Running naturally using sense and science

A few months ago I had a fairly clear idea about the content of my next few blog posts: my debate with Robert over the New Year period (recorded at length in the comments section of my Dance with the Devil article) had prompted me to tackle the issue of applying Newton’s equations of motion to running in a systematic manner, so my immediate priority at that time was a few technical articles on the mechanics of running.  After those articles, I intended to return to the issues of developing aerobic fitness; the influence of hormones such as growth hormone on tissue repair and regeneration; and some further accounts of my experiences with monitoring my heart rate.   This broad sketch is still on the drawing board but I have been waylaid by many interesting diversions. Apart from one post on the heart of the runner, that I felt could not wait too long because it was, in a way, my tribute to John Hadd, who had died while running a few months earlier, my posts this year have been heavily focussed on Newtonian mechanics, but many aspects of running mechanics remain untouched.

I anticipated that after the main article, posted on January 16th, in which I outlined the application of Newton’s equations to the motion of the runner’s centre of gravity (COG) and demonstrated the inevitable reality that getting airborne efficiently – the essence of efficient running – demands a short, sharp push against the ground, that I would easily tie up a few loose ends: important issues such a identifying optimum cadence and more peripheral issues such as dealing with wind resistance; but I had under-estimated the magnitude of the task.  In that first article, I had alluded in passing to the energy cost of repositioning the swing leg.  However I intended to by-pass this tricky topic by focussing on low to moderate speeds where repositioning costs are a minor fraction of the total energy cost.  However, Simon, whom I had come to know, at least in cyberspace, as a kindred spirit sharing a sceptical fascination with Pose technique, would not let me get away so easily with ignoring repositioning costs.  Others have jointed the debate from various perspectives, and as a result, I am still far short of my initial goal of reviewing the implications of Newton’s equations.  I continue to ponder the issues of aerobic fitness, tissue regeneration and heart rhythms, but my planned updates on these topics have been delayed.

The conundrum of the push

However, I have not been able to ignore another issue.  The conundrum that it is almost certain that for most runners, conscious focus on delivering a short, sharp push against the ground is not the best way to run safely and efficiently, except perhaps when sprinting.  It is this conundrum that has fuelled my long-standing fascination with Pose.  Despite the ‘looney-toon’ cartoon physics proposed by Dr Romanov in his book, ‘Pose Method of Running’, and unfortunately still lingering in articles on the Pose Tech website, there is little doubt that this irrationally-inspired running technique  has helped a large number of recreational runners to enjoy safer, more satisfying running.  There have also been many individuals disillusioned by being told by Pose coaches that their Achilles tendon injuries are simply due to not doing Pose properly, and others who have been disappointed that their race performances have not improved in the way they had hoped.  However, there does appear to be some magical injury-reducing ingredients in Pose.  One of these is the necessity to cut one’s training volume while developing the skill to perform the technique.  Furthermore, the reduced stress on the knee is an easily understood consequence of the Pose emphasis on forefoot or midfoot landing, though ironically it is the forefoot landing that puts the Achilles at risk.   The recommendation of high cadence reduces the magnitude of the force required for each step.  However, I think an even more important issue is the fact that the illusion that gravity provides ‘free energy’ allows Pose runners to achieve the essential short-sharp push against the ground without trying.

The secret

Is there a secret?  Many comments that have appeared on internet discussion threads in recent years imply that the secret lies in ignoring the physics; that  it is subjective experience that counts;   that we should perhaps revert to the noble primeval state of our Palaeolithic ancestors who are thought to have engaged in persistence hunting, barefoot, on the African savannah two million years ago.  The core idea is that thinking about what you are doing gets in the way of doing it.  In fact I strongly agree that attempting to exert conscious control over skills that our unconscious brain has learned to perform is often counter-productive.  However I do not believe that the secret is to revert to a primeval Palaeolithic state.  In fact I do not believe that would be natural.  In the two million or so years that separate early members of the Homo genus, such as Homo erectus who apparently had developed the musculo-skeletal features necessary for endurance running, from Homo sapiens with his/her large skull, we have developed an extraordinary capacity to achieve our goals, a capacity residing largely in our brains.

