Its six of one and half a dozen of the other: Rearfoot vs Forefoot striking when running

I have said that cliché so many times and also that adage that when it comes to running you can’t change running form without increasing the load in one tissue while decreasing it in another, that it hardly needs repeating. I have commented on this several times here, here and here (and probably in a few other places I am to lazy to look up and link to) that I almost was not going to post about this new study … you know … its the been there done that enough times and the everyone should have got it by now issue:

Joint Kinetics in Rearfoot versus Forefoot Running: Implications of Switching Technique
Stearne, Sarah M.; Alderson, Jacqueline A.; Green, Benjamin; Donnelly, Cyril J.; Rubenson, Jonas
Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: 4 February 2014
Purpose: To better understand the mechanical factors differentiating forefoot and rearfoot strike running, as well as the mechanical consequences of switching techniques, we assessed lower limb joint kinetics in habitual and imposed techniques in both groups.
Methods: All participants performed both RFS and FFS techniques on an instrumented treadmill at 4.5ms -1 while force and kinematic data were collected.
Results: Total (sum of ankle, knee and hip) lower limb work and average power did not differ between habitual RFS and FFS runners. However, moments and negative work and power during stance were greater at the knee in RFS and at the ankle in FFS techniques. When habitual RFS runners switched to an imposed FFS they were able to replicate the sagittal plane mechanics of a habitual FFS, however the ankle external rotation moment was increased by 33%, while knee abduction moments were not reduced, remaining 48.5% higher than a habitual FFS. Additionally, total positive and negative lower limb average power was increased by 17% and 9%, respectively. When habitual FFS runners switched to an imposed RFS they were able to match the mechanics of habitual RFS runners with the exception of knee abduction moments, which remained 38% lower than a habitual RFS and, surprisingly, a reduction of total lower limb positive average power of 10.5%.
Conclusions: There appears to be no clear overall mechanical advantage of a habitual FFS or RFS. Switching techniques may have different injury implications given the altered distribution in loading between joints but should be weighed against the overall effects on limb mechanics; adopting an imposed RFS may prove the most beneficial given the absence of any clear mechanical performance decrements.

The reason I still chose to mention this study is that I then open myself to the allegation of cherry picking if I ignore a study and I was surprised at the strength of the statement in the conclusion that the study’s authors made:

There appears to be no clear overall mechanical advantage of a habitual FFS or RFS. Switching techniques may have different injury implications given the altered distribution in loading between joints but should be weighed against the overall effects on limb mechanics; adopting an imposed RFS may prove the most beneficial given the absence of any clear mechanical performance decrements.

That is pretty emphatic.

Nothing in the methods jump out at me as being an issue regarding what they did and analysis. The results are entirely consistent with all the previous studies that have looked at this, in that there is a decrease in one load that may have injury risk benefits, but that comes at the cost of an increase in load in another tissue….its six of one and half a dozen of another.

As always, I go where the evidence takes me until convinced otherwise and this just strengthens the evidence that there are no generic benefits of either forefoot/midfoot striking or rearfoot striking. How many more studies will it take to convince those who like to claim otherwise?

Stearne, Sarah M.; Alderson, Jacqueline A.; Green, Benjamin; Donnelly, Cyril J.; Rubenson, Jonas (2014). Joint Kinetics in Rearfoot versus Forefoot Running: Implications of Switching Technique Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise DOI: 10.1249/MSS.0000000000000254

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About Craig Payne

University lecturer, runner, cynic, researcher, skeptic, forum admin, woo basher, clinician, rabble-rouser, blogger, dad. Follow me on Twitter, Facebook and Google+

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