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The ASICS Running Ability Measurement

by Editor
Friday 10th January 2014
 
 

Sandra Bowers visits the ASICS Running Lab Oxford Street ASICS Store in Central London to get some facts, helpful advice and an opportunity to “unlock her potential”

The ASICS Running Ability Measurement

Photos © tzruns

Introduction

I have become a successful ultra-runner by predominantly using my emotions to determine the distance and intensity of my daily runs.  I do follow the training plan my coach Nick Anderson prepares for me, but I am unable to tell you exactly how far or how fast I run on most days.  If I feel good I run quickly and if I feel bad I run slowly.  My fartlek sessions are mostly determined by my training partners, a team of Siberian Huskies who become “motivated” when they spot wildlife and I then need to run faster to keep up with them!  I do not stretch and the only weight training I do is carrying large extending leads when running with the huskies during our early morning runs.  My cross training happens when I run with the naughty puppy….

The thought of using science to improve my running performance is both exciting and scary.  I have always known that scientific and factual evidence would identify areas where I could make changes, but the thought of changing what I know and love has me quivering in fear. Visions of religiously wearing a GPS or heart rate monitor; logging my miles and times after each run; stretching and core exercises all leap into my mind.  I run because I love the freedom and the inspiration that it gives me. I do not want to lose that and become constrained by rules and trying to find time to do running related stuff that is not actually running!   

A chance encounter with the ASICS Running Services Manager (Andrew Tew) during opening day at the Canary Wharf ASICS Store in November convinced me that now was the time to throw caution to the wind and go for it.  It is ultimately my decision whether I chose to follow informed advice or not, therefore I have nothing to lose and potentially a lot to gain. 

The ASICS Running Ability Measurement

The ASICS Running Ability Measurement Test is performed at the Oxford Street ASICS Store in Central London.  Walking into the store on the day of the test, I was apprehensive and yet very excited about what lay ahead.

My initial fears were soon placed aside as Andrew explained the process, what would happen during the assessment and the data that we would attain through each test.  His very calm and reassuring manner soon overcame my nervous disposition.

The analysis/ assessment consisted of:

  1. Leg Alignment Measurement
  2. Measuring Foot Shape
  3. Measuring Body Composition
  4. Measuring Leg Strength and Balance
  5. Assessing Running Form
  6. Measurement of Endurance
  7. Dynamic Foot ID

After the assessment I would be given a comprehensive report based on the results of all the tests, with recommendations for what I could do to change any issues or potential issues.  The report would also suggest how I could train more effectively by using my heart rate and anaerobic threshold values.

First up was to measure my leg alignment, foot shape and body composition.

Leg Alignment Measurement

The leg alignment measurements helps determine if a person may be “bow legged” or “knock-kneed”, both of which can cause running related injuries by placing extra load either on the inside or the outside of the knee.  It also measures the ankle flexibility and the effect that it may have on the transmission of power when the runner pushes off from the ground.  Weakness can cause fatigue in the calves and Achilles tendon leading to potential injuries.  Weak ankles can also be identified by measuring the range of movement and potential instability when running.  Flexibility of the hip joints was the final check done.  A common problem with runners is the lack of flexibility in the hip joints which prevents a smooth action of the pelvis and places extra load on waist and the lower back area.  A runner’s knees and ankles will then also suffer.

I had to lie down on the medical bed whilst Andrew drew pictures all over my legs…. Okay not pictures just lines from which he then measured various points.  He also manipulated my legs and ankles to determine flexibility.

From these test it was determined that I have very stiff hips and huge flexibility in my ankle joints, both of which can be improved with stretching and specific strength training exercises.

Measuring Foot shape – Static INFOOT 3D Foot Scanner

This measures the shape and size of both feet and also the arch height and heel angle.  It helps ensure that you get the best fit of shoe for your feet and can also identify potential issues, i.e. fallen arches may make a runner susceptible to over-pronation and high arches may cause the runner to be prone to under-pronation (also known as supination).

 

Little stickers were placed on both of my feet and then one foot at a time placed within a darkened box and scanned.  Measurements were then taken between all stickers to produce a 3D image of each foot.

From this test it was determined that one of my arches is lower than the other and it was suggested that I try rolling a golf ball under my foot to prevent potential plantar fasciitis.

The ASICS Running Ability Measurement

Photos © tzruns

Measuring Body Composition

This test determines muscle, fat and bone mass by using bioelectrical impedance analysis – a minute electrical circuit is passed through body tissue and the differing electrical resistance indicates whether fat or muscle is present – muscle is an efficient conductor of electricity due to high water content whereas fat is a poor conductor of electricity.  This test also shows the areas within the body where a person is most likely to store fat.

 

My height and weight were entered into the database and I was asked to stand and hold the bar in front of me and then the test began. 

