I love running. It’s been a part of my life for nearly 30 years.
However, I understand not everyone does it for the heightened state of pure physical joy (lol). For some it is simply a means to an end. Keep the pounds off. Keep the ticker healthy, etc.
My goal today is simple: make running suck less for those that hate it and make it even easier and faster for those who enjoy it.
Here’s one easy pattern to start practicing immediately in your running: Pushing your feet down into the ground with each step, instead of pushing off and away from the ground.
With this simple movement correction, you will:
- Increase your stride length without even trying.
- Decrease the amount of energy needed to power each step.
- Reduce potential for injuries to the hip flexors and hamstrings.
The first part of the video demonstrates a stride pattern with a focus on pushing down into the ground.
The latter part of the video demonstrates a strike pattern with a focus on pushing off of the ground.
Can you see any differences?
Let’s look a bit more closely by examining shin angles.
The series above demonstrates the technique of pushing down into the ground. You’ll notice that the maximum shin angle (MSA) is 112 degrees whereas the shin angle at touchdown (SAT) is 90 degrees. That’s a difference of 22 degrees.
The next series demonstrates the technique of pushing off and away from the ground. You’ll notice that the MSA is only 103 degrees whereas the shin angle at touchdown SAT is 90 degrees. That’s a difference of 13 degrees, significantly less that the previous series.
Why does this matter?
Increased Stride Length
The higher the ratio of MSA to SAT not only means you are taking a longer stride, but each stride imparts more horizontal force into the ground, too. This occurs by the lower leg actively pulling back to the body right as it hits the ground. Longer stride with more force equals a stronger more efficient stride.
Decreased Energy Demands
By pushing down, you are also actively loading up your body’s “passive energy system”. This includes tendons, ligaments, fascia. By pushing down, these tissues (which don’t require energy to produce force) more efficiently absorb and redirect force without wasting the energy needed to fuel movement via muscular contraction. Less wasted energy on each stride equals more energy over the course of a really long run.
Decreased Frequency of Injury
Not only are your strides shorter and less powerful, but the manner in which your foot hits the ground increases chances of injury to the hip flexors, hamstrings, and joints. Pushing off the floor increases the ground contact time with each step and doesn’t do as much to absorb the force of each step. This pattern also sets up the body for a double whammy of inefficency. First, there is a greater reliance on the hamstrings to extend the hips for more propulsive force. This will cause the leg to be further behind the body at toe-off. With the leg so far behind the body, the hip flexors must work to pull the leg back in front in prep for the next step. Normally, this part of the gait cycle occurs passively i.e. you don’t have to actively pull the leg back; stored elastic energy in the tendons and fascia helps drive hip during flexion (when the thigh goes from point down to the floor to being parallel/more horizontal to the floor). So if you are wondering why your hips or hamstrings are really tight, they might just be working a bit too hard.
Unlike in weightlifting where someone teaches you (hopefully) good technique, seldom is proper running technique explained. Running well involves lots of practice, but with cues and drills such as the one discussed today, you just might discover how much you like to run!