Pose Method of Running
by Christopher Drozd, 3.19.03
(www.slowtwitch.com)

"Don't shoot me, I'm only the messenger," laughs Nicholas Romanov, developer of the Pose Method of running. This philosophy regards running as a skill sport rather than an innate ability as individual to each as eye color. Romanov's detractors, with a zeal of religious fundamentalists, discount that there is one correct way of running and often ask, "Where's the science?"

Romanov responds with, "It isn't my Method, per se, it's gravity (which is universal). Do you dispute Isaac Newton's Laws of Motion?"

Romanov continues: "Within nature we can find guidelines and principles that show us how to perform all natural activity. Our movements should be an integral part of the Earth's gravity, within a certain biomechanical framework, organically united with it and using gravity as a source of energy, only minimally resisting its influence. Inefficiencies and injuries are caused when we break out of this framework and fight gravity rather than work with it."

Viewing his video, reading his book and attending his weekend training clinic here's what I gleaned of this. We'll start with the science, as presented and interpreted by Romanov.

...::: Gravity :::...

The story starts with gravity. In 17th century, the founder of modern physics—Isaac Newton—observed among other things the effect of an invisible force and ultimately codified a set of principles governing motion. First off, he pointed out that the moon, accelerated by gravity, "falls" around the earth. The equilibrium between it's velocity, and its attraction to the earth establish its orbit. It's safe to say gravity is a powerful force.

...::: Acceleration :::...

Here on Earth gravity accelerates us (during free fall in a vacuum) at 9.8m per second per second. In air we ultimately reach terminal velocity, that point at which the drag exerted by wind resistance and acceleration have equalized. As runners, our concern is that gravity pulls us faster than we can push ourselves with muscular effort—if we let it.

...::: Falling :::...

Gravity works FOR us when we fall forward. By quickly changing our base of support from foot to foot as we fall, we run. This falling is a very definite, distinct sensation that becomes your gas pedal on the road—fall a little and you're warming up, fall a lot and you're racing.

One observation I've personally noted is how most kids run, before they "know" how—before they consciously try to run. They simply fall forward, naturally landing on their forefoot, which tends to drop right beneath their General Center of Mass (GCM. Essentially their belly button.) and their cadence is rather quick. That's nature in its purest form—the Pose Method—before we bind ourselves with learned psychological shackles!

Falling doesn't mean an exaggerated forward lean, and in no way suggests bending over at the hip, which undermines postural alignment. The fall can be subtle, almost imperceptible. Sprinter Michael Johnson appears upright when sprinting, yet he falls. Fast.

...::: Ground Reaction :::...

Newton's Third Law of Motion describes another key support for forward motion: "For every action there's an equal and opposite reaction."

At the clinic, Romanov played a video tape of someone running (in ordinary shoes via the Pose method) across the ice of a skating rink, seemingly defying Newton's 3rd Law. Afterall, how can there be an equal and opposite reaction to driving yourself forward from your feet on a frictionless surface? The point is that there is no "push off" in the Pose Method of running, but there is forward motion. Traction appears irrelevant. So what's happening?

Ground Reaction Force (GRF), consisting of—for our purposes—three components provides the answer. Without going too far into force vectors we accept that to run forward the amount of the anterior component (braking force) must be less than the posterior component (intuitively, the propulsive aspect). But, the vertical component predominates, giving back several times bodyweight at foot plant, where the posterior force gives back only 10 to 20 percent.

For a 70kg runner (700 newtons, "n"), that's about 2100n to 200n to 400n vertical versus posterior components, respectively. Based on Newton's Second Law: F=MA (force equals mass times acceleration), the posterior component's 10 to 20 percent impetus is not sufficient to acuate forward motion, as minimum force needed to move the 70kg runner is more than 700n.

