In my last article, I talked about how running form is so important to runners but didn’t delve into what that form consists of. Let’s take a deeper look at what runners need to work on to become more efficient and prevent injuries.
During a run, every single person will do three things:
- They will enter a stance that is universal in every runner’s stride. You, me, and Galen Rupp all do this. In the first picture above, the runner in blue is in the Runner’s Pose. In the second, his competition has entered this pose.
- They will fall forward from this pose.
- They will eventually pull the leg on which they are standing so that they continue to move forward. In the first picture above, the runner in red is pulling, while in the second the American runner is pulling.
These are the essential elements of running, and everything else is a waste of energy. This is all you need to focus on to improve and move forward
To help emphasize these points, let’s look at the fastest man in history, Usain Bolt:
First, his foot strike helps him enter the Runner’s Pose quickly, as seen in Frame 1. Rather than striking out in front of his hip (like the runners in red and blue in the photos above), his foot lands right underneath it, allowing his trail leg to pull up underneath him quickly, facilitating quick turnover and wasting minimal energy. This also lets him spend minimal time with his feet on the ground. In his world record run, Bolt spent just over three seconds on the ground and over six seconds in the air. Running, if done right, should be more about flying than anything else.
This also lets him spend minimal time with his feet on the ground. In his world record run, Bolt spent just over three seconds on the ground and over six seconds in the air. Running, if done right, should be more about flying than anything else.
Where Bolt excels is his ability to fall forward. See Frame 3 above: his fall angle is measured from his ankle to his hips, and shows how much his body is leaning forward. At any point past 25 degrees, the human body lacks the ability to safely recover and stand itself up.
In every stride that Bolt takes, he is teetering on the edge of falling on his face but manages to save himself. While he teeters, he gathers momentum from gravity – his muscles have minimal work to do, and he utilizes gravity to its fullest extent.
Finally, his pull… is not perfect. This is the one area where he could use some work. Ideally, you pull your foot up underneath your hip immediately after completing your fall. He does this in Frame 4 (he’s done falling in Frame 3 once his torso passes his trail leg), but it remains behind him in Frames 4, 5 and 6. This is too long, as having that leg behind you wastes energy and slows you down.
While we can’t all run like Bolt over longer distances, we can learn from his technique. Being the fastest man in the world, he is clearly doing a lot right, better than a clear majority of us. His form is near-perfect, and thus his results are as well. He is a living example of how an ideal technique can lead to optimal results.
This is something that all of us can learn, but few take the time to perfect. Analyzing and perfect form can be your next key to a PR or breaking out of your plateau.
Ryan Wolff, PT, DPT, has helped to develop a program specifically for runners that aims at restoring strength and mobility, correcting mechanics, and ultimately decreasing injury rates while increasing performance. Learn more about this and other TTR Performance programs here.