Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Running technique #2

I recently came across a very interesting blog by Steve Magness, a competitive runner who is doing a Masters in Exercise Science. What particularly caught my attention were his fairly scathing criticisms of the Pose Method. As you may have read in a previous post of mine, I am quite a fan of the Pose Method, having attended a clinic in Denmark hosted by the charismatic founder, Dr Romanov. These criticisms seem to be aimed at the typical guru style of confidently claiming that they have the panacea, the magic solution, but it can only be acquired by paying lots of money to a certified expert. The Pose Method does of course have its certified coaches and clinics but Romanov goes out of his way to provide people with the tools to teach themselves. He has written a number of books and produced a number of videos but with a bit of persistence you can find almost everything contained in them, for free, on his website. This is how it should be: the Pose Method, like the Alexander Technique or Pilates etc, should be part of the public domain and the added value should come from the convenience of finding everything you need in a book or benefiting from the years of experience of a certified coach. My point is that it should be possible to acquire a good running technique without buying any books or paying any coaches.

As I have said before, the Pose Method is a method more than a technique and I found it a very effective way to run more lightly and more efficiently on my mid-foot with the very real consequence that my knee (with the torn meniscus) immediately stopped hurting while running. As with any method, it is a good idea to define an objective and measurable "ideal" which you are trying to attain - this may require an over simplification of reality or, said another way, the ideal may not actually be itself achievable (for example, zero ground contact time). Romanov developed his ideas based on the way Russian ballet dancers were taught, in terms of "poses". In just the same way as any dance has a basic form which you must first learn and internalize and then build your own style upon, the Pose Method gives you a solid base on which you can make some subtle adjustments, like those suggested by Steve in his excellent article.

Having read his article in detail, I've come to the conclusion that it is to the Pose Method, what Einstein's Relativity is to Newtonian Mechanics. That is to say, Newtonian Mechanics is still what is taught in schools today and is perfectly good enough for most practical purposes but it is an approximation to Einstein's model.
I took away the following ideas, which tally with my personal experience of running with what I think is a reasonably good running technique over the last two years.

1) You should NOT try to get off your feet as quickly as possible. This appears to directly contradict the Pose Method, which advocates "pulling" the foot from the floor as quickly as possible. The pronation (rotation) of the foot acts as a spring which is loaded as your foot rolls from the outer edge to the big toe and is released when you "toe off". In order to benefit from this natural spring, you must allow it to fully load and...

2) particular, your heel should be allowed to momentarily "kiss" the floor for the spring to be fully activated. (Note that sprinting is an exception as you run up on the forefoot, although I am not able to say why at this point.)

3) You should extend your hips in such a way that you optimize not minimize the vertical displacement. I very much liked Steve's analogy with firing a cannonball - too steep an angle of attack and you have more vertical displacement than horizontal; too shallow an angle and you lose flight time and the cannonball ploughs into the ground. I think the cue of "running tall" ensures that you don't take off with too shallow an angle, collapsing on to an overly bent leg.

The irony is that the hardcore advocates of the Pose Method have a tendency to live by its doctrines with what I would be tempted to call religious fervour. Having skulked around for some time in the forums where people post videos of them running for (free) analysis by others - many of whom are certified coaches - I've noticed that the response is usually that they could be puling their foot off the floor quicker. Of course they could - if the ideal is "zero contact time" then there is always room for improvement. Having said that, it is a very valuable tool to have people constructively criticize your technique. What I think is a shame, is that there is such a resistance to ideas like the above that I can begin to imagine what it was like for Copernicus when he exclaimed that the Earth actually revolved around the Sun, rather than the other way round.

In scientific research it is a very difficult balance to obtain, in between rigidly adhering to a particular theory and being swayed from one theory to another depending on how convincingly they are expounded. I think the key here is the difference between what you believe and what other people believe. In order to advance a theory, you need support, consensus, and so it is important to be able to convince others. In doing so, you may need to simplify things or even compromise on certain points but it is vital to be consistent otherwise you will confuse and ultimately lose your audience. But this rigidity does not necessarily have to carry over to your own beliefs; you should be open to other people's suggestions which you may file away for subsequent digestion. I think this distinction marks the difference between followers and leaders and between dictators and true pioneers. In this sense, I am very lucky with the coach I have, Jonathan, because he has a very clear idea of how he believes things should be but he is very open to study any new ideas, whether they come from an experienced elite Marathon runner or someone like me, who runs for a hobby and occasionally turns up interesting things on the internet.

1 comment:

  1. Rob, Another excellent post! I would say though that when I started with Pose I was very skeptical about much of what Dr. R was saying. However, on almost everything of which I was initially skeptical, I have come to understand that he was correct. Either through my own investigations or via more detailed explanations from Dr. R and others. In any case, I do take your point that there are many people who do accept Pose doctrine almost as if it were a religious faith.