“Son, if you’re gonna be tight, be tight on both sides. Then you’re just slow. If you’re tight on one side, you’re gonna rip yourself in half.” -Gray Cook, on Asymmetry in Movement.
The supermajority of runners—of people in general—are fond of saying that there is no one way to run. We accept that there are specific techniques for swimming, throwing a ball, swinging a golf club, doing a spin kick, squatting a barbell, and even for properly flipping a goddamn omelet. We accept that adhering to these techniques will make us better at the motion, and less likely to be injured.
(I’ll bet you a hundred bucks that you’ll get carpal tunnel if you flip an omelet wrong one time too many).
But this doesn’t apply to running. When it comes to running, everyone’s different.
Or so they say.
Dr. Nicholas Romanov, founder of The Pose Method, disagrees. After extensive study and experimentation, he identified the key similarities between everyone’s running style. In order for us to be able to run—to move forward consistently without falling—we have to alternate support: one leg remains on the ground, allowing the body to fall forward (instead of downward), while the other moves through the air to create new support under the body’s new location.
The biggest similarity between everyone’s form, whether we’re talking about a couch potato with a New Year’s resolution or about Usain Bolt, is this: at some moment in time, one foot will be supporting the body on the ground, while the other will be passing under the hip area (which is known in biomechanics as the general center of mass, or GCM).
This is what Dr. Romanov refers to as “pose.” How to achieve pose properly is the centerpiece of his method.
Consequently, the most important difference between that couch potato and Bolt—but not the only difference, of course—is that Bolt takes far greater advantage of the time spent in pose.
When we look at Usain Bolt’s running, we recreational runners and non-athletes get the sense that we are looking at genius. We may not be able to put our finger on this genius or break it down with precise words, but we recognize it as genius nevertheless.
But what we are really seeing in Bolt is a perfect running pose—a masterful, yet unconscious (and possibly unknowing) execution of the principles laid out by The Pose Method.
The Pose Method isn’t a “running style.” Dr. Romanov emphasizes this heavily—he didn’t “invent” the running pose any more than the squat and the snatch were invented. These weightlifting forms were discovered: the squat is the best way to lift weight on the shoulders, and the snatch is the best way to propel weight vertically from the ground. The running pose is also a discovery: it is the best way to harness the force of gravity to create horizontal displacement of the upright human body.
The method part of the name refers to a recipe built around the simplest, most efficient exercises that can help us replicate pose effectively and consistently across distance and time.
To truly understand The Pose Method, it’s critical to grasp the role that gravity plays in running. On the surface, it seems that gravity has little benefit beyond helping us return to the ground so that we can once again propel ourselves forward. Gravity is a downforce. We all know this. So how, then, can it help us move horizontally?
Because of the support phase, that is, the running pose itself. When one foot is on the ground, and we shift our center of gravity even slightly forward of that foot, we begin to fall. But we can look at it in a different way: falling forward is really a rotation, at least at first. When we run, the support foot acts as the vertex of an angle between our hips and the direction of gravity. When we’re perfectly upright, that angle is zero. As we shift our weight forward, that angle increases: our hips (along with the rest of our upper body) travel forward, while our support foot remains behind.
Effectively, we’ve converted the downward force of gravity into a rotational force. The greater the angle, the greater the force.
Of course, if we just keep increasing that angle without doing anything else, we’ll fall on our face. But we don’t—our body has all the necessary countermeasures in place: they’re called reflexes. In order to catch ourselves, we reach towards the ground with the other foot.
Ideally, that foot should land directly under the center of mass. This is the case, at least, in Usain Bolt’s running (and that of a few other luminaries, such as Galen Rupp). In most of us, the foot lands somewhere else.
If our foot lands in front of us, momentum has to carry our center of mass forward, until arrives on top of the foot. Only then can we begin to use gravity to advance. And if it takes too long for our heel to lift, we are not falling forward in the earnest—heel lift is a critical component of any athletic movement. That’s why it is so emphasized across sports.
To the degree that our foot lands ahead of us, we are wasting time. And to the degree that our heel delays from lifting, we are losing power.
In order to prevent each of these two issues, the swing leg (which is off the ground) must remain under the center of mass for the entire time that the weight of the body is supported by the other leg. While one forefoot is on the ground, the other foot must remain under the hips.
The array of injuries and problems with the running of most runners are caused by deviations from pose. When we see a master runner—when we recognize genius—we are unconsciously recognizing that these few conditions are being properly satisfied. All other nuances of form are by-products of these few facts.
