How to Run: Running with proper biomechanics
The simple question of how do you run is largely unanswered in the running community. You have a bunch of pseudo-guru styles like Pose or Chi, but the key to running correctly to maximize performance is a topic that is largely left to elite coaches or biomechanics experts. As Pete Larson pointed out in his blog, elite coaches extol the benefits of working on running form, but no one has told the masses how. In the following article, it’s my goal to unmask the “secrets” and provide the answers. The bulk of this article comes from information gleaned mostly from working with world class track coaches like Tom Tellez and a great High School coach in Gerald Stewert. Throw in some biomechanics classes in undergrad and graduate school and the picture is a little more complete.
The following is an early rough draft excerpt from a potential book I’m trying to get done…if I can figure out how to publish it :). Enjoy.
Running with proper biomechanics:
Distance runners and coaches seem to hate the topic of running form. Most subscribe to the idea that a runner will naturally find his best stride and that stride should not be changed. However, just like throwing a baseball or shooting a basketball, running is a skill that must be learned. The problem with learning how to run is that there are so many wrong ideas out there. This is partly due to the complexity of the process and partly due to a lack of understanding of biomechanics. It’s my belief that the wide range of “correct” ways to run has led to this apathetic attitude towards running form changes by most athletes and coaches.
The argument that running is a natural movement that should not be corrected is easy to dispel. First, we know that even simple outside influences such as what running shoe you where impacts gait dramatically. In a society where we grow up wearing shoes from a young age and spend most of our time walking around on man made surfaces, it is a stretch to think that a decade or more of living in this way does not change our mechanics. Second, if we look at the fields of motor control and motor learning more evidence can be seen. In learning movement we often learn by imitation of what we see and from sensory feedback. Since most people aren’t taking their kids to see world class runners at track meets, we are stuck with seeing the “joggers” in the neighborhood or horribly running players in more popular sports, such as baseball, as our childhood running models. Another method of motor learning is done by using feedback. A simple example is in learning not to touch something hot. The first time a child puts his hand on the hot stove, he learns quickly that wasn’t a good idea. Similarly, if a child develops correctly, he quickly would learn that landing heel first when running is not a good idea. It hurts to over stride and slam your heel down into the ground. But since we grow up wearing heavily cushioned shoes, the cushioning eliminates this negative feedback. There is no longer a consequence for heel striking, so why should we avoid it?
Lastly, motor control studies provide some interesting insights.
In comparing the controlling mechanisms or running and walking in humans and animals, some interesting differences are apparent. In animals such as cats, control at the spinal cord level plays a much larger part than in humans (Duysens & Van de Crommert, 1998). In animals that have spinal lesions, they can regain much of their gait functioning when trained on a treadmill, while humans with spinal lesions can only partially mimic the walking motion. The thought behind this is that humans rely more on a mixture of higher level control in the brain and lower level control in the spinal cord than animals do. Some have hypothesized this means that animal gaits are more reflexive and therefore naturally or instinctually ingrained than humans who rely more on higher level brain control.
The benefits of changing form are enormous. As discussed in the Science section of this book, changes in mechanics can enhance efficiency. Additionally, running correctly can reduce the injury risk, and perhaps most importantly increase basic speed. What I’ve found is that many distance runners who say they have no speed, in reality just don’t know how to use their natural speed. They never learned how to sprint correctly, so it is their mechanics holding them back not their speed. The goal of this section is to outline what proper running form is and note some of the common misconceptions. Unlike most methods of running, the following is based on research, science, observation, and practical experience. It is based on the system of world renowned biomechanics expert and sprint coach Tom Tellez has used for many years in developing gold medalist and world record setting runners, and I am much indebted for the information he provided.
For practical reasons, coaches and scientists separate the running stride into various phases. While this is needed so that the idea can be conceptualized it often promotes a fragmented approach to learning proper biomechanics. Instead, a whole body integrated approach is needed. Looking at the body as a whole is required because of how the body interacts. Every so called phase impacts the next phase, and the movement of one body segment impacts completely different body segments. When looking at running form from a segmented point of view, we are relying on the principle that each segment works in isolation and that is simply not true. Therefore, while breaking the stride into phases allows for better descriptive ability, when looking at how we function when running it is best to look at how the body interacts as a whole.
How to run
To go through the entire running cycle, we’ll start with when foot contact is made and go through the full stride. Foot contact should occur on the outside edge of the foot and depending on speed either at the mid-foot or forefoot. The initial contact on the outside of the foot is generally not felt and instead for practical reasons should be thought of as a simple mid/whole foot landing. Contrary to what most people believe, initial foot contact should not occur on the heel even when running slow. As discussed in the Science section of this book, heel strike results in a higher braking force, reduced elastic energy storage, and a prolonged ground contact. By hitting forefoot or mid-foot the braking action is minimized and the initial impact peak is reduced. Additionally, the landing should occur in a neutral position at the ankle, as that sets up the calf and Achilles for optimal use of elastic energy. Once landing has occurred, it is important to allow the foot to load up. Often, the mistake is made in trying to get the foot off the ground as quickly as possible, but remember that it is when the foot is on the ground when force is transferred into the ground. While having a short ground contact time is beneficial it should be a result of transferring force faster and not getting quick with the foot. Loading up the foot means allowing it to move through the cycle of initial contact to fully supporting the body. Since initial contact is on the outside of the foot, the support will move inwardly. With forefoot strikers, the heel has to settle back and touch the ground to allow for proper loading. Holding the heel off the ground and staying on the forefoot will not allow for the stretch-reflex on the Achilles-calf complex to occur.
After the initial loading phase, propulsion starts to occur and the foot begins to come off the ground. The center of pressure should move towards with the big toe acting as a locking mechanism before the foot leaves the ground. This locking insures that the foot acts as one entire unit, allowing for greater propulsion. Unlike what many suggest, do not try and get any extra propulsion out of pushing off with the toes. It is too late in the running cycle to net any forward propulsion and will instead result in simply making your stride flatter. Instead, the forward propulsion should come from the hip and the foot should be thought of as being along for the ride, which we will discuss shortly. Essentially, once the hip is extended, leave the foot alone.
During this entire process, the calf and Achilles tendon can utilize the stretch shortening cycle and stretch reflex phenomenon. Upon foot contact the Achilles-calf complex goes from a neutral position to fully stretched upon mid-stance and the fully contracted upon toe off. This cycle allows for energy storage upon ground impact and release upon take off. In essence, the complex acts like a spring as it stores energy that comes with ground contact and then releases it when ground contact is broken. A common mistake is to stay too high up on the balls of the feet and never let the heel touch the ground. When this occurs, the Achilles-calf complex is not fully stretched and thus you are losing out on the elastic energy return. Similarly, if a runner is too quick with the foot, meaning they try and rush it off the ground, elastic energy is lost because the foot and Achilles were not properly allowed to store and the release energy. Likewise, the arch in the foot also stores elastic energy as it is initially compressed and then subsequently rebounds. This mechanism happens because of its elastic properties.
While foot contact is occurring, the emphasis in your mechanics should shift to the hip. The extension of the hip is where the power comes from, not from pushing with your toes or other mechanisms which are commonly cited. The hip should be thought to work in a crank like or piston like fashion. This speed and degree of hip extension is what will partially control the speed. A stronger hip extension results in more force application and greater speed, thus how powerfully and rapidly the hip is extended helps control the running speed. Once the hip is extended, the foot will come off the ground and the recovery cycle will begin.
