Part 4 – When to Change Form & Appropriate Methods

By: Sean Smith

This blog post is going to be very anecdotal since interventions to runner’s biomechanics have scarcely been investigated, thus, methodology for incorporating form work into running programs has not been investigated at all. I have had the privilege of not only working with the national level athletes at Chico State, but also of watching great coaches (with backgrounds in kinesiology and form analysis) work with many other athletes at a variety of levels: high school, collegiate, and professional. The following methods stem from a culmination of my own experience in working with my athletes and observations of other coaches working with athletes.

When analyzing a runner’s form, I have found it most appropriate to give up to 3 techniques to work on over the course of a month or two. Although an athlete might have more things to work on, trying to process and keep track of too many critiques at once may be too large a task to tackle. Working on some of the larger issues or more prominent ones have been the focus of analysis in working with my athletes.

Although every athlete is different, a typical order of assessment would first look at the athlete’s alignment and coordination pattern (suggestions depicted in part 2 of this series). At a fundamental level, these are essential to having a powerful and efficient stride. In essence, running aims at putting force into the ground, in the right direction, in a (hopefully) short period of time, repeatedly. Being able to streamline this force through a body that is vertically aligned with a powerful coordination pattern is a good technique to develop right off the bat. There are usually running mechanics in the realm of alignment and coordination that an athlete will be able to work on, so typically one of the 2 or 3 pieces of feedback that I provide relates to these variables. The second technique that I evaluate involves creating a relaxed passageway for oxygen to flow, and to a large extent, not wasting blood flow to undesired tension in the upper body (tips for achieving this relaxed passageway were addressed in part 3 of this series). If the athlete has unfavorable running mechanics in this realm, working on shoulder posture and tightness in the neck and face is valuable. The third thing I look at is the level of compactness and extension seen throughout their stride in both the arms and the legs (Also discussed in part 3). In my experience, it is easier to work on the upper body first and lower body second. This may seem strange for readers thinking, “the lower body should be focused on first because it is performing more work.” In my experience, it seems that athletes are able to consciously control what their arms are doing more easily than their legs. Perhaps this is because their arms are not load-bearing, while the legs are. That’s not to say that other running coaches haven’t had different experiences, some athletes might have no problem increasing compactness and extension in the lower body during certain parts of their stride. Compactness and extension of the legs is not something I avoid working on with athletes at all, but if there are some easy-to-fix kinematics in the arms that an athlete can work on I typically start here. One of the last things I will look at is transverse and sagittal action. I usually save this one for last because much of the feedback related to coordination and alignment often increase sagittal action and decrease transverse action without having to directly assess these issues. There are probably many examples of this, but I will mention one that a coaching mentor of mine, well versed in biomechanics, described to me. If an athlete has too sequential of a coordination pattern, transverse action in the upper body is likely to occur. The moment push off occurs, the opposite arm is flexed at the shoulder joint sufficiently, and should begin extension as the lead leg begins extending at the hip joint. Instead, extension of the lead leg, and flexion of the trail leg at the hip joint pause as knee joint action begins (sequential coordination pattern). If this happens, the arms may begin crossing midline (lead arm) and possibly flare out laterally (trail arm) while they wait for hip action to begin. The arms and upper body’s main purpose while running is to counterbalance what the legs are doing. Although that example might have been wordy, it has stuck with me and is a great example of the holistic effect that coordination can have on an athlete’s form.

I believe the order in which I analyze running form and provide feedback to athletes is important, but the way they incorporate the feedback into their training is perhaps equally important. Chico State’s 110m high hurdler school record holder told me last year, “Everything in moderation, even moderation itself.” Though this comment was in the midst of a discussion about food, it is valuable advice in many contexts and absolutely pertains to changing running technique. Having runners begin to incorporate feedback on their running form should be done slowly, especially if they have poor technique and have not worked on it before. Working on kinematics too hard, too fast, and too soon can do more harm than good and even result in injury. I advise athletes to focus on form during all strides (100 to 200 meters at a tempo which takes them through a full range of motion; typically 1500 to 5000 meter intensity) and during one aerobic run each week, initially. Once they feel comfortable with this, and their body is slightly more accustomed to the new biomechanics, adding another aerobic run each week as well as portions of workouts (first third or half), during which they are working mechanical changes, may be appropriate. The first workouts where I feel an athlete can really take advantage of working on their form is during tempo (or threshold) runs. The pace is fast enough to require efficient and economical mechanics but not so fast that they have trouble focusing on technique due to processing the pain of the given intensity. Once the kinematics have been adopted or learned and the athlete has gained the muscular endurance required to use them, focusing on them in faster paced intervals and races may be appropriate. Ideally, the frequency of how often an athlete incorporates ideas into training should gradually increase, there are some forms of feedback that aren’t meant to be worked on during certain efforts. For example, working on getting the heel close to the butt as it cycles through the swing phase would not be appropriate to work on during a recovery run. An athlete would probably appear to be doing a high-knee drill while moving at 7 or 8 minute pace, and their hip flexors would likely be over-worked. However, postural and alignment form work during easy runs would be reasonable. Providing athletes with an appropriate way to incorporate the new technique, moderately and safely is always coupled with the actual feedback.

