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Back To The Future Of Running - Teaching Technique

This is a movie made by our very own Colin McPhail, which took 4 months in the making. We think you may learn some useful tips from this movie. The movie has a manual to go with it which will be available on the 1st October 2014. Colin McPhail also does private teaching lesson on technique call the shop for details.

Slow Motion Demonstration of Natural Running

Colin McPhail demonstrates the main points needed in this 2 min video which has all the major skills subtitled to allow you to replay and learn these in a calculated fashion.

Learning to Run More Naturally & Efficiently

by Dr. Phil Maffetone.

Many beginning runners remark about how much they enjoy the new experience.
They care little about the nuances regarding form, technique, or proper gait. As long
as they are moving, accumulating mileage over a sustained period of time, they feel
content and satisfied. But at the advanced and elite level of running, the concept of
gait takes on an entirely new dimension of complexity, constant questioning, and
evaluation by a coach or oneself.

But what is exactly meant by the term “gait?” In running, gait is typically defined as
moving posture– the whole body’s forward progress, including the foot strike and
pelvic position, to arm swing, head and knee movement. It’s not unusual for
coaches, kinesiologists and other biomechanics experts, and elite runners to dissect
each component of one’s gait. From this assessment, each element of the gait that’s
viewed as “flawed” is “corrected”—the runner is told to lift the knee to this position,
swing the arms that way, or hold the elbows this way.
Yet nothing is more natural than the biomechanics of human running. Or should be.
With every step a runner takes, the limbs, trunk, head and spine participate in
various combinations of movement, ranging from flexion, extension, and rotation, to
abduction and adduction, along with the feet, which pronate, supinate, invert and
evert. Only by understanding the normal ranges of motion can one detect “abnormal”
movements so as to help assess an injury or observe for the potential of future

More importantly, there’s no ideal running form. While all humans have the same
basic running pattern—just like other animals—your gait is yours alone. In fact, it’s
easy to recognize your training partner from a distance, even before the face comes
into focus, because you know his or her unique running fingerprint.
Even looking at the best athletes in professional sports, there’s one common
feature—everyone’s movements are slightly different. Each golfer follows the basic
swing, while at the same time each has a swing all his or her own; the same for
every high-jumper, baseball pitcher, tennis player, or marathoner.

That is, unless something interferes with movement.
When something causes the gait to go astray, two things happen. First, there is the
risk of getting injured because it meant something went wrong, and it will be reflected
in running form in a subtle—or sometimes more obvious—way. There might be
irregular movement in the hip joint causing the pelvis to tilt more to one side than the
other, more flexion of one knee than the other stressing the hamstring muscles, too
much rotation of the leg causing the foot to flair outward excessively, and erratic arm
movements. The most common reason for this is muscle imbalance, and it forces the
body to compensate by contracting certain muscles to keep the imbalance from

The second problem is that the body’s energy is being used inefficiently. A flawed
running form will raise the heart rate more than usual, making one fatigue quicker,
and resulting in a slower pace. Stretching can disturb the gait too—by making a
muscle longer with a loss of power. By stretching muscles before running, it’s very
possible to cause muscle imbalance.

Physical interference is most often the result of bad shoes or muscle imbalance,
sometimes both. Stretching can disturb the gait too—by making a muscle longer with
a loss of power. By stretching muscles before running, it’s very possible to cause
muscle imbalance.

Another factor affecting is gait is poor postural habit. We sit in chairs too long or
slump at our desks. We stand with poor posture and even walk with an irregular
gait—all because somewhere along the way we allowed our bodies to get lazy. For
many, these bad habits carry over to running.