In coming off the ground you are trying to optimize the vertical and horizontal component of the stride. If you think too much horizontally, you will flatten out and not come off the ground, thus losing air time and stride length. If you think too much vertically, you will be high up in the air for too long and almost bounce along, not having a very big stride length. Thus it is important to optimize the angle and extend the hip so that you have a slight bounce in your stride. A good cue for this is to look at the horizon. If it stays flat, you are too horizontal. If it bounces a lot, you are too vertical. The best analogy is to think back to your High School physics class and remember how to get the greatest distance when firing a cannon ball. The angle has to be optimized, not minimized.
Once the hip has extended, the recovery phase starts. When the hip is extended correctly it will result in the working of a stretch reflex mechanism. This is best thought of as a sling shot where you stretch the sling shot back and then let it go. The result will be that it shoots forward very rapidly. The hip works in much the same way. If you extend the hip you are putting it in a stretch position. With the sling shot, if instead of letting it go, you tried to move it forward, the sling shot band would come forward much more slowly. The same applies for the hip.
With the combination of the stretch reflex and the basic passive mechanical properties of the lower leg, the recovery cycle of the leg will happen automatically. The lower leg will lift off the ground and fold so that it comes close to your buttocks (how close depends on the speed you are running) then pass under your hips with the knee leading. Once the knee has led through, the lower leg will unfold and it is then the runner’s job to put it down underneath them. Ideal landing is close to the center of your body and directly underneath the knee.
Trying to actively move the leg through the recovery phase is another common mistake and will only result in wasted energy and the a slower cycling of the leg through the recovery phase. Two other common mistakes are to try and lift the knees at the end of the recovery cycle and to kick the lower leg to the butt at the beginning of the recovery cycle. Neither idea is sound, as they are essentially like trying to push the sling shot forward in our analogy instead of just letting it go. Active lifting of the knee lengthens the recovery cycle with no added stride length benefits. Instead, the knee should be allowed to cycle through and lift on its own. It should not be forced upwards because that cycle through of the knee is a result of the stretch reflex. Similarly, pulling the lower leg to the butt simply wastes energy as the hamstrings have to be put to work in doing this action. Instead, the folding up of the leg should be thought of as a passive activity. How close the lower leg comes to the butt depends on the amount of hip extension.
This phenomenon may seem strange and is sometimes a hard concept to grasp. After all, who has the patience to not do anything during the recovery phase? But research has demonstrated that both muscle activity during the recovery phase and energy use (the recovery phase only uses 15% of the whole strides energy) show that the leg is largely cycling through entirely because of reflex like phenomenon and passive mechanics.
Research on patients with spinal lesions has demonstrated the effect of the stretch reflex and passive dynamics on gait. Even though the patients have lost the use of their lower legs, if put on a treadmill their legs will work in walking motion as long as hip extension is initiated by someone. If a therapist simply manually extends the hip and then lets it go, the leg will have a slight folding up as it cycles forward automatically. The forward movement and folding up of the leg is a result of the stretch reflex on the hip and passive mechanics. The fact that the leg folds up slightly at all shows that it is a simple mechanical issue and does not occur due to active muscle contraction. As a simple experiment, play around with a simple two jointed object, pushing the top joint forward and see what the lower joint segment does. If it’s moving forward at sufficient velocity, it’s going to fold up because of simple physics and mechanics.
Once the knee has cycled through, the lower leg should drop to the ground so that it hits close to under your center of gravity. When foot contact is made, it should be made where the lower leg is 90 degrees to the ground. This puts it in optimal position for force production. The leg does not extend outwards like is seen in most joggers and there is no reaching for the ground. Reaching out with the lower leg results in over striding and creates a braking action. Another common mistake is people extending the lower leg out slightly and then pulling it back in a paw like action before ground contact. They are trying to get quick with the foot and create a negative acceleration. This is incorrect and does not lead to shorter ground contact times or better positioning for force production. Instead the paw back motion simply engages the hamstrings and other muscles to a greater degree than necessary, thus wasting energy. The leg should simply unfold and drop underneath the runner.
This pawback phenomenon was originally taught because of the idea of trying to create backwards acceleration. This concept does not hold up as the braking forces are still the same upon foot contact. Secondly, the pawback was created through misinterpretation of scientific data. Coaches saw that the hamstrings were active during the latter portion of the in flight recovery phase and assumed that meant the hamstrings were contracting, thus pulling the lower leg back. Instead, the hamstrings were active due to stiffening the muscle-tendon unit in preparation for ground contact and in aiding the slow down of the unfolding of the lower leg. The muscle stiffness manipulation occurs for two reasons, first to absorb elastic energy as a stiff system can utilize elastic energy better, and secondly because of a process called muscle tuning. Muscle tuning is the body’s way of preparing for landing. In essence it acts as an in built cushioning system to minimize the muscle vibrations that occur during landing. The body uses feedback and sensory information to tune the cushioning so that ground reaction forces are essentially the same whether in a cushioned shoe or when running barefoot. When running barefoot, muscle tuning takes place so that the in built cushioning is modulated to absorb more of the force.
So far we have only talked about the lower body, but the lower and upper body is linked together as one unit. The interaction between the upper and lower body plays a very large role. First, you should run with an upright body posture with a very slight lean forward from the ground, not from the waist. The arms and legs should work in a coordinated fashion. When the left leg is forward, the right arm should be forward and vice versa for the left arm and leg. But it goes beyond just the arms and legs working opposition, when they both stop forward and backwards motion is also coordinated. When the arm stops moving forward and is about to reverse direction, the opposite leg should reach its maximum knee height before starting its downward movement. Similarly, when the arm reaches its maximum backwards movement before switching directions and coming forward, the opposite leg and hip should be at their maximum extension backwards.
The arm swing occurs from the shoulders, so that the shoulders do not turn or sway. It is a simple pendulum like forward and backward motion without shoulder sway or the crossing of the arms in front of your body. On the forward upswing the arm angle should decrease slightly with the hands in a relaxed fist. On the backswing they should swing back to just above and behind your hip joint for most running speeds. As the running speed increases, the arm will swing back more, eventually culminating in going back and upwards in sprinting.
The integration of the arms and legs is crucial. A lot of time we see something happening with the leg that is incorrect and immediately work on fixing the problem by adjusting how that particular leg is working. For example, if an athlete extends out with the lower leg, we immediately try and correct them by having them put their foot down sooner. Instead, the problem seen with the leg could simply be the symptom. The real cause could be in the arm swing. A delayed arm swing or one with a hitch in it causes a delay or hitch in the opposite lower leg. If you watch someone run, the arms and legs are timed up so they work perfectly in synch. If the runner has a problem with their arm swing that causes a delay in the typical forward and backward motion, such as turning it inwards or shoulder rotation, then the opposite leg must compensate for this delay. In many cases, the opposite leg extends outwards as a form of compensation. Therefore, it is important to look at the whole body and understand that the arms and legs are synched together and interact so that a problem in one of them, might simply be a way of compensation.
Summary of Running Form:
1. Body Position- upright, slight lean from ground. Head and face relaxed.
2. Feet- As soon as knee comes through, put the foot down underneath you. Land mid or forefoot underneath knee, close to center of the body.
