Thursday, 28 June 2012

Run, run and then run some more! Then just to rounds things off do some core work!

Last night's slam ball exercises
This week is a running-crazy week.  I am not a pro athlete, but someone with a full time job who needs to balance work and training.  Nevertheless I set myself a target of running 130km this week, in preparation for the Trail Ticino at the beginning of August.

Monday was not a great start - only 15.64km covered.  Tuesday made up for that a bit - 25.23km covered.  Wednesday consisted of a 6.25km run to work and then a run around the airport with some of my colleagues, which was 15.5km.  That made 21.75km in total by the time I left work, but things were not over yet.  Wednesday night is as some of you know, group coached running session night with Hillseeker Fitness.  I was having some problems with my ITB band on Tuesday and Wednesday, and I half considered skipping the class.  What I found on Wednesday lunchtime though was that a run actually helped to loosen things up and didn't make it any worse.

Why am I getting ITB problems now and not before when I was running 100km a week for several consecutive months earlier in the year may you ask.  I think the problem is caused by a lack of stretching.  I am really lax at spending time stretching after my runs, and I am currently running 2 or 3 times per day, so that is not good practise at all.  I am definitely going to have to make more effort on the stretching front.        

Negrita was home alone all day on Wednesday, so the only way I could go to Jeff's class was if she came with me.  He agreed that I could bring her along, and I pre-cleared it with 2 of the people in the class who are afraid of dogs.  Now the problem with Negrita is that she barks a lot, and I knew that she would bark like crazy with all the other runners around me and all the other dogs off lead on the sports fields next to the Saalsporthalle.  She usually tends to stop barking once she is tired out though, so it was perfect that Jeff had planned a pinwheel session (essentially a hard intervals session).

I held Negrita while Jeff did a mental toughness exercise and a box breathing exercise, so that she would not bark.  Then it was time for the pinwheel.  This if you recall consists of multiple spokes and the group splits into smaller groups, each small group being assigned a spoke.  You run hard to the end of the spoke and then easy back to the centre.  Then you rotate clockwise to cover the next spoke and so on.  After 6 minutes Jeff told us to switch so that we ran easy out to the end of the spoke and then hard back to the centre.  Then he reversed things one final time, and that was the end of the exercise.

The other runners in the class were very impressed just how fast Negrita was considering her small stature.  She is more suited to steady state running than intervals though, and after sprinting along 8 spokes she was hot and bothered and needed a rest.  I tied her to a post at the centre of the pinwheel and continued the exercise by myself.

To round the session off, Jeff got us doing some core exercises.  We did 3 sets in total, each set consisting of 1 minute of slam ball throws, 1 minute of sit-up work with a curved pad under our backs (to help isolate the abs apparently) and 1 minute of single leg raises in a plank position.  A slam ball is a little like a medicine ball, except that it is designed to be able to handle hard impacts.  In our case we had to lift the slam ball over our head and throw it down onto the ground in front of us as hard and as fast as possible.  It is a form of plyometric training. I found the sit-ups much harder with the pad under my back, which Jeff explained means that I am normally using my hip flexors too much to help me up.

When I finished the session I felt a little sick and had to take 5 minutes to recover my senses.  It has been a tough week, but there are only a few more weeks like this to go and then I will have to start easing back ready for the big race.  By the end of last night I had covered 68.12km so far this week.  Then I ran to work today via Zurich Central (9.26km) and I will be running again in a short while, once I have taken a quick power nap.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Pose Method® and Efficient Running Workshop Review

Gravity is your friend in efficient running
In the article below I attempt to give an unbiased review of the Pose Method® and efficient running workshop that I attended yesterday in Richterswil near Z├╝rich, led by Jeff Grant of Hillseeker Fitness.  In the past I was of the mindset that running is something that should come naturally to us and is not something that needs to be taught.  I started running myself at the age of seven.  However, I went into the workshop with a very open mind, determined to see if the Pose Method® could be another useful tool that I could use in my drive to become a quicker, more efficient and injury free long distance runner.

