The subject of training for specific distance in running is not as simple or “obvious” as it might seem. Whereas doing sprints while getting ready for 100m seems logical and reasonable, just because you’re preparing to run a marathon, doesn’t mean you should run one during training. I’m often told that it is counterintuitive but we’ll have to agree to disagree, besides it is never specified whose intuition is being used here as a standard. My own experience of over 40 years as an athlete first and then as a coach, my intuition, my understanding of this topic as a scientist and teacher, all make me follow the logic dictated by the processes involved, processes that I see, processes that inevitably lead to certain conclusions and approaches.
Training overall is a delicate process and requires much thought and preparation, and work. Training for a specific distance adds a layer of difficulty. It is crazy to expect such effort from anyone who is not training on a professional level. However, a bit of effort will go a long way, so in my articles I attempt to present such information in the simplest form possible to help you protect yourself from injuries and wandering off in the wrong direction. While some experimentation is healthy and can be fun, some of the uneducated guesses can carry heavy financial and health costs.
What is the Goal of Racing?
What is your final goal when you enter a race? Any race, no matter the distance? Simply put, the final goal of anyone running any race is to attempt to run that specific distance with a good resulting time, or at least faster than before. Even those that enter to merely ‘finish’, as they say, are still pressured by certain time constraints. The rules are (and they are clearly understood) that if you don’t finish within a specific time frame than you won’t get the finisher medal and instead will get the dreaded ‘DNF’. So as you see, even at the recreational level of racing, it is still a race and a question of speed.
However, simply running more miles will not make anybody a better or faster runner. Specific training will. That applies to sprinters as much as to marathoners and everyone else.
What is the Goal of Training?
Simply put, the goal is to be able to run a specific distance on a specific date. Preferably faster than last time. Maybe faster than a bunch of other people that will also be racing.
What is a Common Approach to Training?
Diluted by folklore, training process has become a foggy scenario where recreational runners obtain some numbers from someone who called those numbers a “training plan” and proceed to follow half heartedly that plan while missing some days, skipping some stuff, etc. The emphasis in such training is often put on running and running and running. I’m sorry to disappoint you but this is not a ‘10,000 hour’ thing, and even the 10,000 hours are not a real thing, so what is this idea of running and running and running? This is an oversimplified picture but it summarizes the confusion.
A common approach to training clearly shows the common opinion of what training is – a repetitive experience of doing. Doing something. A rather popular belief or an assumption that during training a runner should run the very distance he or she is training for has no scientific foundation. It is suggested that it helps prepare the athlete for the given distance by letting him/her “experience the load”.
The reality, however, is that every one of us can run any given distance, whether it’s 100m or a marathon. The only true question is – who can do it faster and incur less damage in the process?
The “experience” mentioned earlier is purely a psychological tactic to feel more secure and confident. There is no scientific basis there, no significant physiological advantage and there are better ways to get that feeling of confidence like, for example, improving technique. However, this psychological tactic has a strong potential to cause a lot of physical damage. If you’re attempting to train for a marathon by simply running and running, what you’re really doing is robbing yourself of progress, plus getting a little more and more of “wear and tear” with every pointless long slow run. Every such run has a potential of a serious injury besides not only being unproductive, but what’s more – being counterproductive.
What is a Better Approach to Training?
There are certain things about our body and mind, our personal energy level and perception that are not common knowledge among athletes and coaches, and especially recreational ones. Add to that hierarchical relations between combinations of short, middle and long distances used in training, and relations between speed and endurance and at this point you should be able to see how complex real training is. If those important aspects are not taken into consideration when training is being planned then it shouldn’t be called training and no particular or successful results should be expected.
One of the founding fathers of athletics in Soviet Union, Nicholai Ozolin, wrote in 1949: “Speed is the foundation of endurance.” While this is not widely accepted or even understood yet, the statement made all these years ago is pretty much the jackpot. The athlete/coach that understands it, gets the keys to the gates, i.e. to faster running on long distances.
In order for your training to be effective, whatever the distance, everything you do has to be aimed at the main event – a particular distance on a particular day. While it is simple to have a goal – the date of the race – it is far from simple or easy to figure out what needs to be done in order to get to that date and reach the goal.
