Few forms of exercise are as natural as running- yet sometimes we may get into bad habits.
Young children manage to learn how to run without any special training and, as we enter adulthood, running remains an often unconscious activity.
However, for people who like to run as a sport, especially in middle age, nasty side effects such as pain in the knees, twinges down the side of the leg, and painful cramping in the foot can make you wonder whether you are running correctly.
The first person to publicly question our natural style of running was a British runner, Walter Goodall George, who trained as a chemist in the 19th century. Mr George invented a famous running exercise called the 100 Up, which many runners still use today. It had the virtue of training runners to land on the balls of their feet rather than their heels.
When jogging became a fashionable form of exercise in the 1970s, shoe manufacturers raced to provide cushioned shoes to help weekend athletes deal with the impact of pounding out miles on concrete roads.
But there is another way that might prove beneficial to runners who are still suffering agonies. Taking their cue from Mr George’s work, a number of sports scientists have looked at running to see if the method can be improved.
Christopher MacDougal, author of a book called Born to Run , has championed the running method used by Mexico’s Tarahumara Indians; another school follows a method loosely based on t’ai chi chuan, a form of Chinese martial arts, and yet another technique is called the Pose method, which was invented by a Russian track coach named Nicholas Romanov.
Although these styles employ different postures, they all state that heel striking, which most of us do when running, is bad for your body.
“Pain is a sign that you are doing something wrong,” says Mr Romanov, who now lives in Miami, Florida. “It means that you are deviating from nature’s way of doing things, which has evolved over millions of years.”
Mr Romanov, who has written a book, The Running Revolution: How to Run Faster, Farther, and Injury-Free – for Life, and holds running clinics in locations around the world, says that his Pose technique can reduce common injuries.
There are some scientific studies which back up the idea that by changing the way your foot strikes, you can reduce the impact forces on your knee joints. Of course, this force is now transferred from your knees to your ankle and foot, which Mr Romanov asserts are better equipped to absorb the shock.
The Pose technique is best learnt from a teacher, who can explain what each individual runner is doing wrong. In short, the Pose method not only has you landing on you forefoot, but also shortens your stride considerably from the days when you were heel striking. Romanov’s method uses gravity — you simply fall forward after landing — so there is no appreciable effort on the part of the runner.
Changing habits can be devilishly difficult because they are deeply ingrained. I was able to change my foot fall by running barefoot on a treadmill for several weeks before I even tried on the street. But if you suffer from aches and pains after running, as I did, learning a new technique could be the key to saving your knees.