Contact Time (foot strike) is generally accepted as the most important gait parameter in running efficiency. However, as more studies are carried out it is becoming clear that it is not so much the speed of contact as much as the symmetry (balance) of left v right foot contact time which is proving to be the more important indicator of optimal running efficiency. Of equal importance is that better symmetry in contact time reduces injury risk! A double bonus for runners! So how do you achieve symmetry?
It’s all about balance…better balance = more symmetrical contact time = less risk of injury
Our company, All About Balance, is committed to spreading the message of improved running efficiency and reduced injury risk for runners through better balance (proprioception), which our unique patented insoles called Barefoot Science provide.
It may seem obvious to point out that every stride when running is a one-legged balancing act, but that fact alone should make runners consider the importance of balance and how to train to improve it. So, here’s the question;
- When your foot strikes the ground do you land in a beautifully balanced way then spring forward with optimum efficiency? Or
- When you land does your foot and ankle wobble about, causing compensatory movements up the chain of muscles and joints all the way to your neck?
As a start point why not try our simple balance test;
Stand on one leg (rather like the Karate Kid pose for those that remember), count how long you stay balanced on each leg, then repeat the test with your eyes closed. By taking your eyes out of the equation you rely hugely on the proprioceptive nerves in your feet…just like when you are running. Ideally you should be able to balance for 1 minute with eyes closed on each leg…how close to that were you? I’ve only found one client who could do that, however, when we put her in her running shoes and hockey astro turf trainers her amazing balance fell apart…10 -15 seconds. Her video features on our website. if you can do this and want to join Jazz in our exclusive ‘2 minute club’ send us a video of your test and get a free pair of Barefoot Science insoles!!
Running should be a simple natural movement for humans, but poor balance makes every stride much harder than it needs to be. Muscles have to work more, using more energy/calories to achieve your goals, and your chances of injury are much greater. Barefoot Science foot strengthening, and proprioceptive stimulating insoles were designed specifically to help improve balance, reduce risk of injury and enhance performance!
Proprioception…our 6th sense
When we talk about balance, we have to focus on a nerve system called proprioception. It’s one of three systems controlling how we balance, the other two being our eyes and a part of the inner ear called the vestibular.
Once you start running you use your eyes to look ahead and around…seeking out obstacles or dangers; other runners, tree roots, uneven paving slabs, pot-holes, dog poo…rather than fixing your eyes on a static point. Your vestibular system is working hard too, rocking around with your head as you stride along. So, we become much more reliant on foot Proprioception when we run, walk or perform any sport or activity on our feet…which is most of them!
The information coming from our feet on ground contact has to provide our brain with the information it needs to instruct our muscular skeletal system to keep us upright, balanced and performing efficiently;
- There are in fact 200,000 nerves on the sole of each foot sending information to the brain and from there back out to our muscles, activating them in the right order so we can move most efficiently.
- Proprioceptive nerves also activate the ‘stretch reflex’…our injury avoidance system.
WHY DO WE AT ALL ABOUT BALANCE CARE?
I’m a Sports Therapist and have been for nearly 30 years, I’ve had the pleasure of helping many injured people return to activity, I’ve analysed gait and posture, fitted orthotics, treated injuries, massaged pre and post activity. I’ve coached sports and worked as a fitness trainer. I’ve also lectured in Sports Therapy and Sports Massage just a stones’ throw from where the National Running Show South is being held on June 5-6th. My budding professional football career was cut short by injury (I’m over it now 40 years later…just), so for me helping others avoid the same plight has been and still is my driving force! My business (and life) partner has been a Pilates instructor for 20 years and before that worked as a highly qualified gym instructor for 15 years…GOOD HEALTH and GOOD MOVEMENT through good BALANCE is a massive part of our lives!
When we discovered a new type of insole called Barefoot Science, a foot strengthening and proprioceptive stimulating insole unlike any other, we got pretty excited (we know, it’s a bit sad really), but here is a product that brings together the principles we believe in for enhanced performance and reduced injury risk…through increased proprioception.
Anyhow, back to Contact Time.
The importance of Contact time for running efficiency has been backed up by numerous independent objective gait reports, and significant studies (Joubert et al., 2020), looked at the effect of symmetry and running performance and found a clear link between imbalances (or asymmetry) and reduced running efficiency.
Furthermore, a study of Israeli soldiers being put through their initial training showed that for soldiers for whose left and right foot Contact time differed (asymmetry) by greater than 10%, there was a 75% incidence of lower limb injury…that’s a seriously high figure, and it doesn’t require a huge leap in thinking to consider if the estimated figure of 75% of runners getting lower limb injuries has a link to asymmetry too.
What do we mean by asymmetry?
By asymmetry we mean the difference in ground contact time between left and right feet. The chances of 0% asymmetry are unlikely, but the closer we get to that the better we will move.
What recent studies have also shown is that the amount of ‘asymmetry of contact time’ was actually more relevant to running efficiency than contact time alone. Most runners have a slight left/right foot difference in ground contact time; but as the Israeli study showed, at greater than 10% asymmetry there’s was a massive 75% incidence of lower limb injury!
- With this in mind, it’s clear that a good level of symmetry is crucial for both injury prevention and running performance.
- The US Olympic selectors recognised the importance of this study and as a consequence only pick those athletes who show less than 8% asymmetry.
What does all this mean to a runner?
Our hamstrings and gluteal muscles are the ‘big guns in running, we need them to activate strongly, symmetrically and in the right sequence. A failure to do so will lead to compensatory movements which will cause imbalances and at some point, lead to injury. In numerous tests and case studies Barefoot Science insoles have been shown to;
- Improve balance by 30% or more after only 300 steps.
- Increase muscle firing in the posterior chain.
- Demonstrate a significant move toward left/right side symmetry.
- Improve performance in all cases.
For more Info and to access our National Running Show special 25% discount please visit our website;
We are super excited to be exhibiting Barefoot Science insoles at the National Running Show South, where we will be carrying out balance tests and gait assessments on our stand D50. We will also be demonstrating the easiest way to find the best running shoes for you! So please come and visit us!!
Stuart will be speaking on the Running Skills Stage on both mornings on the subject of…you’ve probably guessed;
Balance, Contact time, Running Efficiency and reduced Injury risk! He will also throw in our simple yet effective shoe selection method.
Please come along, it will be a fun and interactive session…be prepared to wobble!