Background

The Pose Method® is a system for teaching human movement, developed in the 70's by 2 time Olympic coach Dr Nicholas S. Romanov.  Whilst the system can be applied to all sports, most are still in the theory stage (cycling, swimming, speed skating and skiing for example).  Pose Method® running on the other hand is well developed.  The aim of the Pose Method® is to improve training and performance, and to reduce injuries.

Description

The Pose Running method is all based around the "pose", a position which every runner will attain at some point during their stride pattern.  This position is characterised by one leg on the ground (ideally slightly bent) with the other leg bent at the knee and hanging underneath the hip.  The aim of the method is to reduce the time it takes the runner to get to this position from the moment their foot first strikes the ground (time to reach Pose), and to reduce the time it takes to get from "pose" to the point where the back foot leaves the ground (time from Pose to air).  The "ideal" time to reach pose is one 30th of a second.  The way to check this is to record yourself and then play back the video at 30 frames per second.  Click here for an example of fast pose running by Dr Romanov.

In addition to the time to reach Pose and the time from Pose to air, there are several other key ideas that I will describe below.

1) Conservation of energy

Any energy that does not help to propel the runner forward should be conserved.  The term Jeff uses for this is minimum effective dosage or M.E.D. The top half of the body should remain fairly still (other than the arms), the head should remain as level as possible and not bob up and down, and unnecessary tension throughout the whole body should be eliminated.  The arms should also not cross the body.

2) Foot strike

Ideally the runner should land on the forefoot and then the heel should come down and "kiss" the ground.  Theoretically it would be faster if the runner remained on their forefoot without bringing their heel down to kiss the ground, but this is extremely tough on the Achilles tendon and the lower calf muscle and so for anything other than than a short sprint it makes sense to let the heel kiss the ground.  Heel striking is the worst possible foot strike as it carries the highest associated risk of injury due to the increased jarring effect.

3) Cadence

The ideal minimum recommended cadence is 180 foot strikes per minute.  This is closely related to muscle-tendon elasticity, and making use of the natural spring effect of our bodily tissues.

4) The pull

The idea of the Pose Method® of running is that to take quick steps the runner should focus on pulling their foot upwards in the groove underneath their hip rather than focussing on pushing the leg down towards the ground.  You can go out and try this by yourself.  Try to run up a flight of stairs quickly and you have 2 ways to accomplish it.  Either you focus on using your legs like a piston and pushing them into the ground using your quads or you try to keep your foot muscles and quads relaxed and focus on pulling your back leg up quickly using the hamstrings.  If you listen to the sounds made by these 2 different methods you will notice that the first is a lot noisier than the second and so has a higher associated risk of injury.

5) Gravity

Using gravity to our advantage is the basis of efficient running.  Leaning forward by opening the hips (and not just leaning forward with the head), we can take advantage of gravity to help us run faster.  The next step is not to stop that forward momentum when our foot strikes the ground.  As we land our centre of gravity should be over our foot and not behind it, and our foot should have as little contact with the ground as possible.


The Hillseeker Fitness Workshop

Pose Method® technique drills

Pose Method® technique drills

Pose Method® technique drills

Pose Method® technique drills


There were 7 of us in the workshop, 3 men and 4 ladies.  After  a brief introduction Jeff took us outside to record videos of each of us running.  This was before we had received any instruction on Pose running so that he could assess our natural styles.

When we went back inside he started to go through our videos and provide us with feedback.  I was a little nervous when it was my turn, because I was wondering how my technique was going to look on video, having never recorded myself running before.  It was also a chance to confirm whether I was a heel striker (like I used to be), a mid foot striker (which I thought I am now) or a forefoot striker.

Overall my style was not too bad.  Playing the video frame by frame at 30 frames per second revealed that I was definitely a mid foot striker and my cadence was more or less 180 strikes per second.  The frames to reach Pose was 2 (recall the ideal figure is 1) and the frames from Pose to air was 2.5.  On landing, the weight-bearing leg remained bent, which Jeff says is good as it reduces the chance of knee injuries.  The constructive criticism Jeff gave was that I carried a lot of tension in my upper body, my steps were louder than they needed to be and I was pulling back my toes and reaching out for the ground meaning that my centre of gravity was slightly behind the foot when landing (causing a braking effect).  He wanted to focus on reducing the tension in my upper body, get me to land more on my fore foot and try to stop me reaching out for the ground so that on landing my centre of gravity would be over my landing foot.

