This past Saturday, I finally had my chance for an assessment at the Asics Running Lab.
Based in their flagship London store, the Asics Running Lab is a meeting of running and science. They promise to prod and poke you to get the data they need to analyse and make recommendations on how to improve as a runner. Of course, any non-elite runner can always do things differently to improve their running but doing it this way allows for a more targeted and specific approach.
I managed to bag a temporary deal for the assessment a number of weeks ago where it was reduced to £140 from the usual £200. Andrew, my assessor for the day mentioned that they run it as a loss leader and branding tool within the crowded London running scene.
Introduction and flexibility testing
After an initial welcome and briefing of the activities for the next 2.5 hours, I got changed into my running gear and Andrew got to work checking my joint and leg flexibility and alignment. My left leg leans slightly inwards, which could cause instability and may directly be linked to reduced power in my left leg. Overall hip joint flexibility is above average, but my hamstring flexibility is low. My ankle flexibility is also low, though is apparently common with forefoot and mid-foot strike runners. These results didn’t surprise Andrew or me; I had told him that I do enough stretching before and after to get away with it, explaining that I’m strapped for time as it is and feel I need to devote most time to the actual running.
3D foot scan
We next moved on to a 3D scan of my foot. The scanner was pretty cool, placing my feet into a box where the floor panel was like that of a photocopier, producing a 3D model of my feet, which revealed in minute measurements that both my feet are far from identical. My left foot width is a D and my right foot is a 3E. My left foot is longer than my right foot by 4mm also; not enough to warrant different shoe sizes for each foot but it complicates things having to size for length with my left foot and width with my right. My left arch is also significantly higher than the arch in my right foot, though both arches are classed as low overall.
We also did a dynamic foot test to see how my feet behave whilst in motion. No real surprises here other than my left foot being more neutral than my right foot when they land on the ground. This means that my right foot rolls outwards more so than my left foot, which would explain why the outer edge of my right running shoes wear away more quickly.
What is pleasing is my running cadence is way above the average.
Next was the body composition test. They had a very high tech Tanita scale, which included handles on cables that resembled the controls for the Nintendo Wii, measuring the left and right side of my upper body. I’ve highlighted the results below:
- Total mass: 61.70kg / 9.7 stone (expected)
- Total body fat: 16.5%
- Visceral fat: 3/13
- Muscle mass: 48.90kg
- BMI: 22.1 (expected)
- Trunk muscle mass: 25.55kg (below average)
- Left arm muscle mass: 2.60kg (below average)
- Right arm muscle mass: 2.60kg (below average)
- Left leg muscle mass: 8.90kg (average)
- Right leg muscle mass: 9.30kg (average)
The feedback is almost as I expected, though the fat percentage could have been/should have been lower. Andrew did comment that whatever I’ve eaten in the last 12 – 24 hours will possibly have an impact on the fat measurement because the scanner isn’t capable of differentiating between fat around internal organs and fat that’s physically inside the organs, i.e. the pizza and chips I had for dinner the night before. Oops… I’m pleased to see that my upper body is identical on both sides; a positive effect from having to stabilise dumb bells instead of relying on a machine in the gym. The muscle mass of my arms and trunk is about what I thought it should be; I have scrawny lower arms that have skewed the results and I don’t do an awful lot of core work apart from variations of sit-ups and stomach crunches. Overall, I’m neither pleased nor displeased with my body composition results. I know I can reach race weight for half marathons and marathons once the long run training kicks in and right now, my body is composed for faster events like 5k and 10k.
Leg strength assessment was the next test and I knew this would be a shocker. I don’t do any leg strength work, which is made harder by not having access to a gym. I should do plyometrics with weights but the argument of lack of time rears its ugly head again. Andrew strapped me into what looked like a medieval torture device that had mated with some space age harness from NASA.
Houston, we have lift off!
Each leg was measured independently, requiring that I exert as much force as possible with an equal force directed back towards me. The results were dreadful, both showing I have seriously below average leg strength; on a scale of 1 to 5, everything was 1 except the right knee extension test which ranked me as a 3. My right leg is also noticeably more powerful than my left leg, which isn’t surprising considering it’s my dominant leg with its higher muscle mass percentage. Having more powerful legs will mean I can plant more power down with each step, which in turn equates to a slightly longer stride.
My running form from the front
We went on to look at my running form and also measure my anaerobic threshold. It was my mistake that I thought we would be doing a full blown VO2max test, which would have required running me to near complete exhaustion.
My running form from the side
My running form was confirmed as one based on step frequency, i.e. I control my speed based on my step rate. Other quirks observed about my running form include:
- My head tilts slightly to the right
- My upper body appears stiff
- My arms swing away and too far back from my body
- My step width is narrow
- At toe-off, my thighs rotate slightly inwards
- My foot lands slightly ahead of my centre of gravity
- Large knee extension produces wasted vertical movement
My foot strike is just ahead of my centre of gravity
I currently do a lot right but there’s room for improvement. The question that now needs answering is how much do I change about my form and will too many changes have a detrimental effect on my immediate performance?
I have just received the disc with the videos of my running form, a few of which I’ve uploaded to YouTube:
To conduct the anaerobic portion of the test, they hooked me up to a gas meter that could measure the density of oxygen and carbon dioxide I was consuming and producing. The mask wasn’t too uncomfortable, but I did feel like Bane from Batman whilst wearing it. We started warming me up 8.5kmph, with a 0.5kmph speed increase every minute before peaking at 15kmph when we had enough data for the analysis.
What was interesting based on the results is how closely the oxygen consumption and the carbon dioxide production rates are, also noting the low heart rates. We concluded that I have a bias towards speed at the moment, which is true looking at my 5k and 10k training, with my endurance runs taking somewhat of a back seat. We also concluded that I need more threshold training, especially to improve my half marathon; threshold speed is very close to half marathon pace and this is a speed that I rarely run at.
Finally, the report provided me with predictions for my marathon and half marathon times:
- Marathon: 3 hours 40 minutes
- Half marathon: 1 hour 42 minutes
The marathon prediction is a little slower than what I was expecting, believing that a 3 hour 30 finish or better is within my ability.
What is disappointing to see is that their prediction for my half marathon is almost 5 minutes slower than my PB achieved at the Bath Half Marathon earlier this year.
Before I went to the Asics Running Lab, I was looking for both confirmation of what I’m doing right with my running and also to shed some light on what I get wrong.
Below is a summary of what I should do to improve my performance, both long term and short term:
- Body fat needs reducing to 12%
- Add leg strength work, such as Russian dead lifts
- Train across different pace varieties
Was the Asics Running Lab experience worth the money and the visit? I’d say yes, but only if you’re of the mindset of wanting to improve on your performances. I am forever looking at ways to become faster and stronger and these results have highlighted that I am always looking to train harder, but I now need to also think about training smarter. One other thing to remember is that the tests show a reflection of your potential on that very day; not based on previous glories or future aspirations.
If you’re interested in an appointment at the Asics Running Lab, simply contact the store to make arrangements. The tests take approximately 2 – 2.5 hours to complete and you’re free to use their showering facilities to freshen up afterwards.