Are You Following Bad Barefoot Running Advice?

 

– The MOVEMENT Movement with Steven Sashen Episode 099 with Jae Gruenke

 

Jae Gruenke is a Certified Feldenkrais Practitioner, running technique expert, and founder of The Balanced Runner™.  Known as a “running form guru,” she has helped runners from beginner to Olympian relieve pain and improve their performance, and she specializes in helping runners whose problems have persisted despite medical treatment.

Her interest in running technique was sparked when, as a professional dancer, she was asked to perform choreography that included sustained running in large, outdoor environments. Frustrated by how difficult and uncomfortable running felt, she began to study running technique and use the Feldenkrais Professional Training Program she was enrolled in as a laboratory to discover how to coordinate her movements so that running felt comfortable, easy, and enjoyable.

Eventually, realizing she’d come to prefer running to dancing, and also that the changes in movement that had made the difference to her running were not being taught, discussed, or researched elsewhere, she retired from dancing and launched The Balanced Runner.

Jae has been a member of the Feldenkrais Guild of North America since 1999 and the United Kingdom since 2011, and was an ACE-certified personal trainer from 1999-2012. As a Assistant Clinical Professor in the Physical Therapy Program at SUNY Downstate Medical center in New York City she helped develop an (unpublished) pilot study on the effects of the Feldenkrais Method on running economy.

 

Listen to this episode of The MOVEMENT Movement with Jae Gruenke about avoiding the wrong barefoot running advice.

 

Here are some of the beneficial topics covered on this week’s show:

  • What the Feldenkrais Method is and how it can help runners.
  • How good organization in the body depends on what people are doing.
  • Why running cues and movement cues are problematic and don’t work.
  • How most people misinterpret “stable your core” and go too far with it.
  • Why your arms shouldn’t be swinging back and forth while you run.

Connect with Jae:

Guest Contact Info
Twitter
@balancedrunner

Facebook
facebook.com/TheBalancedRunner

 

Links Mentioned:
balancedrunner.com
 

 

Connect with Steven:

Website

Xeroshoes.com

Jointhemovementmovement.com

Twitter
@XeroShoes

Instagram
@xeroshoes

Facebook
facebook.com/xeroshoes

Steven Sashen:

I talk a lot about running barefoot and a lot of people talk about the ways to run barefoot. And what if the ways that people have told you, maybe even me, are completely wrong? What if you’ve been misled about what it takes to take off your shoes and have a good time running without your shoes, with your feet touching the ground? Well, we’re going to find out on today’s episode of The Movement Movement podcast, the podcast for people who want to know the truth about what it takes to have a happy, healthy, strong body, starting feet first, because those things are your foundation after all.

We break down the propaganda, the mythology, sometimes the flat out lies you’ve been told about what it takes to run or walk or hike or play, or do yoga, CrossFit, whatever it is you like to do, and to do it enjoyably efficiently… did I mentioned enjoyably? That’s a trick question because I know I did, because look, if you’re not having fun, do something different till you are. Because if you’re not having fun, you’re not going to do it for a long time anyway.

So, I’m Steven Sashen from xeroshoes.com. I’m the host of The Movement Movement podcast, if you don’t already know that. And we call it the Movement Movement because we are creating a movement that involves you in a very easy way that I’ll describe in a moment about moving, about natural movement. We’re helping people rediscover that natural movement, using your body the way it’s made to be used is the better, obvious, healthy choice, the way we currently think of natural food.

And so, the movement part that involves you is simple. If you like what you hear, just spread the word, come to our website, www.jointhemovementmovement.com. There’s no cost to join, there’s no membership fees or secret handshakes. Just subscribe if you want to hear about upcoming episodes, check out the previous episodes, follow us on all the various channels where you can follow us, you’ll see all those on the website, and then give us a thumbs up or a like, or a review, all those things that you know how to do. If you sure, if you want to be part of the tribe, please subscribe.

So, let’s jump in… now, Jae, before I say anything, I have to point out two things. One, you are the first person who has been on the podcast now twice.

Jae Gruenke:

Ooh. Exciting.

Steven Sashen:

I know. You should feel special. But this happened because we had some other conversation where this topic came up about running form and barefoot running form, and it seemed like we really needed to dive in. So here we are. The second point I want to make, I totally forgot we’re having this conversation today, hence the lack of shaving and my hair pulled back because I didn’t have time to shower this morning. So I just thought I’d let you know. So Jae, do me a favor, would you introduce yourself and tell people who you are and what you do with your life?

Jae Gruenke:

Yes. So my name is Jae Gruenke and I’m the founder of The Balanced Runner, as people watching can see the sign. So I’m a Feldenkrais practitioner and running form expert and I help runners improve their form mostly to get over injury and fulfill their potential and feel really great like they are a kid again.

Steven Sashen:

Feldenkrais is one of my favorite things, we talked about this on our first call that I happily had the great pleasure of having some sessions with one of the guys who brought Feldenkrais to America, Tom Hanna for people who are hip to knowing things like that, but can you, in a nutshell, explain what that is for people who don’t know?

Jae Gruenke:

It’s a movement education method. So, it’s not exercise, it doesn’t use strengthening or stretching. It really deals with what your nervous system knows about how to coordinate movement to fulfill your intentions in the world. And it works with the process that we used as infants to learn how to move and sit and crawl and walk and run.

Steven Sashen:

I’ll give my personal twist on that, which is fun. The thing that I love about Feldenkrais is that when someone has some injury, what they’re often tempted to do, we’re all attempting to do, is try to keep working on that thing to somehow make it better. And one of the things Feldenkrais does, is focuses on the parts that are working well and using how your brain works to basically have the good side of you, if let’s say something’s bilaterally asymmetrical, have the good side of you effectively teach the bad side of you, what good is.

And it’s very effortless and often shocking. In fact, in many ways, this is a bit of a tangent, the experience can be so surprising that it can really upset your own sense of who you are, because many people identify with movement limitations they have, and when they discover how effortlessly they can have some different experience, it can mess up their brain from being someone who’s always seeking a solution to someone who found it without working, and that can mess with people’s head.

Jae Gruenke:

Yeah. And that using one side to teach the other is one of many strategies that we use as in the Feldenkrais method. Mostly Feldenkrais was way ahead of his time in terms of understanding how motor learning works. And so, periodically I’d get back into, what is the research saying now? And it’s always a really interesting confirmation of different aspects of the method.

