More constructive dialogue on The Cross Over Gait: Q & A Session with a Mid-Distance Coach.

Dear Dr. Allen,

I attended your sessions yesterday at the ITCCCA Clinic, which I appreciated very much.  I am a retired middle/long distance runner who is now getting into coaching.  I have always been fascinated by this kind of research and spotting warnings [things presented at the conference this year ] before they become injuries.  I think that the attention you are bringing to video analysis, form, and SES is the most significant change happening in the sport of running.  Applying this analysis to young runners will help countless numbers of them, both by identifying weaknesses to strengthen and by alerting coaches to an athlete’s propensity for certain overuse injuries. 

As your work gains much deserved attention, I do have a concern with your approach to the “cross-over gait."  I spoke with you briefly about it yesterday, and I have been thinking about it since then.  From my experience and amateur research, it seems as though a distance runner does well to strike both feet along a single line.  Here is a little of my reasoning:

Distance running is largely about efficiency.  While a sprinter gets more power and speed by pushing in a zig zag pattern from foot to foot, that does not mean it is an efficient action.  A distance runner does want some power in his/her stride, but cannot afford to waste any energy like a sprinter can.  I would argue that the difference between a sprinter’s ideal stride and a distance runner’s ideal stride should reflect this. 

It seems logical that a runner’s most efficient push-off point is directly beneath his/her center of gravity.  If we strike the ground to the left or right of this point, some energy goes into sideways motion or adjusting for the asymmetrical force with more glute action.  To your point, this off-center stepping pattern almost certainly yields more power than a straight-line pattern, as the best short-sprinters all use it.  I found this video of Carl Lewis’ beautiful stride demonstrating your point.

However, if you look at the best distance runners in the world, and even middle distance runners, you’ll see much more "cross-over."  The other two videos I list below aren’t great, because they’re in real time, but you can still discern the in-line foot strike of most of the athletes.  These runners may be getting less power out of their glutes, but they’re taking advantage of the gluteus maximus’ natural design to rotate the pelvis forward efficiently.  For most of the race, I’m not convinced that altering that pattern would be productive.
I am far less knowledgeable than you in physiology and biomechanics, and I have not performed the necessary research to substantively contradict you, but I write to request that you investigate this issue further.  I may also have misunderstood the nature of your form adjustment work with middle- and long-distance runners; kicking at the end of the race or surging in the middle could very well take more of a sprinter’s form.  The general stride of a distance runner, however, is likely specific to the particular demands of the race and the body’s aerobic limitations. 

I think that coaches should be very careful to adjust a runner’s natural stride unless there is significant evidence supporting the change.  When the evidence is clear, I like that your approach is as deep as possible: finding the root cause of the weakness and working on it gradually.  I fully support your efforts to prevent injuries in this way.  I urge you to continue expanding the body of research and striving to improve the experiences of budding runners.

Thank you for considering my observations.  Please feel free to contact me anytime.



Our response:

Dear A.:

I appreciate your inquiry in the most cordial manner, the coaching world is blessed to have attentive and curious coaches like yourself. Great insight comes from great questions like this. 
I certainly do appreciate your concerns.  But your personal opinion needs some backing. I fully respect and understand your thoughts and although they are well thought out, there is nothing i have found in the literature to support it.  Mind you, there is not alot to support mine either however results do have a voice and when we make these changes, even in our mid distance runners, their injuries resolve and do not recur and their times drop.  So, there is some strength to the crossover correction it seems. More research would be nice but no one is doing it so we must base our thinking on some logic as laid out below.

Keep in mind efficiency comes with using each muscle optimally and quite often in
"line running” (crossing over) the gluteus medius and foot do not work correctly. Look at the terrible foot function in the video above. Please watch and read our 2 part series on the blog on Lauren Fleshman(links below). She is fraught with injuries and her hip and foot biomechanics are terrible as we point out in both of those blog posts.  Improving her muscle efficency in using them correctly will improve her overall kinetic chain efficiency, certainly make her less injury prone, and probably make her faster. 
As for putting one’s foot under their body mass,  I challenge your thought merely because when you are on one foot your center of mass is shifted over to the stance leg not directly under your sacrum (watch my 2 part series on youtube “hip biomechanics”,  here I explain the accepted biophysics of the kinetic limb).
The foot should be under the knee and hip, where the body mass has shifted in the single leg position.  The only person who will not shift their mass is one who doesn’t use their gluteus medius to draw the mass over the hip (again, it is in the hip mechanics videos) and that person will likely have hip problems in time because the compressive load on the femoral head is excessively abnormal plus they are often fraught with trochanteric bursitis and chronic ITB issues (let alone knee and foot issues).

Please digest what I have said here and lets keep a constructive and productive dialogue going, nothing I said here was meant to upset you, merely to try to give you my stance.
I am never afraid to have my theories challenged. I am humble enough to know I do not know everything and admit when I am wrong. I want to learn and get smarter so I can help more athletes and coaches become better.  So, if you can refute my dialogue above, particularly with science and research, I am happy to continue this learning experience for us both.  But please watch the videos I have mentioned first so we can base our discussions on solid functional anatomy and biomechanics (save us time, so we can get down to a good dialogue).
So, to this point, although i see your logic, I respectfully must disagree from sheer fact on anatomy, physics of body mass shift, and biomechanics.  I think you will find the 2 brief lectures on hip biomechanics exciting and helpful.
Remember, the swing leg is a pendulum, the most effective pendulum is one that never shifts its center of pivot (energy change),  the cross over gait shifts with every step. A centrated joint is one that pivots freely allowing the attached musculature to function as they were designed.
 I look forward to future constructive dialogue. I would like our relationship to be an asset for us both.

Below are the videos, in logical order, to support my response.

Then of course there is the 3 part crossover gait series we did on August 24th & 25th (you can access our archives by clicking on the clock in the upper right corner of the blog page).

respectfully……. and fully appreciating your passion
shawn and ivo……. The Gait Guys