This Week I Learn To Pose

Pose run, that is. Not for photos (which, I have been told, I am already quite good at).

I posted last month about how Christopher McDougall’s book Born To Run changed my whole perspective on running. I went from believing my injury-prone body could never handle 15km-plus distances to envisioning myself running a 42km marathon by the end of the year (and declaring it to the world, no less).

Why the sudden epiphany? One of the most intriguing discussions in the book for me was how important proper running technique is, and how it can help you run faster, smoother and with a reduced risk of injury. I had never thought about the way I ran before. It’s interesting that we’re taught how to swim, ride a bike and play sport, but most of us are never taught how to run. I guess it’s just assumed that we run the way we run!

In my case, I was your archetypal heel striker: I landed on my heel with my foot in front of my body, rolled through my foot, and pushed myself forward with my legs. Like this guy:

Heel striker. Image from Speed Freq.

The problem with this style of running?

When your foot lands in front of your body, your leg essentially acts as a brake, reducing your forward momentum. There is a huge amount of force generated (1.5 to 3 times your body weight, depending on your speed), and if it’s not converted into momentum, where do you think it goes? Into the ground, and, of course, your body.

This massive jarring effect on your ankles, knees, hips and back can lead to all sorts of problems like shin splints, knee injuries and weak achilles.  The only thing that makes this style of running bearable is the thick cushioning on many modern day running shoes*. Do you think you could run like this in bare feet on the concrete?  Of course not, your heels would get smashed! It would be like someone hitting you on the heel with a hammer with 1.5 times your body weight. Now that’s not ideal.

(*The running shoe debate is a whole other ball game. I’ll be writing about it in a future post)

So what’s with the ‘Pose’ running then?

The Pose Method is a technique developed by Russian Olympic Track and Field coach Nikolas Romanov in the 1970s. With Pose, you land on your forefoot, not your heel, and with your foot under your body, rather than in front of it. This way, your foot and lower leg act like a spring, loading your achilles and calves with energy to bounce back up.

What I found most interesting, however, is the idea of using gravity to generate forward momentum. You do this by leaning slightly forward, and only stepping to ‘catch’ yourself from falling over. This requires much less energy from your body, as opposed to when ‘pushing’ yourself forward as with heel striking. For more info, check out the Pose Tech website.

Check out the elements of the Pose:

Elements of the ‘Pose’. Image from Pose Tech

How I learned to ‘Pose’

Conveniently for me, we at Crossfit-U had the opportunity to attend a Pose running workshop last week at Crossfit Rise Up in Melbourne’s Western suburbs. It was run by Sally Lynch, an ultra runner and coach who’s been running all her life and has competed in marathons, ultra marathons and Ironman triathlons.

And the most surprising thing? She’s never had a major running injury, and only a couple of minor injuries which, according to her, were caused by “stupidity”, not the running. Ugh. So jealous!

“You don’t run with your legs, you run on your legs”

Sally started off by having us balance on one foot and lifting the other to our calf, keeping our shoulders, hips and ankle of the bent leg in a straight vertical line. She explained that this is the “pose” that we need to strike on every stride. We practiced shifting our weight from one foot to the other, using the hamstrings to ‘pull’ our feet up, rather than our hip flexors.

The next drills were to lean forward slightly and ‘catch’ ourselves by landing on the forefoot, keeping it directly under our centre of gravity, while ‘pulling’ the other foot up. We practiced running up and down the gym, then ran with skipping ropes to force the quick foot movements. To a natural heel striker, the new movements do feel slightly odd, and almost a bit prancy, but as with anything new, these things take time to get used to!

Christina Canters Crossfit Pose Running
The Crossfit-U girls show us how to ‘pose’

The key things we learned:

    1. When leaning forward keeping your body in a straight line, don’t bend at the hips. Your lean angle should increase the faster you’re running.
    2. Land lightly on your forefoot, and ‘kiss’ your heel to the ground. This relaxes the ankle joint, lengthens the calf and reduces stress on the achilles tendon. Very important!
    3. Keep your hands, arms and shoulders relaxed, and let your arms swing naturally, but keep them close to your body. If your upper body is tense it can affect your whole technique.
    4. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. We practiced different rates of breathing, ie breathing in for 4 steps, out for 4 steps for an easy jog, and in for 2 steps, out for 2 for a faster sprint.
    5. The faster you run, the higher you ‘pull’ your foot. (I used to think your foot had to come up to knee level at all times, but I learned that this is just a waste of energy. For an easy, long distance jog, you really only need to lift it to just above ankle, or mid-calf)
    6. Your cadence (foot turnover) should be fairly quick, around 180 steps per minute. This requires you to take shorter steps, reducing the impact force through your body. You can do this by running with a metronome, but if the monotonous ticking starts to drive you insane, try making a playlist of songs that have 180 or 90 beats per minute. (Google “180 bpm songs”)
    7. Enjoy the run! Sally explained that when done correctly, running should feel effortless, and not like an arduous struggle. (I do wonder, however, how does one keep up that ‘effortless’ feeling over a 42km marathon…)

So yes, there is a lot to remember with this technique!

One tip Sally gave us was to just practice one technique each time you run, such as focusing on the ‘pull’ motion, or on breathing, or on relaxing the upper body. Eventually with enough practice, these things should become second nature.

I have found that I need to remind myself to relax my shoulders, and I have to run with my playlist of 180 bpm songs, otherwise my cadence starts to slow. But it’s been a great learning process, and I’m slowly getting there!

Christina Canters Crossfit Pose Running
CrossFit-U athletes in full pose running action