So, it sounds culty or new-agey, but it’s really… mostly Feldenkrais was a scientist and it’s really science-based. And I try to avoid at all costs mentioning to runners, all the things that the Feldenkrais method can do for them as a human being, because I wouldn’t have any clients if that were true. It just beggars belief. So yeah, we just try and keep that quiet.

Steven Sashen:

Your secret is safe with me.

Jae Gruenke:

But the thing to know is brain exists to organize movement.

Steven Sashen:

Yes.

Jae Gruenke:

Across all species, that is what a brain is for. Anything that locomotive through space has a brain, some version of nervous system, and anything that doesn’t such as a plant doesn’t have a brain because they’re very energetically expensive. And so whenever you really deal with how you’re organizing movement, because that’s the foundation of everything that your brain is doing, it affects everything.

Steven Sashen:

And the thing that people often don’t realize is the cyclical… that’s not really what I want to say, but I’ll say it that way. The cyclical nature of that, because you’re getting information from your body, that’s going to your brain, that’s telling your body how to move from the information that it gets. So if you’re cutting off the information flow, you’re interfering with that process, that cycle, if you will, that feedback loop, is what I was really looking for.

And this is of course what, when you have a shoe that looks like the one I’m holding up, which has, for people who are watching, big, thick, elevated heel, ton of cushioning, ton of padding, squeeze your toes together, all those things that are ‘normal,’ all of that gets in the way of giving your brain the information that needs to know how to locomote you through the place where you’re locomoting.

Jae Gruenke:

I love it when my clients hold up a shoe like that and say, “See, my shoes are pretty good.”

Steven Sashen:

Well, because that’s what they’ve been told for 50 years, you need arc support and motion control and padding. The one thing that no one’s ever been able to explain is what’s the pointy toe on shoes? Because you clearly don’t need that, but why do people even think that that makes any sense whatsoever?

Jae Gruenke:

But if you look back at pictures of medieval dress, and you see these long pointy toes, it’s ornamentation that I think has been around a long time and it probably exists partially to announce, “I am civilized. I am so different from a wild human.”

Steven Sashen:

It’s definitely something, but that’s all. So let’s dive into what I teased at the beginning and what inspired you to reach out to me and me to say let’s get you on here a second time. Do you remember what that inciting moment was?

Jae Gruenke:

I was listening to your wonderful interview with Tony Post.

Steven Sashen:

Oh.

Jae Gruenke:

That was a great show.

Steven Sashen:

We had fun.

Jae Gruenke:

And for me, I started doing what I do in 2003. So when the barefoot minimalist movement hit in 2009, I was already well underway, but it changed a lot of things, and then it made a lot of things to stay the same to my great astonishment. So, I was picked up and carried by that wave and thought I should really be paying royalties to Christopher McDougall.

Steven Sashen:

I tease that Chris McDougall wrote the book Born to Run with both the book Born to Run and Dr. Daniel Lieberman’s research that came out in nature about habitual barefoot runners versus putting them in shoes versus habitual short runners. Those two things really catalyzed the whole barefoot running/natural movement, movement. And back in 2009 and it really kicked in, in 2010 after that.

So, we used to joke that and I used to tell Chris to his face, I would say, “You’re my unofficial marketing department,” because he was on a book tour and anywhere he went, people started looking up what he was talking about and they would find what we were doing. And one of my guerrilla marketing tactics was going into bookstores and putting our business cards in copies of his book.

Jae Gruenke:

Oh, that’s cute.

Steven Sashen:

It was effective.

Jae Gruenke:

Yeah. Yeah.

Steven Sashen:

So, what was it in that chat I had with Tony that made you go, “Hm.”

Jae Gruenke:

Well, it was just really great to hear about that time from insiders in the minimalist footwear industry, it wasn’t even an industry yet at that point, and to see it through that lens. And it really took me back and you were talking, one of the things you talked about was some of the factors that undermined that wave. And when I thought that you missed or unaware of, was this parallel wave of running technique education, which suddenly really became a thing.

It wasn’t a thing, I was trying to do this thing that wasn’t a thing because I was a former dancer and I thought everybody thinks about technique, Right?

Steven Sashen:

Right.

Jae Gruenke:

But that wasn’t true of runners, and suddenly it became true. And so, there had been people, there was Danny Dyer, she running Nicholas Romanov’s Pose Method, but not much, and suddenly became a thing that was very popular to think about. And runners are taking off their shoes at the same time, willy-nilly and looking for someone to tell them what to do.

And so yeah, a lot of experts suddenly appeared. And some of them truly experts, but mostly overnight experts, and a lot of bad advice was given. And I really think it’s part of the story, it’s definitely part of the injuries, is definitely frustrating to me, when that movement, when it first happened, I had a baby in 2009 also, so I had a lot of time for thinking but not a lot of time for doing, so.

Steven Sashen:

So, you were actually able to think after you had your baby?

Jae Gruenke:

Well, yeah, because you can to the extent that the brain works, I mean, would you make up from what you lose in basic brain function due to deep exhaustion and having poured half your body’s nutrition into making this other person, you do gain in quantity of hours that you are awake.

Steven Sashen:

I think you’re one of the few mothers who has identified the benefit of lack of sleep and energy that comes from having a child.

Jae Gruenke:

Well, also disinhibition, you’re a little bit like a drunk person when you’re really sleep deprived. And that definitely opened up some opportunities for me, where I just acted where I normally would have stopped myself. So anyway, there’s always a silver lining, but it gave me the time to listen to the audio book of Born to Run a few times through and think, “Oh, I’m going to be out of business.”

Steven Sashen:

Interesting. Why out of business?

Jae Gruenke:

Because when you take your shoes off, it’s so much easier to feel what you should be doing. I thought people are not going to need advice and people are certainly not going to be giving out the wrong advice because it’s just so clear it’s wrong.

Steven Sashen:

But?

Jae Gruenke:

But that is not what happened.

Steven Sashen:

Right.

Jae Gruenke:

The opposite happened.

Steven Sashen:

So yeah, just talk about what happened from your perspective. And then let’s talk about, let’s jump into what I teased about is, what people have… and this will be part of the course. It’s just what people were saying that was incorrect or what people heard that was incorrect, what people were doing that prevented them from basically making all footwear go away, which is what the big shoe companies were terrified about during that time.

