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Heel Lifts and Postural Adaptation: Fun Video by Patton Gleason

Below is a cool video put together by Patton Gleason, mastermind behind the Natural Running Store and fellow Shepherdstown Running Injury course alum. In the video, Patton uses a stack of wooden blocks to show why a heel lift necessitates postural changes. Great visual, and very clever!

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Recent Posts By Category: Running Shoe Reviews | Running Gear Reviews | Running Science
About Peter Larson

This post was authored by Peter Larson. Pete is a biology teacher, track/soccer coach, and dad (x3) with a passion for running, soccer, and science. If you'd like to learn a little bit more about who I am and what I do, click here, or visit


  1. Grazin’ in the grass IS a gas.  Can you dig it?

    Fun vid.  Thanks for sharing!

  2. Joe Garland says:

    If “a heel lift necessitates postural changes” while standing, does it do so while running?

    • Pete Larson says:

      Absolutely, heel lifts mean that the ankle angle will always be more plantarflexed than in an equivalent position without a heel lift. We have to accommodate or we will lean forward to a greater degree.

  3. thanks Pete.  Enjoyed the video tremendously.  I can only imagine what the Nike and Asics designers are thinking…”well, there is nothing scientific about that demo…”

  4. Amby Burfoot says:

    Pete: I think I have to protest this video’s implied meaning. I don’t think there’s much similarity between the tensile qualities of wooden blocks and the human body, or between bodies at rest and bodies in motion. In the earliest days of the Runner’s World shoe reviews, the reviews were largely based on exquisite mechanical testing carried out by Peter Cavanagh, PhD, the acknowledged leader in the field. However, this methodology was replaced a few years later when everyone agreed that mechanical tests of a shoe at any given moment in time didn’t fairly represent the shoe’s true job: to perform throughout the running gait. I’m not arguing for or against minimalist shoes. But I am arguing against the use of overly simplistic, Chaplinesque videos to impart “meaning” about shoe function. Amby Burfoot

    • Pete Larson says:


      I think that is the point of the video. The human body is not like a stack of wooden blocks, and because of this we don’t fall over when we put a rise under the heel. The reason why is that we can adapt our posture to remain upright, in this case mostly by altering our ankle angle.

      I spend my first lecture in my Human A&P class explaining to my students that most of my goal in the course is to explain to them the “default” or typical state of the human body, and then to discuss how deviations from that default can cause problems (some do, some do not). The human default is for the heel and forefoot to both be in direct contact with the ground at the same level. Adding a heel lift is a change from the default, and necessitates changes in joint angles to accommodate it and prevent us from tipping over forward. Whether this has negative implications is a separate question, but I think this video does a nice job of visually showing why the human body must adapt to a heel lift, which results in a change in the way that the body works in its default state.


      • Let’s dispense with the dishonesty

        The point is to show- 

        no heel lift= good
        heel lift= bad

        • Pete Larson says:

          I can’t speak for Patton, but I view it as heel lift = different, and I genuinely want to know why it has become the default to put a large heel lift in our shoes, even those we put on young kids.
          Sent from my iPad

  5. I laughed when he put the pillow on it.  It’s what the companies do, but it just seems so…dumb.  Bare footers get out there while the pavement is still warm.

  6. naturalrunningstore says:

    Amby!  Thanks for the response, I am a huge fan and I really appreciate the work you do.  The video’s direct meaning is that any alterations to the way our body is designed can have unintended consequences.  Whether standing or moving if there is something (heel, wedge, cushion, shox, etc.) between you and the ground, your body will respond differently than it naturally would.  

    To a large degree I think runners have been conditioned to think we are inherently defective, and we can’t have the optimal running experience without such devices.  I would make the case that the body is far better engineered to respond to a level, firm and flat surface than any other.  To my knowledge there is no data supporting the efficacy of a raised heel in a shoe.  It would seem like a wise idea that before testing the functionality of features in a shoe, if we were to first test their necessity.

    As for the video being “Chaplinesque” I think that may be an insult to Chaplin.  He was a pioneer.  I am running industry veteran who had ethical issues about how we conditioned runners to think about themselves, their capabilities and the role a shoe should play.

    But it did get me to thinking, I wonder if the video is oversimplified or the running industry that is over complicated?

    Patton Gleason

    • Amby Burfoot says:

      Pete, Patton: Thanks for your responses. I agree on platform and stability issues, at least in theory. I’m not yet convinced that our current hard running surfaces don’t change the theory somewhat. But I aim to remain open-minded.

      • Jeremy W Howlett says:

        Certainly keeps the mind turning and considering what other options can do for us if we only give it a meaningful try! Thanks for all the great lessons everyone! Great to be a part of this community.

  7. Kevin Kirby says:


    I agree with Amby.  All this video shows is the simple fact that stacking blocks of wood so that their center of masses are within the base of support of the blocks makes them balance better.  This clearly has no bearing on the complex neuromuscular feedback mechanisms of the human body that allows it to perform many dynamic activities where the center of mass of the body is not directly over its base of support on or between the plantar feet.

    I suppose if I had a video that showed that an egg dropped onto a flat wooden board from a 12″ height broke and then showed another egg dropped onto a pillow from a 12″ height didn’t break that this would mean that all runners should run in thick, heavily cushioned shoes?! 

    Let’s all try be a little more scientific than that.



    • Pete Larson says:


      Earlier today you indicated, and I agreed, that a heel lift can be an effective tool for runner’s with retrocalcaneal bursitis because one effect is that it angles the calcaneus away from the tendon and bursal sac. The only way this works is if we alter our posture and remain upright when the lift is added, and this is indeed what we do – the lower leg does not tilt forward like a wooden block when a lift is put underneath. That’s the point I took from the video – we can and do adapt to the addition of a heel lift, whereas the wooden blocks cannot. I’m not attempting to pass judgement on whether this is good or bad, but it happens. The scientific question of interest to me is what the effect of this postural adaptation is. Perhaps it’s good for the Achilles, but maybe not so good for joints higher up. Time and additional study will tell I guess.


