FIGHTING FIT FOREVER

Pose running technique: a beginner’s guide

The popularity of running as a leisure pursuit has increased throughout the
past 25 years, reflecting social trends away from organised team sports and
towards less time-consuming, more flexible and independent ways of keeping fit
and active.

[adsense:336×280:1772170819]

Over the same time period, there has been an explosion in sports science and
sports injury research and therapeutic practice. Among other things this has
produced a wealth of advice on baseline fitness and training for running, and
huge advances in footwear technology.

Yet despite all this, runners keep on injuring themselves. They continue to
seek treatment, typically, for Achilles tendinosis, patellofemoral pain,
repetitive calf muscle strains, big toe pain and low back pain – and it
seems to those of us who have been around the sports therapy world for a while
that the incidence of running injuries has not reduced significantly. Is it
time to return to the fundamentals of running to find out why so many people
are still hurting themselves?

Coaches, trainers, therapists and athletes have no difficulty agreeing that
technique has an important role to play in leisure pursuits such as rowing,
golf, swimming and ballet, but when I ask my running patients about their
technique – whether, for instance, they heel-strike or land with their
knees straight – I receive blank expressions. In most sports, enthusiasts
will expect to devote months and even years to working on movement technique,
whereas with running we tend only ever to focus on how to run faster and/or
further, and how much fitter we can get as a result.

Therefore I say to you: running is practised rather than taught. This leads
to the question: is there an optimal running technique that enables athletes to
train without fear of injury, with a real reduction in their injury risk
– and with the prospect of still being able to improve their
performance?

One recently developed technique certainly lays claim to be able to do all
three things. Called ‘pose running’, I describe it as ‘a
graduated postural and proprioceptive approach to maximising performance and
reducing injuries’.

Pose running technique was invented by Nicholas Romanov, a Russian scientist now based
in Miami and consultant to the British, US and Mexican triathlon associations.
During the 1970s and early 80s, Romanov was heavily involved with athlete
training in Russia, where he observed that as his athletes turned up the
workload, so they would start to break down physically. At that time there was
little strength and conditioning training. With a heavy emphasis on improving
mileage and speed, the athletes focused on increasing their cardiovascular and
respiratory systems, and paid little heed to their underlying running
technique.

The pose running technique

Romanov proposes one universal running technique for all runners, regardless of
speed or distance: a 100m sprinter runs with the same underlying running technique as a
10km long-distance runner. The pose running technique is designed to prevent undue strain on
the joints and requires a great deal of muscular endurance and resilience. The
elite British triathletes Tim Don, Andrew Johns and Leanda Cave have all
adopted the pose running technique under Romanov’s guidance. According to Romanov,
the Ethiopian distance champion Haile Gebrselassie and the US sprint legend
Michael Johnson are both examples of runners with a natural pose style –
‘born with perfect technique’.

The distinguishing characteristic of the pose running technique 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. This style is in clear contrast to the heelstrike
method that most runners deploy and which is advocated by some health care
professionals (see Fig 1 below).

The concept is simple enough, but the practice is extremely hard to master.
It is only with expert tuition and dedicated training that the athlete can
perfect the pose running technique. Running in pose is physically demanding, so runners must
undertake strengthening drills before starting the programme. Maybe it is this
added proprioceptive training that allows the athlete to remain injury free? As
yet there is no body of research to help answer this question.

Principles

Running should be easy, effortless, smooth and flowing. We have all seen and
heard the heavy runner who pounds away on a gym treadmill. Romanov says 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. In pose
running, the key is to maximise 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 should fall forwards, changing support from one leg to the other
by pulling the foot from the ground, allowing minimum effort and producing
minimum braking to this body movement. The idea is to maximise the use of
gravity to pull the runner forward.

The pose running technique is centred on the idea that a runner maintains a single pose
or position, moving continually forwards in this position. Romanov uses two
models to explain the rationale behind pose:

  • the mechanical model – the centre of gravity, which
    is around the hip position, should move in a horizontal line, without vertical
    up and down displacement;
  • the biological model – the rear leg maintains an
    ‘S-like’ form, and never straightens. This notion comes from
    animals such as the cheetah which do not land on their heels but run on the
    midfoot and deploy a pulling through action using their hamstrings rather than
    pushing the foot into the ground (see Fig 2 below).

Perhaps the most useful imagery to help with this technique is to imagine a
vertical line coming from the runner’s head straight down to the ground.
The raised front leg should never breach this line, but remain firmly behind
it. This focuses the effort firmly on pulling the ankle up vertically under
your hip rather than extending forward with your quads and hip flexors.