3. Arm stroke- controls rhythm, forward and backwards from the shoulder without side to side rotation
4. Hip extension- extend the hip and then leave it alone.
5. Rhythm- Control rhythm and speed through arm stroke and hip extension.
Changing your mechanics:
Knowing how to run is one thing, but how do you go about changing running form. One popular method is to break the running stride into segments and do drills to improve that segment. However, this method does not work. If you recall, each part of the running cycle impacts the next. The body works as a whole, not as a bunch of different segments. When drills are used, they may mimic visually what happens when running, but that is all. Due to doing drills in isolation, the muscle fiber recruitment pattern is much different. There is little contribution of the stretch reflex, the stretch shortening cycle, or elastic energy storage and return. An example would be the use of butt kicks. When doing the drill, the lower leg kicking to the butt is done by contracting the hamstring. When the lower leg coils up towards the butt when actually running, it’s a result of the hip extension and some stretch reflex, among other contributors. Therefore, the drill has very little actual transfer to the actual running. For this reason, drills are not useful for improving mechanics because they do not replicate the running form biomechanically, neurally, or muscle recruitment wise. Instead running form should be worked on when actually running.
To accomplish this, cues are provided to the runner. A cue is a simple task to focus on while running. Possible examples including putting the feet down, dropping the foot beneath you, extend the hip, or any other cue that helps reinforce proper running technique. What cues are used depends on what problem needs corrected. The athlete should focus on one or two possible cues at a time so that they do not get overwhelmed.
The goal is to ingrain proper running form to the point where they no longer need the cues.
The process of using cues is simple and consists of a trial and error method. The first step is to identify what is wrong with a runner’s stride and then figure out how to change it. This will help identify what cue to focus on. Sometimes when giving cues it helps to overemphasize the point, such as telling a runner to feel like they are putting their feet down behind them when correcting foot strike. Since “normal” is incorrect, such as reaching out and heel striking in this example, sometimes over-correcting is necessary initially.
The athlete should do short strides focusing on one cue at a time. Each stride should be video taped or analyzed by the coach. If after a cue is given, the runner makes a positive change in the running form, then that cue is successful for that athlete and they should focus on that cue until it becomes ingrained. If that particular cue does not result in the desired change, the coach should come up with a slightly different cue, essentially a different way of communicating the desired effect. All runners will respond to a cue slightly differently, that is why it is important to come up with several different ways to say the same thing. An example of several different cue’s to tell a runner who needs to switch from heel striking to a flat foot or mid-foot strike are: put your feet down underneath you; put your feet down behind you; drop the foot as soon as the knee stops going up; when the knee comes through start thinking foot down; feel choppy with your stride.
Once a successful cue is found, then the goal is to ingrain that running style. To do this, start slowly. For distance runners, have the athlete focus for short periods of times during distance runs. Breaking it down into short segments of focusing on form does not make the task feel as daunting for a distance runner. Additionally, during aerobic intervals or rhythm work, have a few intervals where the focus is on running correctly, regardless of time. Also, use strides before or after workouts as a means of getting in some extra form work time to ingrain good mechanics. The last step is transitioning those changes to stressful situations. When running under stress, such as in a race, we tend to revert back to old habits. Having the focus of running with good mechanics during low key competitions or during a time trial setting is a good way to start this transition. As long as it is gradually and consistently worked on, changes in running form can happen.
This is an abridged excerpt from the book The Science of Running
First of all, as usual, I really like the content of your post. However, I find your characterization of Pose troubling, because your description of good running technique is very "Pose like". Also, many of the arguments you use to build your case that most runners need to improve their technique, are either very similar or the same as arguments used by Dr. Romanov.
There is no need re-quote your post from http://www.sportsscientists.com/2007/10/pose-running-reduces-running-economythe.html. I was really underwhelmed by the design of the study, and so I don't put much stock in the results. Yes, I know that Dr. Romanov helped with study, but he did not design it, and he was not consulted on key elements of the design. Also, in your post http://www.sportsscientists.com/2007/09/running-technique-part-ii-scientific.html, the surprising lack of common sense, or maybe the reasonably high expectations, of participants after the study ended, also left me underwhelmed.
I'd agree with you that the articles 'case' for runners needing to improve technique pretty much the same as Dr Romanov.
However the description of technique differs from Pose (PLEASE correct me if i'm wrong) in 3 key areas.
– In the Pose model you pull the support foot as quickly as possible rather than load it up.
– In the Pose model the hamstring actively pulls the support (trailing) foot rather than it being recovered by passive stretch reflex resulting from hip extension.
– The Pose model advocates minimal vertical distance rather than optimal vertical distance.
There are also a few things that Pose does not deal with such as locking of the big toe.
Another difference is in learning technique, Pose does advocate breaking the running cycle down into it's components (Pose, Fall, Pull) and drilling to correct technical errors in each component (as well as conditioning). The holistic approach outlined in the article seems similar to Lee Saxby's approach (vivo barefoot).
Having said that from a coaching point of view, for beginners I like using the Pose approach (with a few caveats) as it really helps them to understand and visualise the running cycle and their own technical faults, condition, and start them running with fewer or no injuries (aka consistently).
For more advanced/competitive runners I'd focus more on elements like those outlined in this article, which lets face it are in the same ballpark as Pose so I have no problem running one model into the other as required.
This is completely non-Pose like. Besides generalities that Pose adopted and did not invent, how are hip extension, a ballistic angle of push-off, and allowing a slower foot plant similar to Pose?
It's funny how Pose students try to reframe everything in the teaching of Pose when Pose merely repeated generalities and added a lot of other wrong concepts of running technique such as pulling the foot as quickly as possible, disallowing an active push-off, shortening the stride length, and sacrificing stride length for increased cadence in proportion to increased speed.
Your blog is very infomative and helpful. I learn a great deal reading it, thanks.
Recently, I have given a lot of thoughs about how to improve my running mechanic. I agree everything that you say about the running gait and mechanics and would like to add just a little bit on this if I may.
One angle that most people overlook is that the body is synchronized in the right and left portions too.
For example, when the left leg is at maximum hip extension, the left hip flexor is strethed
maximally. The hip extensor muscle acts as the antagonist muscle and practically limits the hip extension. It also setups the powerful shortening phase in the stretch-shortening cycle which will drive the left knee forward later on.
The right knee, inccidentally, will be at its highest point at this moment, and the right glu(hip extensor) is stretched maximally to limit the movement.
How hight the right knee will be lifted is related to the angle of the left hip extension, with the faster the speed, the greater the range of motion (also depends on the flexibility and the correspondening muscle strength, I think).
At this point of time, the angle between the thighs is maximum.
When the left foot leaves the ground, it begins the flight phase. In this phase, the left shin is folding back passively by the reaction force generated during the pushoff, with the greater the pushoff force the higher it will go. The folding of the left shin also stretches the left quadriceps, and thus, at this phase, both the left hip flexor and quad are stretched.
While the left shin folds, the right shin is being "kicked" out passively by the momentum force gained during the previous knee drive of the right knee and "stopped" by the right hamstrings muscle which acted as the antagonist muscle to limit the action. The right glu and hams are thus both stretched. At this phase, the angle between thighs does not change much as the movements of both legs occurred mostly at the lower legs. Noticed that the folding action of the left shin is synchronized with the unfolding of the right shin.
Then the left hip flexor contracts forcefully to drive the left knee forward. At the same time, the right glu (hip extensor) and hams work as a group forcefully "pawing back" or "dropping back/down", which brings the right foot close to the body's mid line (center of gravity). At this moment, the angle between the thighs closes down. Notice also both the driving of the left knee and the "pawing back" or "dropping" action of the right leg are synchronized together.
(I tend to think that there is a paw back action, isn't the body need a counter action to balance the left knee drive action if the assumption that there is a left right synchronization?
I am a bit of confused here when you say the paw back is no good.)
