Before we start we need to answer some questions most of you have probably never asked yourselves; what is running? What is actually causing me to move forward? And how would this knowledge help me?
What is Running?
Most people subconsciously assume that they are pushing themselves forward when they run, and it shows in their running form. They reach out, and push themselves off with each stride. Many of you can probably relate (I know I can) with that sense of pushing yourself forward, feeling like your pounding the pavement but not really going anywhere. You can see it pretty easily in other runners as well, characterized by the bouncing movement observed from a large portion of the running community (the same bouncing that makes you sick if you eat anything before running). This bouncing is a sign of poor running form and is caused by a misunderstanding of what running is: a controlled fall.
This may be a foreign concept to many of you (as it was to me at first) but the primary force moving you forward while running is gravity. Essentially what you are doing when running is putting your body of balance and directing the way that it falls. With that in mind let’s take a look again at what is going on when you see most people run.
To help us understand whats happening when we push off at the end of our stride, let’s first look at an animal that uses the “push off technique” effectively: the cheetah.
Notice that it’s center of mass is close to the ground, and how it pushes off the ground far behind its center of mass. Now let’s compare that to a human.
To further demonstrate the difference in movement efficiency I have created a diagram (I promise it’s a cheetah).
Now notice the difference in the way that we push off the ground. Due to our upright stance we can’t push off the ground at the same far distance behind our center of mass. Which is the same reason why we are so slow compared to the rest of the animal kingdom.
Also something to note is that the angle of difference from the desired movement indicates a lower ability to generate speed, as well as creates bounce (upward movement not helpful in forward movement), which you can see in the cheetah as the raising of their chest during the push, and in humans as the bouncing seen in a lot of runners. This bouncing can also be translated to increased air time, which means more impact on the body, which is not something that we want. So how do we keep moving without pushing ourselves forward? The answer: lean.
By leaning you let gravity do the work, to explain I have another poorly drawn diagram.
First thing we want to note is that our lean should be from our feet, we should not be bending at the hips, it is important for your back to remain straight to prevent injury (5 degree lean is recommended for distance running). Second thing to note is that we are no longer exerting force on anything, we are simply using our legs to direct the fall. The only thing that you need to do is keep your feet moving to catch and direct your fall. Thirdly you’ll notice that while running with this form you’ll be less fatigued (no pushing means less muscle activation) and it feels smoother. The way that I have found to describe it is that it feels more like gliding along the ground rather than running.
Understanding that running is a controlled fall and that pushing forward is essentially wasting energy, what exactly do your legs do? Your legs are your bodies suspension system, and when used correctly can safely absorb, and utilize, the impact of running. Reaching is the most effective way of completely invalidating your legs ability to absorb impact. The reason being that with your legs reaching out in front of you it encourages you to land on your heel. For a quick demonstration of why this is bad sit in a chair with one foot on the floor and rest your other ankle on your knee. Then make a fist and hit the bottom of your first on your forefoot, then your heel. You’ll notice that a) hitting the heel hurt more and b) the impact of hitting your heel went directly up to your knee (not for absorbing impact) and the impact of hitting your forefoot was dissipated throughout your musculature (designed to absorb impact). Now that we understand that landing on our heel is not good the best way to prevent that is to keep our feet underneath our center of mass.
So now that we know what running is, the forces that move us forward, and how we can use them to our advantage, go ahead and try some of this stuff out. Just make sure to let gravity do the work and focus on landing on your forefoot first, keeping your feet underneath your center of mass, and picking up your feet rather than pushing off with them. Also take it slow at first; efficient running form requires using muscles many of you haven’t really used before. So if a muscle is tight, or something hurts stop running and take care of it. I want to help you to enjoy running, and injuries wont help you very much with that.
Next week I’ll start addressing the three principles I’ve found to be most effective in improving running form and making running more enjoyable. First principle: High Cadence. We’ll talk about what it is and how it helps us, hope to see you then.