Jae Gruenke:

I know.

Steven Sashen:

I mean, they were putting out content, the way I jokingly say it is, they were putting out things saying, “If you don’t wear running shoes, you’re going to step on hypodermic needles, get Ebola, your mortgage rates going to go up, your kids won’t get into college, you’ll forget to use the letter E, I mean, just amazing things that were mind blowing.

And then of course, by the end of 2010, they were all putting out shoes they called barefoot and minimalist that were nothing of the sort and trying to capitalize on the wave. So, but to your point, what’d you see that people did that made it clear you were not going to be out of business?

Jae Gruenke:

Well, I was just seeing the wrong advice and I think it was… I’ll get in a lot of trouble for this, but I think it was the Pilates industry stepping in and feeling they had a place.

Steven Sashen:

Interesting.

Jae Gruenke:

Yeah. And misapplying Pilates concepts too, because there’s this trap people get into of thinking good postures are all the same, organizing yourself well is the same, no matter what you’re doing. And in fact, Feldenkrais practitioners know good organization depends entirely on what it is you’re trying to do, and involves adapting yourself to the task.

And good organization for running should be more accessible to us than most things, because running is a fundamental human gath. This is not motocross or snowboarding-

Steven Sashen:

Gymnastics.

Jae Gruenke:

Yeah, or gymnastics, that’s right, where we made up this stuff and it capitalizes on movement capacities we have, but it didn’t have evolutionary utility for us. It’s not something everyone comes to without equipment by themselves at some point in their childhood. So yeah, it should all be there, but modern life means it’s not. And everything about our culture, divorces people from the ability to listen from their bodies and the ability to listen to feedback from their bodies into large extent.

And so, I think that meant that people were very confused when they took their shoes off, instead of feeling like everything’s clear now.

Steven Sashen:

So, what were some of the specific things, let’s dive into the details on things that people were doing or things that people were teaching that you see as incorrect?

Jae Gruenke:

Yeah. So run tall, that is very vague. It’s not 100% bad, but is basically interpreted to mean, and often was intended to mean run upright, be vertical, do not lean forward. And also language undermines us here because different people interpret different words the same way. But, there was a component to that by which I think people meant don’t slouch, don’t hunch, but then again, you wouldn’t be doing any of those things anyway, if you knew how to move. So, you don’t have to ever think about not doing those things, and anything-

Steven Sashen:

Well, I’m going to address that one because I think you’re absolutely right. So, cues are problematic, running cues or movement cues are problematic for two reasons. One is, how people say it and whether it’s actionable. And then how people hear it and whether they’re hearing it accurately, if it is an accurate statement to begin with.

This is a comment that I made. One of my sprinting coaches at one point we were doing a drill and he says, “When you’re in the air there, you need to have your hips over your feet.” And I said, “I can’t rearrange my body in the middle of the air that way. What you’re really trying to say is, I didn’t take off in a way that put my hips and my feet in the relationship that you want.”

And he’s like, “Well, yeah.” So, “But that’s not what you said.” And you just happen to be one of those lucky guys who figured out from your coach telling you that line, like, “Run Tall.” You figured it out, and just now you’re repeating it, but you never really did the English translation or the bad advice to actual movement translation. So the run tall thing, the best thing I can say is, I’ve seen so many people that when they run, they basically keep collapsing in there, I don’t like to use the word cord, their hips really, they’re not taught spring at the right angle, but they hit the ground and collapse and then try to re-expand and collapse and re-expand.

So I think that’s what that cue ultimately meant, but it’s a horrible cue because it’s not talking about that, it’s talking about this idea just when you hear tall, you try and stretch to make sure you’re 5’5″ still, that’s what I am. And somehow I’m getting shorter over time.

Jae Gruenke:

Yeah. And I do think some people do mean, no don’t lean forward. That’s not right.

Steven Sashen:

No, you’re right.

Jae Gruenke:

Yeah.

Steven Sashen:

Some people are totally doing that.

Jae Gruenke:

Yeah. Because that can’t be right, because that’s not right for standing or for walking, so it can’t be right for running, but it is. And then you get these then the version of, “Imagine a string is pulling you up from the top of your head.” And all of these things really stress the forefoot.

Steven Sashen:

Say more?

Jae Gruenke:

Yeah. So one of the classic injuries that happen for people who transitioned very rapidly to minimalist or barefoot running, was metatarsal stress fracture, second classic runner, second metatarsal stress fracture. And the story that people tell themselves about that is always the impact. But nobody lands on their second metatarsal, not even people who were prancing on their forefeet. A stress fracture-

Steven Sashen:

And I’m going to pause though, because I want to highlight this. Many people think that that people who did make that transition, whether they made it fast or slow, the stress fractures were almost endemic, that they were part and parcel with getting out of regular footwear. And that had happened a lot. And it didn’t happen a lot, it happened more than we… and people get stress fractures running in regular shoes-

Jae Gruenke:

Yes, they do. Those same ones. Yes.

Steven Sashen:

I never saw a study comparing the percentage of barefoot runners or minimalist runners in truly minimal shoes who were getting metatarsal stress fractures with regular short runners. So, the way the shoe companies were presenting it, is this is happening to everybody that’s why you need shoes. But there was no data that I saw, that said it was happening more or less than people who were running in shoes.

But to your point, there are certain things that I notice, we can maybe talk about that, that would have more likelihood for leading to a metatarsal stress fracture than not. But I’m going to pause and I’m going to hold that in reserve until I hear you say more about this.

Jae Gruenke:

Yeah. So I’m excited to hear what you have to say. So what I see and yeah, you can get, I mean, it has nothing to do with the cushioning. A stress fracture is caused by shearing stress, not by blunt trauma like a regular fracture. So it happens gradually, the weakening of bone over the time by trying to bend the bone in a place where there is no joint.

And so, what is the second metatarsal stress fracture? Well, that’s you trying to bend your forefoot too far back from where the actual joint is with the big toe, the MTP joint. And that happens on pushing off the ground on toe off or metatarsal off, not on landing. And so what puts your weight too far back and makes you have to push really hard against the ground to toe off-

Steven Sashen:

Run tall.