Regardless of the distance you’re training for, the bulk of your training process should be focused on developing and maintaining proper form and your body should have the necessary level of strength developed. That alone will serve as a ‘life-saving’ foundation for your performance level. Additionally, you should dedicate your attention to developing speed.
Using the above mentioned as a foundation you can achieve solid progress or at the very least – stability. The better your technique, the longer you can keep on running. When selecting a race to participate in, remember, that whether it is a 5K or marathon – you can do it.
Proper training regimen and planning will prepare you for the race and save you from overtraining and injuries. A really good training program, along with a knowledgeable coach, will help reveal your full potential. In the absence of a coach, my new app or web based training plans might be what you’re looking for. Try them. It is build on the principles I described in this article. The best part is that you don’t need to wonder or guess – simply type in your data and follow the prompts.
TRAINING PLANS (.PDF)
$10/month Training Plans by Dr. Romanov for Marathon, Half Marathon, 10K and 5K
TRAINING PROGRAMS (APP)
$9.99/month Training Programs by Dr. Romanov for Marathon, Half Marathon, 10K and 5K
There were 2 major contenders, Nike and adidas, that officially announced their efforts to achieve the sub 2 hour record. One down, 1 to go. Nike just made good on their promise to attempt to break that 2 hr mark. Results are in and there is a question. There was no information on drug testing. Can we take their word for it? Considering the result – maybe.
Let’s mention two things before we go further:
- Nike’s attempt to break the 2 hr marathon was about marketing new Nike shoes.
- This article is about marketing a scientific interest in achieving the sub 2hr marathon
- adidas’ effort is also a marketing one
And of course there is a ‘new and improved’ shoe involved and it will be available later this year. While I’m being a bit sarcastic, it must be said that we do need better and improved shoes and it’s good to have so many options and companies willing to invest so much resources into the research and development, into the production and marketing – it is no easy feat. That said, it is healthy to keep in mind what shoes can and cannot give us.
Nike’s attempt was admirable and applaudable and it was fun to watch. It takes guts and often considerable resources to make a bold statement and proceed with the project. But this specific project should have been about athletes, their talent and skill, and not the shoes. There was too much emphasis put on how these amazing shoes will provide everything but the wings, most of the articles out were focused on the shoes. But are shoes still amazing if they are placed on the feet of a runner that couldn’t deliver not because he is not good but because he was chosen for the wrong race? Lelisa Desisa and Zersenay Tadese suffered the consequences of that poor choice. According to Dr. Romanov they were not equal competition to Kipchoge. But then again, could that have been the plan?
It Didn’t Happen Because…
To all the hopeful marathon fanatics out there – it is possible and we might see it sooner rather than later! Here’s the reality that we are working with – there are currently around 180-200 athletes in the world (based on officially published data and footage) that are physically capable of achieving this breakthrough. A smaller group from that couple of hundred runners could actually do it. So there it is – it can happen!
But it didn’t happen this time, and essentially it can all be narrowed down to this:
- There was no attention given to improving technique, no psychological training and zero focus on perception – things that are at the heart of athletic excellence
- There was lopsided emphasis on physiology – something that’s predetermined by genes and cannot be changed. Elite runners are elite because they are already on another level, they were born this way (Lady Gaga is smiling somewhere now).
- There was focus on economy and efficiency – things that are the outcomes, the results of the combination of the above mentioned, but how do you improve the result without improving factors that produce that result?
- There was too much pinned on the benefits of the shoes, the track, the artificially created conditions.
The Chosen Runners
First thing is first – according to Dr. Romanov’s calculations based on publicly available data and footage, only one of the selected three had a fighting chance – Eliud Kipchoge. If you look at their statistics, the numbers show that Desisa and Tadese shouldn’t have been expected to break 2 hrs. Kipchoge displayed a better focus all the way to the finish line.
There is a number of athletes that could’ve been and should’ve been selected in their place, but I guess it’s understandable that since this is a Nike project, the pool of athletes was limited to those sponsored by Nike. And here’s your problem #1 with this project. Yes it’s understandable but, again, it points to business and marketing, when it should be about a scientific pursuit of excellence in athletics that is not strangled by brands and their investments. It would have been a more progressive approach to invite other brands and their sponsored athletes to participate and work out the scope of involvement.
