The contrast between the muscular torso, arms and legs of a sprinter compared with the slight frame and skinny legs of a marathon runner tell us that the requirements for effective sprinting are not the same as for efficient long distance running. Nonetheless, as I have grown older I am acutely aware of my loss of speed and am eager to do something to arrest this decline. During my recent examination of the implications of Newton’s equations of motion for the mechanics for efficient running, I have pondered what these equations tell us about sprint technique. The equations demonstrate that a high cadence and a short time on stance facilitated by a relatively large vGRF generated by a strong push, are key elements of efficient fuel consumption. Although efficient fuel consumption is not as important for a sprinter as for a distance runner, observation of elite sprinters demonstrates that high cadence and short time on stance are also key features of fast sprinting.
How can we achieve a short time on stance? Anyone who has followed my blog for a while will probably know that I am sceptical about the claims of Dr Romanov’s Pose technique, but I am not inherently anti-Pose. For more than eight years I have been fascinated by Pose on account of the fact that it appears to facilitate a short time on stance. I have read widely about it, talked to many Pose coaches and even attended a two-day Pose clinic conducted by Dr Romanov, in an attempt to sort out the science from the pseudo-science. Despite the fact that Pose theory is based on questionable physics, observation of masters of the Pose technique reveals that they can achieve a very rapid lift-off from stance. During the two-day Pose clinic the observation that impressed me most was the way in which Pose coach, Jon Port, reacted when Dr Romanov gave him a sharp sideways push on his shoulder while he was standing poised on one leg. Instead of falling sideways, Jon managed to remain upright by getting airborne before his body had a chance to pivot sideways around his point of support.
Therefore, I have been rather intrigued by Dr Romanov’s article on the Post Tech website in which he appears to claim that Usain Bolt runs Pose style. In an analysis of Bolt’s technique exhibited during the 100m World Championship in Berlin in 2009. Dr Romanov claims he is not “pushing off” but is “waiting”, “allowing” gravitational torque to provide the angular acceleration of the GCM’. I do not think Dr Romanov’s description of Bolt ‘waiting’ on stance while he allows gravitational torque to provide acceleration of his centre of mass is credible. There is no way that waiting for gravity to act, without an active push, could get him moving forwards and upwards with the required speed. Nonetheless, could it be that Bolt’s legendary relaxed manner reflects a mental state similar to that which enables a good Pose runner to get airborne quickly without conscious awareness of a push?
My attempts to identify the features of Pose that promote a short time of stance have led me to conclude that it is achieved by two related features. Pose drills such as ‘change of stance’ promote rapid flexion of the hip accompanied by flexion of the knee. In addition, I believe the conscious focus on rapid lift off advocated by Pose can lead to tensioning of the major muscles of the leg at point of impact thereby facilitating efficient capture and recovery of impact energy via elastic recoil. The combination of efficient recovery of impact energy via elastic recoil and rapid flexion of hip and knee creates a mental focus that promotes a short time on stance and an associated large vGRF. Does Bolt achieve his powerful drive from stance by this mental focus, or does he consciously focus on a powerful push?
Tim Huntley, who writes a blog about his goal of running a fast 400m, recently posted an article in which he asks whether or not Pose is the way to go. The responses make a very interesting debate. Brian McKenzie replied ‘Yes, the Pose method is the only way we really run’. In contrast, Tom Tellez, former coach of Carl Lewis, was very dismissive, saying ‘Running action such as reaching and pulling with the hamstrings has been scientifically proven not to produce the most efficient movement. ’ Tellez quotes Peter Weyand’s evidence that faster running speeds are achieved with greater ground forces, not more rapid leg movements (see Journal of Applied Physiology, vol 89: pages 1991–1999, 2000)
Tim emailed Dr Romanov who replied in typically vague Pose style: ‘Sprinting or any running is the product of gravity, shaped and moulded by this universal field of the force. The cadence and efforts of a sprinter are governed by the angle of falling.” Tim also posted a link to a U-tube clip in which Bolt describes his own understanding of what he does. ‘After the acceleration phase the goal is to: ‘Keep driving, driving, driving.. …. After completing the drive: ‘Get tall, knees up, dorsiflex, get your toes up, plant, push again’
Bolt’s own emphasis on driving and pushing are somewhat at odds with Dr Romanov’s claim that he is not pushing off. Could it be that when he runs he lets his natural instincts take-over, and what he says on the video is merely an attempt to put into words something that is too primeval for words. I think this is very unlikely. As Tim Huntley reports, Bolt’s coach Glen Mills makes it clear that Bolt’s style is not the product of some natural primeval intuition. According to Mills, when he started working with Bolt ‘one of the things that stood out like a sore thumb was his poor mechanics. We set about doing drills, then we took videos of his workouts and broke them down on the screen in slow motion to show him exactly what he was doing.’
So I think the evidence is fairly clear that Bolt achieves his powerful drive from stance as a result of a physical and mental process that focuses explicitly on a powerful push. However, I believe that a conscious focus on pushing is only likely to be successful if you have finely tuned bodily awareness, together with rapid reactions to the sensations generated by ground contact. Without such awareness and rapidity of reaction, it is likely that a conscious focus on pushing will result in too long a delay on stance. Therefore, in my own attempts to arrest the decline in my speed, I practice Pose drills such as ‘change of stance’ and when running, I focus on rapid lift off from stance rather than pushing. I would not recommend Pose for a runner with serious hopes of achieving elite status, but for a recreational runner, it has some worthwhile features.