For several millennia, this capacity was strongly shaped by spirituality.  In the video recording of persistence hunting in our own era by bushmen in the Kalahari, narrated by David Attenborough, there is a moving moment near the end, after the quarry has been killed, in which the hunter strokes the head of the dead animal in acknowledgment of the spirit with which it had eluded its pursuer in an eight hour run across the savannah.   Spirituality is a key human persisting attribute.  If we are to be truly in tune with our own nature, we need to find a way to integrate the legacy we have received from our Palaeolithic ancestors with the capacity for science that is embodied in Newtonian mechanics.  For the present discussion, we can put aside relativity, quantum mechanics, and string theory.  Our Palaeolithic ancestors, perhaps unencumbered by too much weighty remembrance of the past or planning for the future, lived much more in the present moment, in which sensations not only of sight and sound, but also the sensations of the body in its environment, dominated awareness.  Can we run in a way that utilises both sense and science?

John Woodward, a practitioner of the Alexander Technique based in the Lake District where he teaches the art of running barefoot across the Lakeland fells, summarises the challenge: ‘.. in our modern lives our thinking caps (our heads) have become disengaged from our kinesthetic (body) sense. Unlike our ancient ancestor we are rarely in the vivifying moment but we languish in some past memory or crave some future state.’

Feldenkrais

I have been diverted into this train of thought by some challenging questions and comments on my article  on Natural Running (posted  on 29th March), especially by Hans, a Feldenkreis practitioner who had attempted various ways to escape his previous injury-prone running style before trying Pose, under the guidance of Jeremy Huffman.  Jeremy is an elite athlete with a sub-4 minute indoor mile to his credit, who has subsequently become a strong advocate of Pose, and frequently comments on this blog.  Jeremy helped Hans find the practical answer he was seeking, but left him with the challenge of understanding how Pose had worked while Feldenkrais had not.   Feldenkrais had been developed by Moshe Feldenkrais, who was an engineer who attempted to integrate a sound scientific understanding of human movement with a holistic awareness of one’s body in space.  Moshe Feldenkrias did not develop a theory of running but others, such as Feldenkrais practitioner, Jae Gruenke, have done so.  Hans concluded the emphasis on avoiding driving and pushing was a key issue in the success of Pose.  In his comments on my blog he initially questioned the necessity of the push.  After we had discussed a number of actual and hypothetical experiments that he devised, he was willing to accept that the push occurs, but proposed that the action of the leg might best be described and experienced as springy, rather than a push movement.  He agreed that that muscle work is involved in creating the springy effect, but this could happen without conscious effort

I agree that it is desirable to maximise the recovery of energy via elastic recoil, and certainly accept that it is best to let this occur with minimal conscious effort.   However, my own view is that we need a somewhat more comprehensive approach.  I think that it is best to cultivate a holistic perception of one’s body in space while applying a range of principles that are derived not only from physics and muscle physiology but also from neuroscience.

Some background

Perhaps it is time to give a little more detail about my background.  I began my scientific career as a physicist over forty years ago and subsequently have been fortunate enough to have had the opportunity do research in many different fields of science.  From physics I moved to biochemistry, or rather I integrated physics with biochemistry while holding joint academic posts in physics and biology.  Eventually, after several decades of diverse scientific and clinical experiences, I became what might be most accurately described as a neuroscientist, though I have always resisted labelling myself as a practitioner of a single discipline.  In the early 1990’s I was involved in some of the earliest investigations using modern brain imaging techniques to attempt to delineate the brain mechanism associated with willed action.  Since then I have continued to study brain function, mainly focussing on the conscious processing of information.  I am certainly not an expert in either the perceptual or motor systems in the brain.  Nonetheless, in some of my recent work using brain imaging techniques combined with electroencephalography (EEG), I have investigated the way in which the perception of bodily sensation engages the brain’s executive systems.