Now if Wilson Kipsang and Kenenisa Bekele were competing – that could have yielded some interesting results! Bekele being Dr. Romanov’s favorite here.
The Running Shoes
This project was about these new shoes and it can now serve as a good example of the limits of any shoe. After all that considerable investment and all this intellectual investment into the intricate design of these shoes – the shoes made no significant difference. Actually they made no difference at all. I was hoping that we’ll see a “belief” factor at play but no. The athletes either didn’t believe at all that the shoes would make them faster or did believe and yet it made no difference. Either way – fail. But they will be available, correction – their less appealing general public version – will be available this summer for $250 and I’m sure sales will do just fine regardless.
The Running Conditions
Some excited celebrities went as far as to compare this project to placing a man on the moon. Ah…. no. Nothing like it. If only because these guys going in the outer space do not have an armada of ships in front of them to protect them from occasional debris, nor do they have pacing ships, etc.
There is nothing exciting about this artificial setup. It is nothing like the real deal. Even the shoes were “designed specifically to suit the exact surface and conditions of the Formula One race track in Monza, Italy” where the athletes made their sub-two attempt. Wow, stop the presses, are you kidding me? I’m sorry, what was the point of this attempt again? Right – selling shoes.
The Work Ahead
And there is plenty. But no it doesn’t involve specially created shoes, windless artificial environments, breathing masks, etc. Before there can be real benefit derived from these, there must be a solid foundation that involves better training, better coaching, better understanding of what complete training process involves and how to create better training regimen in order to groom a champion and not just rely on his or hers talent. Too many athletes break down at a very young age without ever realizing their potential. Too many peak and fade away well ahead of their time.
Hopefully, adidas will step up their game having now witnessed what Nike’s attempt produced but considering they’ve already been at it for a while it is doubtful any changes that could yield significant results can be made in time for their public attempt.
In order for any runner to break through to another level, they must understand that it can only happen if they improve their perception and technique. There are limits on many things but these two areas have no limits.
That ‘zone’ that everyone knows about, that elite athletes write about in their memoirs, where they effortlessly set world records but it just happened, they couldn’t do it voluntarily afterwards. That zone, that special state is achieved by improving perception. Of course, being on elite level their perception is already way above an average runner, but compared to physiological aspects, perception has layer upon layer of levels and can be continuously improved. Similarly, technique can continuously be fine tuned. Technique is that gateway that either prevents an athlete from expressing his or hers full potential and hinders natural abilities, or provides the best outlet for the best expression possible and we all benefit – we get to bask in the glory of magnificent athletic achievement.
This process of developing perception and improving technique is incredibly fascinating and is a never-ending source of personal discoveries and continuous progress and growth. But many just hammer away those miles.
Food For Thought
Sometimes I wonder, what if while we are passionately discussing this and arguing over what’s possible, there is a person somewhere out there that quietly runs a 1:55 marathon once a week because it’s a fun thing to do. But we don’t know about it because that person didn’t enter a race and nobody is there to clock that breathtaking event. If nobody witnesses the event – does it change history?
According to Dr. Romanov if we take our terrestrial gravity, other forces, body and mind into account, it is possible to run a 1hr 27 min marathon. But chances are it will take us a long while to get there, like another 200+ years… Unless we are willing to switch the focus off the shoes and onto the things that really make a difference!
If you were to attend one of the Pose Method seminars on running technique you’d hear something many don’t expect to hear – an instruction of the participants to not focus on their footstrike. “Forget about footstrike! Pull, pull, pull!” If you’ve already attended the course, you know why, and for everyone else, the answer is simple – how your foot lands is a byproduct of your technique overall so there is no need to focus on it.
Over the years, the debate about running technique went sideways and into an unintended territory of footstrike. You’re a heelstriker! No I land on my midfoot. Wait, but forefoot is better! It should come as no surprise to anyone that as we run we sometimes land on various parts of the foot depending on the road, the terrain, whether we’re speeding up or slowing down, making a turn, a u-turn, a zigzag or going for a straight shot. So referring to anyone based on how they claim to land is silly. That’s besides the fact that most of the time those claims are not supported by their own video footage.
Without a question, our forefoot is better built to accept the bodyweight load. While landing on the front part of your foot is the way to go, that should not be the focus of learning or teaching someone how to run.
