The dangers of the modern running shoe and some thoughts on Pose

The past few months has seen the publication of some interesting evidence regarding the disadvantages of the modern running shoe.  First there was the paper by Kerrigan and colleagues showing that, in comparison with running bare-foot, modern running shoes generate greater torque at knee and hip joints (The Effect of Running Shoes on Lower Extremity Joint Torques, PM &R: The Journal of Injury, Function and Rehabilitation, Vol. 1, pp 1058-1063, December 2009).  The torques generated during shod running exceeded even those recorded in women wearing high heeled shoes.  Then at the end of January 2010, a paper by Dan Lieberman of Harvard University, was published in the highly prestigious journal ‘Nature’, reporting evidence that modern running shoes are associated with potentially damaging rapid rises in ground reaction force, in contrast with barefoot running.  The fact that Dr Lieberman’s research is funded partly by the manufacturers of Vibram Five Fingers is a reason for listening with some caution to ‘barefoot professor’ Lieberman’s persuasive presentation on the promotional video produced by ‘Nature’  ( ).  Nonetheless, the evidence demonstrating that the modern running shoe is harmful is becoming compelling.  In the near future I plan to post a review of this of evidence regarding running shoes.

Optimum running style

But before examining foot dynamics during running, it is probably best to review the more general question of optimum running style.  My thinking on this topic has been strongly shaped by my experience of the Pose style developed by Dr Nicolas Romanov ( ).  I had initially looked into Pose in 2004 during my first middle-aged dalliance with running, and decided that it had many worthwhile features, though I was a puzzled by some peculiarities of the biomechanical theory on which Pose was based.  After taking up running more regularly in 2007, and participating in a very informative discussion of the various schools of efficient running on the Fetch Efficient Running thread throughout that year, I was delighted to have the opportunity to attend a two day course with Dr Romanov  in Loughborough in March 2008. 

That two-day course was enough to confirm my suspicion that some details of Dr Romanov’s grasp of biomechanics were not sound, and also gave me some insight in the psychological strategies used to market Pose, but in addition provided me with two very positive experiences.   First, observation of Pose coach Jon Port (aka jonp) in action demonstrated that Pose can produce a highly developed ability to get off stance quickly.  Secondly, discussion with Pose coach Mark Hainsworth (aka Cabletow) re-assured me that it is acceptable to allow the heel to brush the ground in mid-stance.  I had been concerned about the risk of Achilles strain arising from the plantar flexion of the foot at mid-stance illustrated in much of the Pose literature (e.g. Pose Method of Running, 2nd Edition, Romanov and Robson, 2004).  As I will discuss subsequently, I think that official Pose teaching is still reluctant to address this issue adequately, but Cabletow’s advice was re-assuring.   So I set about developing a style of running which incorporated what I regarded as the good features of Pose while ignoring the bad.

Style matters

Let us start with the good features.  First, Dr Romanov deserves credit for championing the idea that running style is worth thinking about.  While it is probable that many elite runners have managed to find a style that works for them without a great deal of theorizing, it is equally clear that a very large number of runners, including even some elite runners, suffer injury. Poor running style almost certainly contributes to the risk of injury.  It is also likely that many runners could run somewhat faster if they removed inefficient features of their style.  As discussed in my posting on 29th November 2009, I think that the analysis of Paula Radcliffe’s running style by physiotherapist, Gerald Hartman was an important factor in taking her from 4th place in the 10,000m in the Sydney Olympics in 2000, to a cross-country  world championship victory in 2002 and to her spectacular world record in the marathon in 2003.  Paula did flirt at  least briefly with Pose, though that is not the main issue.  Dr Romanov has perhaps done more than any other coach in recent times to champion the idea that running style matters to all runners, whether amateur or elite.

High cadence

Secondly, Pose emphasizes a high cadence.  Getting airborne is the essence of running, but getting off the ground consumes energy.  As demonstrated in the calculation page in the side bar to this blog, the total amount of work done against gravity in a series of short fast strides is less than that during a smaller number of longer strides producing the same speed.  In general, high cadence is beneficial, though there comes a point, perhaps around 200 steps per minute, where any further increase results in loss of efficiency (as discussed on in my posting on stride length and cadence on 31st Dec 2009.)   Of course, Dr Romanov is not the only theorist to propose a high cadence.  Gordon Pirie advocated a rapid turnover in his book, ‘Running Fast and Injury free’, and many others have reiterated this principle.  Nonetheless, the Pose recommendation of a cadence of at least 180 steps per minute is sound.