Although this work is exciting and high tech, it is also extremely primitive.   Indeed, while I am confident that neuroscience will furnish us with concepts that help us to understand many of the types of processes that go on in our minds and bodies, I believe it will never provide an understanding that matches the richness and diversity of personal experience.

In the days when I was doing my PhD in physics, I was also a marathon runner and a mountaineer.   Though physics, running, and spending time in the mountains were an integral part of my life, there were only a few strands that linked these activities.   Over the years, the rest of life’s activities displaced the running and, eventually, the adventurous aspects of mountaineering.  However nowadays I am once again running and also enjoying the hills and mountains, while I am still a scientist.  My forays into the intricacies of the human mind and brain have given me a slightly firmer foundation from which to try to integrate science, running and an appreciation of the natural world

The messages from neuroscience

Perhaps the most relevant message from cognitive neuroscience to the runner is that we can only focus consciously on a very small number of items of information at any one time, but the neural representation of many other aspects of a situation can be subliminally active in the background.  Furthermore, our brains are exquisitely sensitive to unexpected events. Thus we cannot focus on all of the aspects of running mechanics within a single gait cycle, but if we have practiced the actions and experienced the sensations often enough, the neural representation of most aspects of running are subliminally active, and are likely to enter into conscious awareness if the expected rhythm misses a beat.  In an attempt to instil the expectation of the pattern of activity involved in the swing of the leg from one stance to the next, I practice drills such as the Swing Drill.

The next important point emerges from our understanding of the sensori-motor systems: modern brain imaging has consolidated the observation of neurosurgeon Wilder Penfield at the Montreal Neurological Institute in the 1930’s, that the brain allocates far more of its processing resources to the hand than to the foot.   The region of the motor cortex devoted to the hand  is far greater in area than that devoted to the foot.  However, our brain can learn to integrate a complex set of muscle contraction into a single action.  Therefore, it is plausible that if we can link a set of movement of the hand to a set of movement of the leg and foot, we might be able to control this complex but integrated action more precisely.  Therefore I practice a version of the Change of Stance drill to establish in my brain a non-conscious motor program that combines a down sweep of my hand from a position near the sternum high on my chest wall towards my waist, with a quick extension of the flexed hip and knee of my elevated leg to the ground.  As I sweep my hand down, I hold forefinger and thumb lightly opposed to inculcate a sense of tidy but relaxed movement.  When I run, I rarely attend consciously to the extension of hip or knee but focus mainly on this brisk but relaxed and economical down-sweep of the hand.

This was the final sprint in a half-marathon a few years ago. I am 4449. The strain of running with a torn hip adductor, wrenched during a clumsy turn near the halfway mark, shows in the tense muscles in my neck and left shoulder, but the right hand, with forefinger and thumb lightly opposed at my waist is fairly well coordinated with the (non-conscious) push of my left leg.

The next important point to learn from the way in which our brain develops from infancy to adulthood, is that we learn how to detach unnecessary movement from a motor act.  A young child, when trying to do some intricate task with one hand, often exhibits mirror movements with the other.  Although we usually avoid this in adulthood, at times of stress, we are prone to introduce unnecessary movements.  Perhaps Paula Radcliffe’s tortuous movements of the neck during her 10,000m races in the late 1990’s were an illustration of this.  You can also see it in the picture of me.  However we have the capacity to release tension in unneeded muscles.    When I run I cultivate an awareness of the tension in my shoulder muscles, aiming for a sensation of the trapezius muscle relaxing to allowing my shoulders to relax downwards and slightly back.

I also find it helpful to maintain awareness of the pattern of pressure on the soles of my feet during stance, and to adjust this according to terrain and speed.  I do not run barefoot, except for short distances on grass, but do wear fairly light-weight shoes.

