Progressive Running

Best Ever Techniques to Run Efficiently

Category: Technique (Page 1 of 8)

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 by bushfire, getting scratched by sharp edges of rocks or branches, etc.
  • Positive:
    • Shadier than roads at some bushland tracks
    • More challenging, if you love to challenge yourself
    • Better supply of oxygen for being in the bushland
    • Away from road air-pollution

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, the goal is to get back to Pose 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. Once it is over and you are onto a less bumpy surface you should get back to your Pose rythme.

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 being more responsive to change of surface)

Conclusion

Running according to Pose Method of Running can still apply to trail running. The runner goes in and out of Pose as they have to jump over uneven surfaces. Once the track is steady runners can switch back to Pose.

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.

To vibram or not to vibram?

When I meet running enthusiasts for the first time I am usually asked variety of questions about Vibram Five Fingers (VFF), my favourite running shoes. I have been wearing them since 2011 and have never looked back. There are benefits in minimalism that do not exist in the opposite direction towards maximalism. Comfort level increases towards maximalism and efficiency drops. It is your call where about on this spectrum you like to settle.

Here you go, an FAQ about wearing VFF. Please do write me comments here or message me directly if any questions or different points of view.

Do VFF shoes help with your running form?

Shoes do not matter as much as the way you run matters. Wearing these shoes might force you to correct some movements but until the time you stop what you doing to start running in Pose you are just hanging around in the darkness repeating same mistakes hoping for the best. You gain some strength by wearing these and you mind your landing a bit more because you have less cushioning in your footwear which might help with some aspects of running techniques but these things are some dots that one day you have to connect to see the full picture, to understand why the rule of each dot has to be followed. The connection between these dots is explained well in Pose Method of Running, and only by that. Period.

Do you run faster in VFF?

My time improved at all the races from the time I switched to VFF but it was my own experience and may not apply to everyone. What I ignorantly did not do back in time was to run in Pose. When I had an injury I looked into running techniques, then I found about Pose Method of Running and found out it is not shoes causing injuries, it is the way we run.

My mate ran in these and got injured

Does he run in Pose? If no, I do not care. If yes, what was his training plan like? Was his goal realistic? Did he over train by any chance? What injury was it actually? For instance, I do not think you can get away with ITBS by running in VFF. Some injuries have nothing to do with techniques or footwears.

As you see there are plenty of plausible reasons before pointing fingers at VFF as culprit.

Does running in VFF mean having to run in Pose?

No but when you learn Pose method of running, you will see how less important the cushioning in your shoes are, or actually how that cushioning might work against you. So the answer is no, and it is your personal choice if you like to work out more muscles in my legs to have stronger feet (who said having big biceps and pecs are sexy only? lol).

One thing about cushioning in shoes, do a research about elasticity of tendons and its usage in running. That would help understand why this comfort in your shoes work against efficiency. Building a bit of strength in your feet would bring out the benefits of this elasticity.

Are you a barefoot runner?

No, I have tried it and my feet bled and I did not – still do not – have the passion/patience to build up strength for that. One would have to grow calluses on the soles of their feet to be able to run comfortably. I appreciate what barefoot runners do but I am not one. I take this thin protection for my feet from VFF and experience nearly the same.

Why do you bother running in VFF? Is there any benefits?

That is a valid question. It is a harder workout to run in VFF. Having said that, sensing the ground is a great feeling that might offset a bit of the pain from that hard core workout. You would go through some transitioning that might be painful. In fact, after years of shod running you start using some soft tissues (like tendons or muscles) that you had not used as much in the past, and they can get badly sore. Once you pass this transition (or if  you do a research first on how to gradually build up to avoid pain), I would strongly say running in them is a better workout for your feet. Like Leo in Matrix, transitioning to the other side!

Let’s take look at this example: In the usual two-handed pull up if your dominant hand is way stronger than the other one you always cover that weakness by using  the dominant one more. No one really cares how you perform pull-ups and as long as you do many you are considered fit (result orientation attitude); but behind the scenes one of your arms is weak and the other one is two times stronger. If you care, you will start working on one arm workouts for pulling yourself up to the bar which means a better workout for your arms. Similar example applies to planks: do it one handed, lift one leg off the ground, do it in variety of positions to cover all core and stablising muscles.

Wearing VFF works out many small muscles in your lower legs that would surely come handy somewhere sometimes in your life (strength is an asset). Wearing cushioned shoes might prevent some muscles to act properly, for instance the arch support can meddle with the action of Tibialis posterior; or standing on big toe which involves pulling plantar fascia is limited when being shod.

How about sharp objects on the ground?

I have never happened to step on something sharp since 2011 when I switched to them though I ran a few times for a couple of strides on gravels which was not pleasant; however, looking at the bright side, it was like those spotty massages for plantar fascia. Sydney and most Australian cities are clean and well-maintained, so I take the opportunity for doing a better workout for my legs/feet.

Does it limit the distance you run?

Initially yes but as you build strength and tolerance in your feet the distance you can do in one go will expand. In fact you face the reality of your strength instead of borrowing a bit of strength off the shelf for a quick result. Quick result is luring, I understand and I fall for it in some other aspects of my life. At running I have chosen not to go for quick results. I want sustainable outcome, and I would rather develop strength in my feet rather than buying something not as good off the shelf.

What is the main caveat  at running in VFF?

Your feet are more exposed to the ground and if your technique is not right/efficient you may wear your legs out faster by just running the way you run. Almost all conventional shoes are built based on the assumption that runners push off the ground. I doubt there are many people out there advising against it. Most people are result-oriented, and not as much into how to get the result. This pushing off the ground is the main culprit to common injuries like Achilles tendinitis or shinsplints. If you push off the ground at running (aka paw-back) your chance of getting injured is higher in VFF. That is my opinion.

What I advocate here is the path to your goal matters and the first step to get it right is to fix your technique. You should not suffer from the way you run. You might make mistakes in picking realistic goals but you should avoid inefficient running techniques that by nature, no matter what your goals are, make you incur extra costs.

So is it just a personal choice or what?

Everything is a personal choice. You can choose to be inefficient at running and it is totally respected. Back to what I said earlier on this page, your footwear does not matter as much as the way you run does. Once you sort out your running technique you may see my point that the best way of getting result out of it is to go minimalist unless you are unable for physiological reasons.

In a nutshell, it is a personal choice that comes with extra benefits, mainly efficiency. It is a harder workout, and you know, no pain no gain, but please fix your techniques first before jumping into these.

You sound opinionated!

No, prove me wrong to see how I turn my back to everything I said here; till then I will go with these:

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