Pushing backwards: the key to smooth running

2012-12-22 00:00

RUNNING is all about forward motion, but in seminars and clinics on efficient running style, I have frequently found it more effective to point out that the forward motion actually comes from “pushing backwards”.

To test this concept, take a simple walking stride forward so that your foot is ahead of your hips and then put your full body weight on that foot.

You will find that you need to move your hips closer to your foot. If your hips are behind the foot’s point of contact, you will find it impossible to move forward as the centre of gravity is behind the point of contact.

Transfer all your weight to the back foot and it is possible to move your body forward by pushing backwards on the rear foot. The more powerful and sustained the push, the faster you go forward.

However, once we’re moving, momentum comes into play and allows us to land slightly ahead of our centre of gravity, our hips.

As we accelerate and increase speed, the further forward we can land. If we then try to overdo the extent of the forward landing, we are back in a situation of braking, as our bodies are fully articulated.

This means we can “fold” under landing forces and some potential running energy is lost in poor hip and spine position.

The key to minimising this lies in core strength. Keeping the hips high and the core muscle strong helps to ensure that the greatest amount of force is transferred to the ground and the greatest speed is achieved.

The key to smooth movement is to land slightly ahead of the hips, keep the hip and upper body in a high forward position with a slight forward lean, and drive the rear leg as far back as you can. This means the last part of the rear leg to lift off is the toe.

To be able to get the leg through and place the foot under the hip requires a relatively high knee lift, like one would use with the shuffle.

Speed is then defined by the number of strides per minute times the length of each stride. It becomes second nature in distance running to look for more strides and optimal stride length for efficient running.

Long strides equal high bouncing, whereas short strides are inefficient, as there is insufficient time to put the force through the ground.

Muscles act in pairs and all movements are achieved by the contraction (pull) of one and relaxation of the other.

Whether you think about pushing backwards or pulling and contracting the muscles, try giving time and focus to what you are doing and your speed will pick up.

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