Why should we not focus on how we land? Because the part of the foot that we land on isn’t as important as where we land, but even that should not be our focus. A bigger picture should be taken into account:
- How does the body of a runner move relative to the point of support?
- Where is that point of support relative to the general center of mass?
- What is going on with your technique overall?
When teaching or learning how to run we must not separate our feet from the body and the body from the environment it is in.
Focus on Footstrike = Focus on Landing = Wasted Effort
Focus on footstrike also forces one to focus on landing which usually results in forced landing ahead and that is not a good thing. Besides, why focus on something that we do on a virtually instinctual level? It’s going to happen anyway so what gives?
Try to push someone lightly as they are walking or standing, or even running. The direction of the push does not matter. This is what is going to happen next – the person will reposition their foot or both feet to maintain their balance no matter how clumsily but without giving it a second thought, and most likely not even realizing they are doing it, all the while looking at you. You will feel and see their entire focus in their stare. I encourage you to experiment but it’s probably safer to do this with a friend! Again, running drills and exercises would help you not be clumsy when repositioning your limbs.
Our body always strives to maintain balance as a whole where limbs play a supporting role. If you were to focus on how you place your feet and arms when you stand or walk you’d look pretty awkward and odd.
Focus on the Running Pose = Efficient, Effective, Minimal Effort
In order to understand where our focus should be as we run, and why, we must understand that running technique is more than just footstrike. It is the movement of our entire body, but most importantly, it is how that movement happens. It surely isn’t just about putting one foot in front of the other. That approach is the reason for a ridiculously high rate of injuries among runners.
The Running Pose is the single instance in the entire cycle of the running stride that is critical to perfect running. It is distinguished from the thousands of positions in the running cycle in three critical ways: balance, potential energy and resilience. When a runner maintains the running pose, he /she automatically lands on the most appropriate part of the foot for that moment in time and space given the terrain, speed and other circumstances. Most of the time that would be directly underneath our body. If you are on a trail – you might end up landing a bit to the side or have to leap here and there, I trust you get the point. The key is to stay compact and ready. Your running pose should be ingrained into your pattern of movement to the point where you don’t even think about it. And this is where we can (at least we should) clearly see the importance of running drills. Preparation for the actual act of running is everything.
The right approach to movement requires a concept. Without a concept all we have are bits and parts that take everyone into different directions and further away from where it should be. When teaching or learning how to run we must not separate our feet from the body and the body from the environment it is in. We move in tune with the forces that are present. Our feet will surely land on their own so maintain focus on how you move. Focus on your Running Pose.
One of the most important yet simple and thus overlooked and undervalued aspects of Pose Running is the springness position, aka the S-stance. So it comes as no surprise when you see someone doing the ‘figure 4’ aka the Running Pose while standing on a completely straight leg with a locked knee.
The Springness Position, aka the S-stance, aka the Running Pose is a position of readiness – your joints unlocked and your body ready to move in any direction at a moment’s notice. This is why this position is the foundational point and also the position that most of the Pose technique drills start from.
Here’s a video clip from our online course “Beginner’s Guide to Pose Running”. It’s very simple, practice along or whenever you’re able. Get in the habit of getting into the s-stance and staying relaxed when you’re drilling or warming up or training, etc.
The S-like shape of the Running Pose was conceived to emulate the rear legs (bent in all joints) of animals who can run both fast and far.
Look at these photos demonstrating a variety of animals at speed. In each case, the rear legs are bent in all joints. There is no full extension, no complete unbending in the joints. This is completely natural running. And it merits further study to understand its implications for human movement.
The Benefit: Resilience
The principal asset of the S-like stance is that it facilitates optimum muscular elasticity. Elasticity is the ability of muscles to perform work, specifically to contract rapidly after an immediately prior extension. Nature’s design for running, the S-like stance, keeps all the connective tissue – muscles, tendons and ligaments – in a resilient, elastic state. Connective tissue that is not stretched to the limit remains supple and able to work efficiently.
Here’s a test you can perform at home with a dog or cat. First, try to stretch one of their rear legs to a fully straightened position. It’s virtually impossible. Nature has designed these legs to remain bent, keeping everything nice and relaxed.
Then, dig your fingertips into the thigh muscle of the animal. You might expect to feel a very hard muscle and be growled at by animal in pain. Instead you’ll
receive an impassive stare and feel very pliable muscle tissue. You can actually press all the way to the bone without causing any discomfort to the animal whatsoever.
