Tips & Advice

A Runner’s Guide to Understanding Pronation

If you’ve ever had your gait analyzed by a running store salesperson and suddenly found yourself swimming in a sea of motion control and stability shoes, it’s because you do something that 80 percent of runners do: pronate. It may sound alarming, but both pronation and its functional opposite, supination, are necessary adaptations to allow the body to respond to the act of walking and running.

Everyone pronates and supinates to some degree with every step; however, it is the excessive motion, or overpronation, that can lead to running injuries. The good news is that you don’t need over-built shoes to fight pronation. Simply improving your form with the Chi Running technique can increase the stability of your feet and ankles naturally and for the long-term.

What Is Pronation?

Pronation is the flattening of the arch when the foot lands on the ground. This flattening aids in balance and provides some shock absorption. As the foot flattens slightly, the ankle tilts inward toward the midline of the body, and the muscles of the lower leg help keep the ankle from rolling too far inward.

What Causes Overpronation?

Folks with flatter feet tend to have highly flexible arches, which are more likely to flatten too much. This is known as overpronation. In this case, the foot provides plenty of its own cushioning but does not retain enough of its own structure, so other parts of the leg, such as the medial tibialis (the “shin splint” muscle) and the knee, try to pick up the job of providing support. They aren’t designed for this, and when they are overworked, they send pain signals indicating they can’t keep doing the extra labor.

Conversely, people with high arches often have inflexible feet which limit the amount of natural motion the foot undergoes as it lands. These people don’t get much natural shock absorption in the foot, and the ground forces will once again travel farther up the leg looking for a place to be absorbed, often in the shins, knees or elsewhere. However, not everyone with flat feet overpronate, and those with high arches may also experience excessive inward ankle rolling due to instability in the muscles of the lower leg.

Just as the structure of the foot can contribute to overpronation, so can poor stride mechanics. Heel striking, leading with your legs, a slow/long stride, or pushing off with the toes can cause excessive motion in the foot. Chi Running reduces these effects by emphasizing a midfoot landing and a shorter, quicker stride, both of which reduce the amount of time the foot spends on the ground and limit the amount of motion necessary to get the foot into position to lift off the ground at the back end of the stride.

How to Correct Pronation

Try introducing the following Chi Running Form Focuses into your workouts:

Maintain a constant cadence of 170 to 180 strides per minute (spm) no matter what speed you’re running.

Practice landing with your feet below or even slightly behind your center of gravity (hips), not out in front. This is commonly called a midfoot strike.

Hold your pelvis level with each stride. This works to strengthen all the connective tissue that runs between the arch of your foot and your pelvis. It’s a great way to strengthen and stabilize your ankles.

When you consistently apply these focuses to your running, you’ll feel stronger, smoother and more relaxed. Eventually, your feet will possess just the right amount of strength, and motion control will no longer be an issue.

Different Shoes for Different Feet

When it comes to running, wearing the wrong shoes for your feet is like wearing a bicycle helmet to play baseball. Having the right equipment matters.

Not all feet are created equal, and each foot type needs exactly the right shoe to prevent blisters and aches or worse.

Knowing how your foot hits the ground dictates what shoes to buy. Walkers and beginning runners tend to hit the ground heels-first, calling for heavy cushioning at the back of shoes. More experienced athletes run on the balls of their feet and need a shoe with substantial soles at the front of a sneaker.

Barbara Saia, 40, of San Luis Obispo, Calif., a marathon runner and Central Coast campaign manager for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Team-In-Training, recruits volunteers to walk or run marathons. She counsels volunteers to seek help from shoe professionals before starting their training.

“Most runners don’t realize they’re wearing the wrong shoes,” she says. “Shin splints, pain in the knees and legs are attributed to the wrong shoes.”

Pronation and Shoe Needs

In addition to proper cushioning, identifying how an arch collapses as the foot rolls during each step, called “pronation,” determines the kind of support a foot requires. There are three types: overpronation, neutral pronation and underpronation.

In overpronation, when the foot hits the ground, it rolls and the arch over-collapses, making it unable to stabilize the body or absorb the step’s impact. The best shoes for overpronators are usually stiff-soled, called motion-controlled, to reduce rolling.

In underpronation, also called supination, the arch does not connect with the ground. As a result, the impact of each step is limited to the outer foot, small toes and legs. Shoes that are best suited for underpronation have no added stability and encourage the foot to roll toward the arch, spreading the weight equally on the foot.

Neutral Pronation
Neutral pronation is the most common pattern. As the foot rolls, the heel connects evenly to the ground, and the body’s weight is supported while the step’s impact is absorbed. Recommended shoes are medium-stability shoes with average cushioning and moderate arch support.