In the same way each runner’s stride is unique, their minds are, too. Every athlete learns differently. The importance of being able to connect with the athlete and help them see how to adopt new technique has been mentioned throughout this series. Some may hear advice and understand quickly the changes they need to make and then physically adapt. Others may need to be shown, video or need to see a physical demonstration. I can almost guarantee that a number of athlete’s will benefit from physically going through the motions themselves whether that be in a drill or in a stride immediately following the feedback. The great coaches I have seen work with athletes on form have been able to make this connection with their runner, that is, they learn to form a feedback that works best for each of their runners. Although there are certain kinematics we strive for in general, being able to attend to each unique situation and understand that certain techniques may work differently depending on the athlete is something I try to take into account. Regardless, running is a movement and more importantly a skill, which can be learned. Having the tools to provide appropriate and valuable feedback to enhance running technique is a key ingredient in a biomechanical approach to coaching distance runners.

Advertisements

Part 3 – What to Look for and How to Change It: Promoting Efficient Muscle Activation

By: Sean Smith

In Part 2 I focused on two concepts which go hand in hand; having a more simultaneous coordination pattern and achieving vertical alignment of the ankles, hips, and shoulders upon initial ground contact through similar means to Pose method. I would like to wrap-up my tips on “what to look for” by discussing concepts I’ve taken from Pose method, and move into the last big movement errors I look for and how to change them. One focus of Pose running, that I have not mentioned previously, is to try to get the athlete to bring the heel up to the butt while simultaneously letting gravity pull the other foot to the ground. Helping athletes understanding what it feels like to lean from the ankles, instead of the hips can help, in my experience. I start by having the athlete tuck their hips under them and lean forward from the ankles Once this forward lean from the ankles is established, I work with the athlete on pulling their foot straight up under the glutei, almost tracking the ankle alongside the opposite supporting leg as you lift. The verbal cue that I typically say is “get the heels up”.

Another way you might see the body misaligned is in the head and neck. It is not uncommon to see a runner with their head leaning to far forward or tilted too far back with their chin up. Most of the time when you watch elite runners compete their head will be directly over their shoulders, with the top of their head pulled up and their chin level. I’ve found that having the athlete pretend they are dangling from a string attached to the very top of their head typically works to help the athlete improve their head and neck alignment.

Having the head aligned over the shoulders may also helps to relax the neck.  This idea of creating a more relaxed passageway for breathing, isn’t as much evidence-based, but rather something that I have observed when watching elite athletes and experienced while running. Being able to relax your neck while running results in less tension in the muscles surrounding your larynx which should allow for oxygen to flow more easily. This also pertains to running economy as it allows blood to flow to muscles involved in propelling the body forward, rather than “wasting” such blood flow on muscles in the neck and face. It does not make sense to send large amounts of blood to keep the muscles in your neck and face contracting when that blood could be more useful in the core, lower extremities, heart, lungs, etc. In addition to “dangling from a string”, advising athletes to focus on relaxing their neck may be useful. Sport scientist, Ross Tucker wrote in a series on running technique that consciously relaxing the head, face, and shoulders can have an effect on the rest of the body.1 I have found that when athletes focus on relaxing the neck in particular, not only does their neck relax, but the shoulders, jaw, and face relax as well. Another postural characteristic to look for which can promote a more efficient oxygen flow is how much anterior tilting of the shoulder girdle is occuring. This upward rotation and protraction of the shoulder girdle can lead to abduction and transverse adduction of the shoulder joint. When the shoulders are hunched forward and facing downward like this it can promote transverse action, or twisting about the spine (when we would like our efforts to remain mostly in the sagittal plane or forward direction). This can also make it difficult to breathe as thoracic scapular retraction occurs during inhalation or extension.2 The constant protraction of the shoulder girdle can inhibit a runner’s ability to easily inhale and to take a full breath. This postural characteristic is something athletes can consciously work on while running, whether it be easy running or hard. Certainly, it would seem more appropriate to have them work on this during more aerobic sessions. Athletes with this “rounded shoulder” posture can work on keeping the shoulders relaxed and retracted outside of running as well.