It occurs to me that the left right action of the body is synchronized and strongly related to each other, and any left right inbalance will affect the whole running mechanics. Sometimes, we ought to look at the left right body synchronization too in troubleshooting the source of the problem besides just looking at the upper and lower body relationship and whatnots.
Just my two cents, please do feedback if I have any flaw in understanding the running gait and biomechanic, especially regarding the paw back.
I think one of the main confusions concerning running technique for distance runners is that a lot of the technique talk comes directly from sprint running (where technique always(?) has been seen as important), without modification.
That thing with getting the feet quickly off the ground for example, I've seen that as a way to increase stride rate for sprinters. I'm not so much into sprinting so I don't really know, but it seems to me that when stride rate is really high, focusing on getting the foot off the ground could really be a great concept. That is, with that high stride rate you really can't get the foot off the ground too early.
However, in distance running when the stride rate is typically around 190 or so at race pace, getting the foot off the ground is not really a good thing to focus on.
Or do you think that getting-the-foot-off-the-ground-concept should be ditched also in sprinting?
Anyway, there are surely some different focus points in technique for max speed sprinting and distance running, and I think it would be valuable in a book to point these out, since it today is so common that the truths from sprinting is applied on distance running without modification. One such difference I think is that in sprinting you may need correct the technique to get the foot plant a liiiittle bit more ahead of the body to get more out of your stretch-shortening-cycle, while in distance running getting too close under the body is unheard of.
yah right 🙂
About the foot lift (how close the foot gets to the butt) — do you really think it should be 100% reflex?
To me, it seems like it is feasible to adjust the foot lift just a little bit, so it is like 90% reflex and 10% control. What do you tell a (quite) fast runner that has a low shuffling stride with overstriding, but no other obvious large technique faults? (I see this quite often among recreational long distance runners).
In that situation I think working somewhat actively on foot lift could be helpful. But perhaps this should be seen as a transition phase, to artificially overdo things just to "roughly get there", and when there working on relaxing.
An interesting observation on great elite runners is that foot lift differs between runners at the same speed (even if their heights are similar). For example, Kenenisa Bekele has extremely high foot lift, while people around him running at the same speed usually has a bit lower. What is this difference coming from? Is it only due to variations in body composition, or is it due to differences in active control? It seems to me that there is a quite large range where a foot lift is okay, and that this range is larger at lower speeds.
If we define the border between low and high foot lift as the shin not passing horizontal during recovery, my experience/observation is that low foot lift works up to about 35 min per 10k (faster than that = overstriding), while high foot lift works down to about 42-43 min per 10k (slower than that = too much artificial work by hamstrings), and when in that range of speed (like many of us recreational runners are) you can pretty much choose if you want to use a low or a high foot lift. It will not just be the the foot lift that differs — with a low lift you get about 60/40 ground/air time, with a high lift you get about 50/50. To me it seems that both ways are valid ways to run in this speed range. What do you think about this?
Another common source of confusion I think is worth mentioning, is the difference between cues and how things should actually look. In many running technique descriptions, technique is described as a good collection of cues. One popular cue is "land with your foot right under your hip / center of mass". A runner focusing on this cue can help him/her to get rid of overstriding, but as we know the actual foot plant should actually be a small amount in front. However, this and other popular cues are often mixed up as being exact descriptions of how a good technique should look on video. The author of the running technique description usually knows that it is just a cue, but forgets about that the reader might not understand that.
A book describing running technique should probably ideally first give an exact description of how things really should look, and then list examples of cues that can be used for trial-and-error of common technique problems. That way the reader will learn both how to detect problems in the video analysis, and how to correct them.
To see a paradigm shift away from overstriding heel-striking, I think a key is that good technique descriptions become more wide-spread. The descriptions need to be so good and detailed that interested beginners can truly learn from them.
Oh here comes my fourth comment, sorry for the flooding, but I find this subject really really interesting.
Another detail in the stride which I see variations in people all with good form (to my eye) is how straight the leg gets before touchdown. In overstriders, the leg almost always gets overly straight, not seldom reaching to a locked knee. With good technique, the leg is slightly bent, however how much differs quite much. Some good runners get to a quite straight leg, while others have it rather bent, the range seem to be about 15 – 25 degrees. (Succeeding with a good foot plant when the leg has reached a more straight position is much harder, especially at lower speeds, so I rather see a more bent leg than not — a recreational runner which has 15 degree and overstrides I'd like to see go closer to 25.)
I have the idea that the leg should get this bent position just by relaxing, just let the foot passively fall down, instead of active straightening. That is, the straight leg is an effect of wasteful straightening effort, while a bent leg is not through "active breaking the downswing of the lower leg" but rather just relaxing (of course posture and arm work must be ok first so the legs does not need to do any wierd compensation). I have so far not used the cue to actively put the foot down, which seems to suggest that there may be an element of active breaking of the downswing. But I have seen this cue popping up more often recently from good sources so I think I shall look into this more.
Another aspect which I have recently started to think about is that since running is a lot about reflex and relaxing, perhaps we need to put more focus on balancing muscle strength and flexibility than we currently do.
For example, perhaps the relation between hamstrings and quads (strength and flexibility) will have a major impact on relaxed running technique, and perhaps people with bad technique often has strength and flexibility problems that will make it very hard to fix technique before fixing that. I haven't seen much focus on this kind of issues though. I'm not sure if it is because the problem does not exist, or if there is too little knowledge around it. It could also be the case that only recreational runners have these kind of fitness problems, and technique discussion is usually focused at elite athletes.
The thing I mentioned earlier about the bent knee in the forward position, I'm thinking if you have overly tight quads, perhaps a relaxed style will lead to straightening the leg to the knee-locked position (from the stretch-shortening-cycle of a tight quad). But if that is the case, how do one know if quads are too tight, or if there is some other problem…
Good post! Looking forward to that book. What is your opinion on differences in sprinting versus distance running mechanics?
I had a hard time visualizing all of this. An annotated video would do wonders, at least for me.
I too feel the same. An Annotated video will help quicker and better understanding of the concept and ingrain them well.
Good information and timely as well. One question I have is around drills. I understand your thoughts on drills in a vaccuum that target a single piece of the equation. But how about drills or exercises that strengthen target areas to promote better running form? For example core and posture.
Great article. Looking forward to the book.
Thank you for a great article! I have a couple of questions: What impact does an arched lower back have on your running performance? If necesary, do you have any idea how to decrease the level of or get rid of archness when running?
Lots of great comments! I'll try and get through and respond to each in a couple of posts.
Ken- Those Pose studies were flawed. I put very little stock into them. While I don't agree with what Pose says, remember that we are all in the same ballpark, just arguing over the details.
Mill runner- Great points! The body is synchronized. A very overlooked piece of information that I tried to briefly address in this long article. I think it points to the interaction of the body. If everything is synced why do we spend so much time trying to work on things in isolation?
I'm not a pawback believer. The hamstrings contract to slow down the unfolding of the lower leg. Similarly to how the biceps and triceps work when rapidly flexing the elbow. The pawback makes little sense as you get nothing from it. Just let the hamstrings slow the momentum of the lower leg unfurling and put it down when it's at close to 90. Why let the leg completely unfurl, overshooting your "target" and forcefully pull the lower leg back into position. You get no aided force production, no benefit in ground contact, it's just a waste of energy. In regards to the left/right synchronization, as the left leg knee is starting to lead through, the counterbalance is the right thigh and hip getting prepared to "crank". You can see that the cranking of the hip starts by essentially lowering the leg to the ground, if that makes sense.
