Load, Stabilize, Propel: The 3 Biomechanic Phases For Improving Running Economy.Jun 08, 2023
The 3 Biomechanic Phases For Improving Running Economy.
This week I’ve been working on two things:
First, I am learning to solve the Rubik’s cube. I have the algorithm down. FINALLY! Now, I’m working on getting faster at it. I’ve watched one of the YouTube videos and I swear my hands physically will never be able to move that fast! This crazy cube has always baffled me. Now that I took the time to learn it, I’m obsessed. My engineering brain is loving the formulaic nature of the puzzle. But how did people know how to do it before the internet? Did they just figure it out, or was it like this age-old secret that was passed down between people in the know? Either way, I’m grateful for all the knowledge at my fingertips now and to be able to share my knowledge with you through it too. We are living in the future!
The second thing I have been doing is reorganizing some of the content in my Women's Running Academy Mentorship. The goal is that it is easier for you to put into practice, adding bits, layer by layer, over time. The former teacher in me loves strategically scaffolding information and it’s so fun to put that career experience into practice here!
Because it’s on the forefront of my mind and the guidepost I’m using for reorganizing, I thought I’d briefly share some of my philosophy on running economy, why I very rarely would recommend actively trying to change your gait by trying to cue and think about it while you are running. This is the approach I use with my one-on-one athletes and in my Women’s Running Academy.
Running Economy/Basic Running Biomechanics
I see the goal when it comes to optimizing your running economy from a biomechanics standpoint to be minimizing the energy lost with each step (a very engineer way of looking at it, my former careers both playing a role here!). The “energy” I’m talking about comes from our bodies working and from efficient storage and release of ground reaction forces
Energy lost, is energy we can’t use to move forward and energy lost usually means the force is poorly distributed across your joints which is what likely contributes to pain and other symptoms. Pain and performance are very much connected and often inversely proportional.
Because most of the energy expenditure (80%) with running is the stance phase (when one foot is on the ground), I tend to spend more effort focusing on the mechanics of that part. If you are interested, about 7% comes from the leg swing in the flight phase (which I actually think we can optimize through stance too), and then the rest is respiratory and cardiac output related.
I break up the stance phase into 3 main pieces or actions - load, stabilize, propel - and they are all connected!
- We need good loading so that we can accept and store those ground reaction forces (energy) and get into solid midstance.
- We need to stay strong and stable through mid-stance so that we can transfer that energy and use it for propulsion.
- We need good propulsion to efficiently move forward and swing that leg through for good landing/loading.
Why Cuing Run Form Ain’t It
First off, We can’t think that fast.
Ground contact time is less than our brain's processing time. It is more about how your body does those 3 pieces - load, stabilize, and propel. The body is smart, it will figure out a way to run. It will do something with those ground reaction forces. Trying to force it to do it a different or “better” way while running without getting at the heart of why your body is doing what it’s doing usually ends up creating other compensations on top.
I’ve worked with many athletes who have actively tried to change their gait based on only a gait assessment, in the end, they jacked it all up more and created more pain in other places in the body. We end up having to peel back even more layers to “fix” it.
Occasionally, and if necessary, I’ll cue a nice forward lean from the ankles (only if I know they first can actually “stack” which is part of the assessment process I talk about below), or focus on cadence or rhythmic relaxing breathing and simple things like that, but never to actively try to change their stride.
What We Do in the Women’s Running Academy Instead
With my athletes and in the academy we take a holistic look at the body and what strategies it uses for loading, stabilizing, and propelling and where the body might be doing it less efficiently. We look at the foot, knee, hip, pelvis, torso, rib cage, shoulders… all of it together. We use a strategic set of movement and postural assessments along with gait analysis to get a FULL picture of what’s going on. We use intentional strength training and running warm-ups to train the body to load, stabilize and propel more efficiently so that when you run, you just run - freely and with joy!
I enjoy doing this FOR my one-on-one athletes but doing it WITH my athletes in the Women’s Running Academy is my absolute favorite thing. Learning about your own body, how to trust it and listen to what it’s telling you, and having the tools to give it what it needs to feel good, feel safe, feel strong, and perform is empowering AF and so cool to be a witness too.
We are always starting new sessions so if this is for you check out the different programs here!
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