Pose running technique principles in summary

  1. Raise your ankle straight up under your hip, using the hamstrings
  2. Keep your support time short
  3. Your support is always on the balls of your feet
  4. Do not touch the ground with your heels
  5. Avoid shifting weight over your toes: raise your ankle when the weight is
    on the ball of your foot
  6. Keep your ankle fixed at the same angle
  7. Keep knees bent at all times
  8. Feet remain behind the vertical line going through your knees
  9. Keep stride length short
  10. Keep knees and thighs down, close together, and relaxed
  11. Always focus on pulling the foot from the ground, not on landing
  12. Do not point or land on the toes (see Fig 3: Toe running)
  13. Gravity, not muscle action, controls the landing of the legs
  14. Keep shoulder, hip and ankle in vertical alignment
  15. Arm movement is for balance, not for force production

The power behind the pose running technique

Pose is by no means universally accepted by the running fraternity. While
top athletes have sought Romanov’s help because of injuries, the method
does require good scientific research to back it up. It is quite possible that
many of the benefits experienced by pose athletes are the result of the
rigorous strengthening programmes they undertake. You would certainly recognise
in pose drills many conventional physiotherapy exercises such as eccentric
Achilles tendon training; proximal pelvic control in single leg standing, and
control of femoral rotation.

This focus on proprioception, together with the strong imagery of the
technique, changes the physical placement of the limbs and reduces the downward
displacement force of the foot on to the ground.

[adsense:336×280:1772170819]

That said, I know of people who have tried to run in pose and have sustained
injuries such as calf strains and lower back problems because they did not get
their pose stance right and did not have sufficient proximal hip control.

The athlete should be committed to learning the new technique: once they
have decided to learn the pose running technique, they cannot expect to chop and change
between running styles as they wish. The technical drills outlined below can be
very strenuous and may be harmful if attempted, for instance, at the wrong
point in an injured runner’s rehabilitation phase. Therapists should
adopt these drills with proper caution.

How to do it: pose drills

If you are embarking on a serious transition to pose, you should practise
the drills (building up the level of difficulty) once or twice daily, three
sets of 10 to 15 reps per drill. Drills should be practised for at least a week
before attempting to run in pose, and should be performed before a run.

All drills should be performed barefoot for added awareness of the
movements, on a forgiving surface such as grass or a running track. The drills
fall into three sections:

  1. Basic drills to reinforce the pose position, the use of the hamstring in
    pulling the foot from the ground and the feeling of falling forward under the
    effect of gravity (drills 1-7);
  2. Intermediate drills to reinforce these feelings (drills 8 and 9);
  3. Advanced drills to aid speed, balance, strength and reflexiveness none
    shown here).

Drill 1 (Fig 4 below):

Pose stance

This to be practised as a static pose, held for up to 30 seconds. It
requires good postural control; no support is allowed. The idea is to challenge
the mechanoreceptors in the joints and soft tissues to provide feedback to the
brain regarding joint position and muscle tone.

  • It is the basic position to hold and to practise balance
  • The use of a mirror is recommended
  • Shoulder, hip and ankle should always be vertically aligned
  • Point of contact with the ground is always the midfoot
  • Hip is always held over the support point, which is the midfoot.

Drill 2: Change of support without moving

  • Shift centre of gravity sideways from one leg to the other, maintaining
    support on the midfoot
  • You must feel the weight shift from one leg to the other before pulling
    up
  • It is important to feel the weight shift and then the acceleration of this
    movement by the pulling-up of the hamstring
  • Pull the ankle up vertically under the hip using the hamstring only, not
    hip flexors or quadriceps
  • Allow the leg to drop to the ground – do not drive it down
  • Mental focus is on the pulling-up action, not the leg drop.

Drill 3 (Fig 5 below): Pony

  • This practises changing support using minimum effort and minimal range of
    movement
  • Simultaneously lift the ankle of the support leg while allowing your body
    weight to shift to the other leg
  • Use only the hamstring.

Keep in mind your support point on the midfoot (toes will also be in
contact).

Drill 4 (Fig 6 below): Forward change of support

  • This puts the pony into action; practise slowly at first
  • Lean slightly forward and simultaneously pull the ankle up under the hip
    using the hamstring and allow the non-support leg to drop to the ground under
    the force of gravity
  • Make sure the weight transfer is effortless and that the foot is allowed to
    fall.

Drill 5 (Fig 7 below): Foot tapping

  • Single-leg drill, 10-15 taps per set
  • This emphasises the vertical leg action and use of hamstrings rather than
    driving the knees up and forward using your hip flexors and quads
  • It prevents your foot from being too far out in front of the body, which
    would cause you to land on your heel and create a braking action
  • Aim for rapid firing of the hamstring, lifting the foot from the ground as
    soon as it touches down
  • You must feel the muscles fire and then relax. Avoid a forceful pull all
    the way up. If you are doing it correctly the lower leg will decelerate after
    the initial firing and accelerate as gravity returns it to the ground.