It’s funny, but we are conditioned by the media to think of “rockhard” muscles as representing the ultimate in strength when in fact the opposite is true. The muscle that is the supplest and most elastic is the one capable of performing efficient work. Conversely, a rock hard muscle is laced with scar tissue and is too stiff to work efficiently.
The Benefit: Maneuverability
While we still have the dog or cat around, we can take note of yet another feature of nature’s running design – no heels. Dogs, cats and other animals don’t strike the ground with their heels because they don’t have them. Natural selection has forced them to run on the front part of the foot.
In the same fashion, in the Running Pose the runner is supported on the ball of the foot, with the leg bent in all joints (especially the knee joint) and the heel slightly above the support or lightly touching it. Most importantly, the weight is always kept on the ball of the foot. The Running Pose is lifted directly from nature and maintains all the connective tissue in a state of optimal preparedness to perform efficient work.
Please don’t confuse this with the directive to run on your toes. The emphasis here is on keeping your bodyweight focused on the front part of your foot where the heel operates at its own discretion and acts as a balancing support when necessary by also bearing some of the weight when needed.
Your ability to maintain the s-shape is especially important in sports where there are sudden twists and sharp turns, and zigzagging going on.
Benefit: Reduced Energy Expenditures
When standing, or going about daily tasks, notice how locking joints puts more stress on you compared to when you keep your joints slightly bent at all times (notice, if you bend your knees too much you will experience the opposite effect). While running, for example, when you remain is the pose as you change support from one foot to the next, you maximize the use of your muscular elasticity and resilience and thus reduce your energy expenditures. In fact, a 1964 study indicated that mechanical efficiency of running increased up to 50%, due to contributions from elastic storage and return of energy.
You must coordinate your muscles into an integral system to the point where it feels absolutely natural. That takes time, focus and effort but obviously it is worth it.
Benefit: Better Timing
Another beneficial aspect of the compactness and elasticity of the s-shape is its natural facilitation of better timing. Timing is everything. Just ask a sprinter that started moving out of the blocks a fraction of a second too soon, or an acrobat that was off by just a tiny bit. Similarly, correct timing in movement, and as part of running technique specifically, allows for your body to operate like a well oiled perfect machine in sync not just internally but also externally, with the environment. Timely pull of the foot makes running easier and also helps avoid a whole lot of injuries.
How high should you pull your foot up when running and with how much effort? To know the answer to this question, one has to understand the purpose of the action of pulling your foot up when running. This is where the importance of understanding the ‘why’ is highlighted again. Reading the theory and understanding it through and through is not about complicating what most of us wish was such a natural form of locomotion – running. Contrary to that common assumption and in my opinion, gaining full understanding of the subject is actually about gaining freedom. Freedom to effortlessly do what needs to be done because you know exactly what is happening, you know the rules and you can work with them at any speed on any terrain.
To put it simply, the necessary height of the pull will sort itself out. You do not need to think about it, all you need to do is make a slight effort to pull your foot up high enough to clear the ground and so it allows for change of support because running is nothing but ‘change of support’ while falling forward. In the Pose Method of Running, the pull is the last element of the technique that allows for the most efficient transition from one foot to the other. All you need is to execute the action of pulling correctly – everything else will be done for you. Trust the natural forces.
Effortless running is achieved through biomechanically proper technique because such technique works with and uses the natural forces such as gravity. By its very definition, effortless running requires or should take less effort. So, if all we need to do is change support in order to run, then the ultimate goal is to do that action with the least possible effort. Narrowing down all required action to a single action of pulling in the Pose Method of Running gets us closer to running with less effort, and actively working just one group of muscles – the hamstrings – fits the purpose and serves it well.
You will notice that putting less intentional effort into pulling your feet up by utilizing the hamstrings only, will help you do it correctly. You will also notice that such an important thing as high cadence is easier to achieve, if you don’t strain to pull your feet all the way up.
Putting less intentional effort into pulling your feet up by utilizing the hamstrings only, will help you do it correctly.