      • Kevin A. Kirby, DPM says:


        Exactly my point.  The complex interactions of the central nervous system combined with the afferent inputs from our sensory receptors in the muscles, tendons and joints of our lower extremity, our eyes, inner ears and the efferent outputs to the muscles of our lower extremities allow balance to occur on many surfaces whether they are sloped, soft, hard or uneven.  In addition, this complex system will adjust, in only one step, the stiffness of the lower extremity when a surface with different stiffness is encountered during running.  To compare this complex and wonderful system that we all possess to a bunch of wood blocks balanced on a platform or pillow, to me, is like trying to compare an abacus to a modern microprocessor….there is no comparison.

        • Pete Larson says:

          So we do agree on this. Then my next question is why should we change our default working angle at the ankle and the nature of the sensory input coming into our feet by almost universally adding a substantial heel lift to our shoes, from kids all the way to adults? Why not use the baseline angle that our body evolved, which is the angle adopted when standing with the heel and forefoot at the same height? Is it fashion, habit, or are there valid data showing that everyone should have a heel lift whenever they wear shoes? Clearly we have data showing that women who chronically wear high heels can suffer negative consequences from it, so at what point, if there is one, does a heel lift go from being benign or beneficial to being deleterious? It’s a genuine question – I’m trying to understand the scientific justification for the practice.
          Sent from my iPad

          • Kevin A. Kirby, DPM says:


            The use of shoes with a positive heel-height differential (i.e. heel of sole is thicker than forefoot of sole) has been around for centuries.  Depending on fashion and function, the heel-height differential (HHD) of shoes will range from a negative to over 4″ in today’s shoe marketplace, to centuries ago when thickness of the sole of a shoe may have been used to simply keep the feet dry when walking over wet dirt/mud in streets and shoes were made thicker in the soles for royalty so they could be taller than their subjects.

            As far as running shoes, track spikes and racing flats, for decades, have had little to no HHD in their shoes.  The modern positive HHD that has been present in most running training shoes has been around since the late 1970s.  I imagine that the positive HHD of most “traditional” running shoes is part function and part habit of the shoe manufacturers.  There is no real data to support it, that I am aware of.

            The positive HHD seems to have worked well for many over the past 40 years but I think this minimalist shoe trend is actually healthy for the running shoe marketplace, but of course it isn’t for everyone and every runner.



          • Pete Larson says:

            The heel was also apparently employed by the Mongol horsemen as a means to allow them to stand in their stirrups during battle – the history is really interesting isn’t it! I will also be the first to admit that my beloved Vivobarefoot work shoes are really lousy in the winter – lack of a raised sole means my feet swim in slush, so I can understand the historical utility for keeping one’s feet out of mud and excrement by lifting up the soles.
            I agree with you that the heel works fine for some, but seems to not work fine for all, so greater diversity in footwear choice is a positive thing. I’m also by no means dogmatic about minimalism – there are clearly times when a heel lift is absolutely warranted (as in retrocalcaneal bursitis), and if someone is running fine in lifted shoes, no reason to switch as the change can cause problems. But, if chronic problems are happening, going to something more minimal is one method that can be tried for a different result. Personally, I just enjoy it more and I like to experiment, so those are my personal reasons for going minimal.

            I think one of the reasons why maintaining a heel lift in some running shoes is wise is that the majority of people spend their entire day in shoes with a lift, and thus are adapted to its presence. This probably applies to individuals for the past few centuries, and I wonder if this is one of the reasons why protection for the Achilles has been such a priority. If you google search for photos of some of the great runners of the early 20th century in their casual attire, most probably they will be wearing lifted
            shoes, even if they ran in nothing more than leather soled flats. I suspect
            that what you wear all day can in part determine what will work best for the
            30-60 minutes that you spend running. I think that if one is to make the
            move to zero drop running shoes, it almost necessitates doing the same in
            shoes for daily wear as well. Spending the day in high heels and then ending
            the day with a run in Vibrams seems like an invitation for injury.
            Similarly, growing up in lifted shoes is going to make it more challenging
            to transition out of them, and part of me wonders if we don’t have it all
            backward – should we be starting flat and adding a lift as needed rather
            than the other way around.

          • Kevin A. Kirby, DPM says:


            Heeled shoes have been around since at least the ancient Roman culture and have certainly been a part of human shoe culture for the last two millinea….  This is a fascinating subject to me, especially since I taught the course on shoe history to the podiatry students at the California College of Podiatric Medicine for a few years back in the late 1980s.

            As you mentioned, the height of the shoe heel relative to the forefoot, heel height differential (HHD), can greatly impact the length of the gastrocnemius-soleus-Achilles tendon (GSAT) in an individual’s leg over time.  Individuals who habitually wear shoes with large HHD (e.g. a woman wearing 3″ heels to work every day) will tend to develop what is known as an accommodative contracture of the GSAT over time so that their passive ankle joint dorsiflexion is decreased.  This will then effectively shorten the calf muscles so that they may develop symptoms in the leg and/or foot when they try to run or exercise with a running shoe/athletic shoe with a low HHD.  Routine stretching of the GSAT on a daily basis is often necessary for these individuals to allow them to have reduced injuries due to their over-tight GSAT.

            The way I view this subject, regarding the proper HHD of shoe for an individual, whether they are athletic or non-athletic, and the way that I have been teaching this subject to podiatry students and podiatrists over the past two decades, is that each individual will have an optimum HHD in their walking and/or running shoes depending on many factors.  Optimal HHD may be affected to their habitual shoe wearing habits, length of their GSAT, presenting symptoms or foot structure, gait kinematics, activities, to name a few. 

            In other words, some individuals will have optimal function and less injury wearing a shoe with a moderate to higher heel (high HHD) while others will have optimal function and less injury while wearing a shoe with a very low heel (low HHD).  There are certain mechanical pros/cons for shoes with more heel height and certain mechanical pros/cons for shoes with no heel height, or even a negative heel.  One of the main jobs I do as a podiatrist for my patients is to discuss this important subject with them to make them become more aware of how shoe design may affect their symptoms and their ability to perform weightbearing activities throughout the day without pain.



