Pose Running reduces running economy  //  the missing study

30 Oct 2007 Posted by

About 4 weeks ago, we ran a six-part series on running technique, evaluating the Pose and Chi methods for running. In that series, we looked at:

  • Whether there is a basis for teaching running as an activity, as opposed to letting “natural” technique evolve?
  • The philosophy of how we run
  • The biomechanics of Pose running
  • The scientific evidence for changing a running technique
  • Some practical tips for improving your running without trying to make “wholesale” changes
  • Whether running techniques like Pose are marketed as medical products?

The conclusion from the series

That was an epic series (to write and to read, no doubt!), but basically our conclusions were:

  • Trying to make radical, wholesale changes to running technique is probably not the optimal way to go, for it simply transfers the point of loading on the skeleton to another area. Specifically, the  research study discussed in Part III of the series (a study we were both involved in at UCT) found that 2 weeks of training caused the loading on the knee to be reduced, but the loading on the ankle increased.
  • This change in loading is linked to the numerous anecdotal reports of athletes developing Achilles tendon and calf muscle problems after learning Pose, anecdotes which were borne out by the follow up to that study (the part of the study that was never published, incidentally)
  • Our recommendation is to look for incremental changes in technique, rather than falling prey to common sense and sound biomechanics packaged as a miracle cure for injuries through marketing strategies

Of course, there are people for whom Pose or Chi will definitely work, and we say good luck to you! Because we all respond differently to training, some will of course thrive and be able to learn the technique and benefit from it. Whether these people would run just as well with normal running in a SUPERVISED manner has yet to be evaluated…

A new study comes to light…

Well, that heading is a little misleading, the study was there all along, but it was only thanks to Doug, one of our readers, that we actually discovered it. And today’s post is a brief summary of this study, the abstract of which can be accessed here.

The only other study we were aware of was the one done at UCT in 2002 and published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise in 2004. This study is discussed in detail in Part III of our series, but basically, it found that two weeks of Pose Training could alter biomechanics, the main changes being that the eccentric work on the knee was reduced, but the eccentric work on the ankle was increased. This study is referenced on the Pose website as support for the benefits of the technique.

The problem is that the eccentric work on the ankle does, in theory, increase risk of Achilles tendon injuries and calf muscle problems. And until now, that was the only study of which we were aware.

The new study – evaluating running performance after 12 weeks of Pose Training

So this study [1] was done sometime before 2005 (the publication was in 2005 in Journal of Sports Sciences).

It took 8 triathletes, and had them do 12 weeks of Pose Training (a substantial increase on the training time from the UCT study), while another 8 triathletes kept up their normal running technique.

Before and after the 12 week training period, the triathletes were tested for kinematics (things like stride rate, length etc.) and for running economy (oxygen cost at a given running speed). The speeds they evaluated were 4:40/km and 4:00/km.

The findings – alterned kinematics and reduced running economy

The figure below shows the three key findings of the study. It looks at (from left to right):

  • Stride length
  • Vertical oscillation (up and down movement during the stride)
  • The oxygen cost of running at the tested speeds, which is a measure of running economy

Pose-result

So the first two panels, showing that Pose training decreased stride length and vertical oscillation, are no surprise – the same was found in the UCT study. The reasons for the shorter stride in the Pose technique were explained in Part II of our series, and basically has to do with the fact that the runner is not taught to drive the knee forward, but rather the pull the foot up with the hamstring. The natural consequence of this is a shorter stride, but a higher stride rate (since the speed has to be the same).

But the far right panel is most interesting. It shows that the oxygen cost of running was HIGHER after Pose Training – the running economy was thus reduced. What is the big deal with running economy? Well, it’s one of the variables that often gets cited as being critical for running success. Generally, the best runners have the highest running economy (that is, lowest Oxygen cost of running at a given speed) – that’s a gross oversimplification, but basically, the running economy is a measure of how effectively the athlete is able to use oxygen during running. Training improves running economy quite substantially, and all other things being equal (which of course, they never are!), running economy is one of the keys to success.

Therefore an increase in running economy is bad – any athlete aspires to go the other way, and reduce their oxygen cost of running at a certain speed. So this is not good news for Pose running. Not surprisingly, this particular study was never quoted on their website, and instead, only the UCT one is referenced (though even that is a dubious study because of the implications of the ankle work increasing!).

The problem with the study – did people learn the technique properly?

So now you have a debate – is this study (and the UCT one) to be believed as evidence against Pose? Of course, opinion will be split around that one, but one thing that one has to recognize is that many will say that the training period is insufficient to produce the necessary adaptations. In otherwords, one might argue that in the research studies, the time period over which the technique was taught is insufficient. This was something that many people wrote in and said in the earlier series. They suggested that if there were problems, it was because people had not learned the technique yet.

That certainly might be an issue in the UCT study, where athletes learned the technique over a two week period. The problem is, the second study did it over 12 weeks.

Now, if you cannot learn a technique when you have one-on-one guidance and teaching for 12 weeks, then HOW is it feasible to promote the technique to individuals to learn using nothing more than a DVD, a weekend seminar and a series of books? People will argue that IF the athletes learned the technique properly, they’d have no injuries, and better economy. But as discussed in detail in the original series, the marketing (and selling) of a product that relies on the “user” to learn it does not seem feasible to me….

And further, I would argue that even the UCT study benefitted from guidance and expert supervision that is far beyond what most members of the public will ever receive through trying to learn Pose. This is even more the case in the second study, where for 12 weeks, athletes were given the very best advice and supervision. Yet still, Pose failed to show improvements. Now, any guesses for what might happen over a 2 day period, where you’re one of perhaps 50 athletes, getting maybe 5 minutes of individual attention.

The conclusion

This study is an interesting one because it evaluates Pose from the other direction – having previously looked at injuries and kinetics, this looks at running economy, a basic but important variable. And Pose running does not, unfortunately, move it in the right direction.

This adds then to the argument that a wholesale change in running technique is unlikely to be the solution for most people, and we can only repeat the assertion from our series that says look at smaller changes, practical things and allow running technique to develop consciously, but not controlled.

Ross

References

  1. G.M. Dallam, R.L. Wilber, K. Jadelis, G. Fletcher, and N. Romanov, “Effect of a global alteration of running technique on kinematics and economy.”, Journal of sports sciences, 2005. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16195026

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