As it was mentioned above, the poor shoulder posture can lead to a lot of “side-to-side”  action and overall twisting of the upper body. Working with athletes who have this tendency of allowing their arms to cross over their body is another key to improving running technique. In the most fundamental realms of biomechanics, increasing sagittal action (forward motion) and decreasing transverse action (twisting motion) typically improves running technique. That’s not to say that some forms of transverse action aren’t associated with elite running. Faster rotation of the shoulders in the transverse plane is a characteristic associated with better economy in runners.3 Although faster rotation is associated with better economy, this is very different from more rotation. Distance runners at an elite level usually have very similar arm carrying techniques which has elbows tucked in close to the side of the athlete and thumbs that are pointing up and even laterally. Two things to look for and change, which often happen simultaneously, are elbows that are abducted from the sides and thumbs that are rotated inward. The verbal feedback I give these athletes is to simply rotate the thumbs up, bring elbows in to the sides, and finally, focus on driving the elbows back. I should add that I’ve seen athletes run with the elbows out and not twist the arms across midline (mostly in middle distance running). Perhaps this happens in events like the 800 and 1500 because these events often become more physical due to the fast pace and short allotment of time to make tacticlal moves, so protecting their space and putting themselves in a position to accellerate is crucial. Abduction of the arms should not be confused as improper running technique, but its potential to increase transverse action should be taken into account. If the athlete’s elbows are sticking out but the upper body is not twisting in a detrimental manor, the technique probably isn’t wasting too much energy.

In addition to promoting forward motion (or sagital plane motion) it is also important to promote muscle activation in the right muscles through reduced motion in the upper body and more efficient motion in the lower body. Keeping the arms working in the right plane of motion is not the only kinematic variable to look for when it comes to upper extremities. When looking at arm movement we commonly see a more economical runner using less arm motion.3-6 Although there is research supporting this idea, it doesn’t take too much research to see that having a small amount of muscle activation in the arms is associated with better running economy. Taking exercise physiology into account, we know that when runners are pumping their arms too hard, the body begins to send more blood to those muscles in an effort to get oxygen to our upper body, thus leaving less blood to go to the legs. Excessive elbow flexion and extension during running leads to this inefficient blood flow. In addition to limiting the amount of flexion and extension, the athlete needs the arms to cycle through quickly. I work on having athletes keep their elbow joint angle between 45 and 90 degrees, to help the elbows cycle through in a compact manor. This compactness in the arm allows for faster rotation around the shoulder joint. When talking to athletes about this, I typically use the “iceskate dancer” example: While spinning and having the arms extended, the skater spins slower, but once they pull the arms in closer to the body, the compactness leads to a much faster rotation. The elbow joint range (45-90 degrees) is a bit ancedotal, but in watching hundreds and thousands of races both in person and online, that range in degrees seems to mimic elite running; keeping in mind that in running and in all sports, there are outliers and most coaches will work with an outlier or two throughout their career. Regardless, compactness and reduced arm motion should lead to better running technique. The specific feedback I’ve found works well is telling runners to drop the elbows lower and keep the hands a touch higher, in a position where they could scratch an itch on their ribs while driving the elbow back. This advice is relative, so the amount of elbow extension present as the arm swings posteriorly should come into play when trying to provide a good reference for an athlete. There may be runners (and I’ve seen a couple) that are almost entirely extended at the elbow throughout an entire stride. Giving this athlete the advice of “scatching the ribs” would probably be too drastic of a change. The main function of the upper body and motion in the arms is to counterbalance what lower mechanics are doing while promoting efficient movement.7

knee-flexion-new

As we seek a certain level of compactness in the arms we also want to achieve a certain level of compactness in the legs, specifically at the knee joint. Elite runners have maximum knee flexion angles of 38 to 50 degrees in the swing leg.8,9 If you were to watch any of the distance races from a previous olympic game, chances are you would not witness anyone in the race having much less than 50 degrees of knee flexion and if you did, they would probably be at the tale end of the field (or getting lapped depending on the race length). A “shuffle” type stride, with small amounts of knee flexion, is inefficient and easy enough to fix. Most coaches feel the shuffle-stride happens as a result of not getting the knees up high enough, but it has been my experience that the emphasis should be focused on getting the heels up close to the glutei, increasing compactness which can then lead to an appropriate maximum knee flexion. Having compactness at the knee joint also makes it easier for the leg to drive forward, quickly, which aids in hip flexion. The feedback to give these athletes can be as simple as “get your heels up” which is the same advice to promote more vertical alignment. One key ingredient to this advice is that you want the heel to be getting up towards the glutei vs just going straight up while the leg lags behind. The athlete’s in the image above display differing compactness with the athlete on the left using kinematics that allow for a faster, typically more efficient, turn over (more compactness).

