Progressive Running

Where to learn running techniques

Culture of running form

I am going through the online course by Pose Method to become a certified running coach. It is an interesting course that covers a lot of theories including Newtonian physics (glad I did physics well back at high school!), as well as videos of practical sessions. At one of the videos, Dr Nicholas Romanov talks about running culture which I found really interesting and I am going to talk about it from my own perspective.

Imagine you are invited somewhere for lunch but at lunch time everyone grabs a pot full of food and sits at a corner to gobble the food up. Do you see anything wrong at this scene? Let me ask you some questions before you answer:

  • Do not they get enough nutrients into their body?
  • Do not they save time by avoiding the chit chat at the table?!
  • Do not they have the freedom of eating it the way they want?!

It is obvious why this scene looks odd and out of norm because we all follow similar “dining culture“.

Source: www.babycentre.co.uk

Now another scenario, you are going to play soccer with some new friends that you have not played before. You are about to choose your team members and you see this guy at the following scene, would you want him in your team? no? why?

Source: www.letsbet.ie

The reason is, we have some images of good soccer players in our head and this guy does not fall near any of them. That means you are into the culture of right soccer moves and this one is out of the norm.

Now, look at this one taken from B-Line busses that go from Northern Beaches to the city and back. Is there something wrong with the drawings in blue?

Do you see it? let’s take a closer look:

See how the running girl is over-striding? do you see her back leg is trailing behind? see her foot is not moving towards her hips? or the toes pointing downwards right after leaving the ground indicating push-off?

If you do not see any of these, that means you have not honed your eyes to spot these running deviations. The other interpretation of it is:

We do not have a running form culture in our society yet

We do not pick such issues when we see these images. They are ubiquitous but we do not catch them. We are like the members of that family who eat their lunch in a pot at an isolated corner, so we do not see any problem with the way we eat.

Just go to any image stock site and search for running. On the bright side, such images help me hone my eyes better for spotting running issues ;) take a look of some samples here.

Leg raining behind
Woman: pushing off
Man: knee drive, likely to have late pull

Myths and Facts of Natural Running

What is natural?

Short answer: surprisingly it has a vague meaning

Public perception of natural has a positive connotation linked to health, longevity, and some fundamentals that could potentially take us back to the so-called right way of living of which we have been deprived by the modern life (or in some notions since mankind settled for farming). Having known that, I still find it a bit hard to define natural. Natural, despite its simple meaning, has some vague aspects. In one sense it means intuitive as in something we figured on our own or someone told us and we happily embraced it. In either case no one forced us to take it on. It is also more of something that is derived from every cell of our body and “feels” like it suits us the best. On the other hand it means something we are born with, like genes. Perhaps, natural means what we are given at the beginning and what we picked up voluntarily, easily, or freely throughout our life. Sounds like quite a random process that might be very different from one person to another.

Moreover, I even think the meaning of natural evolves and mutates. What natural meant millions of years ago may not be valid anymore. Our needs changes and since we developed prefrontal cortex, our path in life is no longer bound to our DNA. That overhauls everything, hence the definition of this simple word: natural.

Can you define natural running?!

Short answer: I doubt it.

Natural running perhaps means the way our ancestor primitive humans used to run which probably means running barefoot, relatively slow and over a long distance (Aztecs runners would run 1000km).  So does it means I will be running natural if I take my shoes off and go around the whole town a few times? Even if that is true, I kind of do not like it, simply because I am sure it is not in my nature. Ok, I played with words to mess with fans of “natural running” but what I want to say is copying our ancestors is not necessarily the best approach.

All I can relate as natural in running would be limited to natural (in-born) features in our body, and to name a few:

  • Elasticity of our tendons
  • Legs’ shock absorption mechanism
  • Nervous system (especially the nerves in the sole of our feet)
  • Proprioception / kinaesthesia

If the natural running you desire uses the best out of these, then you are on the right track, otherwise you are shooting in the dark.

Natural does not mean perfect

Eat natural, live natural, do everything natural… such buzzwords are ubiquitous these days and entice many health-seeking minds. To my understanding they all mean to go back doing what we used to be doing in the past few million years of evolution that shaped up mankind to the current form, which is very likely to be aligned with our genetics and therefore beneficial but who said going that path is the best way?

Do not get me wrong, I am an admirer of the fact that our genes evolved impressively through natural selection. All living creatures on our planet are amazing when looking into how they grow, how their organs work, or how they fight disease, etc. All of these have been done by nature (thanks to mother Earth) but who said natural selection achieved perfection? Natural selection was enough for survival and there is always a shortcoming towards perfection in anything any living organ does. For example, our immunity system has many flaws, or we might still make mistake at swallowing food and choke to death despite some built-in mechanism that prevents it. Conclusion: We are not perfect, nothing is. We can never achieve perfection but we can do something to make the best out of our nature.

The same logic goes to running. Basically, given our physiology there is no way to avoid energy waste at running (imperfection) however there are ways to optimise it but if we take the way majority of people [naturally] run they waste more energy than if they did it according to Pose Method of Running.

What is Pose?

I have had the company of many running coaches. I have read many running articles. I have been following running experts online. I have read a bunch of books by running athletes but I have never found anything as convincing as Pose method. It simply explains everything about running.

