GoMulti is a New Zealand based sports magazine. In the May/June 2013 issue they included a short article on the Alexander Technique and what it has to offer athletes. What appears to be an edited version is now available on their web site. It includes some expert tips for both cyclists and runners:
Expert tips for cyclists by Barry Collin
- Don’t collapse your back into a C- curve, because it restricts breathing. Collapsing the back produces in turn a collapse in the front, which restricts rib movement and breathing. One gets the most oxygen for the least effort from the floating ribs at the bottom of the rib cage. Collapsing forward restricts their freedom and much more effort is needed to use inappropriate upper ribs, and accessory breathing muscles.
- Don’t tilt your chin up so that you break the line extending from your spine. Feel how the balance of your head (which depends upon correct muscle tone), is very important in the overall balance of the bike; the more you can allow the weight of the head to be transmitted down through the column of the neck and the length of the spine into the saddle, the more stable the bike will feel. The head, neck and back are now working as one integrated unit.
- Let your legs do the work. Finally, keeping this sense of relationship between head, neck and back, allow yourself to pivot forward from the hip joints and then allow the heels of the hands to just support your weight on the bars. This is a poised cycling position. You soon appreciate that it is the legs that really must do the work. If the legs don’t do the work, the effort is passed upwards through the body. This will produce unproductive tension and tightness around the shoulders and arms, in the neck and jaw, and of course in the rib cage and the breathing.
Expert tips for runners by Malcolm Balk
- The head leads and the body follows: RUN TALL, not military tall but an easy up. The spine should lengthen in the body, not bend forward in the direction of movement. The forward lean should come from the ankles not from the waist. Thinking up helps the athlete breathe more naturally as well as preventing back issues.
- Lead with the knees not the feet. Alexander’s direction “let the knees go forward and away” is perfect for runners who want to reduce over-striding. Thinking of the knee leading, rather than reaching with the foot, encourages the runner to land more underneath the hip which helps to reduce braking and slowing momentum.
- Avoid ‘end gaining’! Focusing too much on results is a great way to kill the joy of running and competing. Learning to run well, train intelligently and compete with courage and passion will bring results and enrich you as a human being in the process.
Researchers have confirmed what many Alexander Technique teachers have taught for many years. The human foot runs just fine without shoes. In fact, it runs better!
From Scientific American:
They found that when runners lace up their shmancy sneakers and take off, about 75 to 80 percent land heel-first. Barefoot runners—as Homo sapiens had evolved to be—usually land toward the middle or front of the food. “People who don’t wear shoes when they run have an astonishingly different strike,” Lieberman said.
Without shoes, landing on the heel is painful and can translate into a collision force some 1.5 to 3 times body weight. “Barefoot runners point their toes more at landing,” which helps to lessen the impact by “decreasing the effective mass of the foot that comes to a sudden stop when you land,” Madhusudhan Venkadesan, an applied mathematics and human evolutionary biology postdoctoral researcher at Harvard who also worked on the study, said in a prepared statement. But as cushioned kicks have hit the streets and treadmills, that initial pain has disappeared, and runners have changed their stride, leading to a way of high-impact running that human physiology wasn’t evolved for—one that the researchers posit can lead to a host of foot and leg injuries.
New York Magazine has a very interesting article about shoes and how they are ruining our feet.
Last year, researchers at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, published a study titled “Shod Versus Unshod: The Emergence of Forefoot Pathology in Modern Humans?” in the podiatry journal The Foot. The study examined 180 modern humans from three different population groups (Sotho, Zulu, and European), comparing their feet to one another’s, as well as to the feet of 2,000-year-old skeletons. The researchers concluded that, prior to the invention of shoes, people had healthier feet. Among the modern subjects, the Zulu population, which often goes barefoot, had the healthiest feet while the Europeans—i.e., the habitual shoe-wearers—had the unhealthiest. One of the lead researchers, Dr. Bernhard Zipfel, when commenting on his findings, lamented that the American Podiatric Medical Association does not “actively encourage outdoor barefoot walking for healthy individuals. This flies in the face of the increasing scientific evidence, including our study, that most of the commercially available footwear is not good for the feet.”
One of the newest designs discussed in the article is the Vivo Barefoot, which has a surprising link to the Alexander Technique.
Tim Brennan [is] a young industrial-design student at the Royal College of Art. Brennan was an avid tennis player who suffered from chronic knee and ankle injuries. His father taught the Alexander Technique, a discipline that studies the links between kinetics and behavior; basically, the connection between how we move and how we act. Brennan’s father encouraged Tim to try playing tennis barefoot. Tim was skeptical at first, but tried it, and found that his injuries disappeared. So he set out to design a shoe that was barely a shoe at all: no padding, no arch support, no heel. His prototype consisted of a thin fabric upper with a microthin latex-rubber sole. It wasn’t exactly a new idea. It was a modern update of the 600-year-old moccasin.
Brennan brought his shoe to Clark [inventor of the Wallabee shoe], and after some modifications, they came up with a very flexible leather shoe with a three-millimeter sole made of rubber and puncture-resistant DuraTex that they call the Vivo Barefoot.