While we seek appropriate compactness in the leg during swing phase, there is a lot of literature showing elite runners also have more extension during the stance phase.10-12 In comparing elite (world championship level) and national-standard 1500-m runners, the maximum knee flexion during stance phase was less in the elite runners running at the same speed.11 Perhaps the same speed resulted in different techniques due to the abilities of each group, but there is more research out there that suggests less knee flexion can yield better use of stored elastic energy.12 I feel, and research has lead me to believe, that the utilization of stored elastic energy during running is enhanced through having less knee flexion during the stance phase. A couple pieces of advice mentioned earlier should aid in decreasing knee flexion, such as “getting the foot down, quicker” and “dangle from the string”. Sometimes telling an athlete to work on landing with less bend, also clicks in their mind, other times you might tell them to try and “get up nice and tall” specifically, being tall upon first impact and sustaining the heigh throughout the stance phase.

Knowing what proper technique looks like and different ways to communicate that with athletes is only one piece of the puzzle in teaching the skill. Although running is not commonly thought to be a skill like shooting a basketball or throwing a football, it is a very powerful form of human movement and is certainly a skill just like in any other sport that can be learned. There is a notion among running coaches (and their athletes) that runners have the mechanics they have and they develop the most efficient mechanics for their body type, but this ideal and approach would not be accepted in any other sport. Of course the charcteristics of the individual athlete influence their technique, but running technique is certainly a skill that can be learned and improved upon. I believe this should be done sooner rather than later, and in coming blogs I will discuss when to teach each skill, the progression of these skills and at what points to have athletes work on certain skills as well as the effectiveness in my own personal use of verbal and visual feedback on elite collegiate athletes.

References

  1. Tucker, R. (28 Sep 2007). Running technique. The Science of Sport (Part IV). Retrieved from http://sportsscientists.com/2007/09/running-technique-part-iv-running-technique-101-some-simple-changes/
  2. https://www.posturalrestoration.com/resources/dyn/files/1088171z2486e865/_fn/Breathings+Influence+on+Upper+Quarter+Dysfunction.pdf (page 7, slide 4 specifically)
  3. Saunders, P. U., Pyne, D. B., Telford, R. D., & Hawley, J A. (2004). Factors affecting running economy in trained distance runners. Sports Medicine, 34(7), 465-485.
  4. Williams, K. R., Cavanagh, P. R. (1987). Relationship between distance running mechanics, running economy, and performance. Journal of Applied Physiology, 63(3), 1236-1245.
  5. Anderson, T., & Tseh, W. (1994). Running economy, anthropometric dimensions and kinematic variables. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 26(5), S170.
  6. Anderson, T. (1996). Biomechanics and running economy. Sports Medicine, 22(2), 76-89.
  7. http://www.sportsinjurybulletin.com/archive/biomechanics-running.html# Biomechanics of running: From faulty movement patterns come injuries.
  8. Cavanagh, P. R., Pollock, M. J., & Landa, J. (1977). A biomechanical comparison of elite and good distance runners. Annals of the New York Academy of Science, 301, 328-345
  9. Bates, B. T., James, S. L., & Ostering, L. R. (1978). Foot function during the support phase of running. Running, 3, 24-31.
  10. Williams, K. R., Cavanagh, P. R. (1987). Relationship between distance running mechanics, running economy, and performance. Journal of Applied Physiology, 63(3), 1236-1245.
  11. Leskinen, A., Hakkinen, K., Virmavirta, M., Isolehto, J., & Kyrolainen, H. (2009). Comparison of running kinematics between elite and national-standard 1500-m runners. Sports Biomechanics, 8(1), 1-9.
  12. Hudson, J. L. & Owen, M. G. (1982). Kinematic correlates of utilization of stored elastic energy. Medicine & Science in Sport & Exercise, 14(2), 152-160.
  13. http://c8.alamy.com/comp/FMF6GK/kenenisa-bekele-of-ethopia-on-his-way-to-win-the-mens-10000m-race-FMF6GK.jpg

