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Friday, September 3, 2010

6. Are you a lifter or a pusher?

The answer could be the silver bullet your running needs

Last time we spoke about the forward lean & its contribution to an increased stride rate – a highly desirable component required to being an efficient runner. That forward lean is one component that increases stride rate; power application is the other. However an increased angle of attack does not guarantee increased stride rate in some cases, as habituated lifting of the knee, in an effort to increase/maintain stride length continues to access majority concentric muscle contraction of the hip flexors. This not only slows stride rate, but greatly increases the strength requirement & therefore an accelerated accumulation of fatigue from dealing with eccentric jarring from increased support phase weight bearing time. It also creates more fatigue because the stride falls more towards the forward sector relative to the center of mass, & thus increasing work to regain this lost inertia with each step. It is a common myth that in order to have that nice high knee lift when you run you have to fire your hip flexors – nothing could be further from the truth. By powerfully extending your leg downwards it subsequently is dragged rearward (because of forward momentum & the foot striking a stationary surface). The leg is not driven in an effort to push the body while it is on the surface – this would be counterproductive as tissue is supposed to be held semi rigid as connective tissue stretches/loads in anticipation for elastic release upon toe off. It is essential that the driving phase is seen as unloaded & with gravity. In this way the hip flexors are extended/loaded & pop back powerfully because of this, leading to that light, springy high knee lift so characteristic of great runners. Again, please make sure that you do not push while the foot is on the ground, but before this; it’s like throwing a pogo stick at the ground. If you push while the foot is on the surface you stop it from unloading elastically. Good running is 5 parts elastic return & only one part strength application – the more you lift your knees & try to power your body by driving the foot while it is on the ground, the greater the strength component, the slower the stride rate, the longer the stance time, the greater the rate of fatigue accumulation. Nuf said!
©Bobby McGee – Bobby McGee Endurance Sports


  1. Bobby - you had an earlier post about connection and lateral rotation - I think/feel this all hooks together.

    I went to a gait/form workshop with Mark Plaatjes and Heather North; they were demonstrating how to activate the contra-lateral rotation thing by paying attention to what the arms are doing. I "got" this in the store, but it didn't work in practice. But...

    when this post reminded me of your ideas on pushing, it all clicked. If I want to make sure I "push", I have to start at my hips. If when I run I slightly exaggerate mobility in my hips, I not only access the push with a real feel of an extended, almost straight leg, but also the activation/rotation of the chest goes "live".
    As a bonus, my arm mption goes Bannister-like :)
    It may just be me, but I can only get this by starting at my core and hips.

  2. Very cool - I have been connecting somewhat with Mark & Heather in this regard. Heather is a great student of running & of course Mark's "sense" is unparalelled. I recently met a Feldenkrais practitioner who absolutely gets the "connection" concept & describes it well. Did not get to see her "do" though. The pathway to sensing it was up for much discussion with a VERY clued up Aussie friend/colleague whom I worked with in Hungary on the triathletes; (a disconnected bunch as a result of the multisports). He is a PT & has some success with working with the diaphragm & TVA - pushing out the lower belly. It's an "allowing" process made all the harder by cognitive intervention. I had a guy walk slowly this AM, perfectly connected & then slowly gave him one step at a time & turned that into a connected run, which he could not do before. Bannister's thrown back shoulders were an impedence I'd say - but how "strong" could he have got with his time availability - looked heroic though!