Short time on stance

Third, Pose promotes a short time on stance. Since time stance is inevitably associated with a braking effect due to a backward directed ground reaction force in early stance, and furthermore, the longer the time on stance, the greater this braking effect, spending a long time on stance is inefficient.  Pose achieves a short time on stance by encouraging footfall only a short distance in front of the centre of gravity, and by promoting a rapid pull of foot from stance.  In fact I believe that the theory advanced by Dr Romanov to underpin the Pose mechanism for achieving a short time on stance is largely wrong, but the end result is beneficial.  This illustrates the fact that having a good mental image of the end result of a complex muscular action that entails coordination of many muscles is far more important than attempting conscious micro-management of each contributing muscle.  I will return to a more detailed consideration of this subsequently.

Forefoot landing

Fourthly, Pose promotes landing on the forefoot.   As originally proposed, Pose advocates footfall with the ankle plantar flexed.  I believe that maintaining this planar flexion through midstance as shown in much of the Pose literature, is potentially dangerous.  However, Dr Lieberman’s recent comparison of barefoot running with shod running confirms that forefoot (or at least mid-foot landing) is desirable.  We will return to this issue again later.

Drills and exercises

Finally, Pose provides a framework that includes specified drills and strengthening exercises, together with the recommendation that when changing one’s running style, it is crucial to use these drills and exercises to develop the appropriate actions and the required muscular strength before attempting to run for long distances in the new style.  This is very sound advice, though this is an area where the commercialization of Pose potentially creates problems.  The commercialization has led to a down-playing of the risks of Pose style, and in my opinion, this creates a situation in which athletes who are eager to minimize the reduction in training volume during a change of style, are at risk of injury.  Again, this is an issue to which we will return.

These are what I consider to be the five major positive aspects of Pose style.  My next posting will examine what I consider to be the negative features of Pose.

11 Responses to “The dangers of the modern running shoe and some thoughts on Pose”

  1. Thomas Says:

    Having looked into pose running and decided it was not for me, I’m looking forward to the second part.

    Thanks for your detailed description of my 5K. I wasn’t really aware that I had taken it “easy” from miles 2.5 to 2.7, it felt like pretty damn hard going at the time, but the HR readings don’t lie. It’s definitely something to ponder for the next race – though I don’t want to overthink things for such a short distance.

  2. Ewen Says:

    I agree that Dr Romanov deserves credit for making running style a much discussed subject, and that style does matter. Even runners as great as Paula have made improvements in their style. Like Thomas, I’m looking forward to part 2.

    And I didn’t know Dr Lieberman was sponsored by Vibram. My view is that some barefoot running or minimal shoe (Frees) running is good. Racing shoes are minimal shoes. I don’t think we’ll ever see the majority of elite runners racing barefoot or in Vibrams.

  3. rick Says:

  4. RICK Says:

  5. Ken Says:

    I’ll be very interested to read your next post. I hope you will be explaining in detail why “some details of Dr Romanov’s grasp of biomechanics were not sound”. My experiences since starting Pose Running a year ago, as someone who has been running for 35 years, and someone with a degree in Exercise Science have led me to conclude just the opposite.

    There have been some scientific studies of Pose technique that were unfavorable. But all of the studies, of which I am aware, were all poorly designed and poorly executed thus making the data and conclusions highly questionable.

  6. RICK Says:

    Speed training: how a treadmill can help athletes run faster
    Sprint athletes used to be implored to run on their toes; on reflection many coaches were probably really asking their athletes to run from a ‘high hips’ position, trying to prevent them from ‘sitting’ on each stride and thus denting forward momentum. But if this advice was taken literally, as it was and still is by many, it actually led to the athlete attempting tip-toed sprinting. This is detrimental to speed generation because a breaking effect is caused on each foot strike, as the ankle inevitably yields from its extended position, irrespective of lower limb strength. The dorsiflexed foot position minimises force absorption and maximises force return and is recommended not just by Frappier trainers but by many other top coaches.