The rest of the day consisted of the theory behind the ideal efficient running technique, interspersed with lots of technique drills.  Each drill focussed on one aspect of efficient running technique at a time and then now and again Jeff would give us time to try out consolidated runs where we tried to apply everything we had leaned from each of the separate drills together.

The technique drills included buddy starts (where you hold your buddy while he leans forward and runs on the spot and then let him go so that for the first few steps gravity is assisting him), heel holds (where you hold your buddy's heel while he tries to pull it up snappily several times on each foot and then he goes off for a run where due to the lack of resistance he now ends up pulling his heel up very quickly), barefoot running in the agility ladder (to encourage forefoot running), running with your hand in front of your belly button and trying to touch it but never letting your hand touch it (to encourage opening at the hips), running with your hands on your bottom (once again to encourage you to open up), running up flights of stairs (focussing on quick and quiet steps using fast pulls of the foot upwards rather than loud piston like steps where the leg is pushed downwards), doing sidesteps then turning to run forwards (so that gravity assists your first few steps), running with bungee cords attached to your feet (to encourage quick snappy pulls of the foot under the hip and precision) and framing (where you run with a buddy behind you holding on to your shoulders so that your chest is open and so that you don't kick excessively backwards).

Each person in the group found that different drills worked best for them, and I think my personal favourites were the sidestep into forward running and the running with your hand in front of the belly button trying to catch it but not allowing your hand to touch.

Afterwards we recorded new videos of each of us running so that we could see if the session had helped us to run more Pose like.  Most of us noticed some differences in our before and after videos, except for 2 of the participants who were seasoned runners and for whom I guess it would take a lot of time and effort to make changes to their running form.  They were definitely heel strikers before and definitely heel strikers afterwards, and they were also overreaching with the front foot both before and after.

In terms of my after video, the tension in my upper body was somewhat reduced (although I was still clenching my left hand in a fist), my foot strike changed more towards forefoot than mid foot and my centre of gravity on landing shifted over my foot rather than behind it like before.  My steps were also somewhat quieter and my frames to reach Pose came down from 2 to 1.75 and my frames from Pose to air came down from 2.5 to 1.5.  You could say that after the session I ran more Pose like than I did before the session.

Summary

Is there one technique that can be applied to all runners?  I am not sure, but for me personally a lot of the things in the Pose method® seem to make sense.  On landing it makes sense to me that the Centre of Gravity should be over the landing foot and not behind it, and it also makes sense to me that heel striking is never a good thing in terms of injury risk.  Regarding the cadence, it may seem too fast for some runners, but as the before and after videos showed I was already running at a cadence of around 180bpm before even receiving any instruction, so for me the recommended minimum cadence seemed fine.

Does it make you a more efficient runner?  This is where some of the anti Pose method® camp say that the technique fails.  They say that after applying the Pose technique some runners have shown a reduced running economy in tests.  The pro Pose method® camp say that maybe the runners did not learn or apply the technique properly.  This for me is an interesting open question.  Either way, there are a lot of things to remember in order to fully apply the Pose technique to your running, and for some runners attempting to change their running style so drastically may cause their running performance to be reduced at least in the short term.  I myself however enjoy trying out different running styles, having already transitioned myself without help from a former heel striker to a mid foot striker, having already started touching on barefoot and minimalistic running, and so for me, applying aspects of the Pose technique to my running will be another of my interesting experiments.  Some people enjoy the simplicity of running, and others like me enjoy treating it as a science experiment and trying out different styles, reading about the biomechanics of running etc.

Whichever way you view Pose running, Jeff leads a very interesting workshop and even an anti Pose method® runner should consider going into a similar workshop with an open mind and seeing what they get out of it.  Maybe nothing or maybe something, but it can't hurt trying.

I would be interested to hear your personal views on Pose running, both for and against.  Or maybe your thoughts on one of the other schools of running like Chi running or Evolution running.