Jae Gruenke:

Being upright. And not only just being upright, but being upright and stiff. Because toe off is a co-operative action of your whole body, your poor little flipper feet are not strong enough to do that if the rest of you is just a stiff refrigerator.

Steven Sashen:

Well, I’m going to keep interrupting you to pause there, because there’s so much to unpack in all of this. So many people think that, and they think this from running and shoes that look like this one that I have that has this thing called toe spring, where from the ball of the foot up, it’s stiff and elevated off the ground. And they built that into shoes because they made shoes so thick that you couldn’t bend your feet naturally, so they tried to do something to make it approximate that.

So now you have your toes bent back towards your knee all the time dorsiflexed which they shouldn’t be, and they can’t bend forward. So people got the idea from that, that the way you have to run is that there is this active, aggressive thing called toe off where you are pushing off the ground with your toes, and that’s where you get your power despite the fact that when you look at what happens with a runner and force, there’s nothing you can do with your feet at that point, that’s going to be helpful. That’s after the fact-

Jae Gruenke:

Yeah. It’s too late.

Steven Sashen:

It’s way too late.

Jae Gruenke:

Yeah. It happens, your maximum ground reaction forces and mid stance. And then it’s reducing and you’re telescoping out through all your joints on the stance side of your body, the move, the fraction of a shot can… you leave mid stance. And all the pushing is done by the time you get to your toes. And then people try to squeeze their glutes and they try to do all sorts of things to feel like they’re pushing off at that moment.

Steven Sashen:

So, and again I’ll wait until you hear the thing, I saw that was causing stress fractures. So why do you think people got the idea, other than they were used to it from shoes and they got this thing about run tall. Was there any other instruction you think was leading people to that form problem that then created that problem?

Jae Gruenke:

Yeah. Well, there are a number of things that can get you there. I mean, the run tall, the lift your chest, the pull your shoulders back, put your weight too far back and they stiffen your torso, so again, you can’t do that co-Operative telescoping out of one side of your body. And you can’t do opposite things with the two sides of your body, which is true at every moment in running.

So, any running form cue that involves you trying to do the same thing with both sides of your body at once, no matter what it is, is going to create a problem.

Steven Sashen:

Good point. Yeah.

Jae Gruenke:

And so, you pull both shoulders back, well, that’s a problem, because one needs to be going forward and the other needs to be going back. Lift your chest, it totally stiffens your spine, as well as pushing your head back. And then the forefoot stress, and then anything that you do to try and, there was a lot of this also, but there’s always a lot of this, it’s not special. It was not a special part of the minimalist barefoot stuff.

The idea that you should stabilize your core, which is interpreted to mean hold your pelvis still, tighten your abs. Not everybody means it that that way, but that’s the common application interpretation. So that also prevents this ability to release your weight from the front of the foot. And so instead you have this downward and backward pressure too far back on the foot.

And for me, that’s what I see in runners shod or unshod, whatever the heck they’re wearing, we have the second metatarsal stress fracture. And for me, as a Feldenkrais practitioner, my lens is that I’m always looking at the whole body. So, I’m never looking at foot muscle or just what’s happening at the ankle or whatever. So what are you seeing with that injury?

Steven Sashen:

Yeah. So my favorite comes from the University of Colorado, where one of the researchers there, one of the head researchers in the lab sponsored by Nike, spend a bunch of time trying to prove that running barefoot was bad for you, by studying things that no one ever claimed had anything to do with running barefoot, or that were completely irrelevant. That’s neither here nor there, suffice it to say, “I bought that guy a beer and he hasn’t spoken to me since.”

But there’s a picture outside of his lab of a barefoot runner, and she basically, she was doing something that I saw once that I couldn’t believe, people got the idea you’re supposed to land on the ball of your foot or midfoot, for example. And I’m running with someone and she’s still, over-striding, she’s still reaching with her foot way out in front of her body when it’s going to land.

And then plantar flexing, pointing your toes and landing right on the ball of her foot, where, I mean, that’s just way more force than your foot is designed to handle, because it’s not aligned properly, the bones are not aligned properly, the muscle is not aligned property. I mean, you’re putting on the brakes, you’re hitting the ground with four to 600 pounds of force in a place that is not designed to handle that at that angle.

So that was a picture right outside, here’s barefoot running. It’s like, “No, no, no, that’s not, no, no, no.” No one ever said you should do that.

Jae Gruenke:

That’s so true.

Steven Sashen:

Yeah. If you’re letting your runners do that, and you’re calling that accomplished barefoot runners in your lab, it’s proof that you have no idea what you’re talking about.

Jae Gruenke:

Yeah. And yet you’re not getting accomplished barefoot runners. Yeah.

Steven Sashen:

Well, I said-

Jae Gruenke:

Because no one lasts doing that anymore.

Steven Sashen:

No. And that was something that I saw a number of times, where people had the idea, that all I need to do is just point my toes and prance a little bit. And that’s stress fracture.

Jae Gruenke:

Oh my God. The prancing. So, and yeah. My feeling about that is it’s still rare that a person is landing on their second metatarsal.

Steven Sashen:

That’s true. They’re usually going to be fourth or fifth at that point.

Jae Gruenke:

Exactly. But that is a recipe for Achilles tendon problems.

Steven Sashen:

Also, true.

Jae Gruenke:

And that’s the other epidemic thing. And I totally hear you about the stress fractures, not necessarily being an epidemic. I had enough people come to me to say I made this transition and then a year later, I mean, it tends to be a year later that happens. And when they’ve also been following those running form cues, it’s easy to connect the dots, but whether it happened more frequently or not, I don’t know.

Steven Sashen:

Yeah. Well, I mean, I had doctors, I remember doctors saying, “I love this barefoot running thing, I’m seeing so many more patients, it’s putting my kids through college.” I said, “Yeah, but you said the same thing when running shoes came out in the 70s. So you get your story straight.” And I would say to these doctors, there’s this more people trying something, so you’re seeing more people, because the people who are having no problems don’t come to you for help, they don’t need it.

So, unless you know what the whole population is, the percentage that you’re seeing is not necessarily representative of what’s actually going on, it’s a whole other thing. So let’s move ahead. What else did you see that was bad advice/bad form?

