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Celebrating Biomechanics Day: The Biomechanics of Your Running Form

In the Collins English Dictionary, biomechanics is described as “The study of the mechanics of the movement of living organisms.”

The human body, like most living organisms, is a complex, highly networked system. The varied mechanics of running adds even more complexity. Biomechanics helps us understand the interactions of this complex network.

In honor of National Biomechanics Day, I decided to share some new sensor data from my own running, which will highlight one of these complex interactions: how changing one part of your running form leads to changes everywhere.

Using my head

As the Director of Research at Milestone Sports, it’s part of my job to test and try new things. Not too long ago, I placed an accelerometer on my head (in a head band) to see what foot strike impacts looks like at the other end of the body.

As with all runners, I have my own unique running style.  I am typically a forefoot runner, but after an overuse injury in my right ankle, I have been trying to run more mid-foot to reduce the pain in my right ankle joint. 

For this test, I ran for about 10 minutes on a treadmill, then stopped to check the data from my feet and my head. I saw some great biomechanical interactions at play.  The asymmetry of the run immediately jumped out. Specifically, foot strike (Figure 1). 

Figure 1. The results of a short run at ~8:00 per mile. Note 100% toe on the left (healthy) leg and 81% heel of the right (injured) leg.

 

The MilestonePod App showed my transition from toe to mid-foot was working. I was landing on my left (healthy) forefoot 100% of the time, and on my right (injured) heel most of the time. Clearly, I have overshot the mid-foot strike for which I was aiming, and will work on this metric to avoid such a drastic difference between feet.

Now, to my head. You guessed it: this asymmetric foot strike could be seen all the way to the acceleration at my head!

In this case, the force and energy from the different foot strike styles were transferred along each of the joints, resulting in interesting vertical acceleration profiles at the head.  The forefoot strike led to less acceleration of the head and only one peak at slower speeds.  The heel striking led to more acceleration of the head and had two peaks throughout the run (Figure 2).

Figure 2. The vertical acceleration of the head during a ~8:00 per mile paced run. The left foot (healthy) are circled in black and the right (injured) in red. During the acceleration phase at the beginning of the run (top graph), the forefoot striking can be seen by the single peak. During the steady run (bottom graph) the heel landing is higher for each step than the left foot.

 

This is an example of the body’s complex interactions we mentioned earlier: changing one part of your run form leads to changes everywhere.  Here, landing impacts were distributed through my entire body. When I altered my running form to reduce the load on a single joint, it led to the force of impact being transferred to my head. 

Remember, the body is a complex network. Movements do not happen in a silo.  Each part of running gait and form is tied to another.

This was a good reminder for me as well. While training with the ankle-aiding run form I have adopted, I am also watching my rate of impact, to ensure it does not increase as a result of my change in gait.

To run healthy and perform better, it is very important to look at your other metrics when improving and adapting your run form. 

Happy Biomechanics Day! 

Author: Steve Suydam

Steve is a PhD and Director of Research at Milestone Sports. He can be reached at steve@milestonepod.com.