Running biomechanics and the “preferred path” theory

For years, bio­me­chan­ics experts have been grap­pling with a chal­leng­ing ques­tion: What is the ide­al pat­tern of gait for run­ners?

The “ide­al” pat­tern of gait would be a path of motion through the foot and ankle that allows for max­i­mum run­ning effi­cien­cy and min­i­mal risk of overuse injury.

If you could define an opti­mal path, you could ana­lyze how each individual’s run­ning pat­tern var­ied from the ide­al.  Then you could design the per­fect shoe or orthot­ic insert to help com­pen­sate for indi­vid­ual devi­a­tion from the ide­al.

Run­ners would run more effi­cient­ly and have low­er risk of injury.  Run­ning shoes could be designed (and rec­om­mend­ed to each run­ner) on a sci­en­tif­ic basis.

Unfor­tu­nate­ly, com­ing to a con­sen­sus about this ide­al path has been elu­sive.  That’s because the opti­mal path seems to vary a lot from one run­ner to the next.

Now new research (March 8, 2017 Med­i­cine and Sci­ence in Sports and Exer­cise) points to anoth­er way to address the chal­lenges of run­ners.

The sci­en­tists had run­ners run with three dif­fer­ent­ly designed shoes.  Sur­pris­ing­ly, the var­i­ous shoes made lit­tle dif­fer­ence to the bio­me­chan­i­cal path each run­ner used.  It seemed that each run­ner had a pre­ferred path­way along which their foot and ankle moved, and shift­ing from one shoe or anoth­er made lit­tle dif­fer­ence.  Their motion was more depen­dent on their pre-exist­ing “pre­ferred path” than on the char­ac­ter­is­tics of the shoes they were wear­ing.

What does this mean for you?

I’m not try­ing to put my friends at the neigh­bor­hood run­ning store out of busi­ness, but it may not be worth try­ing to find the per­fect run­ning shoe for your spe­cif­ic foot or gait type. If you’re try­ing to improve your run­ning times and stay away from injury, you might see more ben­e­fit from work­ing on your­self, not your shoes: core sup­port, stretch­ing, strength­en­ing your calves, etc.


Deepen Your Body of Knowledge

Update on bare­foot run­ning

Run­ning is healthy for your knees


About Ronald Lavine, D.C.

Dr. Lavine has more than thirty years' experience helping patients alleviate pain and restore health using diverse, scientifically-based manual therapy and therapeutic exercise and alignment methods.

His website,, provides more information about his approach.

Please contact him at or at 212-400-9663.

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