Written by Hannah Dykstra
If you thought running is a technique-free exercise, think again. Although putting your foot in front of the other may seem dummy-proof and straightforward, there are techniques and styles to running just as there are with any other exercise to optimize efficiency and reduce risk of injury.
The Pose Method of running is the best way to understand the proper mechanics in order to run efficiently and pain free. This method is a system for teaching techniques of human movement and was developed by two-time Olympic coach, Dr. Nicholas D. Romanov. This method seeks to teach better body positions, or poses, in running so that we are able to run faster, longer and pain free.
To understand the physics of running, we must understand the relationship between gravity and force with body weight and mechanics. The sole reason we are capable of running is due to gravity, meaning the only way to run efficiently is to redirect those very forces of gravity. In order to do so, we must understand that gravity initiates the downward force that muscles are balanced against. While running, the point at which the foot meets the surface of the earth is also the point at which gravity supports body weight. To initiate forward momentum, we have to allow the body to fall past the placement of the foot to redirect the forces created by gravity.
In order to master running, we must consistently work to develop our skills with flawless technique. For many, this process of correcting running form is an arduous process of breaking poor habits that commonly ail the exercise hobbyist. The most common mistake of novice runners is the heel strike. This is when the heel is the first part of the foot to strike the ground and establish the point of gravity. This fault causes our ankles, knees and hips to be in an extended and locked position that cannot safely absorb the impact at the point of gravity where our body meets the ground. Since we aren’t in a position for our joints and muscles to properly absorb impact, we put incredible forces of stress onto our tendons and ligaments to absorb bodyweight for longer than they are meant to, thus increasing potential for injury.
Opposing the heel strike is the more efficient strike of the forefoot. We can best engage our muscle tendon elasticity, hamstring strength and power by using the ball of our foot at the first point of contact. When we contact on the front portion of our foot, we unlock our joints completely, therefore we can be pain free by aligning our body in such a way that most safely absorbs impact.
Another common mistake is to over stride, referring to stride lengths that are larger than necessary and therefore expend excessive energy. The heel strike and over stride in fact will often coincide, causing even greater inconsistencies to our momentum, efficiency and safety. In simple terms, we are actually “putting the breaks on” every time we stride which means we have to work that much harder to regain momentum with every step. The key to any efficient exercise is to minimize the exertion involved with each effort of movement in order to maximize the capacity to work and correcting excessive stride lengths in running can help increase these abilities.
Once stride length and points of contact have been improved, we’ve now established the basics for the best “pose” in running. The running pose is a position of power, balance and potential energy and in order to maintain this position, we have to understand how to properly use gravity and “fall” forward as well as how to “pull” our feet.
Falling from our point of support, or point of contact, helps to generate and maintain constant forward momentum. Because most of us have a fear of falling, we have to learn to become comfortable with this act. The best way to develop this habit is to improve perception of body weight distribution. This can be practiced simply through repetitive experience with conscious awareness in pose method practice or with stability exercises that can be as simple as standing in a neutral position and shifting your bodyweight from front to back and side to side, becoming more aware of what your body is doing and where it is at in space.
Although we may consider that “pushing” away from the ground is what produces power, it is actually the act of “pulling” that accelerates us with greater potential in running. The forward momentum of running is fueled by the rapid upbringing of the foot via the hamstrings and not by pushing off of the toe. “Pulling” up the back foot in stride optimizes muscle tendon elasticity which becomes the most efficient, injury-free way to run whereas a forward knee drive will often result in over use of the hip flexors. If tight hips sounds familiar of your running practice, focus next time on pulling your back foot up instead.
If running has been your enemy, it may be because you have adapted to some very common faults of the novice runner. Although the practice of it may seem simple, there are better and worse ways to practice running that make tremendous differences in effort spent and physical response. Just as it is important to learn the proper techniques to any exercise, so it is the same with running and the points of performance outlined by the Pose Method are the best ways to optimize your performance and reduce risk of injury. Learn how to assess your positions in practice and performance and become familiar with these techniques for a noticeable difference in your future running routines.