Biomechanics of Running: Am I Running Correctly?

Running. It is one of the most intuitive things in human nature. Since the dawn of time we have been running, if not from monsters such as giant saber-tooth cats, then chasing down food. But now, it’s mostly for fun and sport and/or to stay fit. Just because running itself comes naturally, you may not be running optimally or ideally.

Because of the philosophy that everyone runs differently and that “natural” is best, this article may be very controversial for some. People who believe in either pose running or chi running too might find this article offensive. That’s fine. But no matter what running religion you belong to, read the article in its entirety and consider what is presented in it. The article is written for beginners, seasoned runners, and professional marathoners. We will examine two segments:

  • Natural is Best Philosophy: Do we run correctly or incorrectly?
  • Pose Running & Chi Running: What are they? What beneficial claims do they make? Which is Better?

Natural is Best Philosophy

The philosophy of natural is best is that everyone runs their own way, and whatever works for you is best. However, upon examining the pose and chi methods, these two philosophies put us at fault and state that we are doing it all wrong. Basically, the pose and chi methods say we do not know how to run.

From nearly the time we learn how to walk we begin running. You would think that it is just as natural as walking and talking. But have you ever stopped to consider if you run the right way? There are 36 million Americans who run every year and 40% to 50% of these people suffer at least one running injury.

So, roughly half of these people suffer injuries; that’s 18 MILLION people. Obviously, accidents do occur; people fall down, get scratches and bruises, break bones, and some experience terrible blisters. But most of the injuries endured by runners are caused simply by the act of running. The most notorious problem cause is the knee (Runner’s Knee).

With so many people suffering injuries, it definitely lends credibility to the idea that maybe there is—if not a definite right way—a wrong way of running that can cause an array of problems. This raises a series of questions, however, that we should consider before we go further. Are we running the right way? If we are running correctly then why are so many people experiencing injuries from running? Could it be caused by the equipment used? And the only equipment is the shoes we wear.

Depending on who you talk to, problems can be caused by shoes, running surfaces and of course, the amount of running a person performs. Some people consider body alignment. If you consider for example quarterbacks and major league pitchers, every time they make a throw, it requires biomechanics by their arms. If done incorrectly, they can suffer injuries, rendering them inept to perform at all.

So it is essential that they are taught the proper mechanics of throwing the football or baseball to avoid injury. And many are taught these fundamentals at an early age. The same thing holds true for athletes of any sport – take swimming for example; the greatest Olympic swimmers in the world didn’t make it to where they are without close supervision and instruction.

Why is running itself not critiqued? No two golfers or quarterbacks have exactly the same form, but there are some key fundamentals that each of them knows and understands. How come there are no fundamentals for running, especially when you consider how many injuries are caused every year as a result of merely running; doing something that comes “naturally”?

Natural vs. Fundamentals

Running naturally is fine. You can do it if you want. But if you knew there was a way to improve how you run (or to improve your technique) then wouldn’t you begin implementing it? A coach will automatically point out errors an athlete is making. This is to make them better. And every sport has errors in it, and if these errors are not corrected they will cause the athlete/team to lose the game.

This is why there are basic fundamentals that athletes of any sport must obey. The greatest athletes in the world always execute the basics better than anyone else. They may do spectacular things no one else can do, but the basics are their foundation. Now we are back to running. In the philosophy that natural is best, meaning any way that works for you, there is a lack of fundamentals.

And because there are no fundamentals, there are no errors. Without errors, there is no way of truly determining what is right and what is wrong. In order to correct these problems, we need to establish fundamentals. Pose and Chi methods each have their own fundamentals. We will begin with the Pose Method.

Pose Method of Running

Pose originates from Russia from Dr. Nicholas Romanov, a Russian university teacher, track coach, and scientist. Romanov was the first to begin laying out specific running techniques. “Motion is created by the destruction of balance.”. The written quote comes from none other than Leonardo da Vinci and was referenced by Dr. Romanov in an article he wrote explaining the fundamentals of Pose. When we start from the standing position we are at perfect balance. But all of that is destroyed the moment we fall forward to run.

Now we start to get into the very basic biomechanics of running. Keep in mind that as we move forward the foot that is held on the ground cannot move on its own. In order to pull that foot up off the ground, we use our hamstring muscles. Muscle elasticity plays a part now, and this is what pushes against the weight of gravity. This enables us to switch from one supporting foot to the next supporting foot.

The proper pose method requires that the shoulders, hips, and ankles are aligned with the current supporting leg while standing on the ball of the foot. And with a falling-forward motion (lean-forward with ankles, NOT the shoulders) the runner will change the pose from one leg to the other. What happens can be described as a “never-ending fall.”

What you are essentially doing is changing the center of the mass of your body, so that you fall forward, as gravity intends, while at the same time you “pull” the legs as opposed to making the knee swing forward. In Pose you land on the forefoot.

Chi Method of Running

The Chi method of running states that you should land on the midfoot, because landing on the forefoot means that all of your body weight is, at least momentarily, supported by your calf. This is more weight than your calf was designed to bear and this will cause problems over long distances.

Pose requires the use of the legs a lot more than chi. Chi requires greater use of the lower legs. Basically, runners who practice the Chi method extend their stride as opposed to simply quickening the speed of their stride.

Proper Technique or Marketing Hype?

Both Pose and Chi methods claim they can make you faster and reduce injury. Scientific evidence shows that runners suffer from injuries every year. The numbers are staggering, and these injuries include spinal compression, groin pull, piriformis syndrome, shin splints, hamstring strain, ITB syndrome, and Achilles tendonitis.

Shoe companies state the same things; that they can improve your performance and reduce injury—yet millions of runners every year suffer from injuries. So if shoes can’t fix it, it must be all about the form and technique, right? Due to the lack of scientific data, we cannot definitively say either Pose or Chi is the end-all-be-all.

Basic Fundamentals of Running

Both methods are not entirely all hype. People tend to hype things up by taking sides in the matter. But what is important to note is that when you study Pose and Chi in greater detail, you come to a greater understanding of the biomechanics of running. And both have their pros and cons; for example, Pose appears to put more strain on the calf muscle because you are landing on your forefront.

The alternative to foot-landing that Chi provides is landing on your middle foot—then again, landing on your forefront may provide you more speed, according to some. No one can identify what YOU feel when you run, especially if you are using either of these techniques. If what you’re doing is working for you, keep doing it. But do not be afraid to try new techniques!

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