          • Pete Larson says:


            I think we are on the same page here – thanks for you input. If there is one thing I have learned about shoes and form, it’s that there will likely never be a one size fits all solution. Individual variation must always be taken into account, and what works great for one person may work horribly for another.

            Sent from my iPad

          • Kevin A. Kirby, DPM says:


            Don’t know if I like it better when you agree with me, or when you disagree with me….I guess I just love a good scientific debate. ;-)



          • naturalrunningstore says:

            Dr. K-I really appreciated this post.-Patton

    • naturalrunningstore says:

      Dr. Kirby:  Thanks for your insight and feedback.  I think your comment has some interesting points with regards to center of mass and neuromuscular feedback.  I would agree that when center of mass is within the base of support for nearly any object, that makes them balance better.  I would make the case that if the base of support is not level then the balance would be as good.  The pitch in a shoe alters how your foot perceives the ground below it. 

      Neuromuscular feedback is perhaps the human body’s most important tool to sense, perceive respond to the environment around us.  The human body is born with the instinctual ability to respond to flat firm surfaces underfoot.  When we alter the bodies direct communication (this goes for any shoe) with the ground we inhibit that feedback loop. 

      As for dropping an egg on a pillow, I think it would be a valid experiment.  We’ll drop one egg onto a pillow on a flat surface.  We’ll drop the second egg on a pillow that is elevated on one side.  It would be interesting to see how the round egg responds to the flat surface vs. the surface with one side higher than the other.

      Agreed on the science part and I am very open to the idea that my experiment of one is just that.  If there is any data supporting the efficacy of an elevated heel as a performance enhancer or injury reducer I would be happy to revisit my philosophy.


      • Kevin A. Kirby, DPM says:


        Why not drop an egg on a level piece of wood and then drop an egg on a level pillow?  Which of these surfaces would likely cause damage to the shell of the egg?  What analogy should we then draw from the center of mass of the body dropping with each running stride onto a running shoe sole with no cushioning versus a running shoe sole with good cushioning?

        • naturalrunningstore says:

          I think we may be starting to get a bit off topic as this particular discussion is on the impact that an un-level surface has on an object(s) that is perfectly balanced without artificial enhancement.  

          My point is the body doesn’t need anything extra and we aren’t born broken.  And with respect to science there is no data to my knowledge that supports the efficacy of an elevated heel for performance or injury prevention purposes.

          The human body is more than capable of handling it’s center of mass and needs no external assistance in the form of a shoe or otherwise.  I would make the case that too much shoe inhibits how the body perceives and responds to the ground.

          In your analogy, I would encourage you to replace the word egg with foot.  You would not want to land on a pillow, which provides instability and an inaccurate picture of the ground below it.  Given the choice to run barefoot or with pillows strapped to my feet, the choice is logical. 

          The foot is more than capable of responding to the ground in the most appropriate and efficient manner.  To “compare this complex and wonderful system that we all possess” to an ianimate and fragile object like an egg, may not give justice to the incredible feat of engineering that is the human body. Patton

        • The discussion is not in regards to cushion (there are cushion zero drop shoes – Altra Instinct/Intuition). It is in regards to the elevated heel in a shoe. There is not always the need to go minimal when lowering heel heights.

  8. Nice copy of some ideas from ChiRunning. However guys you got a few things not quite right and as with most copies, there always is a fault in the copy. 6th minute 3seconds into the video, you are not aligned. Your shoulders are back from your hips with an obvious curve in your back. That is not a straight column. Run with knees coming up? A lot of muscle being used to do this action… that is not really efficient nor injury free. As you set of on your run and running on the spot you are up and down on your forefoot, not really efficient. Look as you run pushing off with your forefoot, not what one would really call leaning to engage gravity… If you want to engage gravity you need to lean from the ankles and let it take you forward, not push of on the forefoot! But anyway, nice try to show how a straight column supports a weight, just pity that you cannot do it yourselves. Never mind there’s always next time!

    • naturalrunningstore says:

      Hey Coach-Funny you mention Chi Running, because I had just gotten back from a conference where I got to meet and chat with Danny Dreyer.  I am a pretty visual learner and I kept trying to envision the columns he was talking about.  I literally stumbled on my kids columns and an idea was born.  I wanted to see what happened to the beautiful column he talked about when we altered it at the base.

      Yes the posture is bad at 6 min 3 sec as it is supposed to be an example of what not to do (as to reference the shape of an unbalanced column and there is text indicating so).  But heck I can’t believe you even made it that far into the video, I don’t even know if my wife has watched that much of it.

      Good catch on the knees up.  This video was shot almost a year ago and like a lot of runners I am always looking for ways to enhance my running experience.  I am working on not being quite so quad dominant which has helped in a ton of areas.  For the video purposes there were a few motions that were over emphasized.  By no means would I say I have it perfect, but I am working like crazy at it.

      • Yeah made it that far… professional preoccupation and all that… Your posture at 6m 3s is def out of alignment whilst now you are saying it is supposed to show how not,  in the video now you are saying it was an example of what is aligned posture… go figure… 
        Anyways, yes there is perfection to be made and we are always perfecting ourselves, even Danny, the original of efficient running,still does (no matter what that Robert guy says he sounds like he has a axe to grind!).
        But my point is, if you are going to put up a video where you want to show good running posture at least do it properly  and not half baked. The average runner will look at that and say “hey i’ll run like that now” (or try to) and set him/herself up for injury. So please even if you are copying from ChiRunning, for pete sake get it right so that the average runner doesn’t go injuring him/herself…

    • Robert Osfield says:

      “Look as you run pushing off with your forefoot, not what one would
      really call leaning to engage gravity… If you want to engage gravity
      you need to lean from the ankles and let it take you forward, not push
      of on the forefoot!”

      Sigh… this part of ChiRunning is nonsense and should be discarded, one should certainly not use it as guide to good running form.

