Sports Technology for Runners


Authored by K. Thor Jensen in Technology
Published on 07-25-2009

I’m old enough to remember when jogging was just a trend – a flash-in-the-pan fitness craze that was expected to disappear within a year. Well, blame America’s continual obsession with good looks, but pounding the pavement to burn calories and tone muscles is going as strong as ever. Despite some medical warnings that the intense, repeated impact of your feet hitting the ground can cause health problems, millions of people still run as their primary method of exercise. Thankfully, science has given us a few new ways to maximize the benefits of running while minimizing the risks, and in this article I’ll examine some of them.

The most notable area where technology can benefit a runner is in their shoes. The feet are taking a serious beating when you jog, and the impact can be transferred up through your calves to your knees as well. Wearing an engineered running shoe that has been calibrated to fit your foot can mitigate a lot of that damage, and may help you reduce pain and exhaustion during your workout as well.

One of the most important considerations in purchasing a running shoe is your step style – in the 1970s, scientists identified three distinct styles of running, based on the timing of the heel hitting the ground and the angle the body of the foot rolls in after impact. Knowing that will help you find a shoe that is balanced to support those motions. The greatest breakthroughs in running shoe tech came with the inserton of a shock-absorbing barrier between the sole of the foot and the shoe. This barrier, composed of air, fluid, or other synthetic materials, reduces the impact load of each step that transfers to the legs. However, some studies argue that all that technology is actually hurting our ability to run intelligently – making our feet lazy and increasing the rate of injuries. The science is still evolving, so we haven’t seen the apotheosis of shoe design yet.

One other useful technical accoutrement that can aid runners with their training is a pedometer. This handy little device can measure steps taken, miles travelled, and a number of other metrics that can assist an athlete in training with improving their performance. Early pedometers were clunky, pendulum-driven things that were no fun to carry, but the modern electronic versions come equipped with clocks, MP3 players, and in some cases even GPS devices – perfect for taking your workout off-road. You can’t understand the impact that watching those little numbers go up as you sweat off the pounds can have until you try it.

Not all technology goes outside the body, though. Another recent boom came with the renewed popularity of sports drinks for both amateur and professional athletes. From the early days of Gatorade promising increased electrolytes for better performance on the gridiron to today’s complex blends of lab-derived nutrients and mysterious jungle herbs, sports drinks are all over the place. Whether these exotic ingredients really make you a better runner is anybody’s guess, but one common ingredient that all these beverages have is water, and every jogger knows that your body goes through a lot of that.


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