  7. canute1 Says:

    Thanks for posting those two video clips. Tim Don provides an interesting illustration of a runner who demonstrably improved his running performance after learning Pose, though it is frustrating that the video does not state what run they were comparing with when they reported a 10 bpm reduction in HR. As for the robot, at first glance it looks like he/she/it would benefit from some glute strengthening 🙂 but nonetheless, his/her/its stability is pretty impressive.
    I think the quote from PPonline makes sense, and I agree that one should land with a strongly plantar flexed foot. Nonetheless, as far as I am aware, for many sprinters, the heel does not touch the ground.

  8. canute1 Says:

    Ken, thanks for your comments.

    I agree that some of the scientific literature on Pose is unsatisfactory. Two of the most clear-cut examples are papers in which Dr Romanov is co-author. In the article by Romanov and Fletcher in Sports Biomechanics in 2007, fig 7 illustrates the forces acting during the part of stance after the centre of mass (COM) has passed over the point of support. The authors conclude that the resultant force acting on the body is equal to Fp, the component of gravity at right angles to the line from point of support to the COM. They base this conclusion on the statement “Fr [the component of gravitational force along the axis from support to COM] is equal and opposite to the ground reaction force vector, leaving Fp as the net force.” This is simply wrong throughout the second half of stance except for one brief instant in late stance. Force plate data clearly demonstrate that GRF is much greater than body weight through almost the entire stance period. I believe that Dr Romanov’s failure to appreciate the magnitude of GRF is at the core of his misunderstanding of the mechanics of running.

    Another illustration is provided in the paper by Fletcher , Dunn and Romanov on accelerated runningpPresented at XXII ISBS Symposium, Limerick, Ireland, in 2009. The authors claim that their evidence demonstrates that maximum horizontal acceleration of the centre of mass (COM) occurred before maximum horizontal GRF. In contrast, equation 1a in that same paper correctly states that the horizontal acceleration at any instant in time is proportional to horizontal GRF (this is a consequence of Newton’s second law) and hence the maximum horizontal acceleration must occur at the same time as the maximum horizontal GRF. The author’s claim that horizontal GRF occurs after maximum acceleration leads them to suggest that acceleration of the COM occurs via a gravitational torque with GRF being the consequence of, not the cause of these movements. Their conclusion appears to be in direct contradiction to equation 1a and to Newtonian mechanics.

  9. Ken Says:

    Thank you for being so detailed. Your comments and explanations are very interesting. In my conversations with Dr. Romanov, he presented a detailed argument (and the associated force plate studies) that contradict the idea that the GRF is a significant factor in running . I wish I had taken notes, because I will not be able to reproduce his explanation here, since this conversation took place several months ago, and I wouldn’t want to state his explanation incorrectly.

    However, I will look into the studies you mentioned, and send your arguments to him. I hope that he will respond, or at least forward to me his original explanation.


  10. jack Says:

    this russian guy, just ripped off all the material in gordon piries book – and material from other elite runners, who have been talking about forefoot landing et, for decades. Then re-packages it all with a new name, the pose technique, and claims that he has re-invented running. what is more nauseating, is that the dull multitudes suck it all up, and give him credit, while great athletes like pirie go almost unnoticed!

  11. Ken S. Says:


    You have completely misrepresent what Dr. Romanov claims to have done, as well as what he has done. He never claims to have re-invented running, he claims to have invented a method of teaching good running technique. He does not claim to have invented good running technique, he claims to have defined it in very specific terms. He also claims to be the first person to define good technique using scientific methodology.

    He has done all of the above, although not everyone agrees with his methods of teaching running, or his definition of good technique.

    The only thing he claims to have come up with that is unique, is his theory about the biomechanics of running. There are a lot of people who disagree with his theory, but right or wrong he did come up with the theory on his own. Also every time I’ve met with him, he openly gives credit to the work of others.

    If you are going bash someone, at least get your facts straight.

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