Anders- Thanks for all of your comments, very thought provoking. To address each comment:
Sprint mechanics- You're correct. A lot of our knowledge on running mechanics comes from sprinting because those coaches/biomechanists are actualy interested in mechanics.
The problem with getting the foot off the ground "quick" in sprinting is that when you do that you can lose force production. As numerous studies have shown it's not force production in itself, it's the rate of force production that limits sprinting. If you pull the foot up before you've imparted as much force as u can in that short period of time in which you can produce force, you're going to lose stride length.
Foot lift- Of course it/s not 100% one thing. I can't put a number on it but the majority of it is due to a combination of reflex and passive mechanical properties. As far as passive mechanics go, the faster the thigh is moving forward, the more that lower leg is going to almost flip up to follow. In my experiences, it's best to leave the foot alone. It's not an active process and once you start making it active, nothing good happens.
As far as why some people even when they extend the hip have a low shuffle: It's because it's not just hip extension it's doing it in the correct way with the correct body position. For instance, if a runner is leaning backwards, his recovery is going to be much lower. Similarly if he's leaning far forward, his recovery leg might be really high, too high. Ocerstriding can also cause a low recovery. There are numerous factors, most of which have little to do with the actual recover leg but instead with other parts of the body. Additionally, it is speed dependent, which is part of the reason why recreational joggers seem to have a low recovery. They never try and run fast and never sprint so they never get used to really going and extending the hip.
Great point on the Cues. There is a big difference.
Drills can be used for flexibility and even some strengthening. If that's the goal, then they can be beneficial. With drills i'm referring to doing them for the purpose of improving mechanics, which is what many coaches see their sole purpose as.
I posted a response earlier, but guess you didn't receive it. Regardless, thought you might find Dr. Weyand's recent study interesting re: mechanics & force production affecting faster running speeds:
The biological limits to running speed
are imposed from the ground up
Peter G. Weyand1,2, Rosalind F. Sandell1,2, Danille N.L. Prime2
and Matthew W. Bundle3 J Appl Physiol (January 21, 2010). doi:10.1152/japplphysiol.00947.2009
Coach Doug Robinson
Hi…As an advocate for the Pose Method theory of human movement you can imagine I have many aspects in your article that I disagree with. However there are some points that are similiar in thinking. I do applaud you for putting thought into the subject despite our differences on the issues. I do have a question about your views though. Do you believe that speed recruits muscle force production or do you believe that force production produces speed? Just to let you know I believe that speed produces muscle force production. This is where the crux of all our disagreements stem from I think. Thanks in advance for a discussion.
Steve, this is great!
What about running uphill/downhill?
Coach Robinson- Don't know what happened to your other post. But thanks for the reference. I read that study a couple of months ago, some interesting and provocative work, which is to be expected from Weyand and his group.
Although I don't agree with all of his hypothesis, I like Weyand's work because it makes us think and challenges paradigms.
Jeremy- While we'll disagree here, my viewpoint is that it's a combination of active and passive dynamics which produce movement. Active would be the energy contributed through muscle contraction. Passive would be elastic energy and similar components, as well as what I'll just call natural mechanical properties. I know Pose loves talking about gravity, and In my viewpoint that's taken care of in the natural mechanics portion. So, it's a combination of all three which provide the necessary energy/force/whatever you want to call it back into the ground to produce movement. How much each type contributes? Who knows.
That's why I find spinal lesion studies and passive dynamics robot studies so interesting. It allows us to get an idea on how much each "group" contributes. In both of those types, muscle power is minimal or nonexistant, so it tells us a lot about elastic energy and passive mechanics. At the same time, even when put in position, or the correct "Pose", full walking, let alone running doesn't occur, so there has to be another component.
If anyone thinks we have the full picture figured out, they are gravely mistaken. Still much to be learned on the science end.
I start with the premise that heelstriking is common among elite runners; I'm sure you've seen the Science of Sport article. And a number of elite runners — Salazar, Kara Goucher, Meb, Spedding — appear to land on their heels.
I have, however, heard that what may seem like "heelstriking" actually may not be, i.e., it is transitory and does not create braking.
If my premise is correct, I don't know how it fits with your analysis. Could these runners have been faster with a different footplant? Are these runners maximizing their potential by using the method that is fastest for them? Also, if there is an optimal stride, given the competitiveness at the front of races, wouldn't that stride trump all others among the leaders?
Joe- It's not as easy as heel vs. forefoot strike.
Are we talking about at the beginning of a race, while jogging, while running race pace, when fatigued, etc?
It's not easy to identify a heel strike and there are various degrees of a heel strike. Also, are we talking about a heel strike with the lower leg extended out or a heel strike where you hit the ground underneeth the knee?
It's funny you mention Salazar and Goucher because while Salazar was a horrible heel striker as a runner, he's probably the most prominent anti-heel strike elite coach out there right now. Similarly, Kara Goucher doesn't heel strike all the time, it just becomes more prominent when fatigued, such in the marathon. I've got to watch her on a couple occasions, once with a high speed camera during practice and she was putting her feet down underneeth her, mid strike.
So, what I'm saying is, your premise might not be true. Watch the top runners run, and the majority are midfoot/forefoot or at least striking underneath them. Sure there are outliers like Abdi, but the Bekele's, Geurrouj, Kipketer's, Geb's, etc. are numerous.
The Science of Sport article on the study on running mechanics is flawed in my opinion. I've outlined some of those reasons in another post:
So my basic answer to you as that, from what I've seen the cream of the crop all run pretty similar, which is a conclusion that Salazar reached too, as he said in a recent interview with Amby Burfoot on Runner's World.
There is an optimal stride with adjustments for individual anatomy in my opinion. SOmetimes those adjustments are rather large.
Interesting post. One thing.. BF KEN BOB talks endurdingly about being relaxed and decelerating foot descent and foot lift… your analysis would appear to be at odds with this view of his. THough it would be in sync in terms of keeping your foot relaxed and passive…Can you please comment.
Further – if i understand correctly besdies posture the dynamic action focus is on bringing the heap through and letting hte rest just happen….
Thanks for an informative article. I agree with you completely and have been running as you advise for over a year. However, you use some terms that are not very clear. The main one being, hip extension. I don't know what that means, and I don't think most other people do either. I can extend my arm and extend my leg, but extend my hip? I have no idea how to extend my hip, much less control "the speed and degree of hip extension." I'm not even sure where my hip is. What's the difference between my hip and my butt? You seem to assume that everyone will understand this, but in fact, it causes confusion rather than clarity, and since it is mentioned so many times, that is a lot of confusion. You have to first define what this means, then go ahead and use it.
For the record, although I'd swear that I'm a mid-foot striker based on how I feel photos show me landing on my heel (although my shoes don't show wear at the heel). I'm a decent enough runner (a 52:25 10 miler when young probably my best race), though, now at 53, and started running before the build-up of shoes.
It seems that there's heelstriking and there's heelstriking so it is difficult to simply say heelstriking is bad per se. Although you characterize the report discussed in Science of Sport as "flawed," as a layman that suggests that its methodology was improper when I think you mean (having looked at your comment on it) that it is limited in its applicability because it skewed to Japanese runners, the determination was at the 15K mark of an HM, and the heelstriking percentage dropped when you looked only at the top 50 runners (although it's still 62%).
My point was because heelstrikers are among the fastest runners, even if a minority, even a small one, one cannot say that heelstrikers are necessarily slow runners. Does Salazar think he could have broken 2:08 had he had a different footstrike? Since racing is a pure Darwinian pursuit, it may be that for a particular runner the ability to heelstrike (because of shoes) allows her to compete where she'd be farther back were she to be a mid-foot striker. (As to upper-body form, I'd add my former clubmate Pat Petersen as someone who made it work despite a rocking motion.)