The general rule is – you’re better off pulling your foot up less than more. If you pull too high and/or too hard you will waste energy and will tire your hamstrings and might get injured. Think about the typical injury for sprinters – pulled hamstrings. Keep in mind, that the exaggerated motion of the pull, demonstrated in the running drills, is strictly for learning purposes, to help your body learn better patterns of movement required for running.
What about other muscles? Leave them alone. All you need is to do one action – pulling your feet up with your hamstrings – to set everything in the right motion with minimal effort.
When you run faster, your foot will end up higher. I say ‘end up’ because you are not supposed to be putting any effort into pulling it higher or leaving it lower. That’s too much to think about especially in sprinting where everything happens way before you can think about it. If you’re thinking about it, you are already too late.
When you run faster, your foot will end up higher.
(This is happening on its own and due to the forces already in play, Bolt is NOT PUTTING EFFORT INTO PULLING his foot up this high.)
There is no need to put any effort into forcing your foot so high. The entire trajectory of your foot will determine itself based on your speed. All you have to do is focus on maintaining your running pose.
At a slower speed your feet will be noticeably and naturally lower. When jogging, your running might resemble shuffling. Your feet will be at their lowest height of the pull.
Bicycles and cars roll right down the road, but what about runners? Given the analogies used in some of the chapters of the book, it probably won’t surprise you that the movement of the wheel is an ideal representation of the biomechanical essence of running. In chapter 13, we compared the torso of the body to the cab of a car, but we said virtually nothing about the wheels under the car. Here we go…
The 3 Key Points
The wheel is one of the most perfect appliances in existence. Despite its apparent simplicity, the wheel is a complex mechanism with three mechanical properties that have significant implications for human movement.
- First, the wheel is mechanically effective, in that it facilitates forward movement with minimal vertical oscillation.
- The second significant property is the relationship between the support point of the wheel and the body (General Center of Mass or GCM) it is moving. During the entire cycle of a wheel, the distance between the support and the body it is moving never changes. Similarly, the relative position of the two also remains constant.
- The final critical detail is that the point of support is constantly changing, no matter what the forward speed of the wheel might be. Further, the forward speed of the body being moved is exactly proportionate to the speed at which the support point is changed.
To give a visual representation of these mechanical properties, let’s simplify our car analogy a little bit and think of a person riding a unicycle. In this analogy, the “body” is both the frame and saddle of the unicycle and the rider perched on it. Underneath is a perfect moving circumference, the wheel. At any point in the rotation of the wheel only one point on the wheel is in contact with the ground. This is the support point, upon which rests all the weight of the body.
“Unicyclist riding.” The movement happens when the unicyclist leans towards desirable direction
Reflecting the first critical mechanical point, as the unicycle rolls down the road, the wheel is turning, changing support points, but there is no vertical oscillation. The rider’s head remains perfectly level. Why is this important?
As they say on TV, let’s go to the tape, specifically the broadcast of the 1981 New York City Marathon. As Tim Noakes explained in his 1991 book, “The Lore of Running”, the broadcast included a dramatic sequence of Alberto Salazar, then the world’s top marathoner, as he crossed the Queensborough Bridge. In the angle shown on TV, only Salazar’s head and shoulders were visible above the bridge wall and it was clear that his head was remaining absolutely parallel to the top of the wall. In other words, there was no vertical oscillation created by his stride, no energy wasted in lifting and lowering the body. The “Salazar Shuffle” was indeed an efficient means of forward locomotion.
The Wheel Concept
Going back to the unicycle, we note also that as the wheel rolls forward, neither the distance between the point of support and the rider nor their spatial relationship changes. The point of support is always directly beneath the saddle, the torso and ultimately the head of the rider. This relationship is the most efficient for retaining forward motion in the horizontal plane, minimizing any potential braking effects.
Going further, we can look at the rider’s feet as the pedaling motion goes through its cycle. Whenever a foot is at the bottom of the pedal stroke, where is it? Directly beneath the rider’s torso, with the leg slightly bent. Remove the unicycle from your mental image and what do you have? A runner in the Running Pose, both legs bent, support on the ball of the foot with the body in a straight line above the point of support. Landing with all the weight of the body directly above the point of support on a leg, that is bent to minimize shock, substantially decreases the load on muscles, ligaments and joints and thus decreases the chance of sustaining injury.