Part 2 – What to Look for and How to Change It: Coordination & Vertical Alignment

By: Sean Smith

Deciding when to change a runner’s technique is similar to determining when to increase mileage, implement specific drills and strength work, alter workouts, and much more. I believe a runner’s form should change when it is appropriate and effective. There could be many reasons for finding it appropriate to change biomechanics of an athlete; mechanics are leading to injuries, potential is already being maximized in other areas (e.g. mileage, mentality, pacing, strength work, sleep, diet, etc.), or form is lacking efficiency. If an athlete exhibits any of these characteristics, it is likely that a change in running technique would be beneficial. It is rare that you find an athlete who is not dealing with repetitive injuries, doing everything in the realm of running to optimize potential, AND wastes no energy. Even top running groups (e.g. New Balance, Nike Oregon Project, etc.) employ biomechanical laboratories and biomechanists to work with athletes on form, thus it is sage to say most runners could benefit from improvements in running form.

Before delving into the kinematics associated with efficient form, I should note that altering form is better done sooner rather than later. The longer an athlete runs with certain, perhaps ineffective, mechanics the more efficient they become with those mechanics. The muscles get used to firing at specific lengths and a sense of comfort sets in. Alberto Salazar, head coach of arguably the best running group in the world, the Nike Oregon Project, realized this upon the start of the professional running group. “The athletes he was coaching were older, their habits and biomechanics already ingrained after years of running so many miles. He realized that he had to catch them younger, before the bad habits had had a chance to take over.”1 I have spoken with several high school coaches, who value getting their runners to enjoy the sport and worry that an emphasis on running mechanics will depreciate their enthusiasm. With this shifted emphasis, running mechanics were neglected, but not only for the first year or two while the athlete was finding their love for the sport, but for many form is ignored for all 4 years of high school running, and for some this continues through college. Although enjoying the sport is crucial, it is my hope that the blogs in this series A Biomechanical Approach to Coaching Distance Running, will provide coaches at the high school and college levels with an understanding of the importance of running mechanics and insight on the topic that they can implement in their programs.

There are countless ways to break down a runner’s mechanics and many more ways to work on adjusting these mechanics. The kinematics I choose to focus on while working with runners stem from a combination of both anecdotal and research based information. The first concept I focus on when working with athletes is their coordination pattern (i.e., the timing and sequencing of body segments). A more simultaneous coordination pattern during running should serve to maximize running economy. For example, in running, after pushing off we would like to see hip flexion happening at a similar rate to knee flexion. However, often times we see knee flexion occurring at a much faster rate and much sooner than hip flexion, leaving runners in a poor position that can lead to a large over-stride and increase peak breaking forces. For example, in the first image the runner is exhibiting a more sequential pattern of coordination. We see a large amount of knee flexion that has already occurred before any noticeable hip flexion, in the trailing leg. At the same time, we can see that in the leading leg that knee extension is almost entirely complete while hip extension has only just begun. At a very fundamental level, in biomechanics, this athlete would benefit from a more simultaneous movement. To help the athlete adopt a more simultaneous movement pattern it would be helpful to understand factors that may be inhibiting the more simultaneous movement.

over-stride

If we use the runner in this first image as an example there may be several factors causing this type of undesired coordination, but the one that stands out is the anterior pelvic tilt. Pelvic tilt is typically seen in runners who display a reduced absolute peak hip extension when pushing off.2 This is important as maintaining a neutral pelvic position and increasing hip extension leads to a powerful push off and a faster elastic recoil which drives the knee forward during stance phase, causing hip flexion.3 There are a few different techniques I have successfully used in working with athletes on “tucking the hips” under them (i.e., helping them to adopt a neutral pelvic position). The first thing I will usually try involves them standing up and squeezing their glutei together, pushing their hips under them. This gives them the feel of a more favorable lumbo-pelvic tilt. Giving athletes an idea of what it feels like to have the hips where you want them is a valuable first step. Using descriptors such as “pretend your pelvic girdle is a bowl filled with water and you do not want it to tilt too far forward, because this will spill all of the water” is another method I have successfully used. I have also heard coaches tell athletes to “pull their belly button up.” Depending on the athlete, just saying “tuck your hips while running” may do the trick. As with any verbal intervention you provide for a runner, the athlete needs to connect with that idea. Keeping the hips tucked under the body can certainly help hip flexion begin sooner after toeing off via elastic properties aiding the muscular effort.