Dr. Romanov likes to say that we all run in pose. Regardless of our race, creed, gender, or ethnicity, we’ve all gone through this position every step of every run we’ve ever run. What differs between runners is whether we achieve pose—and retain it—effectively.
Whether there is a proper way to run is not a question. Whether there is a way to find it is not a question. The only real question is whether we hold to old, absurd paradigms—that running is the only sport where there is no One Right Way—or whether we engage our time and efforts in mastering principles which have already been discovered and already been presented as the core teachings of The Pose Method of running.
Last weekend I attended the Functional Movement Screen (FMS) Level 1 and 2 seminar in San Diego, California.
I’m always looking for ways to simplify the process of correcting the gait of runners that I work with. The FMS is an extremely easy tool to use, and the corrective exercises that I learned are aggressively effective.
But before I go into all that, let me back up and discuss what the FMS is all about. The FMS started when Gray Cook and Lee Burton realized that mainstream kinesiology and physical therapy wasn’t helping a majority of people recover completely: even though injury and physical dysfunction were being rehabbed properly, very little was done to regain proper movement.
As Gray Cook likes to say, “mobility does not equate with movement.”
In other words, it is not enough to simply have active range of motion (ROM) for a particular joint in order to be able to use that ROM in an activity. While the mobility might be there, the body has to understand how to apply that mobility to a global movement pattern.
The FMS has established a baseline for competency and dysfunction of movement, and based on that baseline, has developed a corrective method to bring the body towards proper movement.
Of course, proper movement does not equate with peak performance. But proper movement is necessary to allow the body to tolerate an increased training volume, and to have an efficient training response. Training, then, must be done when there is already correct movement.
As a runner, this is humbling for me. I have a pretty good gait, and although specialists will point out power leaks here and there, the FMS shed light on just how problematic my movement is, and did so in a meaningful way. It’s not just a matter of stretching the glute med or working on the piriformis any more—that’s not how the body understands the musculoskeletal system. It understand that system through movement and gait.
The FMS speaks the language of the body, and seems to speak it well.
Already, within only a week of working on my weakest links, I have increased trunk flexion and extension capacity, and much, much better mobility in my hips and legs.
I look at the majority of runners, who enthusiastically classify themselves as “injury-prone,” or “overpronators.” But if you think about it, there’s very few runners that are “true” overpronators—very few out there who have shoulder, hip, and knee aligned in the saggital plane and still overpronate. Overpronation is born from a movement dysfunction (which of course, may have roots in musculoskeletal dysfunction).
Running is a contact sport. Think about how many times you contact the ground during a marathon. We runners need movement quality prior to training quantity to negotiate those contacts correctly.
“We’re so enamored of effort, and we get so excited about how hard we’re working, when the reality is, how well do we perform?”
Everywhere I go, it seems that people just don’t understand where protein comes from. At the bus stop, I hear someone asking a vegetarian how they get their protein. At restaurants, I hear meat being referred to as the “protein option.” I see this in random articles throughout the internet.
Frankly, I’m tired of it.
Meat is not the only source of protein. It’s not even the only source with significant amounts of protein. (There’s no conflict of interest here: I’m an enthusiastic meat eater with a vegetarian girlfriend.) But some truths must be spoken. And the truth is that while meat may be the first among equals when considering the sheer percentage of protein, it ranks considerably lower when you look at its cost-effectiveness.
A few days ago I went into the local co-op—This is Portland, by the way—and took a picture of the nutrition facts of a $5.00 packet of turkey alongside a $4.00 packet of tempeh:
I’ll lay it out for you so that you don’t have to do the math (or look at the tiny text in the picture). The turkey had 5 grams of protein per ounce, while the tempeh had 4 grams per ounce. When you consider that there are 12 ounces (four 3-oz servings) in the package of tempeh and 6 ounces (3 2-oz servings) in the package of turkey, you’re looking at the following results:
- Tempeh has 12 grams of protein to the dollar.
- Turkey has 6 grams of protein to the dollar.
You don’t need meat—or any animal products—to get protein. In fact, you’ll get a lot more bang for your buck in your protein consumption of you go full vegan.
And those aren’t the only benefits—go back and look at the sodium content and other nutrients. The tempeh is amazingly better for both your wallet and your body than the turkey could ever be. Not to mention that the tempeh is also strongly probiotic.
Setting the very serious ethical considerations aside, there are immense benefits to eating animal products—that’s why it’s good to eat them when they’re ethically sourced. An enormity of fat-soluble vitamins (A, B12, D, E, K, etc.) are present in animal meat and animal fats (especially those from beef), and other animal products such as eggs.