Key to Faster Running
Now put the rider back on the unicycle to consider the final critical mechanical property of the wheel: the proportional relationship between the speed at which the point of support is changed and the speed with which the body moves forward. Very simply, the faster support is changed, the faster the body moves. The lesson here is that the faster a runner’s stride, i.e. the faster he changes support from one foot to the next, the faster his forward speed will be. Stride frequency, not length, is the key to faster running.
It is true that while the wheel constantly changes support from one point to the next, the human can’t duplicate this exact biomechanical efficiency, given only two feet to trade the support. However, we can approach the feeling of uninterrupted change of support. The faster we change support, the more we can visualize our legs as a wheel. We can indeed roll down the road, just as we suggested at the top of this chapter.
Confirmation of this comes from practical studies that demonstrate that elite runners have a faster stride rate than run-of-the-mill athletes at all distances. In his 1997 book Daniels’ Running Formula, the respected American coach Jack Daniels noted that there is data from his many years of practical observation that indicates elite runners tend to run with a stride frequency of not less than 180 strides per minute, which he links to good technique.
If you look at this statistic “backwards”, i.e. first noting that elite runners run with high stride rates, the critical importance of perfect form and efficiency becomes obvious. It is simply impossible to maintain such a high stride rate over any significant distance with poor form. There’s a common phrase race commentators use when the form of a competitive runner begins to deteriorate in the latter stages of a race and it couldn’t ring any truer. “It looks like the wheels have come off,” they say, and when you look at the runner, you know exactly what they mean. The form and efficiency are gone and the runner is now struggling to finish, no longer a contender for victory.
The meaning of the wheel concept is really very simple: to move with wheel-like efficiency, we must minimize bounce (vertical oscillation), land with support directly under the body and maintain a high stride rate. The Pose Method of Running is designed to accomplish all three of these goals.
Usain Bolt could run 100m in 9.11 seconds. Given his constitution, genetics and his running technique he has what it takes and then some. The difference between calculated potential and actual performance is the athlete’s ability to deliver and especially do so when it matters the most. For example, Bolt’s performance in Berlin in 2009 vs the following Olympics in London in 2012 – World Championship (9.58) vs Olympics (9.63). Less pressure vs more pressure, plus additional factors of course.
Everyone from fans and sports writers to former world record holders and astrophysicists have been speculating about human potential when it comes to dashing for 100m ever since Bolt clocked 9.58. However, all predictions seem to still only hover around 9.4 with the maximum human potential claimed to be at 9.36… nobody dares to even utter anything lower than that because just a ‘blink in history’ ago 9.58 seemed out of reach. Researches even announced that they had to reassess their calculations because they couldn’t have predicted Bolt.
That was in 2008, so all eyes were on 2012 and we were amazed with the new 100m men’s Olympic record of 9.63. But in the world of sprint it’s miles away from 9.36. Running at that speed is beyond most humans. At least for now. Tracking the 100m world records through the years it’s almost painful to look at the tenths of seconds involved and most humans couldn’t be bothered. After all, some of us blink slower than that.
But, 9.11 is possible, and at this point and time, if anyone can do it – it’s Bolt. Yes, his physique is a factor, so is his character and mind. But most importantly – his technique, it is his gateway to greatness. The calculations that produced the 9.36 as the maximum human speed were pure mathematics based on accumulated data of best times posted.
However, to calculate human potential based on what humans have been able to achieve thus far is to severely limit that potential. In order to correctly assess the possible potential what we need is a correct and clear conceptual model. In our case, it’s a conceptual model of running. According to Dr. Romanov’s calculations based on the Pose Method of Running, Bolt is capable of running 100m in 9.11 seconds.
Bolt has already demonstrated that his mind is as strong as his body. Yet to break his own records he would have to slightly adjust his technique and, most importantly, break through his own perception of his own potential. There are no “handcuffs” stronger than the ones in our mind. He’s been talking about 9.4 for a while now.
Though the world’s fastest man has been hampered by a recurring hamstring injury, which points to the fact that his technique is suffering and needs attention, he’s been able to produce great results and tonight he might surprise the world yet again.
“I want to do more to make it even bigger“, a quote from Usain Bolt’s Olympic profile seems to point to his desire to achieve more. Well, he sure can. The only question is – will he be able to deliver?
