It's like the slow motion of a nightmare. We will ourselves to the finish line, lungs on fire, muscles burning, legs heavy as mud. And at the end of our mile run for the Running Assessment … “8:21!”
After putting in all that effort to run four laps, it's not fast enough for Purple! No Leveling Up this time.
“Why does this keep happening?” we wonder, sitting on the track, rubbing our shins. We keep missing the mark, and it feels like our running performance has plateaued. And, it just hurts, every time.
Running as a skill
If coaches and athletes have a hard time progressing in the Running Category of the Level MAP, we need to improve technique: the “how to” of running. Over time, we dial in and improve, say, our snatch technique, thereby earning the ability to lift more weight or do more quality reps. The same is true for running; by dialing-in and improving running technique, we run farther, faster, and pain-free. This is how we can progress in the Running Category of the Level MAP.
Complex skills like gymnastics,weightlifting, or monostructural modalities like rowing, require improved technique over time. We demonstrate this by testing with heavier weights, more advanced movements, or more meters rowed. By doing so, we increase work capacity across broad time and modal domains, i.e. fitness, and throughout a lifetime, i.e. health.
As we improve technique in the movements of the Level MAP, we move to the right of the MAP by progressing Level by Level. It's the same in the Running Category as in, for example, the Front Squat Category. As front squat technique improves, we earn more weight to lift. As running technique improves, we earn more speed and distance to run.
What exactly is running technique?
We break it down into simple parts and actions, drill them, and put them all together, in the full movement. In gymnastics and weightlifting, where we break movements down into simple parts and actions, there is a starting position, a transition, then an ending position. It's the same in running.
The Pose, Fall, and Pull are the three invariable elements in running.. Likewise for push-ups: we start in the high plank, as our starting push-up Pose, then transition by lowering ourselves to what amounts to chaturanga (yoga), as our ending push-up Pose. Cycling many repetitions of push-ups is to transition between these two Poses. Likewise, we continuously transition between running Pose and running Pose, for the duration of our run. We must learn and execute Pose, Fall and Pull, no matter the speed, distance or terrain we run.
Gravity as your friend
Knowing and executing running technique stems from the interaction of bodyweight with the freefall of gravity. When bodyweight is precisely placed on the ground through the balls of the feet, we interact with gravity and are ready to move in any appropriate direction. Once we shift past the point of support (feet), we start to lose balance and freefall, completely "in the air" for some fractions of a second, until we achieve support again when we make contact with the ground. We shift bodyweight from that initial ground-contact until we are fully supported (by the ground through the balls of our feet) to achieve one-bodyweight again.
This cycle of movement starts with the A) Running Pose, then B) Falling from support, and changing support from one foot by C) Pulling it up off the ground, to achieve support on the other foot, recovering the A) running Pose again. Starting position = running Pose; transitioning = Falling + Pulling; ending position = running Pose = starting position.
By using gravity as our propulsive force, we make running more effortless, as compared to previous paradigms of more effortful running instruction and experience (“push-off,” “triple extension,” “knee drive,” “reach out,” “grab ground,” “explode,” “squeeze glutes,” A/B/C Skips, high knees, butt kicks). As a result, we are doing far less. We do precisely the right amount of work for the results we want. The only action we take while running is to change support by Pulling our feet up from the ground. This is the opposite of what previously has been taught regarding running instruction “push/drive-off,” etc.
Refining running technique
Running technique starts from the ground up. The Level MAP is an assessment tool that identifies if athletes are capable of running, and at what distances and speeds. We can also take video footage to give athletes an idea of how they are running, via video playback. Once we identify their Level in the running category, we can use video analysis of technique, based on the standard of Pose, Fall and Pull.
First, we determine if they are making initial contact with the ground A) by overstriding, i.e. their foot making contact with the ground ahead of their general center of mass, or B) by making contact with the ground directly underneath their general center of mass. Second, we can do an objective measurement of their frame counts on video,i.e. timing, of their initial contact with the ground to the running Pose, as well as from running Pose to Pull. This lets us evaluate the quality of their Falling and Pulling execution. Finally, with the quantitative and qualitative data gathered, we can instruct them on the Pose, Fall and Pull. We do this by highlighting that we are helping them run more efficiently, effectively, and safely. We are identifying deviations from the standard, and removing wasted effort and timing in their running.
The concepts of a) bodyweight perception, b) unweighing, and c) muscle-tendon elasticity, are integral in Pose, Fall and Pull, and must be taught. They must be considered, developed and improved in both drill sessions and during training runs.
Thus, the first lesson is in perceiving the subtleties of where a) bodyweight pressure is occurring on the bottoms of the feet. Then, using a series of hopping and jumping drills, there is the concept of b) unweighing: bodyweight is removed from the point of support (feet) by letting the least-loaded part of the body (shoulders) rise up, thereby pulling up the rest of the body. These same hopping and jumping drills also help illustrate c) muscle-tendon elasticity, and how to use it as a gratuitous force when running.