Jae Gruenke:

Yeah. Well, let’s just go for this, land on your forefoot thing. I mean, there was also, and this is especially coming from a research by Lieberman et al, about landing forefoot instead of barefoot. And there’s a terminology issue because some people say that anatomically there is no midfoot, and so that leads to the word forefoot being used a lot by a lot more.

And that was interpreted to mean, yeah, you’re landing the way a dancer lands a jump, toe ball of the foot heel, because dancers are normally going straight up and down, in case they’re not trying to go forward. Yeah, well, there’s a lot to be said about that, but there’s much more vertical dancers jumping up.

Steven Sashen:

Jeté.

Jae Gruenke:

Yeah.

Steven Sashen:

So anyway-

Jae Gruenke:

Saut de chat, my favorite. Anyway, train of thought, all gone.

Steven Sashen:

So, forefoot.

Jae Gruenke:

Yeah. So, I remember a while later I was living in Scotland and I was invited to speak two years in a row at the Scottish barefoot running conference where everybody had Achilles tendonitis. It’s so hilarious. And… yeah go ahead.

Steven Sashen:

I have written a number of things where I say Achilles and calf pain are optional.

Jae Gruenke:

Yeah. Well, I mean, I remember… okay. So, I was a dancer, I was professionally barefoot for 12 years or so. And then I got running shoes, this was in the late 90s when I wanted to start running, because I thought, “Oh, well, that’s just what you do.” And got used to that, and I had retired from dancing, but then I had my baby and I couldn’t run through my pregnancy because of specific issue.

And so, when I was ready to go back and I’ve been listening to one run and I was, well, so every part of me is weak right now. So why would I go into running… this was my perfect moment to just get… I got an early version of Vivobarefoot and just did that from that point on, and let my feet get strong. But it wasn’t a stretch for me because my feet were already… But I remember going through that process, I still had a year where I think it was the deep calf was just really adapting.

And so, I didn’t have a tendon problem, but I was just stiff for a year. So I’d be sitting and then I’d stand up and I’d just take a moment before I started to walk.

Steven Sashen:

So, was there some specific instruction that you were seeing that was leading to this for people? Is that an English thing?

Jae Gruenke:

Yeah. Sorry. So that was a degression. So my experience is that there was some calf stiffness. Then again motherhood, it puts a big load on the calves because you’re holding a baby a lot in front of you, and so the calves were more so, that was also in the mix. But the Achilles tendon issues, I mean, partially I think people just dropping, going from a 10, 12 millimeter drop to zero, drop too fast, and the Achilles tendon just couldn’t make the jump that fast.

But this landing forefoot, this idea that you should change your foot strike, that you could change just your foot strike, got masses of people into trouble because you can’t change just your foot strike, your feet are landing where and how they have to land to keep you from face planting, survival imperative.

Steven Sashen:

They can land in other ways too. I mean, if you’re over-striding, that’s not just keeping you from face planting because there’s no way you’re going to face plant if your foot is in front your body-

Jae Gruenke:

But falling.

Steven Sashen:

And fundamentally yes, fundamentally if you are falling, your foot is going to put itself somewhere to keep you from doing that, ideally.

Jae Gruenke:

Right. And there’s going to be one place that’s best.

Steven Sashen:

Yes.

Jae Gruenke:

And the whole-body mechanism that’s moving your leg forward plus wherever it has to land, is going to cause one part of your foot to hit first.

Steven Sashen:

Right.

Jae Gruenke:

And so, if you are either very upright or even flexed and you are slouching a bit, well, there’s no way to do anything other than heel strike if you’re doing that, because you’re all flection pattern and that just flexes the foot as well. But what a lot of runners did, who were over-striding with big, hard heel strike, heel striking of course not being always bad, and there being a lot of nuance to it, they just tried to change at the ankle-

Steven Sashen:

Right. Just point their toes. Right.

Jae Gruenke:

And did exactly what you’re describing in that picture of the runner outside the lab, of big overstride with a forefoot strike. And so then if it’s the heel, you’ve got this breaking force, you’ve got a linkage of bone up into your hip joint in your lower back, and you’ve got this braking force and you feel it in your lower back and the nature of the gait cycle is you’ll then later, because of where you are in mid stance, you’ll feel it in your knee, patellar tendon, classic runner’s knee.

But if you switch to doing that with your forefoot, then you’re not getting the linkage through the bone. It’s actually, your calves and your Achilles tendon are being forced to create that braking force and then eccentrically descend the heel to the ground. And it’s just, brutal on the Achilles tendon.

Steven Sashen:

Well, there’s one that I think you might be missing, because there were some coaches who were suggesting your heels should never come down to the ground.

Jae Gruenke:

Yes, no, that’s on my list.

Steven Sashen:

Got it.

Jae Gruenke:

Yes. And even worse version of that is. And my jaw dropped when I read that, that can’t… I don’t understand that, because you have to keep your calves contracted the whole time.

Steven Sashen:

The whole time. And I’ve seen some of those runners and there’re a couple people who were successful at doing that. But it reminds me of a woman that I went to college with, who I don’t think I ever saw her heels touch the ground, I don’t mean when she’s running, I mean ever, the way she walk, I mean, that’s just how she walked.

Admittedly she had great calves and a great butt, but that’s regardless, that’s not a way to do it. And I just remembered at The World Masters Track and Field Championships in Finland back in 2008 or so, same thing, there was a runner, a very accomplished runner, he walked the same way as heels never touched the ground. But to your point back about switching… go ahead.

Jae Gruenke:

Well, let me just say, I mean, that’s a thing though. That’s briskets extensor reflex, and that’s usually caused by a little bit of an interruption in oxygen during birth.

Steven Sashen:

Oh, interesting.

Jae Gruenke:

Yeah. So it causes a very small amount of brain damage that just makes an extensor tone be higher. Yeah. And so a person who… as my old anatomy pitcher said, it’s very amenable to education if you know how to help a person learn how to change their gait, but they can’t just want to put their heels down and start doing it, that would never work. So yeah. So people who are… but yeah, so that’s the thing anyway.

Steven Sashen:

Well back to your point about, going from an elevated heel to a flat shoe is you’re a drop shoe too quickly. There’s two things about that, that made me think of, one is that I watch people running who are running well, they’re landing forefoot underneath their body, basically in regular shoes. But the thing that’s happening of course is because they have this high heeled shoe, they’re not letting the Achilles do its job of being the actual spring that it’s supposed to be, they’re not letting it, well stretch all the way and then recover all the way.

