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STRIKE A POSE

by Mick Larrabee, PT, MS, SCS, EMT, CSCS

Runners are definitely a different breed…in many ways, but one thing I cannot understand is why most runners think that their performance will improve simply by running longer and/or harder. This is just not the case – especially if the running technique is laden with inherent faults. With poor technique, increasing repetitions does nothing more than reinforce bad movement patterns setting yourself up for compensation and eventual tissue overload and guess what - INJURY!

In most sports, enthusiasts expect to devote months and even years to working on movement technique; whereas most runners feel they were born with a natural pattern and that they are stuck with that pattern forever. It is my humble opinion that improving technique may allow you to improve running performance more than any other factor. Can we change the way we run?

Through the rehab sciences we know that movement patterns can be changed so this gives hope that gait patterns can also be changed to improve performance and reduce injury risk. Hewett et al (Am J Sports Med, 1999) have shown that kinematic adaptations are indeed possible through neuromuscular re-education. Davis et al (J Ortho Practice, 2005) recently showed that runners are able to reduce the loading force of their lower extremity by up to 30% with verbal instruction and real-time feedback. Romanov, Noakes, et al (Med Sci Sports Exercise, 2004) showed that Pose Running was associated with shorter stride lengths, smaller vertical oscillations, a neutral ankle joint at initial contact, and lower eccentric work and power absorption at the knee than that which occurred in athletes landing with the “conventional” heel strike technique.

On the performance side of things, Ken Mierke (Evolution Running) analyzed over 6,000 VO2max tests and found performance differences among runners are consistently due to economy more than fitness. Elite runners get more speed out of less energy - What a great concept! His research shows that efficiency played a greater role in running speed at lactate threshold than energy output did 84% of the time. The bottom line to all this discussion: runners who want to improve should make the effort to learn “correct” biomechanics and implement them into their strides. One style that is gaining in popularity (due to its success with triathletes and other running athletes) is called the Pose Method. Dr. Nicholas Romanov is a Russian educated PhD in exercise physiology who specializes in working with runners. He developed the Pose Method because he felt that there was a lack of a scientific model to teach correct running technique.

His technique is designed to prevent undue strain on the joints and requires a great deal of muscular endurance and resilience.What is the POSE Method? The essence of the Pose Method is to use gravity as a major propulsive force and let the other forces assist it. The objective is to redirect gravity’s downward movement into forward momentum. The distinguishing characteristic of Pose Running 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. Romanov says that 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. The key is to maximize your effort in removing your support foot from the ground; good training is essential to ensure that you don’t over-stride or create excessive vertical oscillation. The runner must maintain a single “pose” moving continually forward from this position.

Romanov uses two models to explain the rationale for his pose: (1) mechanical model – the center of gravity, in the lumbopelvic region, should move in a horizontal line, without vertical up and down displacement, and (2) biological model – the rear leg maintains an “S” like form and never straightens (this notion comes from animals like the cheetah which do not land on their heels but run on the midfoot and use a pulling action rather than pushing into the ground). Interested? Here's how to get started: You need to be committed to learning the new technique; once you have decided to learn to run in “Pose”, you cannot expect to switch back and forth between running styles at will. You must groove the movement pattern into memory. Here are a few drills to give you an idea of how to begin the pose training, but please understand that to really pursue this technique safely you must find a qualified instructor and proceed with caution. Dr. Romanov stresses drills that should be practiced twice daily for at least one week prior to attempting to run in pose. All drills should be performed barefoot (on a forgiving surface) to increase proprioception sense and awareness of movements.

Click play on the video here for a quick demonstration from Romanov himself (worth playing if only for his fantastic accent!).

Below are three drill to get you to grips with the tenchnique.

Drill 1 – Pose stance: stand on one leg with a slight forward body lean (shoulder, hip, and ankle in vertical line); opposite leg is slightly flexed at the hip with the heel toward the buttocks; single point of contact with ground is always the midfoot; stance leg hip is held up directly over the midfoot; arms in a normal running position with forearms parallel to ground. The idea is to hold this static pose for up to 30 seconds – use of a mirror is recommended. Repeat on other side; 3-5 reps on each leg.

Drill 2 – Change of support without moving: bilateral stance with weight on the balls of feet; slight body lean forward; shift center of gravity from one leg to the other while maintaining support on the midfoot; once you feel the weight shift, pull the ankle of the opposite leg vertically up under the hip using only the hamstring (not hip flexor or quadriceps); allow the leg to drop to the ground and begin to accept weight as you shift back and forth. Three sets of 10-15 reps on each leg.

Drill 3 – Foot tapping: single leg drill starting in pose stance; rapid tapping of ball of foot to ground (10-15 taps/set) while maintaining stance on other leg; emphasize vertical leg action and use of hamstrings; be careful not to tap foot down in front of body, which would cause a heel first landing (and braking action); aim for rapid firing of hamstrings to lift foot off ground and then a relaxation of the muscles as momentum takes foot toward buttock and then gravity returns it to the ground (avoid forceful pull all the way up).

This article is by no means meant to be an endorsement of the Pose Method of running. Because I field lots of questions about this particular technique I decided to make an attempt to provide some basic information so that you can make your own decisions. I do feel that Dr. Romanov raises some very interesting questions and has some good science behind his theory – however, this is not necessarily the best technique for everyone. In future articles I may address a couple of other training styles based on movement economy to allow you to perform better while reducing the risk of injury – a noble cause indeed. Let me know what you think and I will proceed accordingly.

MICK LARRABEE, PT, MS, SCS, EMT, CSCS IS A BOARD CERTIFIED CLINICAL SPECIALIST IN SPORTS PHYSICAL THERAPY AND A USA TRIATHLON LEVEL 1 COACH. HE CAN BE REACHED AT (865) 806-8911 OR VIA E-MAIL AT mike@optimalperformanceinc.com

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