Greg Hind, 59, owner of GH Sports, cautions runners to understand their feet before shopping for shoes. At his San Luis Obispo store, he has a prospective buyer walk or run on a treadmill, recording the movements with a video recorder to analyze foot placement and arch height. After that, a customer knows exactly what type of shoe best fits their needs.

“The problem with making generalizations is that not all people fall into a specific category,” cautions Hind. “Each runner is different and so are their needs. A running shoe has no break-in period. If there’s something that doesn’t feel right, it’s probably not going to go away.”

Negative-split strategies

Many world records, in various sports and at all distances, are accomplished with a negative-split performance. This means to execute the first half of the event at a slower pace than the second half of the event.

Perhaps in your own experience, you’ve found that a negative-split performance helped you achieve a faster average time in swimming, cycling or running than did a bust-your-gut from the get-go strategy. Why does it work this way?

Illustrated by Lucy and Ethel

Those of you that watch old “I Love Lucy” reruns on cable or perhaps were around in at a time to watch when it was a new show might remember a story of Lucy and Ethel working in a chocolate factory. Lucy and Ethel did a fine job of boxing chocolates when the production line was at a manageable speed.

As the production line increased to speeds beyond what Lucy and Ethel were able to manage, Lucy tried to manage the abundance of chocolates by stuffing them into her mouth and everywhere else. This strategy worked for only a short time before chocolates ended up strewn around the room. The pace was too fast and the whole place ended up in a mess.

Our bodies work similar to Lucy’s production line in that we can maintain a given pace for a certain length of time, whether the speed is anaerobic or aerobic. Pace, or speed, and heart rate are non-invasive tools to estimate when our bodies are producing greater amounts of energy anaerobically and when energy is produced primarily by aerobic means.

Metabolic acidosis

Anaerobic efforts, or very high speeds, are maintained for short periods of time for several reasons; including the main source of fuel for this type of effort is carbohydrate instead of oxygen, fat and carbohydrate (aerobic effort.) In our case when the speed of the production line (our pace), becomes excessive, lactic acid, a byproduct of anaerobic metabolism, begins to build up in the tissues. This is called metabolic acidosis.

The problem with metabolic acidosis is that it inhibits optimal enzyme functioning. The enzymes involved in fuel breakdown operate best within a very narrow range of acidity. So, excessive acidity actually inhibits the enzyme reactions necessary for fuel metabolism. Speedy and efficient fuel delivery to working cells is obviously necessary for optimal performance. If your system cannot access fuel, it’s forced to slow down.

A second problem with excessive acid is it destabilizes cell membranes allowing critical enzymes to leak into the blood stream or into the interstitial fluid (the fluid between the cells.) The cell walls are literally damaged and again you are forced to slow down.

A third problem that occurs with an acidic cell is excessive ions or electrolytes within the cell create a water balance problem. Too many electrolytes within the cell, compared to surrounding blood and extracellular fluid, cause the cell to take on water (swelling) in an attempt to restore the fluid/electrolyte balance.

In addition to the cellular issues created by a searing pace, other factors contribute. These issues also lead to a forced decrease in pace. Some of the factors listed are more of an issue with longer races, however the factors include:

  • Energy depletion
  • Increased viscosity of connective tissues and muscles — possibly created by dehydration and/or cellular swelling
  • Although this is still being studied, theories include that problems are created due to a reduction in neurotransmitter chemicals that link nerve cells with muscle cells. This may be due to the association between the metabolic processes and the associated neurological processes. So, energy transfer and neurological coordination are not as precise.


In summary, if the production of acid builds to excessive levels creating metabolic acidosis, there’s damage to the cell walls, fuel delivery to the cells is suboptimal and the cells take on water to bring balance back to the system. In addition to acidosis, there can be neuromuscular affects and perhaps dehydration and viscosity issues.

A negative-split strategy utilizing heart rate and pace as tools for time-trial-type events, such as non-drafting triathlon, helps us manage the production and elimination of acid within our cells. Like Lucy, we want the fastest pace that allows us to go the distance without having to slow down, or stop, due to a system overload.

Because triathlon involves three sports, overall race intensity must be considered in addition to the intensity within each sport. You can negative-slit each sport within the race and in the best case, finish the entire event stronger and faster than you began.

6 Ways to Develop Fast Transitions

International Triathlon Union elite racers–racing at the Olympic distance of a 1.5k swim, 40k bike and 10k run–post some of the fastest transition times on the planet.

Besides trying to get into the first transition (T1) before the big pack, good swimmers in World Cup races also want to be first across a designated prime line, which pays out additional prize money as an added incentive to go fast.