Another piece of verbal feedback that may help to produce a more simultaneous coordination pattern, is to tell the athlete to, “push the knees forward after toeing off”. If the hips are in a neutral position and the athlete’s trail leg is still lagging after toeing off, I find this feedback useful. You might hear coaches trying to get their athletes to drive the knees up, but I have found that it feels much easier, physically, to focus on driving the knees forward rather than up and both of these forms of feedback can result in the desired hip flexion.

fire-glute

So far I have discussed how to develop a more favorable coordination pattern through postural means (lumbopelvic tilt) and in working on the trail leg motion (pushing the knee forward). There is one more form of feedback that I find is useful to give athletes when coordination is an issue. Once the trail leg has swung forward enough and is now, essentially, the lead leg (second picture, above), have the athlete focus on driving the foot down into the ground. In other words, right after the athlete pushes off with one leg, they should be pushing the other leg’s foot down and into the ground. This initiation can activate the glutei sooner and doesn’t allow for the foot to kick out in front of the body as easily, thus starting hip and knee extension more simultaneously.

Using the techniques of the Pose running method may be another means of indirectly developing a more simultaneous coordination pattern, though the emphasis of this technique focuses largely on shoulder, hip, and ankle vertical alignment.4,5 Pose method is one of the few well-documented and successful interventions that has been shown to result in improved running technique. Pose method does this by reducing the loss of horizontal velocity, decreasing peak breaking forces, and lowering vertical oscillation of the center of mass. To put it simply, being more aligned through the ankles, hips, and shoulders when ground reaction forces are high results in running technique associated with elite running. Pose method has, however, faced some scrutiny as participants reported lower leg injuries (14 out of 20 runners) in follow-up interviews.6 Furthermore, the Pose method of relearning running technique though successful in improving running technique, is very intricate and time consuming, and thus perhaps not practical for implementation by high school and college coaches.

over-stride-new

That being said, the idea of vertically aligning the body may have many beneficial outcomes, including having the foot land more closely under the center of mass of the body. When athletes are not landing with the foot in this desired position coaches may use terms like “over-stride” to describe the runner’s form. I have found it easiest to quantify over-striding using angles, rather than linear distance. Video recording the athletes and using the angles function in the Coaches Eye app (an affordable app available on Apple and Android devices) is easy. Image 3 (above) illustrate how I have used this app to evaluate over-striding. I begin by using the pelvis to approximate the position of the center of mass, though this method has some limitations it has proven effective with my athletes in this context. The first ray in this angle originates at the center of the head (ear) and runs through the pelvis. The second ray starts at the head and runs through the point at which foot contact occurs. In the reference picture to the left, these videos were taken at 60 fps, so finding the exact moment of impact was difficult but this should give you a rough idea. The athlete on the left realistically has an over-stride angle of approximately 11-12 degrees and the runner on the right has an angle closer to 8 degrees. If you have a phone (or tablet) that records in slow motion at 120 fps, this will help you gather more accurate angles, repeatedly, which will then help you monitor progression in mechanics more reliably. A smaller over-stride angle would imply a more vertical alignment and an improvement in many of the kinematics discussed above. I have personally seen this trend in working with athletes at Chico State. The faster the runner is, the smaller their over-stride angle, with the exception of a couple outliers. Rather than implement the entire Pose Method, drills, and process, I take small pieces from this literature and combine it with other tips based on scientific evidence to achieve better alignment. In fact, the idea of video recording the athletes and showing them what they could be doing better is shared in the Pose method. Subsequent blogs will discuss the implementation of some Pose methods and feedback I have developed from reading biomechanical literature, running, and coaching.

References

  1. http://nikeoregonproject.com/pages/project
  2. Schache, A. G., Blanch, P. D., & Murphy, A. T. (2000). Relation of anterior pelvic tilt during running to clinical and kinematic measures of hip extension. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 34, 279-283.
  3. http://www.kinetic-revolution.com/running-its-all-in-the-hips/
  4. Arendse, R. E., Noakes, T. D., Azevedo, L. B., Romanov, N., Schwellnus, M. P., & Fletcher, G. J. (2004). Reduced eccentric loading of the knee with the Pose Running Method, Medicine Science in Sport and Exercise, 36(2), 272-277.
  5. Fetcher, G., Romanov, N., & Bartlett, R. (2008). Pose® method technique improves running performance without economy changes. International Journal of Sports Science & Coaching, 3(3), 365-380.
  6. Tucker, R. (27 Sep 2007). Running technique. The Science of Sport (Part III). Retrieved from http://sportsscientists.com/2007/09/running-technique-part-iii-the-scientific-evidence-for-running-technique/

Part 1 – Why Change a Runner’s Form?

