Saturday, October 23, 2010

A Critique of One Study of Pose Running Technique

In the past, I've posted on why I do not like to quote scientific studies in the context of a blog. Here is a link to that post The Use of Scientific Studies in Blog Posts. Basically, I explained that most people, outside of a very specific subset of the scientific community, simply are not prepared to interpret these studies and what they really mean.

Before I dive in, I want to be honest about my credentials and background. In this field of study, I only have a B.S. degree in Exercise Science from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, which I received January of 1993. I'm not a Ph.D. and I'm fully aware that some of what I'm going to write is going to be open to criticism. If the reader finds flaws in my arguments, please point them out to me. 

There is one study, Effect of global alteration of running technique on kinematics and economy from the Journal of Sports Sciences, July 2005; 23(7): 7575-764, that has been endlessly quoted all over the internet as "proof" that learning Pose Running Technique reduces running efficiency. Because one the conclusions of this study was that after 12 weeks of Pose instruction, a group of 8 triathletes had reduced running efficiency when running with Pose technique. It also appears that most of the people quoting this study have never read it, and have just been cutting and pasting their comments from other posts on the internet.

My critique falls into two main areas. Firstly, how this study has been misinterpreted, or more precisely how it has been taken out of context. Secondly, there are elements in the design of the study that are highly questionable.  In the popular media, scientific studies are quoted all of the time. Unfortunately what a study means to those working in that particular field of study and how the general public interprets the meaning of the study are usually very different. This is especially true when you consider that most of the time; the general public is getting information about these studies through the "sound bite" lens of the popular media. 

First it is important to understand the following:
  • Not all science is good science, because not all studies are well designed or for that matter well executed.
  • Very few studies definitively prove anything. Usually studies are not significant by themselves; they are only significant if the results are reproducible. 
  • A study must be explained in the context of the full body of research in that particular field. If it stands alone in its results, it is probably because of poor design and execution
  • Scientist in the same field will often disagree on the quality of the study and its conclusions
  • Studies may be based on mistaken assumptions, and these assumptions may be so fundamental that no one even thinks of them as assumptions
Questionable Elements of the Study

It Was Only 12 Weeks Long
The study was only 12 weeks long. Unfortunately in the academic community, research projects are often designed to be started and completed within an academic semester. While there are very practical reasons for this, not everything can be studied adequately in this time frame. Also, in this case, there was probably and underlying assumption that the population being studied could fully change their running technique in 12 weeks. My experience leads me to believe that 12 weeks is not adequate time frame for learning and adapting to a new running technique.

No Reduction in Training
In the study, the subjects were told not to change their training. In other words, they were told to maintain the volume and intensity of their training while attempting to learn a new running technique. In my experience, this is a perfect recipe for failure. When learning a new technique, most people will have to reduce their mileage and intensity, to focus on skill development, and to allow for physiological adaptation to new physical stresses. In all probability, the subjects ended up compromising on technique development to maintain their training levels. If they didn't do this, they would probably have had to stop the study due to injuries.

Training not Strictly Controlled
The subjects were only trained for few hours by Dr. Romanov. After that, they were turned over to two "experienced" coaches for 1 hour a week of group Pose training. First of all, this description of coaches is somewhat fuzzy. I hope they meant two experienced Pose coaches. Secondly, I would like specific information about the training they received, and how much effort the subjects put into learning Pose between sessions. I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt for now, but the training the subjects received is not described in detail nor is the motivation of the subjects. In my experience, these are two very important elements of success in learning Pose.

Small Number of Subjects
The study had a very small number of subjects. The authors of the study openly admitted that this was a problem. Recruiting motivated and cooperative subjects who are available for several weeks or months of study is very difficult. I've had firsthand experience with this problem when I was helping to run human performance studies in the Army. Regardless, with a small number of subjects the data is not as meaningful.

Tested on a Treadmill
The runners were trained to run under normal conditions (not on a treadmill), but they were tested on a treadmill.  The training environment and the testing environment should have been the same. The difference between running on a treadmill and normal running is significant, and that alone is enough to make me question the results. For more on the differences between "normal" running and treadmill running please look at my post Treadmill Running.