So, they’re interrupting that process. So there’s definitely that component maybe part of the idea of switching too fast, but I would argue that it’s not a question of going from a 12 millimeter drop to 10 to eight, to six, to five, to four, to whatever. In fact, that’s what Adidas came out with, was transition shoes. They weren’t going to go for something zero drops, so they said, here if you’re going to go there, four shoes to wear along the way.

My contention is that, everyone had the Achilles flexibility and probably strength as well. If they made the transition slowly, not the transition of heel height, just the transition to running in this new way more slowly. So I could be wrong-

Jae Gruenke:

It’s interesting.

Steven Sashen:

But that’s what I saw from my experience, was people could go cold turkey to zero drop or barefoot as long as they weren’t trying to keep their heel off the ground, because a lot of people did hear that, as long as they weren’t over-striding and pointing their toes, because that’s putting all that force on it as well, with the right form. This is why I say Achilles and calf problems were optional.

Oh. And if they weren’t towing off, if instead they’re lifting their foot off the ground by flexing the hip, if they do those things correctly, and then just build up the amount of time they’re running barefoot or in truly minimal shoes, starting very small 20, 30 seconds. And then add 10 seconds at a time if you feel good, then those people I saw never had a problem. But it was the form issues, to add to your point, often came from either coaching cues that were incorrect or just misinterpretation, or lack of information, and therefore trying to put it together without any coaching that led to these things. That’s what I saw.

Jae Gruenke:

Yeah. That’s interesting. I mean, I definitely, with my clients, I try to get everybody at least within the ACSM’s 2014 guidelines. So I don’t know if you know those off the top.

Steven Sashen:

Yeah, I do. Well, my favorite thing is that when the people who wrote those, they basically said you should be wearing minimalist shoes, but they couldn’t say that explicitly because the American College of Sports Medicine, ACSM is sponsored by Adidas. So, there’s some political things in there.

Jae Gruenke:

Oh yeah.

Steven Sashen:

Some of the people who were responsible for that paper live in our shoes. But again, that’s a whole other story.

Jae Gruenke:

I’m sure. Yeah. But was a good paper. And did you see the next guidelines that were released a couple of years later?

Steven Sashen:

I’m not sure.

Jae Gruenke:

Oh, it was all gone. It was all gone. It was just a three page document of a list of the different kinds of running shoes that are available.

Steven Sashen:

Oh my God.

Jae Gruenke:

And you might want them for what, and people should just choose what they’re most comfortable in. It cited a couple of textbooks and no research.

Steven Sashen:

Wow. That reminds me way back when I was a cognitive psych researcher at Duke when I was an undergrad. And somehow through, I think my cognitive psych mentor, I got invited to participate in a panel about the design of the food pyramid and food labeling.

Jae Gruenke:

Oh, fun.

Steven Sashen:

And I said well, if you’re trying to communicate what you’re trying to communicate with the food pyramid, that grains and things are the basis of your diet, I’m not suggesting they should, or they shouldn’t be, I’m saying, this is what they were saying. And that above that was vegetables and nuts and seeds, I think. And above that was something, then there was meat and dairy, were two thirds of the way up the pyramid and then oils, which were just represented by little dots.

And I said to them, “If you’re really trying to communicate that people should base their diet on these things that are at the bottom of the pyramid, you actually just need to turn the thing upside down, because the top is the most important.”

Jae Gruenke:

Good point.

Steven Sashen:

And the guys at the FDA lost their minds, they freaked out. And basically, I finally found someone who confided in me and said, “Yeah, this is all being sponsored by the meat and dairy industry.” So, the fact that it looks like it’s giving precedents to meat and dairy, because that’s the first thing your eye sees, are the two thirds of the way up arc. “Yeah, that’s just the way it’s going to have to be.”

Jae Gruenke:

Wow. Fascinating. I didn’t know that.

Steven Sashen:

They also hit me with on the food labeling. I said, “If you think that there’s some things that are good and bad, too much sodium or not enough of this, or whatever, just use red, yellow, green, red light, green light, yellow light to indicate good or bad.” And they said, “Well, we can’t do that because the generics are printed in black and white.” I said, “There’s not been a black and white generic label for 20 years.” They said, “Well, the industries that are supporting this have said we can’t use color.” I was like, “Alrighty, now I get it.”

Jae Gruenke:

Yep. Yes. Yeah.

Steven Sashen:

So, saying similar idea for.

Jae Gruenke:

Although, it turns the end of the story or at least is this the end, but the current stage of the story is not as bad, which is, but at the time they released the next guidelines, which were a few years later, I could no longer find the 2014 guidelines anywhere online. They had just vanished without a trace. And luckily I had downloaded the PDF, so.

Steven Sashen:

Yeah. I think I have it on my site too.

Jae Gruenke:

Yeah. But no, but they’re back.

Steven Sashen:

Oh.

Jae Gruenke:

So, it’s not that they… I don’t know, they may have been yet further updates to the guidelines, but they have put the 2014 is now again available on the website. So, I was very relieved. But yeah, I saw that change and I thought, “Ooh, somebody pissed off the shoe industry here.” But anyway, so just so people know, those 2014 guidelines which were based on exhaustive literature research review, were simple, no more than six millimeter drop, no motion controllers stability components, and then lightweight. And then further on in the text that also said a wide tool box.

And so, for me, every runner I work with needs to get there and we don’t do it all at once, and I want them to change their street shoes first. Because-

Steven Sashen:

Right. And Irene Davis line, just look, if you’re just going to be walking, you can switch right away. If you’re going to be running, that’s a whole different story. And that six millimeter drop part, that was one of the concessions to the shoe companies who were not making zero drop shoes at the time.

Jae Gruenke:

Okay. Yeah. Good to know. Yeah, I thought there was something magic about that number.

Steven Sashen:

No, there was nothing magic about that number. So, backing up then, so we’ve got the stress fracture thing, we’ve got Achilles and calf things. What else, anything else on your list of cues that were bad or misheard that led to problems?

Jae Gruenke:

Yeah. I mean, I think the, the standard, bad running advice also played in. So stuff which still is with us. So stuff like your arms should never cross your body, make them swing front to back. That’s effectively the same as pulling your shoulders back, your weight needs to shift from foot to foot and it can’t do that if you’re using your arms like the Terminator.

