RDRC Interview with Dr. Jesse Timm, Chiropractor
Dr. Jesse Timm is known to some in the RDRC community for the series of minimalist running workshops he held last year at the shop. He is also known – in his day job role as a chiropractor – for the help he has provided to some of us when we’ve had back or alignment problems. A Singapore resident since 2010, Jesse has always been an athlete, wrestling and rowing at the university level, but since then, mostly running, logging up to 200 injury-free kilometres a week in preparation for his first 100K in 2012. A sports injury in high school and a fascination with anatomy and physiology led Jesse to pursue a career as a chiropractor, and he says he loves the freedom that running provides and love, even more, helping people avoid and recover from injuries to enjoy the simplicity and exhilaration of the sport themselves. Having had help from Dr. Jesse ourselves for an alignment issue, we thought we would ask him some questions about running form.
RDRC: Loads of people seem to want to tell other people – especially newbies – that they need to "fix" their running form. In general, do you think this is true? What percentage of people need their running form "fixed", and what would be the reasons for "fixing" it?
JESSE: The quick answer, everyone. Everyone needs to “fix” their running form. There are two reasons everyone should consider “fixing” their running form: the presence of a problem OR the desire to get better. I should clarify that when I say “everyone should consider fixing their running form” I mean that every runner can benefit by working on making their stride more efficient for how their body has a capacity to perform.
I recommend ALL runners work on mobility exercises before a run and make sure to perform an appropriate cool down/stretch after every run. If you don’t have time for a warm-up and cooldown, you don’t have time for a run. An appropriate warm-up and cooldown help to “fix” any inefficiencies in your stride will improve your performance and recovery while reducing your risk of injury. I would, however, say it is rare that someone needs a complete overhaul of their stride.
RDRC: Another thing people talk about is the "ideal" running cadence. This conversation started back in the 1980s, I think, when researchers reported that elite distance runners were hitting the ground around 180 times per minute. What most people forget is that elite distance runners are going a helluva lot faster than most of us, so of course their cadence is higher. What are your thoughts on cadence?
JESSE: Running involves biomechanics and biomechanics is physics applied to the movement of the body. There are more efficient and less efficient ways to move a mass (your body) through space and time. Cadence takes into consideration multiple factors including speed and stride length and oftentimes “ideal” is tested or observed against, like you said, elite runners. Most people are NOT elite and need to understand that what is right for the elites may not be right for most people and, in some cases, may cause injury if people try to replicate it.
Height, weight, pace, foot size, leg length, terrain, grade of the road, and more are all part of the equation when considering cadence. As you normalize joint motion, become more upright in your posture and increase speed you will naturally increase your cadence. It’s important to understand WHY an increased cadence can be important and HOW it can be achieved before adhering to some unrealistic notion of “ideal”.
RDRC: There has also been quite a lot of talk recently about midfoot striking versus heel striking. Again, a lot of people seem to have opinions, but evidence that there is One Proper Way to Run is much harder to find.
JESSE: That’s not a question :) but I will weigh in on the important topic. I refer back to my previous answer when I mentioned “biomechanics”. Running involves propelling a mass forward. If we consider the foot striking the ground as one of the important factors of moving forward, we must give consideration to the position of the foot when it lands in relation to the rest of the body.
In consideration of where the foot hits the ground, there is a “most efficient” position, but this is not the same for everyone. Some people may have postural, muscular, or joint adaptations that prevent a forefoot or mid-foot strike or would make trying to do so inefficient. Parts of the body are designed to perform a certain way.
It makes sense that maximal efficiency comes from using anatomical structures to their optimal function. For instance, muscles have elastic properties and if we can use those properties to help propel us upward and forward then our strides will be more efficient. A mid- or forefoot strike allows us to tap into that potential energy.
Everyone should ask the question, “How can I run further and faster with fewer injuries?” If you can start to work on answering those questions by addressing stride mechanics through joint mobility, strength and stability you will work towards YOUR optimal stride. Everyone is different, there is no ONE PROPER way to run but there are ways we can all get better.
RDRC: Does it make sense to think about changing the way you run if you frequently get injured? What about if you're moving up to ultramarathons? For aspiring ultramarathon runners does it make sense to try to develop a lower, more shuffling stride?
JESSE: Injuries are always an opportunity to unlock our limitations and get more efficient and faster. Same with any time we want to increase our mileage. Running is a bilaterally symmetrical repetitive motion. With the repetitive nature of running, runners are continually at risk of injury if there are any discrepancies in symmetry. The faster you move over a greater distance, the greater your exposure to risks of asymmetrical biomechanics.
To put it simply, if you are not balanced from side to side and you run fast and far, you are at a greater risk of getting injured. Changing your stride to more of a shuffle for longer distances minimizes the amount of stress impact of each step and will, therefore, reduce your exposure to injury.
RDRC: You've hosted "barefoot running" workshops at Red Dot Running Company, and a big argument in favor of barefoot or minimalist running is that it helps strengthen the feet and lower legs. Can you explain why that’s important to performance and injury prevention, and how runners who "just lace 'em up and head out" can incorporate some minimalist running into their training regimens?
JESSE: The foot, which consists of 27 bones, is a biomechanical phenomenon that takes the impact of every step, every day, and is the cornerstone of one of the things that makes us human; bipedal ambulation (walking on two feet).
With biomechanics, like all things, if we do not use it, we lose it. Think of anyone you know who has ever had to have a cast for a broken bone. When the cast comes off the muscles associated with the casted area are atrophied (weakened) from not being used. Wrapping our feet up in big cushioned shoes has a similar effect. The more your foot moves, the more the stabilizing structures of your foot will be able to do their job effectively.
I am NOT saying everyone should run barefoot or even in minimalist shoes, but I am saying that every runner would benefit from developing strength and mobility of the muscles and joints of the foot. Barefoot and minimalist footwear exercises help you do that.
A stronger and more mobile foot can help improve balance, speed, recovery, decrease injury AND a bunch of other hippy stuff like keep you grounded and connected to the earth. There may not be a peer-reviewed-randomized-double-blind-placebo-study demonstrating the efficacy of the last statement, but it sure does make a little sense. Take off your shoes, walk around in a safe and clean environment and try to tell me it doesn’t feel better.
Many thanks to Jesse for talking to us, and you look him up professionally at Wellness for Life Chiropractic (which now has an East Coast clinic at 404 Joo Chiat Place, not far from Red Dot Running Company). You can also find Jesse on Instagram here as @drjessetimm.