Efficiency equals speed!
By Judy Torel
It is that time of year. The time of year when runners, who have been prisoners to treadmills for months, start to take to the streets again!
There are runners who run 3 miles and runners who are participating in ultra marathons (over 30 miles!). Regardless of your distance, every runner that I know wants three things: to be able to expend less energy at the same speed; to be less prone to injuries; and, if possible, to be faster.
If you are a swimmer, you spend endless hours working on the most efficient body position and stroke technique to reduce drag in the water. If you are a cyclist, endless dollars are spent in determining the most ergonomically efficient position for your body on your bike.
When it comes to running, there has been an unspoken expectation that everyone knows how to run and all you have to do is just ….well, run! If you ask the average person what is the best running technique, usually the answer includes performing as long a stride as possible with your foot reaching out in front of you on the road and a heel, ball, toe roll through your foot to push you into the next step.
In recent years, two methods have been developed and promoted that bring into question the wisdom of what is good running technique. Just like swimming and cycling (and tennis and golf and all other sports for that matter), the new theories promote technique as a method to make you a more energy-efficient, injury-free, faster runner regardless of genetic aerobic capacity or fast twitch muscle fibers.
The POSE Method
The POSE system of running was developed by the two-time Olympic Coach Nicholas Romanov. The theory is based on the premise that the position of the body is the most important component in achieving maximum speeds while remaining injury-free. The idea is that the body must achieve the perfect “pose” while running. The perfect pose, according to this theory, is when the runner’s body forms a straight line from the head to the tip of the shoulder, through the center of the hip joint, to the ball of the feet. When in this pose, the runner’s body is in a perfect “S” shape with the natural contours of the spine held in integrity. The “S” shape of the spine is designed for maximal shock absorption, so this body posture results in minimal injury.
The feet land directly under the hips with a mid-foot landing as opposed to a heel strike. A heel strike results in a mini-braking action every time the runner takes a step. The forward motion is temporarily stopped with each heel strike and then the runner must use their muscles to “re-start” the forward momentum thereby requiring more energy at any given speed. The mid-foot landing also reduces the trauma on the skeletal system. Running creates a force of three times your body weight with each foot fall. Landing on the mid-foot is said to minimize the impact forces with each step and is one of the ways the POSE method is said to help reduce injuries.
The POSE method teaches a high turnover rate or cadence. The theory is that each second that your foot is on the ground costs you wasted energy because it impinges on the momentum of the forward motion desirable for running. The high cadence combined with the forefoot landing allows for an overall less energy demanding running form. Even if this doesn’t result in faster speeds (which the developer says it does!) it creates less fatigue at whatever current speed the runner maintains.
The POSE method can be learned through a series of running drills which can be accessed online and in running clinics. Youtube has many videos showing the drills and the method.
The Chi Running theory was developed by Danny Dwyer and, as the name implies, is based on principles from Tai Chi and general Eastern thinking regarding energy (which is called chi in eastern theories).
Chi Running is similar to POSE running in many ways. Both advocate body posture, mid-foot landing, keeping the feet directly under the hips while landing, and using the natural forward motion to propel the runner forward in place of muscle strength and aerobic power.
Chi Running posture is comprised of an elongated spine from the top of the head to the hips and a slight forward lean in order to take advantage of the forward momentum involved in running. The axis of the forward lean comes from the ankle joint while the legs and torso remain relaxed.
The focus of Chi Running is on relaxation of the body. Striving and straining to maintain an unbalanced posture will result in slower and less pleasant running. When the body is in its correct alignment and is positioned to take advantage of the forward propulsion of running, then minimum chi (energy) is expended and the runner takes on a “flow state” which feels good and results in faster running, too!
Just like with POSE, there are many videos on Youtube that illustrate the Chi Running technique and show drills on how to begin to practice the form.
In real life
When you attend a running or triathlon event and watch the winners come across the finish lines, it becomes apparent that many of the age groupers and the elites have their own personal gaiting patterns. If their gaiting patterns are analyzed for efficiency and injury reduction, they would fail miserably! I ran behind Hilary Buscay, an elite tri-athlete (as she passed me on her second loop to my first!) and watched her run with one leg swinging out to the side on every step as if she had a disjointed knee. She looked like she could not even walk, let alone win Ironman level triathlons!
That said, the question remains as to whether there is a proper running form. Perhaps Hilary would be even faster if she did POSE running drills and altered her running gait.
If you are a runner and have either been riddled with recurrent injuries or are frustrated with an inability to increase your speeds in races, it may be worthwhile to experiment with either POSE or CHI running.
If you do decide to alter your running gait beware that just like swimmers, golfers, cyclists and other athletes, working on form takes extreme patience and repetition, repetition, repetition! Think of Tiger Woods a few years ago. His golf game suffered while he took on the project of unlearning some old techniques and teaching his body to adapt to a new swing. Or think of Lance Armstrong who worked in a wind chamber for endless hours perfecting the high cadence pedal stoking that allowed him to win seven Tours.
You may decide to stay with your current running style, change to one of the theories discussed above, or maybe take one component from the theories and begin to integrate it into your running. Running is like many things in life, an opportunity for self-awareness and finding your personal edge so that you can push into it just enough to keep expanding and growing. Perhaps the POSE or CHI techniques can help foster this in your running practice!
Judy Torel is a USAT coach, personal trainer, nutrition consultant and psychotherapist. She conducts online services through her website www.judytorel.com. Her office is located in Planet Fitness, Loudonville. She is also a competing triathlete who is currently training for Ironman, Florida. She can be reached at 469.0815 or firstname.lastname@example.org.