Coaching Proper Running Form and Mechanics
The health club industry and personal trainers have become increasingly focused on “functional training” and “movement based training”. Despite this focus most trainers do not understand the proper mechanics of one of the most fundamental movement patterns – running! This is a glaring deficiency when we consider how many people chose running as their favorite or only form of conditioning and the fact that 85% of runners say they have been injured while running.
This lack of understanding exists despite the popular emphasis on “barefoot running” aka “minimalist running” that many trainers espouse. The fact is that proper running is first and foremost NOT just about wearing shoes or not wearing shoes, and simply changing shoes will not correct running mechanics!! In addition the major fitness industry equipment suppliers produce treadmills which make it nearly impossible to run in proper form and in fact encourage some very poor running habits!
The good news is that there is a highly evolved, easy to understand, and comprehensive approach to understanding, analyzing and coaching proper running that any trainer can learn known as the Pose Method. This system is based on the scientific inquiries of Dr. Nicholas Romanov. Interestingly despite being the person who developed this approach, which was the impetus for the entire “barefoot running movement”, Dr. Romanov and the Pose Method are not as well-known as some of his followers such as Chris McDougal who wrote the incredibly popular “Born to Run”.
Dr. Romanov developed the Pose Method based on the painstaking frame by frame video analysis of thousands of runners, and from this analysis he was able to separate running mechanics into two discrete elements: variable and non-variable. Non-variable elements are elements that we see EVERY runner use, and in fact there is no running without these elements! Variable elements are seen in many runners that are not necessary.
Variable elements are not only unnecessary they are the root of the three challenges all runners seek to overcome: injury, inefficiency (lack of running endurance), and slow running speed (inability to run as fast as you would like). So one of the keys to proper running is eliminating all the variable elements and improving perception and control of each of the three non-variable elements of running!
The three non-variable elements of running are: Pose, Fall, and Pull and when done properly they will prevent injury, help people run longer, and help them run faster!
Pose refers to the stance that occurs while you are supporting yourself on one leg right before you fall from support as your center of gravity moves forward ahead of your base of support. As stated EVERYONE moves through the Pose stance when they run – the only real question is how they get there?
Heel strikers (about 75 percent of all runners!) land on the heel which is ahead of the center of gravity of the body then have to roll forward to get to the ball of the foot to get to the Pose stance. This creates several issues including the fact that the natural muscle-tendon elasticity cannot be used to absorb forces so there are 3 times the impact forces travelling through the ankle, knee, hip and back and this is the key reason for the vast majority of running injures! In addition, heel striking involves braking with every step taken so you are literally fighting your momentum and slowing yourself down with each step by having to overcome this braking action!
“Fall” is exactly what it sounds like falling forward by shifting your center of gravity forward ahead of your stance leg to the point that you fall forward and must catch yourself by dropping the other foot to the ground. Falling properly is the basis of all human movement including running, and the angle of your fall is the accelerator and break for running speed! The fastest athletes in the world are capable of maintaining the highest fall angle of up to 21.5 degrees for runners like Usain Bolt.
Proper falling is a full-body lean. Many runners reach/bend their upper body forward ahead of their waist – which is unproductive because it forces the legs to play “catch-up” instead of being synchronized with their Center of Mass/Gravity Movement. Learning to precisely feel and control body lean is the definitive skill in refining running technique!
“Pull” refers to pulling your foot from the ground by pulling your heel directly under your hips as you fall forward and let the other foot drop to support.
The timing of this motion within the running cycle is crucial – too late and you postpone your next “fall” from support. The goal is to minimize the amount of time the foot stays in contact with the ground. This view of running clarifies two common concerns in running: stride length and cadence. Both of these concepts are rooted in the notion that running is a leg driven activity involving “pushing” into the ground. But, in fact, neither determines how fast you run – cadence and stride length are both by-products of how fast you are going which is controlled by your fall angle!
One of the keys to coaching running is to understand that the focus should not be on the act of landing, but on the act of removing the foot from the ground. Landing is going to happen automatically requiring no focus – you just let the foot drop to the ground after the pull. The pull is a very simple movement – the hamstrings contract and pulls the foot straight up under the hips, positioning it to drop directly under the center of mass/gravity. There is no forward movement, no reaching, no driving into the ground. Done properly there is almost zero vertical oscillation – the head, shoulders and waist should be travelling in a straight line parallel to the ground, not bobbing up and down!
Although having an understanding of the mechanics of running is helpful – it will do little to improve actual running. The key to improving running form is increasing perception of the Pose, Fall, and Pull, and perception is heightened by doing specific drills for each element. Also the coach and runner need to have an objective system for evaluating each element over time to insure and document progress.
This is where the Pose Method can be so powerful because it provides a complete system for ongoing evaluation along with drills to refine perception and performance of each phase of running to insure success! In addition there is a body of research supporting the fact that the Pose Method can and does improve running by increasing running speed, running efficiency, running endurance and most importantly preventing injuries!
As mentioned previously the fitness industry’s emphasis on using treadmills actually exacerbates running problems. If you take the time to watch people run on treadmills you will find that treadmill runners almost always do three things: stand fully upright with zero forward lean; land on the heel; land with the heel in front of the body rather than under the hips. This occurs because the belt moves at the person so to avoid having their feet swept from under them they stand upright and land on heel in front of the body to slow down the movement of the belt. So we are teaching people to run with improper mechanics proven to create injuries and decrease running performance!