      Leaning doesn’t engage gravity, you can’t use it for propulsion when running.  Gravity is *vertical* force, it pulls you down, not forward.  When we start running *we* create the horizontal force using our muscles pushing forward off through our feet, it doesn’t matter if you push off with your toes, or from your heels, or somewhere in between.  If you don’t believe me try balancing on ice, or on a skateboard and then lean forward till your over balance, then tell me whether:

       A) your feet slip out from underneath you come crashing down on the spot without moving forward


      B) Mystically start moving forward, remaining in balance and sustaining perpetual motion.

      Of course the answer is A… you fall on the spot as gravity is a vertical force pulling your downwards.

      The real reason why we lean is for balance, pure and simple, whether this is leaning into a strong headwind, leaning into a bend, leaning forward when we want to accelerate or leaning back to slow down.  The reason we lean is balance, keep repeating this till it sinks in.

      As humans we learn how lean properly when we are learning to take our first steps, until we master the subtle interplay between balance and acceleration we can’t walk let alone run.  However, once you’ve learnt to walk and run, most likely by the age of two, you should be pretty well set for the rest of your life – there isn’t any need to relearn it, and there certainly isn’t any need attempt to re-learn it based on pseudo science nonsense. 

      Now the interplay or lean, balance and acceleration *is* really subtle, which is probably why it’s people can so easily get mis-lead by daft theories like ChiRunning’s lean.   The truth is actually simpler and more complicated.  As I said we lean to balance, this is the heart of why we lean.  The subtle bit is that we also temporary over balance to adjust our bodies alignment so that we can then generate the external forces we require without overbalancing when we generate these forces.  When running and walking the external forces we can generate all go through our feet, whether it’s vertical forces balancing gravity or horizontal ones balancing wind resistance or providing acceleration forces into a bend, or to go faster or slower. 

      To keep in balance when accelerating we have to lean forward so that the net forces go up through our center of mass, when we accelerating into a bend we lean into the bend again so that the net forces go up through our center of mass, and when slowing down we lean back so that the net forces go up through our center of mass.  When we stop accelerating our bodies are then at in appropriate alignment (lean) for steady state motion so we have to re-align our bodies so that our center of mass is back safely over our average foot position, so do this we generate slight more horizontal acceleration/deacceleration force than we need as this re-aligns us back.   This process is totally automatic, in-grained from your days as a toddlers, so much so you rarely consciously are aware you are doing it.

      This clever trick of balance is really amazing though – it took the robotics world many decades to get robots that could walk like us, even now they are poor imitation,  clunky and lacking in the grace at which us humans have mastered the subtle interplay of balance and acceleration.  The way we balance is really clever, something we should all cherish as part of what makes humans pretty darn amazing.

      Of course humans can be stupid as well…  silly pseudo science theories abound even in running ;-)

      • Pete Larson says:

        Thanks for this Robert. I’d put the “let gravity pull you forward” bit in the same category as “land directly under your center of mass.” They sound good, but are counter to reality. Nothing more than cues. The “everyone should run at a cadence of 180” is similar, except that some people actually do so, but I don’t see it as a magic number.

      • naturalrunningstore says:

        Two comments were really interesting

        “Leaning doesn’t engage gravity, you can’t use it for propulsion when running.”

        Followed shortly by

        “To keep in balance when accelerating we have to lean forward so that the net forces go up through our center of mass, when we accelerating into a bend we lean into the bend again so that the net forces go up through our center of mass, and when slowing down we lean back so that the net forces go up through our center of mass.”
        What is sounds like is that you have an incredible grasp of utilizing the position of the center of mass as a tool for acceleration, but you may disagree or on how another running style describes it.  I think your philosophies may be closer to similar that different.

        I could not agree more on the balance part.  I have little kids of my own and to watch how the body develops it’s movement capabilities is really something I have come to appreciate.  Maybe this is my whole point.  The human body is really incredible on it’s own accord.  Perhaps if we learned to utilize our own capabilities, we could be in greater control of what our running experience looked like.

        Seriously a huge thank you for the thought provoking insight.  Wishing you all the best in your training.


    • The idea of “engaging gravity” is just plain silly IMO.  I have read ChiRunning and think it does have a lot of good ideas for improving form and posture (and thus running economy), but its justification for why it works is completely off.  Leaning forward or not, gravity is a constant and uni-directional force.  It is not going pull you forward just because you are leaning, it is just pulling your center of mass downward give you the feeling that you are “falling forward”.  The lean does a good job of preventing over-striding and braking forces from heel-striking and it also helps prevent wasted vertical energy.  We have a certain amount of force our leg muscles can exert (varies individually and by fitness), we give up a minimum amount of the force vertically to combat gravity and to keep from collapsing, and the rest is used to propel us forward.  It is very possible to run with the same economy leaning forward or with the body upright as long one is not wasting energy “up and down” vertically during their stride.

      Typical response from someone who applies a technique without understanding why it works other than thinking it is some kind of “chi-magic”…

  9. I just wish someone could explain the logic and reasoning behind a 12 mm lift along wth the scientific evidence to back it. I believe that if we needed a heel, lift we would have evolved with one. All I know for sure is that I only run in zero drop shoes and I have never been able to run farther or faster than I do now. My achilles and calves have never been stronger by the way.

    • The reasoning for a heel lift in a running shoe really interests me too. There’s got to be some arguments, since basically all trainers for the last 30-40 years (?) have had a heel left. It has been a default that no one questioned. 

      Before this new minimalist trend, you could choose if you liked to have a 9 mm, 12 mm or 14 mm heel lift in your everyday trainer, but you couldn’t choose NO heel lift, since there where no such running shoes on the market! This makes me almost angry, because the hip pain caused by high-heeled running shoes has prevented me from running as much as I wanted. About one year ago I understood the connection between the hip pain and the heel hight, and went gradually zero drop. In this summer I made new PBs on the 800m, 3000m and 10k. 

      Of course, a heel lift may be the optimum for some people and really helps them to run injury free. I’m not saying that all the trainers with heel lift in stores should now be replaced by zero drop shoes. I’m just glad that there are now options also for us who perform best when not running down a 5-10% downhill all the time.

