna see if I can get my pace to around 180. Maybe it will help with my endurance. Thanks for the info!

    Reply

    Kath September 20, 2011 at 10:43 am

    Reading about ‘heel striking’ always piques my curiosity… my heels don’t touch the ground at all when I run. If I tried to run like you are in that photo of the laptop screen, I think my Achilles tendons would have snapped within 60 seconds.

    I guess I must run like a pony, clip-clopping along on my tippytoes! :P

    Reply

    kristen (inspiredbydooce) September 20, 2011 at 12:07 pm

    what a great opportunity! I hope their advice helps and that you can run pain and injury free SOON!

    I love my New Balance shoes- I’m running in 1080s and 759s and I am very happy with them!

    Reply

    Kristen @ notsodomesticated September 20, 2011 at 5:39 pm

    I know I’m delayed in my comment, but that was an awesome post. I really wish I could go to someone who would analyze my run for me … and then give me the tools to help me! I’ve done some runs at running shoe stores, but they are also just wanting to sell you shoes, so I don’t know how much I trust their opinion!

    Reply

    Claire September 21, 2011 at 3:02 am

    The cadence stuff gets SO much easier!!! After having hip problems training for the 2009 Chicago Marathon I a 3-D analysis of my gait done at the University of Virginia’s SPEED Clinic. I was basically told the same thing: up my cadence to 180, land more on my forefoot, strengthen my glutes. And I did. And 2 years later, I’ve run the Boston Marathon, Shamrock Marathon, and tons of other races with no prob. I now run with a cadence of 180 without even thinking about it :-) I just have to remind myself that a faster cadence doesn’t necessarily mean running faster. Once a week I like to set the treadmill to a really slow pace (like 5.6) and work on my cadence (fast steps during a slow pace). If I changed my gait so drastically over time, you can too!!!

    Reply

    Claire September 21, 2011 at 3:08 am

    Oh, sorry, and working on loosening the plantar fascia in my feet really helped too! It was incredibly difficult to land on my forefoot and roll off my toes when my feet were like blocks haha. I just roll my feet on tennis balls and it makes a huge difference in my knees and hips.

    So strange, I just wrote a very similar post about 2 weeks ago (http://livingspreethegoodlife.wordpress.com/2011/09/02/practicing-good-running-form-not-just-for-newbies/)

    Reply

    Allison September 21, 2011 at 3:41 am

    My local running store has a treadmill that’s hooked up to some technology that shows you where you put the most pressure on your feet when you run, how much you turn your feet, etc.,- I found out I over pronate a lot and my feet are completely flat… Lovely, eh?!

    Reply

    ashley rebekah September 21, 2011 at 9:54 am

    after several go-arounds with tibial stress fractures over the past year as i’ve been training for my first half-marathon, i found an orthopedic doctor (read: AMAZING) who suggested the same thing – up the cadence, shorten the stride. i found it difficult to keep it at 180 and to have to think about my steps when i usually go out for a run to zen, zone and relax. he said that if i was just conscious of taking shorter strides and lightening my step, that my cadence would automatically increase. i’ve had no injurites in the past 2 months and pretty much think this is the miracle cure. best of luck to you!

    Reply

    Shayla @ The Good Life September 21, 2011 at 5:43 pm

    Awesome post and what great information! My right hip always hurts after I run and it’s always so tight, most likely because I too am an aggressive heel striker. Probably more so than you since I had a guy come up to me in the gym one day saying to me how worried he was about me injuring myself since he noticed what an aggressive heel striker I was…wow, awesome for me. Though I’ve stopped running because of my hip I’ll try those tips someday to see if it helps, thanks!

    Reply

    Lexi @ A Spoonful of Sunshine September 22, 2011 at 4:39 pm

    I’ve never had my gait analyzed, but I have a feeling that I’m the same way!

    Reply

    Pro Gait Analysis September 28, 2011 at 10:58 am

    Wow! Gait Analysis at New Balance! How fantastic! Sounds like you got lots out of your experience. I’m going to download the app you mentioned! Good luck for the marathon!

    Reply

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