Key Differences Between Running and Walking
Walking is associated
with the foot first striking the ground with th e heel, whereas a running gait
involves landing farther forward on the foot—a mid foot strike in most cases with
more forefoot landing as running speed increases. Making contact with the ground
imparts impact forces—the foot literally collides with the earth on each step. While
impact is often seen as a negative aspect of running, equating to trauma and injury,
a proper gait is potentially associated with better bone density and improved muscle
and tendon function, better circulation and other healthy benefits associated with
exercise. With proper gait, colliding with the ground is well compensated for—
humans have evolved an effective gait mechanism.
Impact forces during walking are relatively minor. But heel-striking while running can
be a significant loss of energy, a common example of an improper gait producing
stress from impact. The overall mechanics of the foot, ankle and leg, and many body
areas above, are stressed with abnormal heel striking compared to the runner who
lands farther forward. Mid- or forefoot running is associated with a more optimal gait
that’s usually not impact impaired. Let’s consider these two gaits in more detail.
An important difference between walking and proper (mid- and forefoot) running is
how the foot muscles work, and, in particular, the energy used for propulsion. The
walking body acts more like an inverted pendulum, swinging along step-by-step,
literally vaulting over stiff legs with locked knees. Muscles use the body’s metabolic
energy created by conversion of carbohydrates and fat.

Things are quite different with running. This action is sometimes referred to as an
“impulsive” and “springy” gait, rebounding along on compliant legs and unlocked
knees. Instead of using all the body’s energy, the leg and foot have a built-in “return
energy” system for a significant amount of energy. This relies on the Achilles and
other tendons to recycle impact energy.

In running, the body has an effective muscle work-minimizing strategy—many of the
foot muscles don’t technically push you off the ground like during walking. Instead,
the muscles provide an isometric-type tension to stabilize the tendons and help in
the function of the unique mechanism that takes impact energy, sometimes referred
to as “elastic energy” associated with gravity and impact, and uses it for propelling
the body forward.

The large springy Achilles tendon on the back of the heel that runs up the leg and
attaches into the large calf muscles (the gastrocnemius and soleus) plays a key role
in recycling energy for propulsion. This tendon must function with sufficient tension to
help in the return energy process, and the muscles it attaches to, also important
postural supports, require a certain level of tautness, even at rest. (Trying to “loosen”
these muscles and tendons through stretching, aggressive massage or other therapy
may be counter-productive, impairing the natural springy gait. Excessive tightness of
the Achilles certainly can induce poor function as well—think balance.)

Those with shorter, more compact Achilles tendons, unlike taller runners who also
have longer heel bones attached to the Achilles, generally have a more efficient
spring mechanism—one reason why shorter runners typically can run faster,
especially in sprinting, although there are exceptions. Usain Bolt’s height advantage,
for example, works against him in the start, but then he would later cover more
ground using fewer strides than his competitors.

Here’s how the body’s natural gait uses recycled energy for propulsion. As a runner’s
foot hits the ground, impact energy is stored in the muscles and tendons, and 95
percent of this energy is then used to spring the body forward like a pogo stick. This
mechanism provides about 50 percent of the leg and foot energy for propulsion (the
other 50 percent comes from muscle contraction). If this process isn’t working well,
such as if you land on your heels, are wearing rigid, over-supported shoes, or have
muscle imbalance, the impact energy is dissipated or lost, and you must make up for
the problem by contracting more muscles for propulsion which requires the use of
more energy. Not only is this mechanically inefficient but it will slow you down, due to
the higher cost of energy. This can be further compounded if you burn less fat for
energy, thereby relying more on sugar that’s associated with the more rapid onset of
fatigue. And, the impact energy that’s not recycled often places a strain on muscles
and tendons (and ultimately, ligaments and bones), and can contribute to an injury.
In addition, movements above the ankle, especially in the knees, hips and low back
can help—or hurt—the natural “spring-ahead” mechanism. Too much motion in
these joints can reduce the body’s ability to recycle impact energy. By running more
upright—you should be running tall—rather than adopting a lazy, slumped-over
position, you’ll minimize knee, hip and low back movements, and thus helping to
utilize the foot’s spring mechanism. This involves using muscles similar to when you
have to stand up straight—they include the abdominals, gluteus maximus, and even
the neck flexors that prevent the head from tilting back.

Other movements are
different between walking and running. Most notably in the knee, which is locked
during a walking gait but not while running. The slightly flexed knee is more active
during running, and requires much more effort by muscles to support the joint while
the foot is on the ground. This is a key reason why many runners with improper gait
have knee injuries.

Those who run slowly often wonder if it’s better to sometimes just walk fast as the
pace can be the same. This is especially true on hills. Deciding on which option is
best is the job of the brain that will naturally tend to make the right decision about
making the transition from walking to running.