Drill 6 (Fig 8 below): Hopping

This movement progresses the tapping drill. The momentum for the hopping
support leg should come from the hamstring action on the non-hopping leg. Take
care: this is an advanced movement which will place unhealthy stress on
structures such as the Achilles/calf muscles if not performed correctly.

  • Start by pulling up the nonhopping leg with your hamstring and use the
    reaction force of the ground to aid this recoil effect
  • Do not push with the calf but just lift the ankle with the hamstring and
    make sure the ankle is relaxed between hops.

Drill 7: Front lunge

  • Single-leg drill which increases the range of movement of the hopping
    drill
  • This truly forces you to isolate the hamstring muscles
  • Practise initially on the spot until you are stable enough to allow forward
    movement
  • Keep weight on front leg; the back leg drags behind
  • Pull ankle vertically up under the hip, using the hamstring
  • Keep contact time with the ground as short as possible
  • Allow rear leg to follow loosely
  • Remember to land on the ball of your foot
  • Forward movement is created not by pushing off but by leaning forward from
    the hips. You drag the rear leg behind you for balance.

Drill 8 (Fig 9 below): Switch

  • Both ankles are being picked up
  • This time you are picking the rear leg up as well with the hamstring
  • Transfer weight from one leg to the other as you alternate support
  • Keep contact time with the ground to a minimum, only as necessary to change
    support
  • Keep heels off the ground and land on the balls of your feet
  • Always think of the pose stance: good vertical alignment of shoulder, hip
    and foot.

Drill 9: Running lunge

  • This is pose running, but with a deliberate emphasis on the speed of the
    hamstring pull-up
  • The aim is to teach the working leg to react as quickly as possible,
    minimising support time on the ground
  • The runner pulls the heel up vertically from the ground but allows it to
    fall easily to the ground.

Case study: shin pain on return to training

A recreational runner came to me with bilateral medial shin pain. He was
training to raise his fitness levels in order to be accepted into the Royal Air
Force in the United Kingdom. He used to do a lot of distance running, including
half marathons, but in the past three years work commitments had forced him to
cut right down. Recently he had resumed his runs, at three times a week for 40
minutes, on a flat grassy surface, and had found he was developing shin
pain.

Does this sound familiar? We all have patients who are attempting activities
which they have been able to do in the past, in the belief that they are as
strong and balanced as they used to be. This runner had rigid orthotics which
he wore in every pair of shoes and had typical muscular tightness and weakness
around the pelvis, restricted hip flexor length and reduced gluteal stability
control when challenged on one leg. He had little balance control in single-leg
stance, even without any extra challenge from added knee or ankle movement.

My client had already had some treatment, which concentrated on stretching
and lengthening soft tissue around the shin and ankle, and improving proximal
pelvic control. This had reduced but not banished his symptoms. We decided he
should try running pose style. I set the runner a series of drills to increase
his awareness of picking his foot up from the ground by using the hamstring,
and not pounding the foot into the ground. We also worked on postural control,
to improve the vertical alignment of his pelvis, shoulders and foot as he was
running.

He responded to the idea that he should try to minimise the time he was
spending in the support phase, by thinking of pulling his foot from the ground
and letting gravity provide the impetus for forward movement. I asked him to
perform the drills at home, using a mirror for feedback, for one week before
returning to running.

The patient responded well to this concept and was able to build up to his
previous distance, incorporating his improved technique, within three weeks. He
had perfected the technique within a month, but subsequently had to keep on
fine-tuning it with drills. His shin pain disappeared completely. Was it the
proprioceptive drills that helped him or the feeling of not pounding the
ground?

Further reading

Pose Method of Running by Nicholas Romanov (2002), PoseTech Press ISBN:
0-9725537-6-2

‘Reduced Eccentric Loading of the Knee with the Pose Running
Method’, Arendse, Regan E.(1 ); Noakes, Timothy D.(1 ); Azevedo, Liane
B.(1 ); Romanov, Nicholas (1 ); Schwellnus, Martin P.(1 ); Fletcher, Graham(2)
in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: Volume 36(2) February 2004
pp 272-277.

1. MRC/UCT Exercise Science and Sports Medicine Research Unit, Department of
Human Biology, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Cape Town, South
Africa.

2. University College of the Fraser Valley, British Columbia, Canada.

Official website: www.posetech.com

Share this drill


Get the latest advances in the prevention,
diagnosis and treatment of sports injuries



No commitment. Cancel anytime

FIND OUT MORE

Follow us