Steven Sashen:

You never know, it’s like Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible.

Jae Gruenke:

Yeah. Or I even think about Charlie’s Angels, but anyway.

Steven Sashen:

Oh, yeah. Them too.

Jae Gruenke:

Yeah. But yeah, so there’s a counter rotation of upper body and of thorax and pelvis that has to happen in gait, walking and running. And it’s a spiraling action, so it’s not just in the transverse plane, there’s a side bending action to it, which is part of what drives your legs like this and shifts your weight from one foot to the other. And if that has to be there in order for you to be able to run on any running stores, treadmill and have them say, “Oh no, you don’t over pruney, you just need neutral shoes.

And introducing these movements of the cord takes all my clients to a place where the shoe stores say, “Oh, we must’ve made a mistake before. No, no, you’re a neutral runner.” So, and it’s a critical piece of the puzzle actually for getting out of orthotics and transitioning to minimalist footwear. And the sensation from the feet is so powerful that it will help you get there. But then I think also people tried to have a sense of safety by coming down in drop, which I do also tell my clients to do gradually, and that truly barefoot would be your last step in the process.

You slowly work up to that, when in fact it needs to be the first step in the process. Every runner, no matter what shoes they’re running in, should do a small amount of completely bare skin on the ground running, because-

Steven Sashen:

And let’s be clear, the distinction there, is many people then say, well, I should be running in the grass because it’s soft.

Jae Gruenke:

Right. No, on pavement.

Steven Sashen:

Yep. Get it on pavement. Yeah. You get the most people, the most feedback that way. And besides, there’s stuff in the ground, I mean, the grass is just taking the cushioning from your shoe and sticking it on the planet, and you never know what’s in the grass, there is anything there, I’ve found-

Jae Gruenke:

I’ve made all these mistakes. I’ve gotten cut in grass, a glass can hide. And yeah, I mean my feet can really… running in grass you step into the grass, it feels so wonderful, it’s like heaven and partially that’s because of the other thing as well, the ground electrons, but yeah, your feet will feel really tired, it’s like running in super cushion shoes. It’s very relaxing to run on pavement.

Steven Sashen:

Do you have an opinion about the 180 steps per minute thing?

Jae Gruenke:

Oh my God. I’m just buried in a thing about that right now, because I thought I had settled my mind about that about five years ago just in conversation with Stephen Levin, who was the pioneer of this concept of Bioteine Segretti, and we were talking about frequency of oscillation and that your most efficient frequency is going to be a reflection of your body, it’s not a number that seemed the same for everybody.

Steven Sashen:

Just to be clear for people who don’t know, one of the ideas that got propagated, I’m not even sure how, is that you should be running at 180 steps per minute. That’s like this optimal thing. And yes, I’ve said something similar. I mean, early on I found a chart, but I can no longer find because organization is not one of my skillsets, that showed that as people increased their cadence, their steps per minute, slightly, the metaphors they were applying to the ground started dropping, dropping, dropping, and then at a certain point it started going back up rather quickly, until you become like me a sprinter, where your cadence is as fast as you can go and as much force as you can possibly put into the ground, because that’s what makes you run fast.

Jae Gruenke:

That’s interesting.

Steven Sashen:

I can’t find that chart, it makes me totally crazy. But yeah, the idea that 180 is some magic number, and Brian Heiderscheit talks about this which is, he works with people and has them just move it up their cadence a little bit and see what happens, and a little bit and see what happens, and a little bit until you can clearly feel diminishing returns or negative returns.

But at first it just feels a little awkward, because it’s not what you’re used to, although it feels better it’s just hard to maintain because you’re so not used to it. But yeah, how that became the Holy grail is amazing but.

Jae Gruenke:

It keeps getting reborn. It was Jack Daniels who made this observation at the Olympics that all the elite runners at every distance had the same cadence.

Steven Sashen:

Probably not true.

Jae Gruenke:

But then again, elite and not elite is a whole different matter. And then what’s, your footwear is a whole different matter, and then there’s been a lot subsequent evidence that cadence is actually speed dependent, it’s certainly impacted by footwear, but the thing keeps coming back somebody just wrote another book about running where… and he’s totally a 180 guy and gets all his clients to do it, and they sing the praises of what things he’s done for them.

For me as a barefoot runner, and I only put shoes on if I’m on a surface where I really can’t do it and in that case, they’re Xeros, in just thinking more about Bioteine Segretti and elasticity, there are so many factors that play in, but I experienced a change in the hardness of my feet in a range of situations. That’s just something that is organisms we can control, we can choose and we also, it’s a response.

If I’m on really gravelly, broken up pavement, which is a bad scenario because gravel on pavement can’t go into the pavement, if it’s on soil, it can get pressed into the soil a little bit when you land on it, if it’s on pavement, it only gets pressed into the soles of your feet, and that can be a little ouchy. And so, I know, I automatically, and then I also intentionally I know how to make my feet really soft, really flat so that there’s no, not that much pressure in any one spot, my weight’s really distributed.

And then of course my cadence is lower then and the amount of force I’m putting in the ground is very low, but it gets me totally comfortably across some Rocky stuff. And if I want to run fast, especially on pavement, I can feel that I make my feet stiffer and the cadence goes up and that gives me just a lot of the right impact loads, my Springs running fast. And then there’s everything in between, and there’s a speed relationship, there’s a cadence relationship, assume there’s also a temperature relationship.

There’s more than one access here or two axes, and I don’t yet feel I understand all of the factors. And I actually just sent off a question about this via tensegrity guy that about to do a course with, this coming month because I’m really trying to understand that. So, but I’m sorry, I’m going to just talk through one more thing because I do see that there’s a lot of recommendation to raise the cadence, to reduce stress on the knee because you can’t really overstride if you’re take your cadence low enough. But there are other ways to stop over-striding.

Steven Sashen:

You actually just made the point I was going to make, and this came from Brian Heiderscheit as well, who I had on the podcast early on. And that is that cadence can be a proxy for some other things, because to your point, if you pick up your cadence it becomes harder over stride, it becomes harder to have too much ground contact time. So, it’s not the be all, end all, but for many people it can address a bunch of things at once.