Anyone in the sport of distance running is constantly looking for ways to improve running performance. But what is the best way to improve performance? We have known physiological factors that are determinants of running performance: Maximal oxygen uptake (VO2 max), lactate threshold, and running economy.1,2,3,4 Of these factors, you’ll hear most coaches talk about the first two when writing and describing workouts to their athletes. Coaches usually prescribe workouts to increase the VO2max of their athlete. VO2max refers to the maximum amount, or volume, of oxygen an individual can consume per minute. With distance running being primarily an aerobic event, one’s ability to maximally utilize oxygen consumption is crucial in improving performance. Another factor mentioned above that is important for distance running is an athlete’s ability to work off “lactic acid” while running hard (which relates to the lactate threshold). I put “lactic acid” in parenthesis because coaches often use different language to describe the same phenomenon and from a physiological standpoint, to put it lightly, there are more proper ways to describe this phenomenon. Regardless, “lactic acid” is what you will frequently hear coaches say when prescribing lactate threshold or “tempo” workouts to their athletes. Lactate threshold refers to the intensity at which lactate levels begin to rise because an athlete is not able to “clear” lactate from muscles at the same rate by which it is being produced. As the body produces lactate, that it is unable to “clear”, muscles will have a hard time functioning properly. All of this is to say that increasing an athlete’s lactate threshold, or for an athlete to have a higher threshold, speaks well to the ability of the athlete to perform at a higher level. The third determinant mentioned above should not be overlooked, as running economy (RE) is actually a better predictor of performance than VO2max.5 Runners with a better RE use less energy running at submaximal velocities than those with worse RE.

There are both physiological and biomechanical factors that are known to influence running economy. As coaches and athletes look to improve running performance, it is important to explore all potential avenues that could lead to an improvement in the determinants of running performance mentioned above. Specifically, in this blog, I want to delve into the ways coaches and athletes can work together to improve a runner’s RE in an effective and simplistic manor. Increasing the quantity of mileage run and the quality of workouts over time are emphasized in any good training program and this is one proposed method for improving RE. Most programs also place an emphasis on strength & conditioning, running drills, and plyometric work which can all improves RE.6 Even though running at a high level is reliant on skillful movement in which each kinematic factor has a specific purpose and function, truly breaking down a runner’s biomechanics and working towards a more skillful movement pattern is often neglected in distance running programs.7

From a coaching perspective, having an athlete improve running performance at a faster rate without having to increase work (i.e., more miles or greater intensity during workouts) would be very beneficial to the athlete. A coach and athlete are always working together to find the line between “putting in too much work” and “not putting in as much work as we could be.” So we should assume that all the things a runner can be doing to improve their RE, from a physiological standpoint (mileage, intensity, strength work, diet, sleep, etc.), are already being explored. If this is true, then in order to improve RE at a more substantial rate a runner will need to explore other options. Paying attention to running mechanics may be an important place to start when trying to improve RE. Changing the biomechanics of an athlete can be an incredibly effective way to improve the athlete’s running performance without putting any more physical stress on their body. In many cases, it may actually put less physical stress on a runner to improve certain kinematic variables. By this point, the question, “Why change a runner’s form?” should be coming to light. Determining what, how and when to alter a certain movement is the next step in a biomechanical approach to coaching distance runners. Researchers have investigated which biomechanical factors affect running economy, quite thoroughly.5,8

Applied biomechanist, and assistant professor in the kinesiology department at California State University, Chico, Dr. Melissa Mache, works with students on establishing the answers to 3 fundamental questions in the world of biomechanics: 1. How do people move? 2. How do better people move? And finally, 3. How do people move better? How better people move, and specifically, how elite runners run, should be the ground work for a coach in establishing what a coach and athlete would like to change. Knowing how and when to bridge the gap between where a runner’s movement patterns are and where they want to be may require a coach to have some background knowledge and/or conduct research into good running mechanics. Once a coach and an athlete have established exactly what they want to fix, putting into action the best way to change the movement can be the most difficult part. What an athlete thinks they are doing and what they are actually doing, more often than not, are two very different things. At present the development of specific interventions to change a runner’s technique have not been extensively investigated or well documented within the literature. However, there have been interventions that improve certain kinematic variables such as increased stride rate and reduction in vertical oscillation of the center of mass (CoM) through Pose® running method.9,10,11 Other interventions in the literature have addressed running mechanics among young or novice athletes.12,13 Some of this research suggests that a visual and verbal feedback intervention can be an effective means of eliciting modifications in running technique. At present it seems there is ample information, both evidence-based from relevant literature and anecdotal from coaches and athletes, to attempt to develop and implement a system for improving running mechanics.