All that said, though, your points are well taken in that for tweaking the stride gradually may help, as can the less drastic adjustments for the upper body. I'll try to focus on the cues you suggest.
You're a brave man for tackling this subject (see letsrun's endless threads on POSE). Great post, as always. Good luck with your book!
Thanks for a great article. You've already made a huge dent in my running by supplying a cue that improved my overstriding when nothing else would(foot landing behind me).
That said, I echo TokyoRacer for more description of hip extension. I'm currently doing strength exercises in this area but would really appreciate some cues on what we're going after, feeling-wise. Thanks!
Steve, good article. Similarly to TokyoRacer, I wasn't sure about hip extension and the 'reflex' from that, although I've seen videos explaining the difference between extension and flexion. I presume that 'good' extension is allowing the hip to move to near the limit of extension before the foot comes off the ground?
On the subject of where elite runners' feet land, I agree that most land mid or forefoot most of the time. I was wondering if the high speed footage on Pete Larson's blog (Boston) is on a slight downhill part of the course? Anyway, I've seen mid-foot runners change to heel-strikers when running downhill.
Great article. Can you elaborate on the hip extension. How does one extend the hip?
I'm loving your website and articles! I have a quick question. I have heard various arguments for foot contact time on the ground. You wrote, "Often, the mistake is made in trying to get the foot off the ground as quickly as possible, but remember that it is when the foot is on the ground when force is transferred into the ground."
I was wondering if you have any research on this- supporting the statement or research against shorter contact time. I've heard the opposite, that injuries occur with longer contact time. Thanks for your help! Again- loving your blogs and articles and can't wait for the next one!
Ground contact time is a consequence or a result, it's not something try and shoot for.
What I mean is that, yes shorter ground contact times are generally better. Why? Because that means for the same speed, we were able to develop the needed force in a shorter amount of time.
However, if we start trying to actively reduce ground contact times by pulling the foot early, now we're reducing ground contact times not because we were able to generate force quicker, but because we pulled the foot earlier.
So, yes longer ground contact times are generally "bad" because that means it's taking longer for us to generate the necessary force.
The point is that ground contact will shorten automatically as you do training that improves it (like plyo's, explosive work, sprint work, etc.). It's not something you try and shorten by getting "quick".
My Runblogger videos were taken on Washington St. in Newton, just before the turn onto Commonwealth Ave. Elevation profiles show a total loss of only 3 ft over the course of that entire block, so a very slight decline. My students who took the videos said it was pretty flat, and the downhill appearance is probably related to how the camera was oriented. Although a decline might exaggerate heel strike, from a comparative standpoint all runners were filmed at the same spot – in that sense Meb is doing a much more pronounced heel strike than the others.
You know how to flex your arm — you decrease the angle of forearm and upper arm, pulling something towards you. Same with the hip — extension is increasing the angle, driving the knee down/back; flexion is the angle decreasing, the knee coming forward/up.
The hip flexion muscles and tendons are in front, and the hip extension ones are in back (e.g., the glutes).
I was confused the first time I heard this too, but it's a basic anatomical thing, and it sucks that this isn't the first thing coaches quiz you on when you play a running sport. Look at wikipedia, for example:
"The arm swing occurs from the shoulders, so that the shoulders do not turn or sway. It is a simple pendulum like forward and backward motion without shoulder sway or the crossing of the arms in front of your body."
Congrats on the new job! I'm curious about the idea that the lack of shoulder rotation is a good thing. I recently read an article involving mechanics of distance running in ironman athletes and it noted that rotation helps propel them forward. Upon reading this I looked at some videos of Bekele, Geb, and Rudisha and realized that they all rotate to some extent. What are your feelings on this notion? The article I am referencing is here.
This is an amazing summary of what is a simple and natural movement when what you have written is understood and applied. Chi and Pose methods are great in that they are sending folks in the right direction. We did a survey study on folks using Chi in 2008 and redoing it now…for almost all it is helpful. (results of 2008 study here http://trtreads.org/Run_Softly.html ). Your page, the work of Danny Dreyer, as well as form guru Lee Saxby are all linked form this page.
The next level is what you describe when you discover the magic of recoil and simply allow the motion of hip extension, foot placement, and leg return to happen. No active pawback; no forced lifting motion, hamstring activation, or foot placement; and a very gentle lean from the ankle (with caution not to bend at waste). Runners need to be strong in single leg stance to be able to do this and have the proper range of motion in hip extension and calf/great toe dorsiflexion.
We do a pre-assessment on this “mostability”- joint mobility and stability for the efficient running motion.
Main inhibitors we see clinically:
• Weak glut medius for hip stability
• Weak foot intrinsics
• A big toe that is bent in (hallax valgus)- cannot balance on one foot. This is caused by improper fitting shoes
• Lack of adequate calf flexibility
I will share your work with our readers and attendees at injury prevention conferences and clinics.
Mark Cucuzzella MD
Owner Two Rivers Treads Center for Natural Running and Walking http://www.trtreads.org
Great post, I've re-read it several times, and pick-up something new with each new reading.
I would appreciate further clarification & discussion of the following point:
"After the initial loading phase, propulsion starts to occur and the foot begins to come off the ground. The center of pressure should move towards with the big toe acting as a locking mechanism before the foot leaves the ground. This locking insures that the foot acts as one entire unit, allowing for greater propulsion."
In particular, the role of the big toe "acting as a locking mechanism" isn't quite clear.
1. When and how should one set the "lock"?
2. When and how should it be released?
3. Are these "active" or "passive" functions?
4. Should one use the "lock" to set the "slingshot" pull of the hip extension?
All the Best,
sorting out the footstrike problem can instantly make people quicker and get less injuries, and so many runners land heel first (+70% apparently). Technique is the first and most important thing to learn as an athlete or teach as a coach.
Really informative article – this builds upon some concepts that I had found in Pose and provides additional biomechanical theory.
You refer to loading up the foot by allowing the heel to touch the ground following forefoot strike. I wonder (unless I have missed it) if you have had any thoughts about shoes …
Would you recommend a shoe with minimal drop from heel to forefoot (traditional barefoot guidance) or is there any advantage in a slight heel that will mean that the foot reaches heel support more quickly. Moreover, is there any benefit in either approach (though intuitively a slight heel) for people who suffer from IT band issues?
Would really appreciate your thoughts on this – thanks again.
Really good article.
Coming from a sprint background I am inclined to agree with everything you have written here. I believe sprint mechanics transfer for the most part if not 100% to distance running, and that it is just a matter of intensity modulation, both at the level of stride frequency and power output.
In addition to everything you have written I thought a little bit with respect to hip positioning would be of tremendous help because achieving appropriate hip extension and efficient heel recovery depend on the relative hip tilt.
On heel/foot recovery, could you comment on your thoughts of an active dorsiflexion after pushing off the ground? In my experience it helps to maintain a high hip height, but do you think it contributes to stride length and efficiency?
Likeky to agre we cannot force adaption from runner view point.
This isn't any more pose like as it is chi like or evolution like ~ all share common 'good form' characteristics but there are also big differences. In pose the emphasis is on using the hamstrings to pull the foot from the ground. Using the hip stretch as suggested here would constitute a late pull in pose ~ a considerable deviation away from pose standard. Pose is also based around landing forefoot and supporting weight without allowing the heel to play any part, unlike the suggestion here to land midfoot/whole foot. I find this distinctively different to pose and I might add, I prefer it.
could you indicate us a slow motion video of a "good" running form please? Because for instance when I watch Craig Alexander's movie:
he first (lighly) lands on his heel and then whole foot and not mid-foot or front-foot.