Final Statement

Most people who take up Pose Running will fail to fully change their running technique, because changing one's running technique is difficult, and most people are just not motivated enough to put in the required effort. Among those who are motivated, many of them will fail, because they are unwilling to reduce their training to focus on skill development and to allow their bodies’ time to adapt to running differently. I think this study really only succeeded confirming that changing one's running technique is difficult, and that it will probably take more than 12 weeks.

More information on the study:
This is the blog post that seems to have started everyone misquoting this study. Although I do think, in this case, the author was not just making superficial comments. Also, he did agree that this was a poorly designed study when I brought this up with him on his blog.

Dr. Yessis did a cut and paste criticism using this study:
Some comments about the study on the Pose Tech web site:


  1. First, your 5 bullet points as to why the UCT research is "highly" questionable can ALSO be applied to the research articles written by Cavangh, the one POSE advocates often use to support the "Knee Extensor Paradox" "BIOMECHANICS OF DISTANCE RUNNING Human Kinetics Books, 1990 by Irene S. McClay, Mark J. Lake, Peter R. Cavanagh".

    Secondly, the research Dr. Romanov often cites was ALSO performed using a treadmill. Fact.

    Third, you question the quality of the running coaches, but what World Class athletes has Dr. Romanov trained? No, Brian McKenkie is not a World Class athlete, I'm sure he's a great person and athlete however.

    Lastly, your point on studies being "reproducible". The ONLY study...well article written that speaks against "push-off" is written by Dr. Romanov. However, if you research "running and force production", "strength training & running", "Plyometrics & running", "sprinting mechanics", "running mechanics" you will find hundreds of studies emphasizing the importance of "push-off", "propulsion", "toe-off", "drive-phase", and "power-production".

    So how is it that the method with the LEAST evidence is being pushed around?

    1. Dear Anonymous,

      Please get your facts straight on what I wrote before leaving a comment.

      1. My five bullet points were meant to apply to all scientific research. Many people do not understand that not all scientific research is good research. Apparently you are one of them.

      2. Your second point is not relevant to my arguments. There is a difference between running on a treadmill and running on the ground. You should not train for one and test on the other.

      3. Dr. Romanov has coached many world class athletes, but that is also not a relevant point. Also, I'm not sure why you even bring up Brian McKenzie, since he was not even mentioned in my blog post. My point was to question whether or not the coaches were competent to train people on Pose running technique. The study was about Pose running technique. You do realize that right?

      4. I never made a point about the study being reproducible. In any case, your final point is simply incorrect. I suggest you start by going to where there are many text books and research papers listed supporting Pose theory. Studies have been conducted since the 1970's that clearly showed that push-off was not happening as part of running. This is known as the "Extensors Paradox". Also in the book Biomechanics of Distance Running with Peter R. Cavanagh as Editor, it explicitly states that push-off is not likely based on the scientific evidence. Lastly, I suggest you brush up on some basic Newtonian physics.

      To sum it up, my point, which seems to have been too subtle for you, was that this study was poorly designed and executed. If you had any background in science you would understand that there is no excuse for quoting poorly designed studies as evidence for anything. Anyone who quotes this study as evidence against Pose is simply demonstrating a lack of understanding about the scientific process.

      Finally, how is it that you came up with such poorly constructed and irrelevant counter points? You clearly don't understand what you are talking about. Also why are you posting anonymously? Posting anonymously is for cowards who are afraid of having their ignorance exposed. However, since you are clearly ignorant about this subject, it is probably best that you didn't reveal who you are. So, unless you reply back with something both relevant and insightful, I won't bother post your comments. To prevent wasting my time and the time of other potential readers.

    2. Anonymous,

      I forgot to mention that my points might very well be applicable to research done by Cavanagh, but only if his studies were poorly designed and executed. You are clearly not the person to make that judgement.

      Also Cavanagh is not only referring to his research but also the research of others. Many of whom never heard of Dr. Romanov or Pose theory. The Extensor's Paradox has been discussed since the 1970's, decades before Dr. Romanov's research was known about outside of the Soviet Union.

      Again, you clearly do not have a clear understanding of my points, or of the scientific process. I would suggest that, at a minimum, you learn about the scientific process, before trying to discuss scientific research again.