Progressive Running

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Category: Technique (Page 1 of 9)

What is the source or propulsion at running?

Welcome to another post here at Progressive Running, your trusted companion on the journey to better running.

As we individually lace up our shoes and hit the trails, it’s easy to overlook the complex interplay of forces at work with each stride. Many of us, myself included, have long believed that running is all about the powerful push-off from our legs, a testament to our muscular strength and endurance. But what if I told you that this widely accepted notion might not be entirely accurate? The true secret to efficient running might just lie in the art of falling forward. Yes, you read that right. Intrigued? Let’s dive deeper into this concept and unravel where many runners often go wrong about the source of propulsion in running.

Truth about source of propulsion at running

The true source of propulsion in running may be something we often overlook – the force of gravity, or more specifically, the gravitational torque. This concept, often referred to as “falling forward,” is a more efficient way to harness the natural forces at play during running. As we lean forward while running, our body’s center of mass moves ahead of our point of support, creating a torque due to gravity. This gravitational torque propels us forward, initiating the next step. Instead of wasting energy pushing off the ground or moving upwards, we’re essentially allowing gravity to do the work for us. This method of propulsion is not only more energy-efficient, but it also reduces the impact forces on our body, potentially leading to a lower risk of injury.

Building on this understanding of gravity as the primary source of propulsion, we can reframe our perspective on the role of our muscles in running. Rather than being the primary drivers of forward motion, our muscles, in fact, facilitate the use of gravity for propulsion. The key lies in coordinating our muscular actions to maintain balance and control as we allow gravity to pull us forward. For instance, our quadriceps control the descent of the body’s center of gravity after landing, while our hamstrings help to quickly lift the foot off the ground, preparing for the next stride. Our core muscles help maintain our body alignment, ensuring that we lean forward at the right angle to optimize the gravitational torque. In this way, our muscles work in harmony with gravity, not against it, to move us forward efficiently and sustainably.

Beating general public misperception of movement

Quads do not propel us

Becoming a bit scientific, in a fascinating study shared on the Pose Method website, titled “Theory & Practice: The Extensor Paradox in Running”, the conventional understanding of running propulsion is challenged. The research reveals that the quadriceps, muscles we often associate with the ‘push-off’ phase in running, actually cease their activity immediately after the mid-stance. This surprising finding contradicts the widely held belief that leg extension and muscular push-off are the primary sources of forward propulsion in running. Instead, it suggests a more nuanced understanding of running mechanics, where the role of the quadriceps is primarily to control the descent of the body’s centre of gravity after landing.

Calf muscles cause trouble

Another common misconception about running propulsion involves the use of the calf muscles in a technique often referred to as “pawback” or “toe push-off”. This method, while seemingly intuitive, may not be as efficient as one might think. The force generated during this action aligns with the extension of the standing leg on the ground, but it’s important to note that this force is not primarily horizontal. Instead, it has a significant vertical component that propels the runner upwards. This upward motion can be inefficient on two fronts. Firstly, the energy expended to move vertically is essentially wasted, as it does not contribute to forward momentum. Secondly, the subsequent descent from this heightened position increases the impact pressure upon landing, potentially leading to greater wear and tear on the body.

Top runners are not perfect

Even the world’s top runners are not immune to the challenges of achieving perfect running form. The ideal model of running, where every stride is a seamless interplay of gravity and muscular coordination, is a lofty goal that is difficult to attain. This is due to the complex nature of running, which involves not just physical prowess, but also intricate biomechanics, precise timing, and a deep understanding of one’s body. Even elite runners have their unique quirks and idiosyncrasies in their running styles, which may not align perfectly with the theoretical ideal. However, this doesn’t diminish their accomplishments or their mastery of the sport. Instead, it underscores the fact that running is a deeply personal endeavour, and perfection lies in continuously learning, adapting, and striving to improve, rather than achieving an elusive ideal.

Watch this video, form analysis of Usain Bolt by Pose Method. Amazing to see the room for improvement for a world champion! There is hope for those who want to beat him ;)

Vertical Oscillation Explained

What is vertical oscillation?

In running, vertical oscillation, or VO for short, is the distance the centre of body mass travels vertically (up and down) at each stride. The downwards VO is equal to and is a consequence of the upwards VO.

Is vertical oscillation good or bad?

Excessive VO is bad for sure however very low or zero (if possible at all) VO is also a sign of inefficient running technique, meaning you are probably reaching ahead of your body (with your landing foot) to avoid falling, probably touching down with heel first.

All I can say is, to minimise or optimise vertical oscillation you must correct your running technique.

How bad is excessive vertical oscillation?

Over a long course of running, it is like climbing up a tall building in addition to running your running course.

For instance, if you run a [full] marathon (42.2km or 26 miles) in 4 hours at average cadence of 180 strides per minute, and you only have 1cm (0.393 inch) excessive VO, the total vertical distance you excessively climb up during the race is:

4 (hours) x 60 (minutes) * 180 (spm) * 0.01 (meter) = 432 meters or 1417.32 feet or 472.44 yards

It is pretty much like climbing up Steinway Tower in New York City as well as running your marathon race.

Which phase of VO is more expensive, upwards or downwards?

Of course upwards because going against the gravity is more costly.

The [vertical] length of the downward phase is equal to and actually the consequence of the upwards one (and when I say upwards, I mainly mean going above your own height). When it is higher than what it should be, the runner has to deal with a greater force at landing due to falling from a higher height. It may not sound concerning at first, especially because the deviation from the optimum amount is about a centimetre or two, but the longer the running course the higher wasted energy and the higher chance of injury. That is why excessive VO is bad. It hurts both ways, up and down.

Does running cadence (strides per minute) affect vertical oscillation?

It does but it is a crucial point to understand that cadence is a by-product of running, not something to be actively involved with. For instance, the golden 180 spm might be achieved while there is still an excessive vertical oscillation.

How to optimise or minimise vertical oscillation in running?

Correct running technique is the solution for minimising vertical oscillation. Excessive vertical oscillation is caused by excessive movements during each running stride, mainly by pushing off the ground which is very common amongst runners. Apart from recreational runners, there are even some elite runners who push off the ground without knowing about the inefficiency of doing so.

There are inefficient running techniques in which VO is minimised. For instance, reaching ahead of the body minimises vertical oscillation but it causes more issues:

  • Reaching ahead (over-striding + landing ahead of the body) exerts excessive pressure on knees and other body parts (some physiotherapists relate ITBS to over-striding).
  • By not landing under the body (or close to the vertical line passing the centre of body mass), the runner does not benefit from elasticity of tendons by preserving the energy in them during landing. This energy is released in the next stride when we need to adjust our height to fall again, simply meaning saving energy or the so called efficiency.

How is vertical oscillation handled in Pose running?

As far as pushing off the ground, active landing, and over-striding are eliminated in Pose Method of Running, vertical oscillation is down to its minimal possible range, which is mostly based on the range of stretch of some tendons in our legs.

In Pose method, falling forward is the only source of propulsion. To be able to fall again after landing, we have to go back to the same height. Adjusting height is done unconsciously. A portion of this height adjustment is done by the release of energy preserved in our leg tendons. This simply means efficiency.

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.

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