Usain Bolt, the golden boy of sprinting, is set to entertain the world yet again. And there is nothing more fascinating and exciting than watching someone so gifted in action, racing towards greatness and looking to outdo himself.
“I’m looking forward to seeing what I can do” he says. Well, young man, so are we. Godspeed!
Here’s a link to Dr. Romanov’s analysis of Bolt’s running technique and recommendations on what he needs to adjust in order to run even faster.
The Pose running standard is a description of a runner as system working at optimum efficiency.
In a previous article I describes how traditional reductionist science doesn’t seem to be moving our understanding of running technique much further. The reason for this is that a purely reductionist approach leads many researchers to view running technique as collection of separate variables, rather than looking at how these variables relate to each other. Thus they produce study after study on one element of running technique without accounting for or controlling the other variables. Generally they are thrashing around with seemingly no direction, because they have no underlying theory of running technique nor any standard to measure their results against.
With a little digging on the internet, it shouldn’t be very difficult to find critics of Pose theory and Pose running. The vast majority of these criticisms are easily dismissed because the individual has a fundamental misunderstanding about Pose theory and technique. It also common for Pose critics to make arguments using physics incorrectly. It seems that many people do not understand that a force (like gravity) applied over a lever (like the body) changes the direction of that force. They will argue endlessly that gravity cannot be manipulated to move an object horizontally. Hmm… So how is it that monkeys can swing through the trees?
Pose running technique has a very specific standard derived from an underlying theory of movement. To the best of my knowledge, Pose is the only running technique that has a standard or for that matter is based on a specific theory of movement. All other running techniques I’m familiar with are based on disjointed rules-of-thumb, with no unifying concept. Pose running is not, as so many people seem to believe, all about “landing on the forefoot”, or “taking shorter strides”. It is much more than that, and in fact Pose running technique has very little to do with either of those things. They are at best side effects of good technique, having a forefoot landing doesn’t directly translate into good technique, nor does a heel strike necessarily signify terrible technique. Although one cannot have ideal technique without a forefoot landing.
According to Pose theory, the forefoot landing has very little to do with running efficiency.
I’m not going to give a detailed description of the theory and standard here, there are many other resources for that. What is important to understand is that Pose running technique requires an alignment of many different variables to be executed properly. Some of those variables are purely physical, some are neurological, and others are mental. The Pose running standard is a description of a runner as system working at optimum efficiency.
So, how do many studies fall short on the subject of running technique? Say for example there is a study that shows no improvement in efficiency when using a forefoot landing, and there have been many studies that show exactly this. Often those studies will then be quoted as evidence that Pose running is less efficient, usually based on the mistaken belief that Pose running is primarily about landing on the forefoot. Again the problem here is that this is just one variable with no context.
For example, where is the foot landing in relationship to the rest of the body? Is foot landing even a significant factor for efficiency? In other words, there is no attempt to explain the interaction of the variable studied against other variables, or to even understand if the question is relevant. Is foot landing even a relevant factor for efficiency?
According to Pose theory, the forefoot landing has very little to do with running efficiency. This variable has more to do with preventing injury, but only when the runner lands in alignment. A forefoot landing in front of the runner’s center-of-gravity may very well actually cause more injury and be less efficient. This data is not very useful without context, and according to Pose theory, there is an even larger context.
All movement is governed by interactions with gravity. If you take that concept and work backward, all of a sudden many of the central questions many studies attempt to address appear to be fundamentally flawed.
In order for a study to add much to our knowledge about Pose running, the runners in the study representing Pose running technique would ideally have to meet or exceed the Pose running standard. Alternatively the study would have to account for variations from the standard in each of the runners. Another possibility would be that the runners would be measured against another standard (if one existed), but ultimately there would have to be some way to account for how well all the variables align, and not just the variations in one specific element of running technique.
In future articles I hope to discuss specific studies and how they relate to Pose. I will also discuss some of the fundamental mistakes people make when they attempt to apply studies to understanding Pose.
I would like to credit Ivan Rivera Bours whose blog runninginsystems.com introduced me to the idea of applying systems science to running. I would also like to thank Ivan for his invaluable assistance and feedback in the writing of this article.
DR. NICHOLAS ROMANOV
A world-renowned sports scientist, Olympic coach and bestselling author Dr. Nicholas Romanov is the developer of the Pose Method®.
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