Running Form, Performance and Injury: An Interview with Dr. Bryan Heiderscheit

When you modify how somebody moves, you can have a really substantial and nearly immediate overall change in their pain. Why weren’t more people doing this clinically?

This was one of the main reasons why Bryan Heiderscheit, P.T., Ph.D. of Biomechanics, decided to dedicate his research and career to runners to reduce risk of injury and improve performance through focusing on form.

As director of the Runner’s Clinic, Bryan has worked with thousands of runners to overcome various movement related pathologies. He has also published countless numbers of research on running form and its effects on pain and performance. Bryan recently joined our advisory board for Lumo Run, our latest technology geared toward runners to help track and coach for proper running biomechanics, and we had the exciting opportunity to chat with him about his work in the running community.

One of the first things I asked Bryan, given his specialized work in biomechanics and running injuries, was “what are the most common types of injuries in running?”. With so much information out there that outline all of the different possible injuries, causes, remedies and prevention techniques, it’s a challenge to filter out the noise and focus on what’s really important.

The simple answer, I learned, was that common running injuries differ depending on what kind of runner you are. For example, adolescent runners tend to be more at risk for stress fractures and knee pain, whereas runners over the age of 35 tend to experience calf issues as the muscle groups undergo change as they age. Distance and running type can also influence the types of injuries you are susceptible to as well: sprinters and short distance runners are more likely to experience hamstring injuries; long distance runners are more likely to develop stress fractures due to overuse. However, among all of these groups, the single most “at-risk” group of runner, regardless of age or distance, are the beginners with a risk rate of around 2x to 3x compared to other runners.

The more complex answer is that how you run — your biomechanics and form — as well as your overall condition leading into running is really what determines the injury type. “It’s really important to take a step back and to consider the movement as a whole, including things like who the particular runner is and their background, instead of keying in on overemphasized factors.”, Bryan explains. Running, whether you’re trying to improve performance or prevent injury, isn’t a one-size fits all, and too much emphasis on single factors like foot pronation or footwear can distract runners from focusing on what’s really inhibiting their performance or putting them at risk of injury.

An example of this is the interrelated relationship between cadence, stride length and the pelvis. One of Bryan’s expertise in the running biomechanics space includes using cadence as a strategy to reduce overstriding and other potential injury risks.

“Increasing turnover will help your chances of your foot landing closer to or underneath your pelvis, reducing overstriding tendencies, and increase your lower extremity stiffness with less bounce and braking in your steps. Overstriding is widely accepted as poor form, but it’s far easier to coach on cadence than it is to tell a runner to decrease their stride length by x cms”, Bryan explains.

So just how much should I increase my cadence and what’s my target? 

As it turns out, the target zone for cadence is slightly different with respect to the objective of the runner. The performance target zone, which is essentially the cadence target for mid to elite runners who want to improve their speed or distance, is between 180 and 200 steps per minute; whereas the target zone for reducing the risk of injury is at a lower range of above 166.

The 180 to 200 spm target range, Bryan explains, is the step rate that famous running coach Jack Daniels observed in elite runners at the Olympics when trying to determine optimal cadence levels for performance runners. The logic here was that the Olympian runners are the ideal, and none of them were running below a 180 step rate. “It’s a narrow range of only the top elites, and for some runners, it could be an unrealistic target zone”, says Bryan.

A more realistic target zone for cadence especially for novice runners who can be at a cadence range of as low as 140, is to aim to be at or above 166 steps per minute to reduce risk of injury. A recently published study lead by Lace Luedke, a physical therapist and PhD student of Bryan’s, found that runners with a turnover rate of less than 166 spm showed subsequent risk of shin splints compared to runners who ran at a higher cadence.

For more information on Bryan’s work on cadence, take a look at his presentation on Running Form Modification. Through Bryan’s involvement in the development of Lumo Run as a Coaching Advisor, we are working to integrate his 10% cadence coaching model into the Lumo Run experience to help runners improve their step rate to reduce the risk of injury and improve performance.

 


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Improve your running form with Lumo Run

Lumo Run measures lab-grade biomechanics data for your running form including important measures like cadence, bounce, braking, and pelvic movement on all three axes. The Lumo Run app provides insights into your running form during and after each run, coaching you to become a better, more efficient runner to improve performance and reduce the risk of injury.

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Ellie Kulick

About Ellie Kulick

Ellie specializes in all things content and communications at Lumo BodyTech. Her passions are in tech, writing and in health. She loves to create and share content that is useful and easily digested by the reader. BS in Psychology, Northeastern University. Find Ellie on Twitter.

1 Comment

  • Monte freire
    Monte freire
    28.02.2016

    Ordered a while ago. Any idea when the shorts will be here?

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