12.16.2008

Pose Running Technique

Introduction
There exist many schools of thought with regards to proper running technique. I have already posted an entry entitled General Running Technique. This entry examines a particular type of instruction that has found popularity amongst the triathlon world. It is known as the pose method of running.

Background
Pose running technique as invented by Nicholas Romanov, a Russian scientist now based in Miami and a consultant to the British, US and Mexican triathlon associations. While heavily involved with athlete training in Russia during the 1970s and 1980s, Romanov discovered that as athletes increased the workload they tended to breakdown physically. These observations led Romanov to his proposition of one universal running technique for all runners, regardless of speed or distance. This means that a 100 meter sprinter would run with the same underlying technique as a 10 kilometer long-distance runner. One of the chief aims of the pose running technique is to prevent undue strain on the joints and it requires a great deal of muscular endurance and resilience. According to Romanov, the Ethiopian distance champion Haile Gebrselassie and the US sprint legend Michael Johnson are both examples of runners with a natural pose style.

The Pose Running Technique
The distinguishing characteristic of the pose running technique is that the athlete lands on the midfoot, with the supporting joints flexed at impact, and then uses the hamstring muscles to withdraw the foot from the ground, relying on gravity to propel the runner forward. This style is in direct contrast to the heel strike method shown below in Fig 1.
While the concept appears simple, the practice is extremely hard to master. It is only with expert coaching and dedicated training that an athlete can perfect the pose running technique. This style of running is physically demanding, so runners must undertake strengthening drills before starting the program.

Principles
Running should be easy, effortless, smooth and flowing. Romanov says the runner is only as good as his change of support and that the runner should have a very high cadence - not a long, extended stride length. In pose running, the key is to maximize your effort in removing your support foot from the ground. Good training is essential to ensure that you do not over-stride or create excessive vertical oscillation.

The runner should fall forwards, changing support from one leg to the other by pulling the foot from the ground, allowing minimum effort and producing minimum braking to this body movement. The idea is to maximize the use of gravity to pull the runner forward.

The pose running technique is centered on the idea that a runner maintains a single pose or position, moving continually forwards in this position. Romanov uses two models to explain the rationale behind pose:

(1) The Mechanical Model - the center of gravity, which is around the hip position, should move in a horizontal line, without vertical up and down displacement.

(2) The Biological Model - the rear leg maintains an S-like form and never straightens. This notion comes from animals such as the cheetah which do not land on their heels but run on the midfoot and deploy a pulling through action using their hamstrings rather than pushing the foot into the ground (see Fig 2 below).
Perhaps the most useful imagery to help with this technique is to imagine a vertical line coming from the runner's head straight down to the ground. The raised front leg should never breach this line, but remain firmly behind it. This focuses the effort firmly on pulling the ankle up vertically under your hip rather than extending forward with your quads and hip flexors.

Summary of Pose Running Technique Principles
1. Raise your ankle straight up under your hip, using the hamstrings.
2. Keep your support time short.
3. Your support is always on the balls of your feet.
4. Do not touch the ground with your heels.
5. Avoid shifting weight over your toes: raise your ankle when the weight is on the ball of your foot.
6. Keep your ankle fixed at the same angle.
7. Keep knees bent at all times.
8. Feet remain behind the vertical line going through your knees.
9. Keep stride length short.
10. Keep knees and thighs down, close together and relaxed.
11. Always focus on pulling the foot from the ground, not on landing.
12. Do not point or land on the toes (see below Fig 3: Toe Running).
13. Gravity, not muscle action, controls the landing of the legs.
14. Keep shoulder, hip and ankle in vertical alignment.
15. Arm movement is for balance, not for force production.
The Power Behind the Pose Running Technique
Pose is by no means universally accepted by the running community. It is quite possible that many of the benefits experienced by pose athletes are the result of the rigorous strengthening programs they undertake. Pose drills include conventional physiotherapy exercises such as eccentric Achilles tendon training, proximal pelvic control in single leg standing and control of femoral rotation. The focus on proprioception, together with the strong imagery of the technique, changes the physical placement of the limbs and reduces the downward displacement force of the foot onto the ground. If one is to undertake pose training, one must be committed to learning the new technique. The technical drills outlined can be very strenuous and must be exercised with caution.

