The interview series keeps on rolling with Jae Gruenke of The Balanced Runner and Intelligent Exercise. Jae is a Certified Feldenkrais Practitioner and running form expert who has helped runners from beginner to Olympian to relieve pain and improve their performance, and she specializes in helping runners whose problems have persisted despite medical treatment. Jae has a very unique (and very useful) lens on running form, performance, and injury recovery, so I was glad to have a chance to download her brain, so to speak, on this subject.
If you want to skim or to see a more detailed outline of our conversation, you can scroll below the video to find the timeline. Meet Jae:
1:32 Jae’s unique “hardware” vs. “software” approach to help people to learn how to move. In Balanced Runner (and Feldenkrais) they work with what you know about how to coordinate yourself in movement, or the “software” you are running; i.e. the movement habits that you bring to running.
3:38 We are evolved to do this movement [running].
5:00 The number of people who are coming back to running in general (and barefoot or minimalist running in particular) right now after having left it because they thought running was bad or their doctor told them not to run anymore.
6:26 Jae talks about how they find that it is not necessary for people to run in orthotics. They become unnecessary as people learn to run appropriately. “Maybe there are 1 in 1000 who have a real anatomical abnormality that make orthotics truly necessary, but I haven’t met that person yet.”
8:12 One of the big problems with orthotics is that your arch is one of your major springs; it absorbs impact and then returns it to you. That’s where a portion of your momentum comes from, and not just the arch but the whole spring system through the body’s the connective tissue [yay fascia!]. It is responsible for storing as much as 50% of the energy from each stride and generating the force that you need for the next stride. So if you’re running on a stiff support that prevents your arch from doing a normal natural pronation, all that free energy that you could have had from your feet you now have to generate from your muscles. And over the counter orthotics have been shown to create stress at the knee.
10:20 A medically responsible orthotic, for running especially, but even for everyday activity, should have some flex in it.
11:13 If your pelvis is moving properly, you will shift your weight to the weight bearing portions of your feet, and instead of overpronating, you will appropriately pronate. It is actually that easy.
12:16 Jae tackles the buzzword “pelvic stability”: it has been interpreted to mean that the pelvis does not move, or that the pelvis moving around must be unhealthy. Jae explains how if you succeeded at not moving your pelvis you wouldn’t be able to run. So all runners move it some, but if you don’t move it enough, it’s almost impossible to not overstride and so you end up with one of 2 versions of runner’s knee.
14:19 How iliotibial band syndrome happens, and how it makes people appear to be over-pronating and wind up with those orthotics, when really it’s about your pelvis not moving appropriately.
15:55 If you let your pelvis move properly, you are less likely to overstride, and the energetic cost of running goes down. People always PR after learning how to do this in addition to their pain going away.
17:15 what does the Balanced Runner approach look like?
19:31 The best defense against bad advice is the ability to feel what you’re doing and to trust your own sense of what you know to be most comfortable and right for you, regardless of what anyone tells you. And you can always improve the accuracy of your ability to feel yourself.
22:08 What does a Feldenkrais session a la Balanced Runner look like?
24:54 The key thing for people to know who want to transition to minimal footwear or to barefoot running should know is that stress is good for our bodies, it makes us rebuild stronger, but you have to have the stress applied at a rate from which you can recover. So take it slowly. If you want to be running fully barefoot skin adapts within a few weeks, soft tissues in a few months, and bones over a matter of years just as a result of cell turnover. So go slower in the transition than you think you need to.
25:45 Form-wise regarding barefoot running, people usually try to switch from a heel strike to a forefoot strike, which often results in a prancing action which is very stressful to the metatarsals, or they don’t change their heel strike overstriding and so they develop achilles tendinopathy. You have to change what your whole body does.
26:58 What Jae says is the worst advice for barefoot running.
27:15 The basic elements of healthy running form (a list for all you runners who want to know the basics).
28:00 If what’s happening from the hips up is working right, you pretty much won’t overstride. But if you try to fix your overstriding from the ips down you will be unsuccessful.
30:29 Jae’s personal story of how she went from hating running (it felt horrible to her body), to falling in love with it. How Feldenkrais lessons taught her to feel great as a runner, and how no one was talking about what she had found made people comfortable as runners, so she started Balanced Runner!