I discovered that I was a lot lighter in weight than I believed I was and that my body composition is ideal for endurance running.

Measuring Leg Strength and Balance

This test is performed using an isokinetic training device which measures how much strength the person can exert against a lever moving at a constant speed.  The test shows muscular leg strength and also the flexion and extension strength of the knee.  The results from the individual’s tests are compared against accumulated data of competitive runners from the ASICS Institute of Sport, which they are scored against to help gauge a target for the test subject to work towards. 

Comparing the leg strength of both legs helps identify any imbalance issues – an asymmetric difference in strength greater than 10% for example could indicate an injury to either leg that has resulted in over compensation to manage an inherent weakness.  Balanced strength and ensuing the correct ratio of knee flexion/ extension strength is a key factor in achieving a good running form.

 

After an initial warm up on the treadmill I was strapped into a chair that resembled something from a science fiction movie.  Whilst I conjured up visions of flying space ships and shooting aliens, Andrew strapped me in and explained that I had to push against the machine with my lower leg at 6 different effort levels between 10% and 100% effort.  The test was then repeated on my other leg.

I discovered that one of my legs is phenomenally stronger that the other, confirming a belief that I have held for a very long time.  As a result of my chronic ankle injury I have a very definite imbalance in strength between my legs.  Based on the results it was clear to see that I would greatly benefit from structured strength training exercises.

The ASICS Running Ability Measurement

Photos © tzruns

Running Form

  • Step frequency and step length
  • Foot landing position
  • Push off strength and how this movement propels the runner forward.

 

My running form was assessed by running on the treadmill in front of cameras and was conducted at the same time as the measure of endurance test.

Reviewing the footage Andrew was able to determine my running style and highlight areas of weakness which could be addressed by core strength training and exercises.

The entire time that I was running I felt extremely self-conscious which I believe may have affected my running style.  I also know that I take a very long time to “warm up”.  Frequently I will be running for 40-60 before I start to feel relaxed and free flowing in my running style.  It would be interesting to see how the results would compare if someone could analyse my running while I was completely relaxed and also not suffering from a couple of minor injuries (a direct result of running in mud with a naughty puppy over the past few weeks).  I also know that I hold my arms far from my body because for 95% of my running I am carrying very large dog extending leads and it is painful if they hit me!

However that all aside, I certainly think that the suggested exercises would definitely benefit my running efficiency.

The ASICS Running Ability Measurement

Photos © tzruns

Measurement of Endurance

ASICS Running Ability Test measures endurance by testing respiratory metabolism and blood lactate acid concentration.

Anaerobic Threshold (AT) - the point at which the exercise shifts from aerobic energy production to anaerobic energy production in the body – when the body can no longer maintain its intake of oxygen and excess lactic acid builds up.  Respiratory Compensation Threshold (RCT) is when an athlete exceeds their AT.

 

To measure my endurance it was back onto the treadmill, this time wearing a face mask and running at pre-set speeds and durations based on the programme that had been selected.  I must confess that I was extremely uncomfortable wearing the mask.  Having a chesty cough and cold was already restricting my breathing and I felt that the mask made my breathing even harder.  The mask had been fitted properly but my perception was that I was being mildly suffocated and I ended up finishing the test early as I started to panic.  I was very frustrated about this as it meant that the results were not full conclusive and some was guesswork.

However there was enough data to confirm what I already knew.  In all distances from 5k – marathon I am underperforming, i.e. I am running easily within my physical capability.  I know this already as I produce negative splits in most races that I run – I tend to hold back for fear that I may “blow up”, and fall into the “comfortable running” mind-set.  This is perfect for running ultra-distances but a terrible strategy if I want to race shorter distances.

Dynamic Foot ID

Wearing special shoes I was asked to run on a treadmill in an enclosed room.  As I was already warmed up from the endurance test the treadmill was set to reach a higher speed within seconds of me starting to run.  I knew this was the very last part of the assessment and no longer feeling self-conscious, I ran freely…

The results were very interesting… My running style and foot landing position was noticeably different than when I was running on the exposed treadmill.

The ASICS Running Ability Measurement

Photos © tzruns

THE RESULTS AND FOLLOW UP ACTIONS

I was emailed a very comprehensive Running Ability Measurement Report within hours of completing the assessment.  A hard copy and disc arrived in the post a few days later.  I was also given comprehensive reading material explaining the tests and the exercises that I could follow to improve my running ability.  All are very simple and easy to follow.  There are also training programmes based on your AT and RCT and advice on food and nutrition.

So now I have all the facts, helpful advice and an opportunity to improve my running ability.  The only aspect of running performance that was not tested was my mental strength and that is the final piece of the puzzle if I really truly want to “unlock my potential”….

Thanks to ASICS UK for helping me understand more about my own body ad empowering me with very valuable knowledge and thank you also to tzruns for the fabulous photos and memories of the experience.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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