Romanov also covered minimum leg angles, trajectory and vertical oscillation. Despite the vertical component being the main effect of GRF, and the minimal leg angle being about 67 degrees from the horizontal, suggesting kangaroo-like movement vertical oscillation is only 2 to 3 degrees, or 4 to 6 cm at the GCM for the best runners. Romanov asserts this to mean that the GRF provides support rather that propulsion.

So, on ice where push off and traction fail, gravity (acceleration) and vertical ground reaction (support) succeed. It works the same on dry land. Maybe the common description / prescription of running stride—heel strike, support, toe off—needs to be revisited.

...::: Muscle Elasticity :::...

Again, more free motion. Muscle elasticity costs you very little metabolically because you exert no effort to use it, sort of...

...::: The Stretch Reflex :::...

The "stretch reflex" is an automatic, neural response to some outside stimulus. This is a myosynaptic response, intrinsic to the muscle—below conscious control and below autonomic regulation. Possibly the most universal example of this idea is seen when a doctor very quickly taps the tendon just below your kneecap with that small, triangular, rubber-headed hammer and your foot is launched upward from its resting position, without your volitional impetus.

The key to engaging this action is speed. Your foot wouldn't have jumped had the physician slowly pressed the mallet into your patellar tendon. The stretch reflex is a protective muscle (and tendon?) contraction fired only when the neural system perceives a threat—a sudden stretch—to a muscle.

So, your mission is to create a threat, step after step, that enlists your legs' muscular elasticity, where following a quick deformation original muscle length is almost instantly regained (and then some, depending on the delivery speed and intensity of the stretch).

The knee jerk response, above or myosynaptic reflex occurs in a brisk 50 milliseconds, including both stretch and subsequent kick.

The challenge, of course is making this happen on the road. It starts with cadence.

...::: Cadence :::...

Faster runners tend toward a more rapid foot turnover than their slower counterparts. Take for instance, the Disney film, "Endurance" featuring an antelopian Haile Gebrselassie on a cross country jaunt, or any Michael Johnson sprint. These world-record holders run with a cadence well in excess of 200 steps per minute. Stand at the finish line of a local footrace and note the quick turnover of the frontrunners, too. Typically 180 to 200 steps per minute. Whether intentionally or intuitively, top athletes exhibit a similar stride rate. Shorter distance runners use a slightly higher cadence than marathoners. The minimum cadence that elicits the stretch reflex is 180 steps / minute, or 15 taps of your left foot every 10 seconds.

The IAAF (International Amateur Athletic Federation) has fixed the minimum time of physiological reaction at 100 milliseconds (for athletes like Carl Lewis or Leroy Burrell). Less gifted and conditioned humans react more haltingly, from 185 milliseconds to 250 milliseconds (1/4 second). In any case, still significantly slower, volitionally, than what's required to spur the gratuitous stretch reflex.

Let's examine this:

180 steps (total: both feet) per minute equals 3 steps per second, based on 180 steps per 60 seconds, right? So, 1 step occurs in 1/3 seconds, or .33 seconds. And, 1 step on 1 foot occurs in .17 seconds—.33 / 2. Finally, each step is split between deceleration and recoil, which brings the drive time of the stride down to .085 seconds. That's eighty-five milliseconds. At an even faster cadence, 240 steps / minute (Gebrsalassie's 10K leg turnover) this rebound takes only 63 milliseconds. Realize here that foot plant is nothing more than quick, alternating support which keeps the body up and falling forward. It isn't a conscious push off as there's no time to think about it.

Finally, cadence is a product of velocity. The stretch reflex is engaged at a foot turnover of 180 steps per minute, so that's an objective. But, forcing a higher cadence when pace doesn't warrant it is metabolically inefficient.

...::: The "S" and the wheel :::...

Before getting into the running stride Romanov presents two easily understandable models. The hind leg of an animal such as a horse, a dog or a cat and a rolling wheel.

An cat's leg is never straight. Its "S" shape serves as a spring unleashing its stored energy with each step. To use the elastic properties of your own legs they, too must be kept bent at ground contact. The bends allow for a quick response to muscle loading. Ground contact must be on the ball of the foot, and brief. The running Pose facilitates this.

