Neil Featherby: It’s not always as simple as putting one leg in front of the other...

Action from the Dereham 10m race. Picture: Aaron Protheroe

Action from the Dereham 10m race. Picture: Aaron Protheroe - Credit: Archant

My column last week on 'Jeffing' certainly got people talking on social media.

I also had a few private messages from people wishing to convey their thoughts to me privately – none were rude and all were very constructive to the debate.

Whilst I love watching people progress as better runners, I also get a lot of satisfaction from watching people take part and participate in any form of exercise. Nevertheless and for those who pointed out that my comment about 'just putting one leg in front of the other' isn't quite as simple as that I decided to seek out and research more thoroughly the views of some highly qualified experts in the field of biomechanics.

I have to say my own personal running style has always been pretty horrendous and whilst for many a year I ran over 100 miles each week, I was still able to compete at a reasonable level. As for even thinking about trying to change my poor running gait, back then all I wanted to do was to train as hard as I could whilst running as fast as I could too.

However, there was always in the back of my mind a few thoughts as to why I had a continuous Achilles tendon issue which I knew was probably down to my poor running style and biomechanics.

MORE: So what's the big deal about this 'Jeffing'?I ran with my right foot pointing out at an angle whilst also running with a noticeable drop on my right side for which I purchased several books by the American expert, Dr Steven Subutnik, who was and still is a much qualified authority when it comes to the biomechanics of running and walking.

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Reading through his books again this week, he states that where running is similar to walking in many ways, there are clear differences.

When walking there is always one foot on the ground whereas when running, for a brief moment both feet float (off the ground at the same time) between toe off and foot contact.

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He also goes on to explain the differences in foot plant and position during varying speeds be it from that of a walk right through to a sprint. Whilst that may seem pretty obvious to most, Dr Subtutnik also explains in great depth how changes through impact forces and stride length differ particularly during the latter stages of a long run when fatigued.

When running, the impact forces upon foot strike are between two-and-a-half and three times your body weight, whereas it is less than 50 percent of this when walking.

As already mentioned, during the last few years, thoughts have changed towards running style and how people may benefit from actually learning to run more efficiently by way of posture, foot strike and cadence.

A number of running and fitness experts have demonstrated how running efficiency can be improved along with a reduction in injuries too by learning to run more economically.

MORE: Check out our 2018 race calendarNeedless to say the footwear manufacturers have also got involved and designed footwear of a more minimal quality than those which are of the more cushioned and supportive conventional running shoe type.

However, and after reading through several of these more current day research papers, many still mirror much of Subutnik's views suggesting that at least 80 percent of all joggers and long distance runners heel strike just as we do when walking.

With so much information out there, I thought who better to ask than local expert Chas Allen who really does have some very in-depth and fascinating thoughts about how we run and how running affects us all in various ways.

'Jeffing or Fartlek along with many other forms of pace control have been around for a long time,' he said. 'Each person is different and as loading patterns change during the different phases of the gait, there will also be many implications which are unique to each individual.

'We must not forget that genetics also have a big role to play here too what with people of a certain build being more successful when it comes to bodily adaptations from the stresses applied during such exercise and this is why I also love Nordic Walking so much as you can play between the two and help convert people much more carefully from one form of exercise to the other without the same risk factors.'

Chas went on to describe the many factors which can affect people who are taking up exercise for the first time especially those who have not exercised for some time. He most certainly thinks that they would all benefit by following a carefully structured plan, be it through Jeffing, running or any form of exercise which places physical stress on the body.

At the end of the day, walk, jog or run, it is about doing what is best for you at any given time. I personally love seeing people just getting out there and having a go whilst achieving their own goals, be it those who just want to follow a walk-run plan for improved health and fitness or indeed those who want to compete at the highest level possible.

At the same time, my views of learning to run more efficiently whilst also doing more strength and conditioning work so as to strengthen areas of biomechanical weaknesses has also changed. If I had my time again then I would most certainly dedicate at least an hour or two each week to working with the likes of Chas Allen who can add a lot more than just some icing on the cake.

One final footnote…. the IAAF states that all competitors who race walk, must have their front foot on the ground when the rear foot is raised. Failing that, disqualification will take place as it will be regarded as running (lifting).

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