I watched other videos and it seems to be the norm, at least for top ironmen.
Thanks for the great tips! I am new to running and have already had my fair share of shin splints and knee pain…hopefully these tips on proper form will help!
I believe that what I have written further clarifies certain aspects of the mechanics of running, particularly concerning the biarticular muscles of the legs, the arc of the running stride and the length of the running stride:
While there are many good things about this article, there is at least one, fundamental error therein: the notion the the foot needs to land under the body.
The recovery of the leg is linked to the arc of the running stride. When the standing leg is underneath the body the joints of the legs are bent such that the body is at the lowest point in the stride. As the body has come over the foot, it has descended – this descent helps to swing the leg down to go forward. By the time the body has reached its lowest point, the recovering leg has come alongside of the standing leg. Then, when the body begins to extend off of the driving leg, the recovering leg is carried both forward and upward with the body. Remember, in order to recover, the leg is moving faster than the forward speed of the body. Accelerating the body also accelerates the leg swing. The lower leg, if nicely free, simply follows the movement of the thigh rotating forward at the hip. However, when the knee reaches the extent of its forward swing, and begins to descend, the lower leg continues forward, hinging at the knee, which gives the body extra impetus in both forward and upward direction. The extension of the lower leg allows the body to remain airborne for an instant longer, allowing the foot to reach the ground before the body falls upon it. Arm swing further assists the body in stretching the arc of the running stride – if a long-jumper does not swing body legs and arms forward, he will not be able to jump as far. However, while forward swing of the arm accompanies the extension of the body off of the driving leg, the forward swing of leg comes after the extension and, thus, lengthens the arc of the stride.
There is absolutely no reason that a foot that lands in front of the body should slow the forward movement of the body. In fact, if the joints a free, putting the weight of the leg on the ground allows the body to maintain its forward speed for longer. There are very good videos that clearly show Carl Lewis doing exactly this.
You may find this post to be of interest to you, since it talks about running efficiency. See it here http://www.backfixer1.com/blog/is-your-running-stride-the-solution-to-preventing-running-injuries-a-ny-times-article-explores-this-idea/
Thanks for the best article I've ever seen on running form.
I'd like to echo someone else's comment appealing to you to write more about how things change when running uphill or downhill.
For myself (6'3", 190lbs), I find I have to heel strike and take long strides when going downhill if I'm to make up for the time I lose going uphill.
It bangs me up, but it is fastest for me.
When going uphill, I find I don't reduce my stride distance as much as some others and not as much as commonly recommended.
"the heel has to settle back and touch the ground to allow for proper loading."
I look at pictures of elite runners while they race and It's hard to find any who let their heels touch the ground.
How can the heel touch down when the movement is forward? I agree with 13gentj. There is no way that is possible and I have looked at lots of video to figure out the foot mechanics of elite runners. Please send us a link to a video showing this forefoot-to heel touch cycle if you have one that documents what you describe.
Although running style tends to be roughly preordained by your innate and individual biomechanics and shouldn't be tampered with drastically, minor corrections can make a big difference in performance and injury prevention.
Thanks for sharing. You may disagree with some of the concepts of Chi Running or Pose but they work. Thousands of students of Chi Running now run injury free. In my opinion, it is the most effective and easy way to learn to run efficiently and with less impact. Any thoughts?
It would be great if you could add a few pictures to your blog – even sick figures are fine 🙂
Longer ground contact time is a result of overstriding and/or leaving the support foot on the ground too long. If you land in front of your body you have to wait for momentum to enable your bodt to catch up and until it does, you're going nowhere – you can't change support or fall forward (extend your hip as you call it) until the body has reached mid stance. if you land under your body you're ready to go forward.
Completely new to all this.
It needs pictures something chronic.
Thank you very much for this information! I myself tried to control the heel to butt movement and ended up pulling my hamstring. People listen to what he says about relaxed vs controlled. It is much better that way.
Could it be that you are not properly stretching the hamstrings? The foot has to be active, the thigh contracted, chest not compressed (Iyengar yoga style) one leg at a time, then both, in the seated yoga forward bend, or standing and hanging forward bend)…. if it feels like a horrible tendon type of pain behind the, you are probably one of those who has unwittingly not been stretching correctly. Heel-butt rules…… and I would say, relaxed yet controlled.
Sorry, I think my last reply (which I'm not sure if the post went through) was not responding in context. I was referring to heel-butt connection, not as kicking the heels up toward the butt when running (which I would tend to disagree with, but this is not the place to do it, and I am not an expert, other than to say, some of the best runners I have seen do not kick their heels out behind them … and I would tend to think it wastes lots of momentum, which lifting the knees up in front do not). The heel-butt connection I refer to is a posture guiding, butt building, back saving, injury and pain prevention mechanism that gets me through my daily life and my athletics.
I enjoyed your contribution to the running community through your discussion of running mechanics. As a physical therapist, running coach and competitive runner of 37 years, running mechanics are an important component of the education that I provide to clients. Your discussion further illuminates the necessary discussion about mechanics. Pose and Chi while beneficial in some respects are marketing efforts primarily. Understanding of proper biomechanics and promotion of efficient running form are key to promoting American distance running. I provide video analysis of runner's mechanics weekly and just completed 12 athletes from the Geneva College track and cross country team. I look forward to sharing my findings and expanding the knowledge base of this important topic. Your feedback would be greatly appreciated. Dr Peter j Vilasi
I'll echo BJ's question above, could you explain what you mean by toe lock a bit more? This isn't totally clear. The idea of "locking" seems to counter my sensation of what "passive" feels like, so something isn't making sense to me.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this blog, I haven't had a man-crush in a while!
Just wanted to add to the discussion of heel vs mid/fore foot running. Although being a heel striker may not make you a slower runner, you are not using your body to its full potential. There are many studies that compare heel-strikers and fore foot/mid foot long distance runners and have found that heel-strikers are more likely to develop lower body overuse injuries such as osteoarthritis, as more force is placed through the knees and hips. The foot and ankle are designed for maximum force absorption so should be best utilised during such a high load activity such as running and are not done so if the first place of contact is the heel.
Barefoot running was an invaluable tool to help me improve my running form and for the long-term, I am happy to report.
I started off flipping my shoes off after a mile and popping my shoes (New Ballance 940's) into a backpack – started with 1/2 mile barefoot and slowly increased from there (knowing what I know now I would recommend 1/8 mile increase every other run)
You alluded to a similar approach in another post Steve, but rather than flipping off your shoes for the last mile I found that just getting your legs warm for about a mile was best approach for me, then the barefoot, pop shoes back in the bag and run home. This way, when I put my space-hoppers back on I could (at first) mimic the BFR form, then – when my mind was off it – I would catch myself running as normal (no soft landing anymore, slower cadence) – but I really appreciated the difference between the BFR form and the shod form
I later used the same approach using VFF KSO's – my mistake here was that I soon used the vibrams to replace the New Balance and ran 3/5 miles in the Vibrams without correct transition, but after a few persistent aches and pains I soon learned that vibrams needed the same (almost) respect as my barefeet when it came to the transition. After some forum posting/research I decided to increase my vibram mileage by 1/4 mile every other run (so a little more than the barefoot increase) got to about 5 miles and then increased by 1/2 mile a week per long run (running only 3 times a week) and kept my other 2 runs about the same 3-4 miles, so the only increase came from my long run
This has worked great for me – to date I have reached 14 miles in vibrams and I'm due to run the Tameside 10K here in the UK barefoot in August 2013 (I've been back and forth with BFR but made progress slowly)
Whether you go minimalist or barefoot plan a system of transition into your current program which allows you some "intervals" of minimalist/barefoot and do it slooowwwly! So many of us runners are proverbially impatient sods 🙂
This is a great forum:
First, children do not learn to run like they learn to throw a baseball or kick a ball. Running is built on innate movement patterns that appear at certain stages of development. Thus, the contra-lateral movement involved in crawling translates to running when the body is upright and body weight on the feet stimulates extensor reflexes. Children run quite well without being overtly taught to run. On the other hand, later patterns that are learned through imitation and experiment affect posture negatively, resulting in poor running form. It is poor running form that is “learned”.
