“One and two and three and four. One and two and three and four,” I desperately try to move in sync with my counting.
“Steve keep your elbow bent,” my teacher interjects—with just a tad of irritation. “He must feel like a broken record,” I think. “Straight joints can’t produce force,” he continues “when you let that elbow go straight it becomes weak.” Cue the lightbulb.
My wife and I wedded just over four years ago and decided to have a choreographed first dance. Amidst my audible counting, which drove my soon-to-be wife nuts, I watched our instructor educate me on proper dancing posture and positioning. That’s not to imply I executed on his instructions.
With zero anatomy classes under his belt, he discussed positions and biomechanical principles that made my nerdy brain tick. I have used the concepts I learned with my patients and clients since my dance “training.” For whatever reason, four years later, I decided to link my dance lesson back to running.
“Straight Joints Are Weak”
Whether it’s your elbow or knee, a straight joint is weak. Our muscles are strongest in midrange, a point where there’s sufficient overlap in the contractile elements of your muscle. Long and short muscles suffer from inefficiencies that significantly dampen their ability to generate force (termed passive and active insufficiency respectively).
For runners, straight joints are scary on the front half of the stride. Most runners enter into the ground with their leg locked. Knee straight, toes up, and treating their leg as a battering ram, millions of runners bash into their bones. Progressing through the gait cycle, the lower leg unlocks to an environment where the hamstrings (back of the thigh) and quadriceps (front of the thigh) are in a poor situation to generate force and absorb shock.
Unlocking Power and Strength
We see athletes unlocking their anatomy outside of dancing and running. Think of a baseball shortstop or basketball player “d’ing up.” Unless your watching disinterested young people play, you likely observe a loaded position, knees bent, and their butt back. These athletes are in a “loaded and ready to go” position. Standing, erect athletes leave their anatomy unresponsive and weak. The same result occurs in running.
Unlocking your shock absorbers is all about avoiding “end range” (in this case fully straightening your knee). Most runners heel strike—whether they think they do or not.
“Keep yourself unlocked and small.” I use this phrase quite often when discussing run form with my patients and clients. Fact is, most runners are too tall, over reaching to catch and pull themselves down the road. Unlocking your anatomy is all about “feeling smaller” and learning to land on a bent knee.
Truthfully, midfoot, forefoot, and heel strikes aren’t the focus of unlocking your anatomy—landing on a bent is. Learning to run on a bent knee is easier said than done. Most runners lack the body awareness to “feel” their movement. For those who self teach, the result is often a mess of landing too far on the toes and still yet on a straight knee.
To run smarter and leverage your anatomy you need a full tool box. Your tool box SHOULD include:
- The “why” behind your changes
- Better retention and lasting changes happen when you understand the benefits of changing. Drills and Changing your run form without supplemental exercise is a disaster
- Exercises and Drills to refine and teach the desired movement patterns
- A gradual progression
- Drastic changes in form can often lead to injury
- More than running midfoot
- Learning midfoot (or bent knee landing) is only the tip of the iceberg. If you stop there you’re leaving a lot of speed on the table.
Most run form training plans fall short in one or more of the above aspects. That’s why I created my online, OnDemand run form training course. I wanted provide a full tool box and fill the gaps for anyone trying to improve their run form. My program leads runners through a 4-phase system that I’ve used to help thousands of runners better their best and chase down runners they’ve been eyeing on the results sheet.
Whether you’re looking for speed or running with less interruption due to injury, this is your guide to do it. You can check out the full program with my $1, 2-week trial below.