      • Pete Larson says:

        Great response, and this is how I feel as well. I have no problem with people running in a shoe with a heel lift, and if you do fine in this type of shoe then there may be no compelling reason to change. However, some, like you, do better with a lower heel (or no heel lift at all), and I’m happy that more options are available. Racing flats have always been around, but are rarely actually flat, and often have a narrow fit, so the diversity available now at the more minimal end of the spectrum is appreciated.

        Personally, I never had major injuries in lifted shoes, and haven’t had major injuries in flat shoes, so it hasn’t mattered much to me. But, I now much prefer running in a flatter shoe, and it’s nice to have a lot of options to choose from.

  10. Robert Osfield says:

    While the video is fun, I can’t say it’s too clever though, as it’s misguided and wrong in parts.

    Placing bricks on an inclined board isn’t at all equivalent to a human standing in shoes with an elevated heel.  When we stand on any inclined surface or in inlined shoes our ankle joint flexes to keep the body balanced above it, the change in posture doesn’t need to go any further up the body than the ankle.  If one wanted to make the experiment more equivalent you’d need to stick a wedge under the first brick to level it off then build the rest of the bricks, but this would of course quite literally level the playing field and we’d get the same balanced results.

    Modest inclination in shoes by itself does *not* make you unstable or lead to poor posture.

    The actual stability problems introduced by shoes with elevated soles is the combined effects of cushioning and the elevation.  The stability issues aren’t in the direction of motion, but lateral stability  – what happens when you supinate and pronate, when we corner and when we cut across a slope.

    A good way to illustrate this issue is to do the same inclined board test and video the presenter standing on the level and then standing on an inclined board – look at what is happening to the ankle.  Then place a hard block on the inclined board try and balance on a block – vary the block size to demonstrate how the instability increases as you increase the height.  Next replace a hard block by a softer block and you’ll see how much less stable the soft block as as much less height of block can be tolerated in trying to balance.

    With this experiment you could even experiment with wedged blocks of wood or foam and have the presenter stand on these, simulating the effect of heel drop on stability.  You’ll find something interesting… that having a lower forefoot height well help lateral stability as long as you keep you weight on the forefoot, move the loading back to the heel and instability will return.

    Trying the wedged block experiment will illustrate that it’s not the slope of the sole that introduces instability, it’s the elevation of the sole, be it on the forefoot or heel, or both.   Yep those Newton’s that Patton’s wearing a good examples on elevation cushioned sloe that will score very low on lateral stability, might even be worse than higher heel dropped cushioned shoes.

    What the video does get right, but perhaps is too disconnected from running to hit the mark well is the effect of cushioning on stability.  The softer soles associated with cushioning mean that the shoes will distort with lateral loads and place the foot further over to side of the shoe and make them less stable.  The cushioning also will allow the foot and the ankle to rotate more within the shoe with ankle rotation so we end up with high moments on the ankle and less stiffness of ankle to ground system making it less stable.

    The final section of the video on posture and the forward lean looks inspired the most mis-guided part of Chi Running.  I’ll reply to another other comment on this topic.

    • Pete Larson says:

      Thanks for the comment Robert. You are correct that the ankle is really what changes most, and that’s what I’m most curious about. But, another factor to consider is the nature of the sensory input coming in. Having gone mostly flat when it comes to shoes for everyday wear, the sensory feeling of wearing a shoe with a 12mm lift is now extremely strange to me. I’m really curious about what the effects of this might be.
      Regarding Newtons, the main instability issue I have with them is due to the forefoot lugs, not so much the midsole, which is pretty firm.
      As for your experiment suggestions, looks like Patton has some more acting to do!
      Sent from my iPad

    • naturalrunningstore says:

      Robert!  Thanks a ton for the feedback and insight.
      For the effects of heel incline on posture there may be two things to look at.  The first is I would encourage you to experiment.  Standing barefoot, try a one legged squat (or stand for an extened period of time, jump, run in place, etc) on a flat surface.  Next try it on an incline (for even more fun, experiment with incline heights).  If both feel identical and like they are the optimal environment for your body to perform, then I would have to strongly reconsider the validity of my philosophy.

      I completely agree the body adapts the the ground.  But just because it can adapt, does it make that environment optimal.  I would also encourage you to check out an article by William Rossi “Why Shoes Make a Normal Gait Impossible”.  Part 1 and 2 are informative and can do a far better job of explaining the science of it. (image of first page below).

      With all that said, if heel height doesn’t make a difference, then why is it in our shoes?

      You are right on the money with regards to cushion.  I think that is another topic entirely, but the amount of stuff we have between us and the ground causes huge problems.  It is a problem that it inhibits how we perceive the ground and it is an even bigger problem that we have been conditioned to think we need it.

      As for the Newtons, I’d be interested to hear your experience in them.  By no means are they a fit for everybody but I have a few ultras, marathons and the accompanying training and they worked for me.  I think lateral and medial stability has a few contributing factors such as shoe environment (flat, firm, level) but I would also make the case that foot strength and running style play a bigger role in creating stability.  When we see issues with minimal shoes or barefoot running (with regards to lateral and medial stability), it is not because either of those tools are defective, it is because the craftsman wasn’t using them appropriately.

      Love to hear your thoughts on Chi Running.  It may be fair to say you don’t understand, but misguided may be a strong term.  I think Danny and his team have a record that speaks for themselves and have made the experience of their athletes subjected to numerous research studies.  If you took part in a workshop or training seminar put on by Chi Running and didn’t connect with that experience, I am sure they would love the feedback on ways they may be able to make their message clearer.  

      Thanks again Robert! 



      • Robert Osfield says:

        Hi Patton,

        I’m an advocate of spending most of your time barefoot and when wearing shoes that choose ones that have low heel drop, light weight and minimal structure that don’t interfere with natural foot function.  It’s still a struggle to get good shoes that fit my wide feet that tick all the boxes, but thankfully the industry seem to be moving in the right direction…

        My critque of using the inclined board and boxes is really focused on that fact that I don’t believe it’s a good match for what happens in humans when faced with an inclined surface.  We don’t have stability problems in the direction of the slope of heel drop – otherwise we’d have people all trip up all the time with anything other than a zero drop shoe.  What we do have is people with runners going over their ankles or suffering from problems associated with rotation of the ankles and the stresses on the muscles and tendons that support it.  So for me you got the stability problems 90 degrees wrong.