The energy cost of walking and running not only varies with speed, but type of
ground surface and other environmental factors such as temperature, humidity and
wind. But when the gait is irregular, both walking and running share a common
feature: both movements will cost more in energy. The worse or more inefficient the
gait, the greater will be the energy expenditure.

What is the Best Running Gait?
Over the years, I was often asked about the best way to run. Faster leg turnover?
Lean forward with the body? Keep your arms by your side? Push off with your feet?
I wish there was a simple answer. But there’s not. What is best to tell a runner,
however, is the notion that if your feet hit the ground properly, the rest of the body
tends to follow, resulting in your natural gait. While this is the most important place to
start improving your gait—and if there’s a problem here’s the one to fix first. But this
is easier done than said. Most running shoes interfere with the feet doing their job,
and this often causes the whole body to have dysfunction, inducing stress into
muscles, bones and joints. By wearing the wrong shoes you’ll never find your natural
effective gait.

A specific problem that’s most common is that until recently the majority of over-built
running shoes caused you to land on your heel instead of further forward on your
foot. This is because they were designed with large, over-supported heels and were
marketed as providing as a “smoother, more cushioned ride.” But over time, the
repetitive action of landing on the heel causes foot dysfunction as well the potential
for ankle, knee, and hip injury. Now your body’s foundation is cracking at the most
vulnerable areas.

The arches in your feet, supported by muscles, and many tendons, especially the
large Achilles, work in such a way that when unimpeded, their built-in spring-like
action makes running a perfectly natural activity. Not only can your feet take the
pounding force with each step without damage, but it takes that energy—from the
gravitation force—and recycles it back to the feet to spring forward instead of falling
back. But by wearing shoes with built-up heels, you are virtually falling backwards
with each step.

Try running barefoot even for a few yards to feel the difference. You can’t land on
your heel. Being barefoot will change all that. It will allow you to run free, natural and
efficient. Generally, by running barefoot, you’ll tend not to slump. It will be easier to
keep an upright posture. This is because you’ll land on your mid-to forefoot, not your
heel. And with each step your foot will spring your body up and forward.

This natural gait will help you sense your feet springing
off the ground, almost as if they have more energy. In fact, they do. That’s the
energy return that occurs naturally in a healthy stride. Focus on the feet springing off
the ground. When you feel it, your body will actually be moving more quickly. If
you’re wearing a heart monitor, you’ll see that your pace can be faster without a rise
in heart rate. (I have witnessed on many occasions, a difference ranging between 10
or 12 beats—with higher rates associated with an improper running gait.)
Need more help? Think of running on hot coals—if you were going to do that, your
feet need to stay off the red-hot coals as much as possible. So from the instant each
foot touches the ground, quickly pick it up. I’ve used this “hot coal technique” to help
runners be more efficient with their gait. The longer your foot stays on the ground,
the more energy you waste, the more vulnerable you are to injury, and the less likely
you will use that energy for better running. Instead, think about your feet coming off
the ground after each step. All while you’re relaxed. Look at photos of the great
runners; they are actually airborne much of the time because they spend much less
time with each foot on the ground.

In the unlikely event that your body is being particularly stubborn and you can’t relate
to what I’ve just explained, it could be that your feet are so used to working
improperly that they need more time to learn natural movements. They may require
additional re-training, or rehabilitation. If this is the case, keep forging ahead with
barefoot activity, slowly increasing the time spent unshod. This process is particularly
difficult and challenging for those who have already developed poor running habits or
for those with a long history of wearing improper shoes.

Running short distances barefoot will re-train your body’s natural gait
Even if you’re doing all the right things—performing your brief barefoot jog, using the
correct flat-sole shoes during the rest of your workout and throughout the day—
muscle imbalance can interfere with a more efficient gait. One of the most common
problems people develop in their feet is muscle imbalance. This can become a
vicious cycle—you can’t walk or jog without your shoes because your muscle
imbalance prevents proper support, but the shoes continue maintaining muscle

But for some people with muscle imbalance, going without shoes often doesn’t feel
right, or in some cases it’s painful. In both cases, the shoes have literally become a
crutch—you’re addicted to the artificial support. It’s like being in a wheelchair all
day—getting up after 10 hours will make you feel stiff and achy—being in the
wheelchair for months will render you unable to even walk!

