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Don't Garmin-Yourself-to-Death: Why Your Watch Can't Fix Your Running Form

Updated: Apr 14, 2022

Just to clarify I'm NOT attacking Garmin or any other running-watch manufacturer.


So please, don't come for me.

(I secretly really want a GPS running watch. I just haven't sprung for the high ticket item yet)

Running data is a wonderful thing.

It can improve our training.

Give us valuable feedback on what to change.

But it's entirely possible to get stuck in the trenches.

So much so, that we tend to strava and/or garmin-ourselves-to-death.

We dissect the running data.

We name the different parts of the gait cycle.

Start to over-analyze specific angles.

Obsess over different time intervals.

We can get ourselves into trouble with all these.

Especially when we look at one data point in isolation. That's when trouble starts. We try to change one aspect of our running without consideration for the other parts that all feed into or rely on that aspect…

We get lost in the weeds. And then, we get overwhelmed.




That's because it's a lot!

It gets complicated!

There's a lot of moving parts.

It's so much easier to focus on one thing, on just cadence, change it, and say, "ok we're done! I'm the perfect runner now!"

The reason this becomes so dangerous, is this same attitude can carry over. We can begin to apply it to our mobility work. Strength work. Speed work. (If you're a regular here, did you notice which one I left out?)

By obsessing over all of it, you improve none of it.

But letting one data point dictate your training or your form, you end up with the dreaded "non-productive workout." (which, by the way, what does that even mean?)

So what IS the solution then?

Never try to improve your stride?

Never objectively critique your running form?

Noooo, not at all.

The solution is to change how we look at running.

WHY?

Because the literature is actively leading us in that direction.

For YEEAARRSSS we've been obsessing over data, collecting it, identifying gaps and filling them with research. Which has been amazing, helpful, and transformed the sport!

But the more we quantify running, the more the data begins to contradict itself.


Welcome to the Science of Running.

Case in point: (with just a few points, because oh my goodness we could be here for days if I showed you every correlation and all the numbers...)

The Science of Running:

  • Your pace is the product of cadence and stride length.

  • "But the assumption that [cadence] is constant across running speeds seems to be invalid…" In fact, "an early shift towards high [cadence] at relatively low speeds may indicate an inability of the runner to generate power with (or via) the calf muscles and the runner would then be more reliant on hip musculature"

  • "The relationship between [cadence] and injury incidence is indirect" because "based on the current literature, it is safe to assume that runners with sufficient running experience mostly have adopted a running style with low energy consumption through a process of self-optimisation". (This is unique and specific to the individual runner)

  • Stance time "is the only factor directly related to both running economy and maximal running speed" but " the relation between [stance time] and running economy may reflect individual differences in muscular properties."

  • It's demonstrated by "experienced sprinters [who] have shorter [stance time] than less experienced runners while running at the same speeds"

  • However, "In contrast, within a group of elite runners, no differences in [stance time] were found despite differences in running economy. Within a group of habitual runners running at 14 km/h, longer [stance time] was even associated with a better running economy.


  • Flight time changes depending on how fast you're running. It's also heavily influenced by your general performance, gender and age.

  • However, "a more accurate determinant of speed is…the runner's "take-off angle. Optimisation of the take-off angle would result in a maximal flight distance. Take-off angle might be even more informative than flight time as it both provides information on horizontal and vertical displacement"

With that small sampling, can you start to feel the tension?

Of how we've believed one thing about running, but then found that there are exceptions to the rule?

And then another exception…

And another…

But the rules still kind of apply..,but they become more like guidelines.

Could you start to see the general trend too, of self-optimisation?

Meaning, your body is smart!

And it adapts.

The more research we do, we find that running is like a fingerprint; similar swirls and dips and patterns and trends.


But your running style is unique to you. And how your body adapts to running and how it becomes more efficient over time is also unique to you.

Want the evidence? Take this quote from the same article:

"Ultimately, it will be unfeasible to take all individual and situational factors into account that collectively determine the most economical running style. Therefore, caution should be exerted in generalising across running populations and in using generic reference values in feedback applications. In general, it might be more effective to design feedback systems that promote self-optimisation as suggested in some of the [cadence]-studies."

For being from a research article, that quote is actually pretty clear.

It's saying data is helpful; it's great!


But there's no one-size-fits-all approach for every single runner on the planet that we can conclude from running data. There are helpful trends we can analyze and look for, but in the end, your Garmin can't save you. It can't be your running coach. It can supply data that is tremendously helpful for your running coach, but it doesn't know you.

How you're feeling.

Whether you're sore.

If you're feeling off from one too many margaritas or because you didn't actually sleep all that well because of stress, pressure, or health issues.

And the literature supports this.


This actually a FANTASTIC thing for runners! It puts the trust back into you, back into your body. The evidence is telling us to expect change over time. It's telling us it is ok if your optimal running "fill in the blank" (cadence, style, etc) isn't your running buddy's. As long as it works for you, you're not getting injured, and you're able to recovery well, you're probably doing just fine.

Am I saying throw your Garmin out? Oh heck no! Use it and appreciate it for powerful the tool that it is. But don't let yourself get garmin-ed-to-death. Enjoy the Science of Running and nerd out over it!

But also appreciate the Art of Running.

The process.

The change that occurs over time that can't be measured in numbers.

Because around here, we Dare to Train Differently.

Until next time,

Dr. Marie Whitt //@dr.whitt.fit

P.S. Super confused about cadence and stride length and all these crazy words? No worries! Check out these past blog posts. I promise everything (ok, well almost everything) will make more sense.

P.P.S. Oh, you've already read all those and you're wondering what's next? Check out my workshop where we dive even deeper into how cadence, stride length, single leg balance, and speed all contribute to your BEST running form yet! Click HERE!


Resource:

Van Oeveren, B., de Ruiter, C., Beek, P., & van Dieën, J. (2021). The biomechanics of running and running styles: a synthesis. Sports Biomechanics, 1-39. doi: 10.1080/14763141.2021.1873411

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