        Heel drops does affect ones gait though, witnessed by the disproportionately large number of over striding heel strikers in modern trainers.  Something peculiar is going here, but I don’t believe it’s anything to do with longitudual stability.  From my own experience running in inflexible shoes with significant heel drop is awkward and make landing ones forefoot uncomfortable – it’s just plain unpleasant to mid-foot/forefoot land in them for anything more than short distances.  Put me in modest shoe or barefoot and mid-foot comes totally naturally, I’m just dialed in and relaxed.

        I suspect mid-foot and forefoot landing in a shoe with a high heel drops feels so unnatural force due to requiring the foot to actively plantarflex downwards to counteract the slope of the shoe, otherwise the heel hits down first.  If you run barefoot or with low heel drop the foot naturally comes down plantar-flexed with the lower leg nice and relaxed.  I also think that the slope of the insole combined with the breaking force on landing cause the foot to slid forward causing stress on the sole and top of the foot (as the upper digs in) as well as give a whole host of false signals to the brain about what surface you are landing on (i.e. soft, slippery and inclined??!’).  Given how crap high heeled shoes are for running naturally on a mid-foot I’d guess that most runners will gravitate towards a heel strike without even thinking about it – its’ the only comfortable way to run in them.

        Conveying all these points in a video would be a challenge…  I’ll leave this one to you :-)

        As for ChiRunning, I have Danny’s book, and believe that there is as much sound advice as there is nonsensical.  It’s easy to read and understand, but… Danny’s understanding of physics is totally off, and as someone with an Engineering degree this really grates. 

        If you don’t have a solid understanding of the Newtonian mechanics then I could see why one might be seduced by his ideas on lean, landing relative to the center of mass.  However, this stuff in ChiRunning is completely wrong, forward lean doesn’t propel in any whatsoever, and it’s physically impossible to run at a steady state and land under your center of mass.  What’s worse chasing these impossible goals will lead to bad running form as you end up front loading your stance. 

        Also the idea that it’s everyone of all heights and and paces should run at 180 steps per minute – there is absolutely no bio-mechanical reason for this to be the case, and again trying to attain this goal will lead to poor running form.  It’s a case of “one size fits no one” rather than “one size fits all” like is prescribed in the book.  Pete’s follow up post illustrates how in practice cadence isn’t constant, so I won’t dive in any further.

        Danny starts his book telling us how we wishes us to teach us how to run like children, trying to tell us ChiRunning is the way to achieve this.  Kids don’t have to think about good running form, they don’t take things easy. As long as you don’t interfere with their natural gait with heavy, high heeled shoes they just run with abandon and glee, there isn’t any need to remember focuses to keep the gait “natural”.   A natural gait you don’t have to think about, you just remove what interferes with it and do it. 

        Of course most of us adults have spent way too long in unatural shoes and sitting at desks that even with moving to more barefoot or minimal footwear we still have a long history to ingrained motion to overcome.  So we end up in the bizarre situation of having to “teach” natural motion which is kinda crazy, but hey that’s where we’ve got to in western societies, from food to footwear lots of mad stuff going down.

        As for good things about ChiRunning?  Not over-striding is a good thing to teach, it’s not taught particularly well, but the goal is sensible.  Increasing cadence is sound, but the idea of single fixed cadence rather undermines this.  Not pushing off strongly is also sound (Danny’s lift your feet up cue), although I’m not sure Danny and I would have the same reasoning for why it’s sound.  Not crossing your arms over too much is also probably useful.  Not tying your shoes laces too tight, and tucking your laces in rather doubling tying is also a good tip.

        Danny advocates teaching good running form being more critical than footwear, while I’d probably reverse the two.  For me the best teacher is your bare-feet and all those loverly never endings in them.

        As for Newton’s, ouch, I think that Isaac Newton must be rolling in his grave with the thought of some of the poor design aspects of their shoes.  Personally I wouldn’t run in them, way too much mid-sole, lack of flexibility and the forefoot lugs as just plain mis-guided.  If you want know what proper lugs on a running shoe should look like go look at the sole of Inov-8 trail shoe – they are there for grip not cushioning.

        I believe the minimal shoe and barefoot running movement needs to keep grounded in the realms on sound science, too many industry players are using an abusing pseudo science to sell books and shoes.  From ChiiRuning and Pose to Newton to New Balance to Inov-8, almost all market players seem to do it, along with the good stuff there is stuff that just is nonsense.

        • Pete Larson says:


          It seems to be the popular thing now to say that form is more important than footwear. I may have said this myself on occasion, but I think I agree with you that footwear may be as, if not more, important. I believe the body is very good at figuring out how to handle what it is presented with, whether that be shoes, running surface, etc. I’m not so sure that it’s wise to fight what the body wants to do, particularly at extremes of the footwear spectrum, and thus if I wear a shoe with a 10 mm lift I just let myself heel strike, because for whatever reason, my body is telling me that is what it wants to do under that condition. Take my shoes of, and things change dramatically, and my body chooses to run in a different way. Stuff in between is going to vary a bit. What makes this difficult is that motor learning can take a while, and adaptation in a more intermediate shoe may occur more slowly as you get a mix of sensory input. If you wear something like Fivefingers, you dampen the sensory input so it’s not exactly barefoot, but you also have no cushion or heel, so it’s not quite like the 10mm+ lift. It’s in that middle zone where perhaps some form work might be helpful.
          Sent from my iPad

      • Danny Dreyer says:

        Hey, Patton,
        Great Video! Peter is right to question Amby’s comments. The reason why the blocks fall over (forward) is that when it’s all said and done the center of mass of the stack of blocks is NOT DIRECTLY OVER the point of contact with the base of the column (planet earth), so it falls forward… as does the human body if you do the same thing. Let’s not make this more complicated than it needs to be.