Once in T1, World Cup racers need screaming fast transitions to get on the bike–preferably in a small group–so they can work together to put time between their breakaway and the main pack.

After a multiple lap bike course, a fast second transition (T2) is critical not only to the racers in any breakaway, but to the racers in the main group as well. Seconds count, as the 10k running leg at World Cup triathlons has begun to look like an open 10k road race. Once on the run, any alliances formed on the bicycle are typically set aside for individual success.

How fast are these elite athletes going? In 2006, the fastest overall Olympic distance results were produced in Hamburg, Germany, with the men’s winner going just over 1:43 and the women’s winner at 1:53. In this particular race, first and second place were separated by only 11 seconds for the women and 14 seconds for the men. At a race in Ishigaki, Japan, the second place male finished only a second behind the winner.

Fast transitions are critical in all World Cup triathlons. Just a few seconds lost in transition might cost an athlete a podium position.

Like a World Cup racer, age-group athletes need quick transitions to be competitive at sprint and Olympic distance racing. Here are some pro techniques you can use to make your transitions faster.

Begin practicing fast transitions now

Too often, athletes wait until the week before the race to practice transitions. That is too late. You need to practice now to execute the fastest transitions possible and have them be second nature.

One way to do this is to include transitions in your brick workouts. Also, set aside some practice time to work exclusively on faster transitions–don’t worry about an aerobic workout that day.

Leave your shoes in the pedals and use rubber bands

Elite athletes leave their shoes in the pedals for the first transition (T1). After exiting the swim, they put on their helmets, grab the bike and run out of the transition area.

In order to keep the crank arms and shoes from rotating and jamming into the ground, they use thin rubber bands to hold the shoes and the crank arms parallel to the ground. They attach one end of the rubber band around the shoe or through the heel loop of the shoe, and the other end to a rear stay on the side of the bike.

Do the same with the other shoe. You will have to experiment to see which locations are best for your rubber bands depending on your shoe size and frame size.

The thin rubber bands easily break away when you mount the bike and begin pedaling with your feet on top of your shoes. Slide your feet in your shoes once you are rolling at a good pace.

Put your sunglasses on while pedaling

Instead of putting your sunglasses on in the transition area, put them on once you are rolling on the bike. If your helmet has front air vents, see if you can secure the sunglasses there.

From the front, it will look like your helmet is wearing sunglasses. If your sunglasses are not secure on your helmet, fasten them to the top of your frame with a small piece of tape.

Use a flying mount and dismount

World Cup racers are going as fast as possible at every moment during a race. They are running relatively hard when they exit T1. They mount their moving bicycle with a flying mount, which looks something like a cowboy jumping onto a galloping horse.

Before they approach the dismount line at T2, they remove both feet from their shoes and continue pedaling in a manner similar to when they began the bike leg. Near the dismount line, they swing one leg back and over the bicycle so it’s behind the other leg on one side of the bicycle. At the dismount line they are off the bike and running to the transition area. This particular move is advanced and takes plenty of practice.

Use elastic laces and no socks

There are elastic laces available at most stores that stock triathlon supplies. Elastic laces allow you to easily slip your feet into your shoes, wasting no time to secure Velcro or old-style lace locks on regular laces.

Before you decide to race with no socks, do a few practice runs at home. Some athletes can run with no socks and not have a single blister. Other athletes will develop hot spots on their feet that eventually bloom into blisters.

On your test run, carry a lubricant such as Body Glide. When you feel a hot spot beginning to develop, stop and apply the lubricant to the shoe surface causing the hot spot. This is the same location you will apply the lubricant on race morning when you set up your transition area.

Use a movie camera

When you are trying to improve your transition speed, have someone record your T1 and T2 in a practice session or during a race. Use a watch and time both transitions. After reviewing for ways to improve, do the transitions repeatedly until you think you have the fastest transition time possible.

If you’re a spectator at an event, tape some of the top age-group and elite racers to see how they’re doing transitions. You may pick up some additional tips.

If you’re looking to get the edge on your competition without additional training, take a look at your transitions. Strategizing where you can save time during transitions is fun and it may even put you on the podium.

A Beginner’s Guide to Buying a Bike

Walk into a bike shop today, and it’s easy to get lost in the choices.

There are road bikes and hybrid bikes, mountain bikes and comfort bikes. Beach cruisers and commuting bikes. “City path” bikes and touring bikes. Even the most basic bike, the standard beach cruiser, may be operating under a new alias: a lifestyle bike.

Confused? No wonder.