That being said, I am currently a master’s student in Kinesiology at California State University, Chico. My course of study has allowed me to place an emphasis on learning in the sub-disciplines of Biomechanics and Strength & Conditioning. I am also in my third year as an assistant coach for the cross country team here at Chico which provides the opportunity to work with athletes on their running biomechanics on a weekly basis. Chico State’s cross country team has established themselves over the past couple of decades as one of the best teams in the NCAA Division II. Throughout the past 13 years, the Chico men and women cross country teams have won 10 Championship trophies (top 4 teams in the nation earn these) and have only been outside of the top 10 teams in the nation 3 times between both genders in the last 17 years (once on the men’s side and twice on the women’s side). The standards at which we are able to allow people on the team subsequently require all incoming athletes to have fairly elite talent at the high school level as well.  Thus, I am blessed to work with very elite Division II cross country runners who compete at a national level every year. Throughout the Fall 2016 cross country season I have been and will continue to use a structured verbal and visual feedback system in order to elicit better running technique and hopefully improve RE among our runners. The system I have been implementing is heavily based in some of the evidence from both physiological and biomechanical literature that I previously cited.

In coming blogs I will shed light on the specific feedback I have provided (and continue to use) to help our athletes at Chico State. Furthermore, I will also offer explanation of how that feedback was provided. It is my hope that this blog will be useful to coaches at all levels of competition and runners of all abilities. I am excited to talk about the intricacies of this intervention as well as monitor its effectiveness in eliciting changes. It is likely that this blog will result in the discussion of many successes and even a few failures. It is my hope that both my successes and failures will prove valuable to those who wish to improve their own running or the running of others.

 

References

  1. Conley, D. L., & Krahenbuhl, G. S. (1980). Running economy and distance running performance of highly trained athletes. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 12(5), 357-360.
  2. Ferri, A., Adamo, S., La Torre, A., Marzorati, M., Bishop, D. J., & Miserocchi, G. (2012). Determinants of performance in 1,500-m runners. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 112(8), 3033-3043.
  3. Foster, C. (1983). VO2 max and training indices as determinants of competitive running performance. Journal of Sports Science, 1(1), 13-22.
  4. Morgan D. W., Baldini, F. D., Martin, P. E., & Kohrt. W. M. (1989). Ten kilometer performance and predicted velocity at VO2max among well-trained male runners. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 21(1), 78-83
  5. Saunders, P. U., Pyne, D. B., Telford, R. D., & Hawley, J A. (2004). Factors affecting running economy in trained distance runners. Sports Medicine, 34(7), 465-485.
  6. Millet, G. P., Jaouen, B., Borrani, F., & Candau, R. (2002). Effects of concurrent endurance and strength training on running economy and .VO(2) kinetics. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 34(8), 1351-1359.
  7. Anderson, T. (1996). Biomechanics and running economy. Sports Medicine, 22(2), 76-89.
  8. Kyrolainen, H., Belli, A., & Komi, P. V. (2001). Biomechanical factors affecting running economy. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 33(8), 1330-1337.
  9. Arendse, R. E., Noakes, T. D., Azevedo, L. B., Romanov, N., Schwellnus, M. P., & Fletcher, G. J. (2004). Reduced eccentric loading of the knee with the Pose Running Method, Medicine Science in Sport and Exercise, 36(2), 272-277.
  10. Dallam, G. M., Wilber, R. L., Jadelis, K., Fetcher, G. J., & Romanov, N. (2005). Effect of a global alteration of running technique on kinematics and economy. Journal of Sports Sciences, 23(7), 757-764.
  11. Fetcher, G., Romanov, N., & Bartlett, R. (2008). Pose® method technique improves running performance without economy changes. International Journal of Sports Science & Coaching, 3(3), 365-380.
  12. Messier, S. P., & Cirillo, K. J. (1989). Effects of a verbal and visual feedback system on running technique, perceived exertion and running economy in female novice runners. Journal of Sports Sciences, 7(2), 113-126.
  13. Petray, C. K., & Krahenbuhl, G. S. (1985). Running training, instruction on running technique, and running economy in 10-year old males. Research Quarterly in Exercise and Sports, 56(3), 251-255.