        When you put a lift under the heels of a shoe, your body, from the soles of the feet to the top of your head, adjust accordingly so that your center of mass always remains over your point of contact with the earth (ask any chiropractor, osteopath, or Rolfer). BUT, your posture line CANNOT remain nice and straight (like Patton’s). It has to adapt or you’d constantly be falling over. The more years a body is subject to a heel lift, the more the “adjusted” posture begins to feel “normal”.

        My biggest beef with big bulky shoes is that they do NOTHING productive for the posture or movement of the wearer. Zero-drop or minimal drop shoes allow the body to find a more natural structural integrity that relies more on the alignement of your bones, ligaments and tendons for support and less on the work of muscles for support (during your support phase), which we all know consumes more fuel as you run.

        William Rossi’s article is a must-read before anyone takes a shot at Patton’s demo. I would also suggest reading “Anatomy Trains” by Thomas Meyers, who describes the body as a structure held vertical by “tensegrity”, a term coined by Bucky Fuller. 

        What Chi Running teaches is energy efficiency and injury prevention… and the best way to achieve that is through proper postural alignment and flat or minimal drop shoes. 

        Thanks to everyone for the great comments and the lively discussion.
        Danny Dreyer

        • Pete Larson says:

          Thanks for chiming in Danny – never expected this amount of discussion to crop up when I posted Patton’s video. Guess the guy has star power!

  11. Geez… Some people take themselves WAY too seriously…

  12. Mark Cucuzzella says:

    Really thoughtful posts and Patton I really like the visual and am not overanalyzing the physics….running is a fun and we all love to run although we disagree on some things.
    For the balance, slight lean, and landing under the center of mass…this is the perfect drill and example.
    One does not “land” under the center of mass but the peak spring loading is here (touch slightly ahead then peak load under COM- mid stance) and the maximal recoil if you are running in good posture/balance and slight lean.  Anything off of this is inefficient.  Run with a rump rope , preferably barefoot or zero dorp to feel it.  My daughter is in vivo-barefoot kids.
    Not sure what gravity is going here(i have no instruments)….but if she did not lean a little she’d be jump roping in place, which she also does gracefully.

    This video has her and some kids all out barefoot…lean varies but they are all in good posture and springy .


    Mark Cucuzzella MD

    • Robert Osfield says:

      Hi Mark,

      Nice videos, the skipping drill looks a useful one for teaching forefoot landing and strengthing the foot and calves.

      However, I can’t help but feel that you’ve been overly seduced ChiRunning’s theories on lean and landing relative COM, so over emphasis these points.  I believe neither of these factors are critical to good running form, and taking both of these cues too literally will lead to poor running form.

      The reason why I raise this is that they are cues that you can’t ever know if you are doing them right, achieved the perfect lean, or achieved the perfect distance of landing w.r.t COM.  Answer it yourself, how do you tell?  Could you look at a video of runner and know that they have too much or too little lean?  Landing too far or too near to their center of mass?  Yes you could do it if they have extreme lean or COM positioning, but what if it’s near to normal, what is normal…  Saying subtle lean or close to your COM just doesn’t cut when trying to analyse form, and if you can’t analyse it how can you know when you’ve got it right?

      For myself I believe the perfect lean is when the upper body is perfectly balanced, so the the trunk muscles are just maintaining the posture in response the small horizontal oscillation of forces coming up from the legs, they aren’t require to maintain a lean forward or back. 

      This perfect, neutral lean balances acceleration and wind resistance forces.  The amount of lean required will vary with acceleration/ deceleration and running speed so there isn’t one fixed amount of lean that is appropriate. 

      If you don’t accelerate and don’t have wind resistance then the perfect lean is no lean at all – the upper body should be upright and relaxed.  This is exactly the situation we have on a treadmill, so if a runner has any lean on a treadmill we know that they are having to engage their muscles more than they should to retain that posture.

      Teaching the prefect lean is a matter of learning awareness of back and stomach muscles, if you have the prefect lean then they will evenly engaged, whether you are running into a headwind or running on a treadmill.

      I don’t believe teaching lean when accelerating or decelerating is required or appropriate, in fact I believe it’s counter productive.  We lean how to balance and use lean for accelerating and decelerating when we are toddler, onces you’ve learnt it there is no need to relearn it, to do so is as waste of time and waste of precious brain cells.  We also spend very little of our time changing speed when running, one doesn’t get overuse injuries from starting running or slowing down unless you are a sprinter.   Posture when running at a steady state is what is critical to efficiency and avoiding injury, *not* starting and stopping. 

      Given this I believe teaching people how lean to start running really hasn’t to be one of silliest drills of all.  We all know how to lean to start running, almost all of use will have perfected from the age of 2.

      Good posture when standing and running is far subtle more awkward to teach, and this is where one should concentrate.  The lean on starting is just a pointless distraction from this task.

      As for landing and center of mass.  It’s double edged sword.  Force yourself to land to close to the center of mass and you’ll land more heavily.  Also reducing the time on stance without proportionally reducing the time in the air increases the vertical ground reaction force that we have to generate.  The benefit of a short time on stance is that the maximum joint angles are potentially smaller, so the moments on the joints can be lower, but only if you don’t erode this benefit by increasing the vertical ground reaction force.  Given this double edged nature to cue of position of landing relative of center of mass I don’t believe it’s an ideal cue to use.

      Cues that don’t have the same potential pitfalls for injury avoidance are increasing cadence, and in particular to reduce time in the air as way of reducing cadence.  The later is what I really find as the key factor to comfort when running barefoot.  

      The position of the foot relative to the knee on landing is also something that is good to monitor and work on.  Landing with a bent knee, with the foot below the knee is something that looks to be pretty universally recommended.  It’s an easy one to measure from slow motion video, and it’s also easy one to monitor when running along – just look down your knee, if you can see you’re ankle/shin in front of your knee then you are over-striding.

      I believe that teaching people elements of running form that make sense bio-mechanically, are unambiguous, easy to understand, easy to practice and measure progress on are the ones we should teaching.

      To recap:

        Don’t think about lean, think about posture and the activation
        of the muscles in the trunk such that they are balanced and the
        upper body is relaxed.  Getting the trunk muscles balanced are
        you’ll have the correct lean no matter what speed you are running.