By gradually weaning yourself off over-supported shoes—and this means going
barefoot whenever you can, or when it’s convenient—you can often fix the muscle
imbalance in your feet by stimulating them in such a way as to enlist proper function
of all the muscles, ligaments, tendons, and even the skin.
This can take time for some people. It might first be necessary to wear slightly
thinner-soled shoes, and gradually work down to those that are half or more in
thickness from your usually shoed. Only then, as your feet start to work and feel
better will barefoot walking finally achieve that wonderful natural sensation that was
originally hardwired into your body as a youth. Then, only after a couple of weeks of
just walking more naturally, you will be able to jog barefoot.
In stubborn cases, or to speed the process, it may be necessary to find a healthcare
professional who can determine which muscles are not functioning correctly, and fix

You don’t automatically have to become a barefoot runner. For those who want to
progress from walking to running, some might choose to run barefoot for the whole
workout. But for others, just spending time at home or work without shoes is the start
of a great, natural therapy. Then add a walk on the grass barefoot, even for 10
minutes a day. The more time you spend going barefoot, the more your feet will work
better in a proper shoe. Jogging or running short distances barefoot to re-train your
body’s natural gait is the quickest, most powerful, and most effective way to
accomplish this task. It helps if you have a great location for barefoot running—a
grassy park, a hard-sand beach, or a track.

By taking off your shoes and jogging or running barefoot—even for 50 or 100 yards,
you’ll eliminate interference between your feet and ground, and quickly have better
form. Among other things, this will improve your foot strike—from heel striking to
landing more forward. You will also produce better pelvic movement and arm swing.
And it allows your head to better control eye and body coordination (a very complex
but important part of running efficiency). But because of bad habits, some people
need more than just taking off their shoes—this behavior is unfortunately, and deeply
ingrained into the processes of the brain, nervous system and muscles. Perhaps this
programming first began at an early age in gym class, at summer camp, or from
watching a video, reading a running magazine, or from a well-meaning coach.
Once your gait is more natural, shoes will interfere much less. In fact, as your feet
function better you’ll feel more sensitive to shoes that are not a perfect match—you’ll
focus on finding the ones that fit just right on each foot, are flat and don’t disturb your
normal foot mechanics. Once your feet are happy, you have the best chance of
finding your ideal running form.
This is the first part of a two-part series on Gait, and much of the content is
excerpted from Dr. Phil Maffetone’s “Big Book on Health and Fitness.” Maffetone’s
most recent book is “The Healthy Golfer.”

Notes on the above paper by Colin McPhail (Footworks/Barefootworks natural human movement researcher)

Notes on the above paper by Colin McPhail (Footworks/Barefootworks natural human movement researcher)

The Medical professions interpretation of walking gait is "land on your heel and lever yourself over the rigid leg, like a pole vaulter, transferring your weight to the leg which is swinging through ready for the next heel strike"
It would be fair to point out that the relevant observations in Dr Phil's above paper are the medical professions observations of human gait patterns based on "how we walk now".

The human foot is, as Michelangelo described it, "a work of art, a masterpiece of engineering." It is fairly obvious having studied, Chicago Chiropractor, Dr Jim Stoxon's observations that the way we use our foot for walking is possibly incorrect. He describes the entire body as a series of springs and the foot in particular he describes as a leaf spring and the normal function of the leaf spring is to lower itself under load to reduce shock to the structure which it's mounted on. Therefor landing on your heel does appear to be a rather crazy way to treat the body when you can use the leaf spring we know as the arch of our foot to land on with an equal amount of force front and back. This involves a shorter stride, similar to that of barefoot running, but actually reduces the impact forces through the knee.

