Pose Running

I met my physical therapist for coffee today and our conversation turned to POSE running and Vibram 5 Finger shoes.  I mentioned to Elie that I did some research on this topic last year when my local Crossfit brought in Dr. Romanov, one of the pioneers of the technique and thought now might be a good time to revisit the topic.  POSE running is built on the idea that most people strike the ground with the heel when running (and lose energy in the form of friction) and that altering one’s stride can prevent this loss.   Backers of the POSE method also claim that reducing “heel strike” can lower the stress on the knees and reduce injury rates for runners.  Products such as Vibram’s 5 finger shoes (and just running barefoot) build on the concept of POSE running since traditional running shoes have built in arch support which increases the prevalence of “heal strike” (so removing the moden shoe should make POSE running more come more “naturally”.

A few of the reasons why I have and remain skeptical about POSE running:

– Almost all of the major studies in support of POSE running are authored by Dr.Nicholas Romanov or those associated with his clinics.  Thus, they have a financial interest in promoting the science and supporting their own position.
– One of the few studies in support of POSE not authored by Romanov (Graham Fletcher, Ph.D) had a sample size of 4.  That is much to small to draw conclusions from.
– The main  academic study used by Vibram promoting their 5 fingers shoes (and natural barefoot running)  as a more economical (running economy) alternative to traditional running shoes  was,  in fact, funded by the company themselves.  This is a clear conflict of interest. If you go to the Harvard website linked above you will see that disclaimer on the bottom of the page in small text.
– Published findings by Stephen McGregor who has a Ph.D in Biomechanics and runs a research facility at Eastern Michigan University conclude that both the POSE and CHI (another running technique similar to POSE) techniques not only decrease running economy but also increase injury rates.  Info on McGregor’s findings can be found here.
-Another study published by Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas, both PH.D’s from Cape Town came to similar conclusions as McGregor. On the injury front, they noted that while POSE running did reduce stress on the knee,  eccentric work on the ankle was increased.  One note, these guys are trying to sell a book so there might be some bias here.

I’m a runner and would be happy and willing to try anything (excluding illegal performance enhancements of course) that might make me faster.  Unfortunately,  objective science backing up POSE running just isn’t there yet.  This is not to say Romanov might not be right, but, he could also be wrong.

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3 Responses to Pose Running

  1. Ken S. says:

    Most of the studies on Pose Running have been very poorly designed (including almost every study that you mentioned above). One of the biggest flaws in the design of these studies is that they fail to recognize that changing one’s running technique is not instantaneous. Depending on the individual, it can take weeks, months, and even years to change one’s running technique. Unfortunately, during that time, the runner will probably be more vulnerable to injury, and will experience a decrease in running efficiency. (Well Dah!)

    The second biggest flaw in these studies is that they do not measure how well the runners are running against the Pose running standard. If they are running Pose perfectly, as measured against the standard, then the studies would be more relevant. However very few people run perfectly against the standard, and therefore any conclusion based on that research is much less meaningful. All research on Pose should include an evaluation of how well the runners are performing the technique. And since this is easy to do, there is no excuse for not including this within the design of the study. I have yet to find one that does.

    I would also mention that Pose and Chi should not be considered similar. Pose is more similar to Evolution running and BK running because they all teach the runner to get his/her foot off the ground quickly, which is very important to efficient running. Chi does not teach this, and is therefore probably much less efficient.

    Just because there are financial interests involved, that does not invalidate the studies. It simply means that the data and methodology must be held to a high standard. Unfortunately, when it comes to studies of running technique, high standards in short supply.

    Finally, you are absolutely correct, the objective science isn’t there yet, and based on the research I’ve looked at, it will be a very long time before it is. In the mean time, the arguments for Pose and others similar running techniques are clearly vastly superior in every aspect than the arguments against them (which are mostly based on very flawed science). If you have to wait for science to prove which way is better, then you will likely spend years injuring yourself unnecessarily.

  2. Hi. Thanks so much for the feedback. I’ve made some replies below:

    Most of the studies on Pose Running have been very poorly designed (including almost every study that you mentioned above). One of the biggest flaws in the design of these studies is that they fail to recognize that changing one’s running technique is not instantaneous. Depending on the individual, it can take weeks, months, and even years to change one’s running technique. Unfortunately, during that time, the runner will probably be more vulnerable to injury, and will experience a decrease in running efficiency. (Well Dah!)

    -I think you make a fair point here. However, these studies probably do mimic what most new runners to pose running experience. Go to a 1 or 2 day clinic, read Dr. R’s book, and try to apply what was learned. Doing a longer term study would be a lot better and is clearly needed.

    The second biggest flaw in these studies is that they do not measure how well the runners are running against the Pose running standard. If they are running Pose perfectly, as measured against the standard, then the studies would be more relevant. However very few people run perfectly against the standard, and therefore any conclusion based on that research is much less meaningful. All research on Pose should include an evaluation of how well the runners are performing the technique. And since this is easy to do, there is no excuse for not including this within the design of the study. I have yet to find one that does.

    -This is also a fair point. Yet, maybe this shows another problem with pose. If runners who study pose have a tendency to practice it incorrectly then it might not be piratical in real life. Do x, y, and z and you’ll decrease the likelihood of injury and increase running economy. However, do x.1, y, and z, and you’ll experience the opposite. This is an exaggeration but I’m not sure judging pose with perfect execution is correct way to go. We should look at it how the average runner will apply it on the road or trail. If pose is so precise that many runners are apt to get it wrong, well, that is an issue that should be addressed.

    Just because there are financial interests involved, that does not invalidate the studies. It simply means that the data and methodology must be held to a high standard. Unfortunately, when it comes to studies of running technique, high standards in short supply.

    – True, financial interests need not invalidate the studies, but, they sure do have an impact on how conclusions are presented. If you disagree, the recent financial crisis provides example after example of what happens when those with a conflict of interest are relied upon for objective analysis. On the other hand, academics like Stephen McGregor have no interest (he does have a book or two out there so maybe there is an indirect interest there) in whether pose is a good thing or not. Small sample size or not, I always put more weight on what non-state holders say.

    We clearly need more studies to make a final conclusion on pose running. I disagree that we need to wait years for this to happen. Medical Science moves pretty quickly and we usually have a good sense of how things are working (or not) within 5 to 10 years. As you mentioned that is also takes months to years for one to learn pose running correctly… maybe the timeliness coincide?

    Lastly, I’ll reiterate that I have nothing against pose. I’m an analyst by trade and it has been my job to evaluate data (usually companies, industries, and financial statements) and make conclusions on what I saw. I am merely doing the same thing with pose because I run and would love to find that silver bullet that makes me more efficient.

  3. Karin says:

    I love running as well, in particular stairs. I only can recommend to add some type of running to his or her daily routine. It helps with stress, prevents becoming sick and boost your mood.

    Sincerely Karin

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