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Waddling on

Waddling on

Waddling on

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On two previous occasions (Articles #7 and 38 ) I have addressed the issue of running form and stride length. These articles were written in response to frequently heard questions from runners pertaining to their “style” of running and development of injuries, as well as some individuals’ desire to improve their running efficiency and performance.

Those earlier columns explored some examples of research on this topic that support my contentions that:

  • we are not likely to enhance running performance by consciously lengthening our stride
  • it is important to recognize the potential for injury that arises when we try to overstride
  • your body knows what’s best with respect to what is most efficient – listen to it and let it run the way it wants to

I would like to share with you now a recent study performed by University of California researchers that further supports these assertions.

Two graduate students at UC Berkeley evaluated the gait and energy expenditure patterns of penguins (the real ones – not the kind that write columns for Runner’s World magazine) to determine the reason for the birds’ high calorie rate during walking, which an earlier study had shown to be twice that of animals of similar size. The researchers hypothesized that the explanation resided with the penguins’ jerky side-to-side movements. In their view, these creatures seemed to be doing everything wrong.

What they found, of course, is that penguins walk as they do because for them it is the most efficient method given the length of their legs (about 10 inches long on a 3 foot tall penguin). “Walking is expensive for them not because of their waddling, but because they have such short legs that require their leg muscles to generate force very quickly when they walk.” In fact, this gait works like a pendulum, with energy stored at the end of each swing for the bird’s next step, and is actually an energy-saver, in terms of “recovery rate” (the percentage of energy retained during two steps). While humans have a recovery rate of about 65 percent, the penguins achieved an impressive rate of 80 percent!

These findings should reinforce our comfort level with our own individual gait patterns. The bottom line is, if you are built like a gazelle, you will run like one. If you are a penguin, as John Bingham would say, don’t worry about it – Waddle On!