Animal products are incredibly important, and should be permanent fixtures in any diet—just not for the protein.
Scientific advances in assistive devices such as supportive robotic exoskeletons can have great benefits for people with irreversible musculoskeletal problems or severe movement impairment. These devices may have excellent military applications.
In this post I’ll discuss something different: the claim, as covered by an article in Outside Magazine, that these devices have a legitimate and lasting place in the domain of athletic performance.
In a word: no. In two: bad idea.
Show me a runner. You’re showing me someone who’s run through pain. Isn’t that true? When you’ve been in the middle of a long run and felt the beginnings of a shin splint, you’re finally in the club. But we can’t stop now! There’s miles to be logged. Our marathon training plan says 60 miles a week, and this long run is 17.
We’ve faced with having to ask the dreaded question: should I choose to continue this training, or should I choose to prevent the injury?
“Tell me how you’ll measure me, and I’ll tell you how I’ll behave.”
– Management principle
One of the constant grievances that I have towards classical running coaching is that beginner runners are treated like “mini-pros.” For novice runners, coaches typically use a scaled-down version of the training that elite runners do. The overall strategy is to develop speed, power, and endurance by periodizing training. Little attention is given to gait consistency or gait characteristics.
This is a problem: Learning how to run isn’t the same as training how to run. For the sake of everyone’s knees, it’s time we incorporated this knowledge into how we coach.
I run a systems thinking blog because I’m interested in, well, systems. A multitude of scientists have been using dynamical systems theory to study the fluctuations in a runner’s stride. They’ve had two very interesting findings: the first is that fluctuations in stride interval—the amount of time between footstrikes—become reduced with increased experience and speed. (This reduction is referred to as “long-range correlations”—that previous steps are more similar or correlated with subsequent steps.)
This seems obvious: when we get more experience, our movements get more consistent, less variable—better trained.
The other finding is that that fluctuations in the stride also decrease when there is injury present. In other words, long-range correlations also increase.
As Nakayama et. al. rightly point out, “the findings that long-range correlations can be decreased as a result of flexible and adaptive motor control utilizing rich information and at the same time as a result of less flexible control due to pathological states or aging seems confusing.”
Yes it does—until you look at the particular claims involved.
The study that claims that variability decreases with experience and speed was studying stride interval. On the other hand, the study that claims that variability increases was studying biomechanic characteristics and particular tissues. Why is this important?
Because there are two different requirements to be satisfied here. Gravity, the force that causes us to accelerate towards the ground, is a constant. This means that there is an optimum time for the human body to be suspended in the air, with the goal of maximizing flight time but reducing landing velocity. Typically, this means a stride rate of ~180 steps per minute. In other words, there is a really good reason for why stride rate would become more constant with experience.
On the other hand, if our particular kinematics—the characteristics of our motion—can’t (and won’t) change, we are going to repetitively stress the same tissues over and over, resulting in injury. Think of it this way: when we start out running, only a few muscles are strong and used to moving together. As we become more practiced, more muscles and body parts become integrated into the stride, and our brain becomes comfortable with a wider array of movements.
J. Hamill et. al. corroborate this: “An optimal solution [means] that no soft tissue would be repeatedly stressed. The healthy state, therefore, is one in which no tissue is repeatedly stressed which results from the relatively greater variability of joint couplings.”
Gaining experience essentially means that we gain greater control. When you’re doing target practice with a rifle, this means that you have to reduce motion—hold the rifle steady. But when you’re running, this means that you’re interacting with variable terrain for a long time.
In other words, not only does your brain have to adapt every landing slightly differently, but it has to do so with control. It’s not enough to make every stride different just to spread out the wear and tear—this has to be done in a way that recognizes the differences in substrate, inclination, etc.
To simplify this and bring it back to coaching, this means that control takes time and practice. Furthermore, this adds evidence to the idea that increased control makes you less likely to be injured. What should coaches be teaching those who are learning to run? Control.
If you’re new to running, this means that it’s extremely important to take it easy, and do first things first. That’s why I always recommend jumping rope as a way to get comfortable with gravity. Also, look for a strength/stability program for runners containing exercises like these, presented by P.A.C.E. coach and strength training guru Dr. David McHenry.
If you want to reduce your risk of injury, get control. This takes time. Until you have control, and you’ve developed substantial speed and even greater endurance based on that control, you’re not ready to run a marathon.
Don’t train with your eye on today’s finish line. Train with your eye on next year’s.