        Think about cadence, and reducing time in the air as they
        reduce maximum joint flexion and maximum vertical ground
        reaction forces respectively.

        Think about the position of the foot on landing relative to the knee,
        a bent knee is a great shock absorber,  don’t every worry about the
        position of the landing relative to the center of mass.

      • Pete Larson says:


        I tend to agree with you on most of this. When I look at elites, I see a huge amount of variation in the amount of lean, and it has never struck me as too helpful of a cue (I feel the same way about the “gravity” pulling you forward thing). Personally, I feel much better when I’m running as upright as possible.

        The thing that I stay conscious of most while running is the location of my footstrike, with the goal of having my shin vertical upon landing, with the foot directly below the knee. I also try to make sure my lower leg has stopped forward swing prior to contact. The cue to land “near the center of mass” is useful because for most people it will achieve the desired result of reducing an overstride, but I also think it’s important to maintain the distinction between cues and biomechanical reality. Maybe that’s just the scientist in me, but I like to be precise when talking about running form. In the end though, lots of folks have benefited from Chi Running, so regardless of the science, maybe that’s what is most important.

        • Robert Osfield says:

          Hi Pete,

          While we are pretty well on the same page w.r.t actual good running form, I can’t help but be concerned that while the likes of ChiRunning with their mixed bag of useful and dubious cues are holding back as well as helping runners.

          The dubious cues and theories confuse people and let them to focus on things that aren’t useful or are just plain wrong, so that the time and mind share that they dedicate to the genuinely useful cues/techniques are diminished.  Cut out all the nonsense and you’ll have something that is easier to learn and practice. 

          So for me ChiRunning as it stands is a mis-opportunity.  Yes it has helped quite a few runners, but it could have helped more runners, and all of them could now be better runners for it.   There is also the uphill struggle of having to fix mis-guided views that you see even here in comments on this blog.

          Having to write a post all about how 180 isn’t the perfect cadence is an example how the running world has to overcome the poorer aspects of teaching from some of these running guru’s.  It is an uphill struggle as even companies like New Balance have been suckered into the 180 and foward lean mantra in their own “educational” materials on running form.

          We can’t fix these problems with challenging the mis-guided ideas.

        • Mark Cucuzzella says:

          Pete, Robert,

          these are great debates and thanks for the detailed posts. When i teach nothing is forced…it is all passive and should happen by cueing a movement and using elastic recoil. that is where the jump rope comes in….just run while jumping. You will be in perfect balance and posture.  if you force a lean it will not work.  Notice i sais “slight lean” and “a little”…so agree with your point about overemphasis on this. Best practice to get it without overthinking….barefoot on pavement.   Your feet will teach your whole body what to do.  be very gradual and progressive.

          ChiRunning has helped 1000’s of runners correct the bad habit of heel striking and overstriding.  Danny Dreyer is a personal friend and had the guts 10 years ago to take HUGE risk and start talking about this. 



          • Pete Larson says:

            Like you say Mark, I think one point on which we all agree is that the best teaching tool is simply to have people run barefoot on pavement. It may be awkward at first, but it won’t take long before the body “gets it.” Practice makes perfect.
            Sent from my iPad

  13. Jill Murphy says:

    Hi all –

    As a ChiRunning instructor and co-owner of a natural running and walking training and retail center in Massachusetts, I feel the need to add my two cents here…

    When teaching the lean in ChiRunning, we emphasize finding the “sweet spot”, where you can remain relaxed, yet not have to push your body weight forward.  That’s about an inch of lean, but everyone’s “inch” is different – it’s all about finding your comfort zone so that you AVOID overleaning.  I go to great lengths to emphasize the importance of finding your balance and “sweet spot” so that runners don’t lean or use their core in an unnatural, tense way.

    I agree that minimal shoes and natural running form go hand in hand – they really need each other to be most beneficial.  Of course, barefoot is always best, but most people just aren’t ready to take that leap… 

    In the end, it’s all about enjoying your run, feeling good both during and afterward, and running in such a way that your body doesn’t end up hating you.  We have yet to have any negative feedback from our ChiRunning classes or our shoes.  In fact, most people are going out of their way to thank us, saying such things as “I haven’t been able to run without pain for 20 years – thank you so much” or “I can’t believe my feet don’t hurt anymore – I just assumed walking would always be painful.” 

    I prefer to focus on the happiness of the people we are helping, rather than on figuring out who’s right and who’s wrong.  After all, isn’t the goal just to enjoy ourselves so that we want to keep running?

    Jill Murphy
    Good for the Soles
    Northampton, MA

    • Robert Osfield says:

      Hi Jill,

      It’s sounds like the coaching your are giving on lean is bang on the money – it should be about neutral engagement of the core muscles for the perfect balance.  Your suggestion of 1″ is also a good ballpark to start with.

      Elsewhere in this comments section I’ve explained that perfectly balanced lean when running at a steady state should be there to only balance wind resistance, and last year I did the maths are worked out that one would expect an average adult to need to lean roughly 1″ when running at 10 minute/mile pace, and since wind resistance increases with the square of speed the lean would go up to 4″ by 5 minute/mile pace.  So your suggestion of 1″ looks to be totally appropriate for a typically jogger.

      The distance of lean I’m assuming is the difference between the top of the head and the floor from the neutral position when standing. 

      What I recommend is replacing the idea of leaning to use gravity for forward propulsion as this isn’t sound, gravity simply doesn’t pull you forward, and replace it with the idea that that when running at a steady state the only lean you need to balance the forces of wind resistance. I believe this is important to convey as 1) it’s scientifically sound, 2) it helps you understand how you lean should change when running with no wind resistance (i.e. treadmill – no lean), to into a strong headwind (lots of lean), or running downwind (potentially leaning back a little). 

      Now if you have the skill of using lean to balance the core muscles activity you should be able to get all these correctly, and have the lean naturally adapt to the conditions that you are running in.  This is subtle skill, and one that is useful outside of running, whether sitting on stool, standing, walking or running good posture has a lot to do with balance core muscle activation.

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