A rolling wheel's contact patch is always directly beneath its GCM which maintains momentum. The wheel is rightly heralded as one of the outstanding contributions to the advancement of human civilization. Probably developing from laying great slabs of stone atop a number of parallel logs and rolling them (perpendicular to the logs) to their destination, a cart resembling a wheelbarrow (or a Flintstone's car) emerged. No doubt it took ancient genius to recognize the obvious: round objects roll best. Why? Its shape doesn't interfere with its inertia -- forward motion. Pose Method footplant encourages forward progress via non-interference, where heel strike (or "walking" footplant) applies the brakes.

...::: Now, Strike a Pose :::...

To judge the correctness of anything there needs to be a standard from which to deviate. No standard? No right, no wrong. No way to improve. So the Pose becomes the baseline, with simple rules to follow.

Your body assumes the "S" shape—postural alignment with a slight bend in your ankle, knee and hip. Your ear, shoulder, hip and ankle are on the same plane. Forward lean is minimal, but may increase with pace. As you fall forward you change foot support so as to run, not fall over. To break contact with the ground you simply fire your hamstring, which lifts one heel straight up beneath your hips. You let that foot fall back to the ground, directly beneath yourself—avoid stabbing at the ground with your toes!—while lifting the other heel. You land only on the ball of the foot, not the toe and not the heel. Your cadence is rapid, at least 180 steps per minute which enlists muscle elasticity.

Keep in mind that many of today's running shoes have an (errantly) elevated heel (which is another article altogether) that may make it appear that you're landing flat footed, even though landing sensation is on the ball of the foot.

Despite 30 years of equipment, conditioning and medical advancements 2 out of 3 runners will be injured from their sport. The misconception that running has no standard confounds efforts to teach it as a skill. And, injury prevention aside, heightened sports skill is also associated with improved performance. In skill sports that's a given. In traditional running circles, it's blasphemy. Until now.

...::: Final thoughts :::...

For some there is quite a long learning curve when adopting this running style, and in the process discomfort and injury may result. The injury though is not a product of the technique, as is often asserted by running coaches, physicians and physical therapists who should know better. Rather, it's faulty execution. Practice doesn't make perfect, perfect practice does! But, after 20 years of professional personal training experience I can attest that perfect practice remains elusive.

Everybody has the physical capabilities to accomplish their personal fitness / athletic goals. And, while many succeed, most do not simply because they are not present, in the moment and mentally unencumbered while training. All that's required is a conscious, child-like, non-judgemental non-expectent approach to their endeavor. Some "athletes" are able to meld this Zen-like countenance with their exercise. Through this spiritual connection they succeed where others falter.

Of the thirty-six triathletes who attended the same three-day, Pose Method workshop as I, only three "got it." One of the runners had been working on the technique over the last year. The other, an extremely successful businessman whom I'd met six months earlier at the Santa Barbara County Triathlon embodied that Zen-like bearing just mentioned. The third, I didn't know personally. Obviously, I wasn't one of the three. Six weeks later, though I seem to have a handle on the execution—I coach a good game, and always strive to play it better, myself—via improved perception, persistence, perfect practice and an open mind.

...::: Further reading & viewing :::...

The Pose Method video is great support following the clinic. By itself, it doesn't convey the nuances necessary to fully understand the execution of the Pose Method. That said, there are plenty of athletes who have successfully only used the video.

The Pose Method book, a newer offering, provides several hundred pages of detail about the Method, including drills and exercises well beyond what the video shows. Its content more than makes up for some troubled typesetting. One skeptic asked me, "So who has this Romanov fellow trained?" I'd direct him to the ten pages of testimonials in the early pages of the text, including the likes of Joe Friel, Jurgen Zack, George Dallam (Former USAT National Team Head Coach), Tim Don (2002 World Duathlon Champion), and others.

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