There appears to be no connections between our ancestors and the studies being done today which would suggest that as quadrupeds or chimpanzees we would have a mechanism built in to balance our bodies with every movement. A quadruped uses its front legs to prevent the animal from falling on its face as it is propels itself forwards using its hind legs. As it powers forward the shoulders are used in a way that the legs stay under the animal which in turn provides power to the muscles along the back which then powers the haunches which is where the thrust come from. This is a superb example of how a quadruped balances itself using all four legs. Now you probably noticed that we are bipedal and our front legs are in the air, so how do we bipeds stop our face from hitting the deck? The reason we don't fall over during all phases of locomotion is we keep our legs under us but in some instances we take them too far forward and this has the effect of landing on a rigid front leg and creating a huge amount of deceleration, which in turn leads to shock, impact forces received at the knee. If we think about the way in which we balance ourselves by using all four limbs then it seems fairly simple to suggest that by swinging the arms too far forward we create an overstride to balance the gait. The quadruped is a perfect example of how to avoid this and we Bipeds need to take note of where we would like our foot to land. Ideally the closer the foot is to the centre of mass at point of impact the less the chances of (a) excessive leverage forces and (b) excessive impact forces to the joints (c) creating a larger than necessary deceleration zone.

Learning to walk Part 1.

Here is a simple way to reduce your stride length. Standing upright presenting yourself for walking, hold your shoulders back and take your hands behind your hips. Fall forward from the ankle joints and stop yourself from falling by placing your foot horizontally onto the ground with an even pressure between the front of the foot and the heel. Create an arm swinging motion from the shoulders and not the arms making sure not to swing the hands too far forward because the foot will follow, it is part of our natural mechanics to balance the body. Where we place our hands in the air during the arm swing phase our feet will land fairly close to this vertically below point, on the ground This lets us load the springs and use the levers with as little impact and stress as possible.
How could something this simple be so difficult to achieve? Simple, raised heels create an ideal platform for the foot to land on using the heel as the primary point of contact (this may be ok for some people who keep the knee bent under load). This is not however how the human foot should be used and my link here to Dr Jim Stoxons article explains more about basic spring loading.

Learning to walk Part 2.

Now that you have mastered the basics in a shorter stride the important thing is to work at an increased cadence to allow faster walking. Key points: Do not swing the arms further forward than necessary for normal balance. Make sure the swinging effect of the arms is more from the shoulders. As you increase speed it may be simpler to place the foot on the ground using the front of the foot first, eg. land slightly onto your toes. If you can feel your heel impacting the ground then you will need to practise this at a lower speed. Nobody said "walking was easy" just like running it's an acquired skill that takes years to perfect but once you perfect your walking skills you can apply this very easily to running. The key element is not to load the joints and the levers but to load the springs. Once you damage your joints you are too late!! All the tendon and muscle damage you do while learning the skill of loading your springs is repairable. Top tip start slow and stay slow until you feel the spring in your step.

Principles of Natural Running

Click this link to see Mark Cucuzzellas movie Principles Of Natural Running

Running Form 1-2-3

As you focus on form, not speed, here are 3 steps to get you started:
1. Get tall
2. Run in place with elastic rhythm
3. Move face forward (Thank you to Jae Gruenke of The Balanced Runner for the
“face forward” cue.)
After mastering these 3 elements, you can try to go faster by pushing a bit, while
extending from the hips. Using the glutes is the key to speed. You might also want
to go back and watch "Principles Of Natural Running" video (go to 6:55).
Most runners naturally reach forward with the foot in an effort to lengthen the stride.
This is made easy now due to the unnecessarily thick slab of foam under the heel of
running shoes. Many runners now understand that landing closer to their center of
mass is more efficient, but still struggle to make the form change.

The “1-2-3 run” sequence makes it easier to keep footstrike in the correct position.
Practice first by running very slow. I teach many very faster athletes and fit military
soldiers to run extremely slow as drill work when learning this footstrike placement
and movement pattern.
Frequently, I’ll have the athlete run in place for one minute and then increase the
speed by maybe one mph each minute until he or she reaches a comfortable aerobic
pace. This may seem too simple to be true, but running slowly with the technique will
help you run faster automatically.
Placing the foot out in front uses momentum to carry the body up over the position of
foot-strike. By landing closer to centre you lose no forward momentum. As you
increase speed, generate propulsion for the speed increase from the posterior chain
(primarily the glutes).
So focus on the body position first, feel the rhythm, and over the next few weeks to
months the improved efficiency and speed will come naturally. Stay in the aerobic
zone, do not force it.