Pose Drills
If you are seriously considering the transition to pose, you should practice the drills below (building up the level of difficulty) once or twice daily, three sets of 10 to 15 reps per drill. Drills should be practiced for at least a week before attempting to run in pose, and should be performed before a run. All drills should be performed barefoot for added awareness of the movements, on a forgiving surface such as grass or a running track. The drills fall into three sections:

(1) Basic drills to reinforce the pose position, the use of the hamstring in pulling the foot from the ground and the feeling of falling forward under the effect of gravity (drills 1-7)
(2) Intermediate drills to reinforce these feelings (drills 8-9)
(3) Advanced drills to aid speed, balance, strength and reflexiveness (not shown here)

Drill 1: Pose Stance (Fig 4 below)
This is to be practiced at a static pose, held for up to 30 seconds. It requires good postural control and no support is allowed. The idea is to challenge the mechanoreceptors in the joints and soft tissues to provide feedback to the brain regarding joint position and muscle tone.
  • It is the basic position to hold and to practice balance
  • The use of a mirror is recommended
  • Shoulder, hip and ankle should always be vertically aligned
  • Point of contact with the ground is always the midfoot
  • Hip is always held over the support point, which is the midfoot
Drill 2: Change of Support Without Moving
  • Shift center of gravity sideways from one leg to the other, maintaining support on the midfoot
  • You must feel the weight shift from one leg to the other before pulling up
  • It is important to feel the weight shift and then the acceleration of this movement by the pulling-up of the hamstring
  • Pull the ankle up vertically under the hip using the hamstring only, not hip flexors or quadriceps
  • Allow the leg to drop to the ground - do not drive it down
  • Mental focus is on the pulling-up action, not the leg drop
Drill 3: Pony (Fig 5 below)
  • The practices of changing support using minimum effort and minimal range of movement
  • Simultaneously lift the ankle of the support leg while allowing your body weight to shift to the other leg
  • Use only the hamstring
  • Keep in mind your support point on the midfoot (toes will also be in contact)
Drill 4: Forward Change of Support (Fig 6 below)
  • This puts the pony into action - practice slowly at first
  • Lean slightly forward and simultaneously pull the ankle up under the hip using the hamstring and allow the non-support leg to drop to the ground under the force of gravity
  • Make sure the weight transfer is effortless and that the foot is allowed to fall
Drill 5: Foot Tapping (Fig 7 below)
  • Single leg drill, 10-15 taps per set
  • This emphasizes the vertical leg action and use of hamstrings rather than driving the knees up and forward using your hip flexors and quads
  • It prevents your foot from being too far out in front of the body, which would cause you to land on your heel and create a braking action
  • Aim for rapid firing of the hamstring, lifting the foot from the ground as soon as it touches down
  • You must feel the muscles fire and then relax - avoid a forceful pull all the way up - if you are doing it correctly, the lower leg will decelerate after the initial firing and accelerate as gravity returns it to the ground
Drill 6: Hopping (Fig 8 below)
This movement progresses the tapping drill. The momentum for the hopping support leg should come from the hamstring action on the non-hopping leg. Take care: this is an advanced movement which will place unhealthy stress on structures such as the Achilles/calf muscles if not performed correctly.
  • Start by pulling up the non-hopping leg with your hamstring and use the reaction force of the ground to aid this recoil effect
  • Do not push with the calf but just lift the ankle with the hamstring and make sure the ankle is relaxed between hops
Drill 7: Front Lunge
  • Single leg drill which increases the range of movement of the hopping drill
  • This truly forces you to isolate the hamstring muscles
  • Practice initially on the spot until you are stable enough to allow forward movement
  • Keep weight on front leg - the back leg drags behind
  • Pull ankle vertically up under the hip using the hamstring
  • Keep contact time with the ground as short as possible
  • Allow rear leg to follow loosely
  • Remember to land on the ball of your foot
  • Forward movement is created not by pushing off but by leaning forward from the hips - you drag the rear leg behind you for balance
Drill 8: Switch (Fig 9 below)
  • Both ankles are being picked up
  • This time you are picking the rear leg up as well with the hamstring
  • Transfer weight from one leg to the other as you alternate support
  • Keep contact time with the ground to a minimum, only as necessary to change support
  • Keep heels off the ground and land on the balls of your feet
  • Always think of the pose stance: good vertical alignment of shoulder, hip and foot
Drill 9: Running Lunge
  • This is pose running, but with a deliberate emphasis on the speed of the hamstring pull-up
  • The aim is to teach the working leg to react as quickly as possible, minimizing support time on the ground
  • The runner pulls the heel up vertically from the ground but allows it to fall easily to the ground
More information on the pose running technique can be found here.

Sources

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