Gratuitous forces include gravity, ground-reaction force, and muscle-tendon elasticity. These have immense effects on reducing both muscular efforts and cardiorespiratory demand. By placing the body in the optimal position to interact with gravity (using Pose, Fall and Pull), our joints, ligaments, tendons, bones, and muscles can optimize their intended purposes: to serve bodyweight. Physiology improves in concert with technique. If we let gratuitous forces do most of the work, our muscles can be used minimally, which uses less energy. So, running efforts can last longer. When we make positive adaptations to the learning, practice, and training of running technique, we earn greater endurance and suffer less stress on the body.
Running in accordance with nature (gravity) results in better running times and experiences, as well as in a reduction in risk for pain and injury. Perhaps as gratifying is Leveling Up on the Level MAP, by running progressively longer distances and faster speeds.
Case studies & results
Examples include Brian L., who played competitive soccer growing up, and ran to maintain his fitness standards in the Air National Guard. After leaving military service he kept up his fitness regimen, and started at Idahome Movement Academy. He was a typical overstrider when he ran, and it felt effortful to him to do so. Despite that, he ran a respectable 7:11 for his 1 mile, earning him a Brown II level.
Brian's run statistics (on his watch) showed an average of 167 steps per minute. Running with a low cadence (ideally we should be at a minimum of 180 steps per minute), he was not taking advantage of muscle-tendon elasticity, best utilized at and above 180 steps per minute. During our initial running assessment, he was introduced to Pose, Fall, and Pull for running technique. After just over three months of regular group class training, with running days programmed throughout, he was able to Level Up in the next assessment period to Black I, with a time of 6:43 for his mile run. Running technique was consistently drilled, and he practiced running on his own periodically outside of class. His cadence increased to an average of 179 steps per minute. A faster run, along with a quicker average cadence, yielded a more effortless and better result.
Results from Brian, and from many others on our team at IMA/ACF, are directly from learning, knowing, practicing and training running technique. Fully embodying the standard, along with diligently and patiently improving over time, is what has happened here over the last five years. A knowledgeable and patient coach of the Pose Method helps others open new (and previously closed) doors, and what may once have been a painful and fruitless effort in movement (running), becomes a pleasurable skill. Knowing that we can truly improve our running experience gives us true independence of movement, and it is exactly demonstrated in our ability to move on the Level MAP from left to right in the Running Category.
Pose Method and the standard of Pose, Fall and Pull, pertains not only to running. Approaching and executing movement based on gravity, bodyweight and changing support, applies to all movements, including those in the 15 categories on the Level MAP. Learning, practicing and training, using Pose Method, proves invaluable in getting everyone's fitness and health moving in the right direction.
Scott U. 38, below-the-left-knee amputee running with a prosthetic, Judoka
Orange III, 2:04 400 meters (9/16/19) to
Blue I, 1:42 400 meters (12/3/19) to
Blue II, 1:39 400 meters (6/4/20)
Scott H. 52, with Scoliosis, outdoorsman
Blue, 1:45 400 meters (3/8/20) to
Blue III, 1:33 400 meters (6/4/20)
Cassi U. 34, mother of 3, marksman
Orange III, 2:17 400 meters (1/30/20) to
Blue II, 1:53 400 meters (6/4/20)
Nubia A. 50, with knee and low back pain, dancer
Yellow I, 1:29 200 meters (6/26/20) to
Yellow III, 2:45 400 meters (4/22/21)
Brett M. 50, college football player, outdoorsman
Blue III, 1:33 400 meters (7/1/20) to
Purple II, 7:51 1 mile (1/15/21)
Dan H. 31, high school track runner, skier
Blue III, 1:15 400 meters (7/15/20) to
Brown, 1 mile (10/28/20) to
Black, 6:49 1 mile (1/15/21) to
Black II, 6:30 1 mile (7/27/21)
Cainin D. 17, >300-lb. bodyweight high school football player and wrestler
Yellow II, :57 200 meters (4/5/21) to
Blue I, 1:41 400 meters (5/19/21)
Scott C. 53, Masters CrossFit Athlete, outdoorsman
Orange III, 1:55 400 meters (4/26/21) to
Blue, 1:49 400 meters (7/27/21)
Amber 40, Olympic-level rifle marksman
Yellow II, :49 200 meters (6/21/21) to
Blue I, 1:59 400 meters (7/27/21) to
Blue III, 1:49 400 meters (11/9/21) to
Brown, 8:39 1 mile (3/29/22)
Jon H. 23, Air Force Officer, collegiate javelin thrower, fencer
Purple III, 7:48 1 mile (12/20/21) to
Black I, 6:42 1 mile (2/27/21)
John Q. 40, high school basketball player
Orange III, 1:55 400 meters (10/13/20) to
Blue II, 1:36 400 meters (1/15/21)
Jase S. 49, >230-lb. bodyweight, broke tibia in mountain bike accident on 7/4/19
Yellow 200 meter continuous run to Yellow II 200 meters (2/7/20) to
Yellow III, 2:22 400 meters (7/30/21) to
Orange II 400 meters(11/9/21)
Jamie V. 48, former smoker, musician
Orange III, 2:03 400 meters (7/29/20) to
Blue, 1:52 400 meters (9/14/20)