To explain what Pose method says, let’s first highlight this salient mankind’s characteristic: being bipedal. Why we became bipedal? Because it is way more efficient than being quadruped (ancestor apes) so we could travel farther for food or any other reason. A bipedal creature falls forward and catches own self. That is enough to move forward as opposed to a quadruped that needs to lift and move which costs the animal more energy. Human, if not the best, is one of the best long distance runners on this planet, not only because of the natural efficiency in our physics, but also because we sweat. We have been able to beat horses occasionally  but surely we spend significantly less amount of energy than horses even if they had our body size, and we would probably beat horses over longer running courses all the times (currently the man vs horse race course is 22 miles or 35 km).

The idea behind Pose method of running, which was made in the year I was born (1977), is if we get our source of propulsion purely from gravity (falling forward) we would achieve a great level of efficiency; and through numerous attempts of examination and analysis of this method it turns out to be true. Many runners do not know much about it but when their running form is analysed according to Pose Method, the runners with their form closer to Pose Method’s  rules are better if not the best.

In Pose running, you should not push off the ground. Despite the apparent simplicity, it involves a lot of unlearning, yes unlearning. In other words, we should not use muscular effort for propulsion. To master this technique of running, you would have to rewire your brain with variety of drills through which you would undo almost anything you learned about running since you were not even 2 years old to adopt a new way of moving your legs and feet. The outcome is efficiency which leaves you with surplus of energy that can be put into going farther or faster, plus due to lower pressure on your body you are at the lowest possible chance of getting injured from the way you run.

Does Pose running help trail running?

I always heard from those who tried trail running that they fell in love with it at the first sight. This time I gave it a go at Bare Creek Trail Run on Sunday 10 Nov 2019 and it was a great experience that I like to do again. I had run around Manly damn or other bushlands in Sydney Northern Beaches, but this time had more pleasure being accompanied by an enthusiastic crowd.

Me at Bare Creek Trail Run, Nov 2019

To name a few differences of trail running from road running, at trail running:

  • Negative:
    • The track surface has to be constantly observed (tread carefully)
    • There are steps made of rocks to almost climb up or down
    • Can be muddy at some parts
    • Might have to cross water (creek or river)
    • Ground can be harsh and rocky; in fairness it is softer than road at many parts
    • Higher chance of injury from falling over, rolling an ankle, getting trapped in bushfire,
    • getting scratched by sharp edges of rocks or other objects, etc.
  • Positive:
    • Shadier than roads at some bushland tracks
    • More challenging, if you love to challenge yourself
    • More workout for some muscles compared to road running
    • Better supply of oxygen for being in the bushland
    • Away from road air-pollution
    • Nature sceneries

Pose and Trail Running

The question is, is Pose running also applicable to trail running? The answer is yes, but not at all parts.

In fact, we may have to deviate from Pose method at some stage but the goal is to get back to its correct routine as soon as you can. What interrupts you is the type of surface every now and then that would require you to jump or leap around something on the track (pushing off the ground is a running deviation in Pose method of running). Once it is over and you are onto a less bumpy surface you should get back to your Pose rhythm (fall forward and pull your feet towards your hips by lifting them off the ground).

Other principle of Pose running you can apply is to shorten strides at uphills and downhills, no matter how the surface is. If there is no need to jump over rocks or bumps, do no push off the ground and stick to your foot-lifting by hamstrings.

Side Notes on Minimalism

First of all, ProgressiveRunning is mainly about running techniques, prior to advocating minimalism. The way we run has a higher degree of importance than what we wear.

I ran this race, Bare Creek Trail Run, in a pair of a type of Vibram Five Fingers which is not for trail running. I still wore them because I knew the track would leave a mark on my better shoes so I decided to wear something to throw away after the race, a pair of old and shabby VFF. They perfectly did the job anyway, so adios fellows! thanks a lot for the journey!

Adios fellas!

My notion of wearing minimalist shoes is I believe in “developing strength” as opposed to “buying it off the shelf“.

One interesting observation I had at the race was that my ankles rolled a few times as I slipped on some rocks but I had ZERO problem from that. In fact, my ankles just turned to an excessive angle but the ability in them – from running with no support by shoes – managed to tolerate the pressure and get back to their normal form.

Open Trampoline Analogy

Going minimalist is totally a personal choice, but I choose it for one reason that I am giong to explain now. My neighbour at where I live have an open trampoline and during this time we have been neighbours they have not had any incidents. Another friend of mine encourages parents to have open trampoline because it makes children adopt skills to be more agile and careful too. I am sure there are children somewhere in the world who have suffered from falling off open trampoline – and we can argue forever whether those children were experienced open-trampoliner or rookies who unsuccessfully experimented it – but the argument is that such children have the chance to develop extra skills on open trampolines from knowing there is no fence to guard them, whereas children playing in a guarded trampoline do not develop such abilities and from my own experience they actually bump to each other very often of which the statistical data may not appear anywhere. By this analogy similar concept applies to wearing minimalist shoes. I believe:

  • As I age, my arch will stay higher than they would be if I wore non-minimalist shoes
  • I have stronger muscles in my lower legs (The study)
  • I have better agility and balance skills (due to better perception of gravity)

Conclusion

Running according to Pose Method of Running can still apply to trail running. The runner may commit running deviations (push off the ground or reaching forward) as they have to jump over uneven surfaces but once the track is steady runners can switch back to full routine of Pose method.

Benefits of minimalism come better once you know how to run efficiently and the best way to run efficiently that I know of is Pose Method of Running.

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