Jae Gruenke:

And I think it’s also, it’s advice a doctor can give in an office-

Steven Sashen:

Also, true.

Jae Gruenke:

…that will make a difference.

Steven Sashen:

Well, that’s actually something interesting. So Irene, Davis and Brian Heiderscheit and Chris Powers pre-pandemic, we’re doing these events called the Science of Running Medicine and they each were presenting their ideas on what causes running injuries and how to cure them. And the thing with both Chris and Brian, both of them had much simpler interventions than what Irene does in her lab, the thing that your average PT could learn and just recommend without really knowing much of anything, and have a relatively decent success rate.

And Chris’s thing was about leaning and about body angle. And again, if you pay attention to that, that can alleviate a number of things like running tall, for example. But the biggest thing to your point is easy things for people to learn and throw out as advice without having to dive deeper into why or what the situations would be, where you would need to give different advice. And it’ll work for those will help most people some amount, enough that they’ll notice a difference. So, I totally get that.

Jae Gruenke:

I would also say though, I’ve had plenty of runners and triathletes come to me who got hurt in trying to raise their stride rate or cadence.

Steven Sashen:

Well, again-

Jae Gruenke:

You chop your movement up; you’re fighting your body trying to stick to this thing. And so it’s not always a positive.

Steven Sashen:

No. Well, I mean, I haven’t seen a situation where a small change has caused a problem, but I’ve certainly seen situations where a big change, 160 to 180 without any preparation can be problematic. So again, that chart that I can’t find, if showing that the small changes leading to less force into the ground until you get to a certain point where it turns around, many people were… and that point was not the same for everybody, of course.

So, some people were just going past that dip in the curve to the point where it started applying more force in ways that they couldn’t handle, because it was creating other movement patterns that were getting in the way of effective running.

Jae Gruenke:

Yeah. Yeah.

Steven Sashen:

Anything else on your list?

Jae Gruenke:

No. Let me see.

Steven Sashen:

Those were the biggies?

Jae Gruenke:

Oh, Cheney only Footscray, really sore calves. Yeah. I mean, yeah. Calf stiffness, I guess I would just say no, we pretty much covered it all. I can always go more granular, there’s no limit to how granular I can go.

Steven Sashen:

I’m going to toss out one that has nothing to do with cues per se. But as an interesting thing that I kept seeing, which was, let’s get past that into misdiagnoses of some of these issues. So, the number of times where someone came up to me and said, “Well, I got plantar fasciitis.” And I look at them and go, “No, you didn’t.” And they are what? I go, “I can tell just from looking at you, you don’t have plantar fasciitis.” They go, “What do you mean?” I say, “You have tight calves and your tight calves are pulling on your plantar fascia from the top rather than actual plantar fasciitis.”

And they go, “Well, my doctor said I have plantar fasciitis.” I say, “Just because I have long hair and I look like a hippie it doesn’t mean I’m not smarter than your doctor. PS, I was a pre-med and went through all of it except med school, so FYI. But here I’ll prove it to you.” And I’ll just take my thumb and dig it into their calf, I can see the spot that’s tight and I just dig it in there and rub on that for a little while and go walk around now.

And they go, “That feels better.” I go, “Yep. Not plantar fasciitis. So just go have your physical therapist or get a massage ball or do whatever you need to do. Just work that out.” Now, you’re getting tight calves because of these running form issues that we already talked about. But for now, just loosen that up a little bit and then we’ll talk about the other parts after that. And I remember it happened with special forces guys, like 6’6″, 250 pounds, no fat on his body. And he said, “We’re all switching to minimalist footwear and we got a lot of people with plantar fasciitis.”

And I could see it. And I stuck my thumb in his calf, he fell to the ground, which was very exciting to look at for a few minutes, he felt better, I said, “Go back to the base, have your PT do that and let me know what happens.” I saw him a year later, he goes, “I went back to the base, that’s what I did, we all did that within a week we were fine.” I said, cool.

Jae Gruenke:

Great.

Steven Sashen:

Yeah, that’s fun. So, Jae this has been as always a total, total pleasure, and it’s not just because we agree on almost everything. But suffice it to say, it’s always helpful to have another voice point out these things in ways that I didn’t point it out or things that I didn’t point out, because the educational process for this is important because we’re dealing with 50 years of propaganda and mythology, and then additional propaganda as people were trying to establish names for themselves in the barefoot movement.

And if you’re going to do that, you have to differentiate in some way, but the irony of that is, we’re not all individual little snowflakes when it comes to running. Human bodies all work basically the same. And so, there’s only so much you can do to make yourself sound different than the other guy doing the same thing you are. And that can be problematic. If people would like to get in touch with you and find out more about what you’re doing, whether it’s just getting education information and, or actual help, how can they do that?

Jae Gruenke:

So, you can find me at balancedrunner.com. If you look for the balanced runner and you end up looking at an Australian guy, you found the Australian Balanced Runner. But the Balanced Runner everywhere else is me. So, it should be a woman. Yeah, so balancedrunner.com, youtube.com/balanced runner. So I’ve got an absolutely dangerous amount of information on my YouTube channel. Don’t try and apply it all at once.

And the best place to start, I mean, I do one-to-one coaching online. I’ve been doing that for many years, even with elite runners, so it works. I’ve got an online course you can find on my website, but I’ve also got a free challenge, a free one week challenge, 10 minutes a day, covers the basics of what really is healthy running form. What’s going to work for you barefoot and minimalist. And so, if you’re curious, if you want to see what’s possible for you, that’s the place to start, and you can find that on my website.

Steven Sashen:

Awesome. Thank you. Thank you so much. Let’s see if you become the first person to be on here three times. You’ll have to keep me posted if something pops in your grid.

Jae Gruenke:

I love talking with you, Steven. So I’m going to shoot for it.

Steven Sashen:

That’s very sweet. So for everybody else, thank you so much for being here. Once again, find our previous episodes and all the different ways you can interact with the Movement Movement by go www.jointhemovementmovement.com, again, places to find the content, ways to share and like, and if you’re on YouTube, hit the bell icon to hear about upcoming episodes and just subscribe as well.

Again, if you want to be part of the tribe, please subscribe. If you have any questions or comments, recommendations, whatever, you can email me, move@jointhemovementmovement.com, but most importantly, go out, have fun and live life, feet first.

 

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