Push or pull?

Yesterday Ewen raised the issue of getting the foot off the ground quickly to minimise time on stance. I certainly agree that getting the foot off the ground quickly is an essential strategy. The main debate is how is it done. Does it require a push or a pull?.

The Pose school emphasizes a pull, via hamstring contraction – however an isolated hamstring pull might bring the foot nearer to the buttock (or buttock nearer to foot) – but cannot lift the centre of gravity (COG) any more than you can lift yourself off the ground by pulling on your own bootstraps – so lifting the COG must involve a push.

Lifting the COG is an inescapable necessity because once airborne, the body must inevitably fall. In part, the energy to lift the COG in the next step can be provided by capturing the energy of the fall and recovering it via elastic recoil, but unless the capture and recovery of the energy of the falling body at the end of the airborne phase is 100% efficient, there must be some additional push.

Some elite runners (such as Sebastian Coe) consciously focussed on this push. Maybe if you want to run really fast, it is useful to focus on pushing, but I am more inclined to focus on the pull and let the push look after itself. This is because a conscious push might easily result in a tendency to contract the quadriceps, and this would be counter-productive because in early swing the knee needs to flex to allow the foot to be carried through reasonably high to minimise the length of the swinging leg. So the conscious emphasis should be on lifting the foot smartly from the ground, and letting elastic recoil, aided by little bit of automatic push by the calf muscles lift the body .

The next question is how to execute the pull. A pure hamstring contraction is inadequate because that would not only bring the heel towards the buttock, but also extend the leg backwards at a time when it is crucial to get the leg swinging forwards rapidly. So it is essential to activate hip flexors at the same time – I suspect that iliopsoas is the most useful muscle for this. However, I do not find it helpful to try to micromanage each muscle; it is better to imagine the required direction of travel of the foot. So I simply focus on rapidly lifting the foot and bringing it smartly forwards – but the forward propulsion of the leg relative to torso must be short and sweet, or there will be a risk of over-striding.


7 Responses to “Push or pull?”

  1. kiwirunner Says:

    Hi, thanks for your comments, to answer your question yes I have read Danny Dreyer’s Chi Running book in order to try and learn a more efficient style. A few years ago I also flirted with Pose briefly and that experiment ended with the calf strain mentioned in my last post post (perhaps I should have bought Romanov’s book and learned the technique properly?). Much of what Danny Dreyer says in his book did make sense to me and I have tried to implement a number of the focuses in my running. I’m no expert in the physics of the human body so won’t comment about whether the benefits of using gravity to run efficiently are nonsence or not but I do think there a definately some learnings I can take from Chi to aid injury prevention. I just need to recover first. Looks like you have some interesting articles here.

  2. canute1 Says:

    KiwiRunner, Thanks. I am afraid that calf strain is a real risk with Pose, as was shown in the study in Tim Noakes lab in Cape Town and reported by Ross Tucker on the SportsScientist web-site:
    Unfortunately, even the 2004 edition of Nicholas Romanov’s book might not have saved you from injury because that edition still contains several pictures showing an exaggerated forefoot landing which puts substantial strain on the calf. I think the safest way to learn Pose is with a coach who is fully aware of the limitations as well as the advantages of Pose. I agree that Danny Dreyer’s focus on mental conditioning is potentially useful. The images we have when we run are probably more important that understanding the physics and physiology.

  3. Ewen Says:

    Can there be ‘push’ and ‘pull’ at the same (or close to the same) time? That’s interesting about Coe. The young athletes at Calwell are taught to ‘push off the ground’. This certainly results in a higher COG (and longer stride) – great for middle-distance runners, although probably not vital for long distance runners. Hopping drills and short fast hill repeats need a push.

  4. canute1 Says:

    Ewen, Yes It think it is possible to push and pull simultaneously; in fact both must happen. I think the main pull comes from upper leg (hamstrings and hip flexors) while a lot of the push comes from lower leg – the calf. It is tricky to coordinate conscious push and pull without wasting energy so I find it best to focus consciously on pull. but if I ran short or middle distance events, I would work on coordinating push and pull.

  5. Ewen Says:

    Thanks. For middle distance I was considering thinking about push off (toe), pull up fast (heel) as a method worth practising.

  6. Parag Says:

    In order to pull, bring knee up as vigorously as possible. Initiate pull from powerful Illiopsoas complex. Teach sprinters to lift knees as rapidly as possible. legs work like scissors. If you flex the hip rapidly, the contralateral hip will extend rapidly to apply the so called push as well and in a time efficient manner, minimising contact time.

    • canute1 Says:

      I agree. Both pull and push must occur, but conscious focus on pull by the hip flexors will lead to a non-conscious push by the hip extensors due to the way that the brain promotes coordinated complementary action of the two legs. The focus on the pull puts the focus on upward movement.

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