Second, to say the arms swing from the shoulders is incomplete. Movement is initiated and distributed through the spine, such that spinal rotation is amplified by movement of the arms first from the sterno-clavicular joints, and later from the gleno-humeral joint. There should be some rotation of the shoulder girdle, as well as some movement of the shoulder from the sternum.
The same can be said for leg movement, i.e., pelvic movement precedes leg movement. This is particularly evident in the way the hip of the extending leg moves rearward, while the other side of the pelvis is lifted and moved forward, initiating leg recovery.
It also makes little sense to truncate leg recovery and place the foot on the ground under the body. A leg will naturally be recovered forwards to the degree that the opposite leg is extended rearward. It is actually important that the recovered leg land forward of the center of gravity so that the muscles of the leg take tone and the weight of the body comes upon the leg. In this way, by the time the leg is fully loaded and under the body, the gastrocnemius will have contracted to stretch the Achilles tendon, which will recoil to assist initiation of extension. If one simply truncates recovery and puts the foot down under the body, one will miss the gradual loading of the leg muscles, and thus, will not make good use of Achilles tendon recoil. Also, if foot strike occurs well forward, and on the ball of the foot, weight will not be transferred to the heel, which will preserve Achilles tendon stretch for recoil and extension.
See here: http://www.alexandertechnique-running.com/george-coghill-serge-gracovetsky-and-the-spinal-engine-theory/
As a doctor of chiropractic who has 20 years of studying Running mechanics and spinal biomechanics, can tell you that most of what Steve has outlined is correct for runners. You can sit and argue, debate about techniques all day. What i have seen in well over 3,000 patients who I have trained in running after video analysis is that the majority of them who have pain were pain free after applying most of what Steve has outlined for proper running mechanics as well as increased running speed and registering better times in their races. So I see a tremendous amount of results, could care less about debating if Pose is better than Chi or evolution running, who cares? There are correct mechanics based of physics and biomechanical principles that need to be applied to runners.
I have been writing a book on a method I developed for running. It will be out soon. I can't help but notice that basically there are many of us all saying the same thing, many methods, and for different purposes and different goals. We who have figured it out want to share and read about it. When I read this authors' blog I see the same words and concepts, as if it could be my own works. Competing athletes who can, because of their training, necessarily run on the balls of the feet. People like me who use running to shake out the kinks and mould my shape do heel strike and work with my gravity, and I like that the foot transfer time is longer because I am working my way through injuries and want to feel what I can tolerate (a top shape person has no need to be doing this and does not need to use this kind of intense sensory overload that I like to feel, as he/she needs to use their energy for different athletic purposes). The best thing about the internet is seeing how many ways there are to make our own energy work for us, and to keep honing and promoting the real meaning of exercise. The main reason I haven't finished my book is I keep finding more and more links to support my original suppositions from long ago. There are debates on most topics and concepts, cardio is badly explained, misunderstood and overdone, on metabolism everyone is poo-pooing everyone else's definition, yes running shoes, no running shoes, anecdotal evidence is not good enough, science has been proved wrong …. where does it end …..I think what matters most, is that the uninformed will realize that there is no one and only way, but they surely find out that there is never an end to what can be learned about breathing walking running, stretching, moving and sleeping (and of course the thousands of wonderful exercises to help achieve these through weight training, ballet, medical martial arts, swimming and biking). We just want others who are suffering through their fitness routines to know that exercise does and should feel good.
Nice reading the posts enjoyed. What are your thoughts, as regards gait and plant, in regards, having a dominant side.
Its like you read my mind! You seem to know a lot about this, like you wrote the book in it or something. I think that you can do with a few pics to drive the message home a little bit, but other than that, this is magnificent blog. A fantastic read. I will definitely be back.
[…] This is the first thing new runners overlook and it’s absolutely the most important. When you run, your heel should absolutely not be hitting the ground before the rest of your foot. Forefoot-striking over heel-striking is not a gimmick or matter of personal preference; it’s the only surefire way to develop an efficient stride and it gives you the best chance of staying injury free as you begin to increase weekly mileage and train for longer, faster races. If you want to become a good distance runner, you must start with proper foot strike. For a very technical and well-written explanation of precisely how and why learning to forefoot-strike is a good idea, read Steve Magness’ book The Science of Running. Or, check out an excerpt from it on the Science of Running Blog here. […]
[…] Tons of information (and an excellent comment section) on proper running biomechanics. […]
Great post! It was a great read. The arms are a important part of the running motion as they help create balance, the lifting of a runners’ knee and the forward drive movement. If a person can improve the running arm swing, he can significantly increase speed and help increase endurance by making the arms more efficient.
[…] course of 100 m, can be a limiting factor in performance. In 2013, scientists published a study in European Journal of Physics1 that calculated the amount of drag – and the work required to overcome this variable – […]
[…] > Running Biomechanics – Proper Form is Important […]
[…] biomechanics ini, silakan baca artikel menarik ini yang saya temukan. Lumayan panjang, tapi quite details dan menambah pengertian saya mengenai […]
Great post thanks!!! This quote from your article is very true IMO….Not focusing on “pass under your hips with the knee leading” can result in hams/ Achilles-calf injuries.
“The lower leg will lift off the ground and fold so that it comes close to your buttocks (how close depends on the speed you are running) then pass under your hips with the knee leading. Once the knee has led through, the lower leg will unfold and it is then the runner’s job to put it down underneath them”
There’s really no such thing as a running technique. These days, its hip to sound all scientificy. There are as many ways to run as there are stars in the universe, it’s all relative to the runner. The fact is, its doesnt really matter how your foot lands.
[…] Magness, S. Running with proper biomechanics https://www.scienceofrunning.com/2010/08/how-to-run-running-with-proper.html 2. McGee, B.: Triathlon: The Run, Volume 4 – USA Triathlon Training Series […]
[…] 1. Sasaki, K & Neptune, R (2005) Muscle mechanical work and elastic energy utilization during walking and running near the preferred gait transition speed http://www.me.utexas.edu/~neptune/Papers/gait&posture23(3).pdf 2. Magness, S. Running with proper biomechanics https://www.scienceofrunning.com/2010/08/how-to-run-running-with-proper.html […]
[…] On running: my goal during the summer was to improve the running posture. Sometimes I was experiencing knee pain, when running long or short distances. It became a bit frustrating and this motivated me to pay great attention to details, study posture, movement and improve the biomechanics of running. […]
This old post shows up in your “top posts” section on the right hand side of your page. I’d love to know if there is an update, and if you still feel the same way. Certainly there has been a tonne of research published on running, running biomechanics, and injury risk over the last 8 years.