Bike-shop owners face this problem regularly. People wander in and don’t have a clue what type of bike to buy. The answer depends on what kind of biking you want to do—long-distance rides, trail riding, road riding—or just spins around the neighborhood.

“I get asked about bikes all the time,” says George Cheney, president of the Florida Freewheelers, Florida’s oldest cycling club. “My advice is borrow a bike and see what you think. Or ask a lot of questions. But don’t go out and buy a real expensive bike until you know that you enjoy the sport and know what you want to do. Don’t go out and buy a $5,000 bike. You can have an awfully good time on a $500 bike.”

The first steps inside a bike shop can be intimidating, especially for the derailleur-challenged. But the bike industry, which once catered strictly to Lance Armstrong wannabes and the mountain-bike crowd, is today aiming at people who want to love bicycling as they did as children.

So don’t be surprised to walk into a nearby bike shop and see, in addition to the rows of black-and-red road bikes, an array of one-speed bikes in mint or yellow or baby blue with swooping handlebars and even tassels that hang from the hand-grips.

“Riding this type of bike is like riding in a ’67 Chevy convertible,” says Deena Breed, co-owner of Orange Cycle in Orlando. “You just look cool…It’s an image, but it puts a smile on your face. It makes you feel good.”

Finding the Bike for You

Not sure what type of bike fits you best? First, visit a bike shop and talk to the employees. Then, don’t be afraid to take a test ride around the block.

Not interested in spending $400 on a bike? You can scope the classifieds for a used bike or head to a discount store such as Target or Wal-Mart. But biking experts warn that you get what you pay for: A cheaper bike will have cheaper components that could break down after a couple of years of use. And the bikes are often heavier, which might not matter if you’re going for a spin around the block, but may be a big deal if you’re trying to ride 10 miles or more at a clip.

Road bike: If you’ve been taking spinning classes at your local gym, but now want to hit the road, many bike shops will suggest a road bike. Likewise, people who have been runners, but are switching to cycling because of bad knees, would be good candidates for a road bike.

“They’re athletic, they’re already in shape, so we know they’re going to go gung-ho,” says Breed. And if you don’t like the drop-handlebars on a road bike, Breed says, consider a new style: the upright road bike.

Price range: $700 to $10,000

Mountain bikes: There are no mountains in Florida, but that hasn’t stopped the mountain bike from becoming a hot seller. The reason? In the 1990s, it became the bike of choice for people who wanted a bike that was more durable than a road bike and could handle riding on different types of surfaces, including sand and dirt paths and brick streets.

If you’re looking for the basics, remember this: Mountain bikes (also known as all-terrain bikes) aren’t for riding fast, they’re for riding furious—meaning that you can jump curbs or go off-road or bounce around on them, and they’ll hold up well. But you’ll be left in the dust by your friends riding road bikes if you’re out on a 20-mile trip.

Price range: $200 to $3,000

Hybrid bike: In recent years, the debate among occasional riders has been whether to buy a comfort bike or a hybrid bike. Both bike styles allow riders to sit up straight, rather than leaning forward, road-bike style. But hybrids have been more popular than comfort bikes, says David Sanborn, owner of David’s World Cycle.

The reason? While comfort bikes have a wide tire and a smaller wheel, hybrids have a skinnier tire (like a road bike) and a bigger wheel, so the bike will go faster without as much effort. “Hybrids are lighter than comfort bikes, and everybody likes to go a little farther a little faster,” says Sanborn.

Price range: $300 to $2,000

Lifestyle bike: The newest family in the bicycle kingdom is the lifestyle category of bikes. Lifestyle bikes encompass several different types of bikes, but they all share one thing: attitude.

The old beach cruiser, for instance, has gone retro, with bright colors and swooping handlebars. “These are bikes for a certain lifestyle,” says Sanborn. “It’s an image. It’s for rolling over to the Starbucks and getting a coffee.”

Also included in the lifestyle category are comfort bikes, which have as many as 21 gears but come equipped with a wide seat and a wide tire like that found on a mountain bike.

Some high-end lifestyle bikes are also sporting a new feature: a three-speed gearing system that shifts automatically. Also in the technology department, one American bike company, Electra, has developed bikes with “flat-footed technology” that allows riders to put their feet flat on the ground at a stoplight—without getting off the seat.

“This is great for people who’ve had knee operations,” says Breed. “At intersections they don’t want to stand up on their tiptoes. They want their feet securely on the ground.”

Yet it’s the splashy colors and the comfortable, squishy ride that are drawing customers. “We have young kids that come in and want to look crazy on these wild-colored bikes, and then we have people who are grandparents who come in, and they want that bike because it’s like the one they had when they were kids,” says Sanborn.

Price range: $199 to $700