I regulate my level of energy expenditure largely by awareness of my breathing.  When breathing comfortably at a rate of one breath every six steps (about 30 breaths per minute),  I know I am in the lower aerobic zone, with minimal accumulation of acidity in my blood stream.  I can run for hours at this pace.  When my breathing rate increases to one every four steps, there has been mild accumulation of acid, but my body is dealing with it.  Nowadays I will be struggling after an hour at this pace, though a few years ago I could maintain this pace for about two hours.  When breathing rate becomes one breath every two steps, the acidity is accumulating rapidly.  This is only OK for the final stages of a race, or during high intensity intervals.

Some of these aspects of body awareness are well known to coaches and athletes; others, such as my focus on the down sweeping hand are experimental.  The over-arching principle is the cultivation of a holistic awareness of the sensations and movements involved in running, allowing for effort in the right time and place, while maintaining an overall sense of light, relaxed progress across the ground.

Final thoughts 

Here is John Woodward again, describing a workshop that he and his colleagues offer: ‘We perpetually stream down one route – the mechanical one: WE RUN MECHANICALLY. The aim of the workshop is to first and foremost stop the flow of traffic down the mechanical road the route well travelled. Like repositioning the points on the railway we want to initiate a flow down the road less travelled. This will enable the Thinking Gear to re-synchronize once more with the body. In this way we might begin to run creatively. There’s a number of key things about this invitation to re-route the traffic onto the road less travelled, the road to the present moment.’

I am not fully in tune with all of this statement.  I do not think we need to stop the traffic flow on the mechanical path.  I think the word ‘synchronise’ is the key concept. If we, as members of the species Homo sapiens, are to run truly naturally we need to find a way of synchronising the two routes: the mechanical path guided by knowledge and shaped by practice, and the path through sensations in the present moment.  I am still at the beginning of working out how this might be done.  My current experiments in running holistically might be clumsy, half-blinded attempts towards the goal.  I will value any comments.

Note added 12 April 2012

With regard to the proposal that it might be desirable develop a holistic sense of what is happening to the body, even though our attention is not focussed consciously on every aspect, there is a very informative picture in today’s Guardian newspaper, showing Prince Harry and Usain Bolt being silly for the sake of a photo-opportunity.  http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2012/apr/11/how-the-royals-became-cool   They are imitating a well known advertisement for Richard Branson’s company, Virgin. In the advertisement, Branson’s face is superimposed on Bolt’s body, as he mimes shooting an arrow from a bow.  In this Guardian photo of Harry and Bolt, note how the index finger of Bolt’s right hand is aligned perfectly with the index finger of his left hand.  I suspect he wasn’t consciously thinking about this as he posed for the photo.  Simply, his brain has an extremely good sense of where the ends of his limbs are at all times.  I think that is one of the reasons Bolt is the world’s fastest sprinter.  I think we can improve our running by improving our bodily awareness. In particular, awareness of the end of the index finger can probably associated with subliminal awareness of the location of the foot.

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20 Responses to “Running naturally using sense and science”

  1. Hans Holter Solhjell Says:

    Canute,

    Very interesting to read more about you, and your varied background that informs your interests, blogposts and comments. You have previously mentioned both Alexander technique and the Feldenkrais method, but not specifically saying wether you have practical experience with these methods, or other similar methods, and if so, how much experience. Could you comment on this?

    Regarding focus or awareness of specific items, within various body oriented systems including Feldenkrais, there is the concept of the body scan. And I guess you know of and have experience with this. Most often performed while lying down, but it can be performed in any position, and also during activity. During the body scan, using lying on the floor as an example, I can either focus my feeling senses on specific parts of the body, like for instance the left foot, and maybe notice the contact of the heel with the floor, which part of the heel is in contact and which is not, is the foot pointing to the left or the right, is there dorsi or plantar flexion, can I notice the various parts of the foot or does it feel like one block, same with the toes, are some parts of the foot easier to notice than other parts and so on. And then I can compare this to the same on the left foot. Are there any differences in my experience of the left and the right foot?

    But I can also broaden my focus, and for instance notice my overall contact with the floor, my overall body position on the floor, feeling of my self and so on.

    This is somewhat harder while running, but with some training I found it easy to do so myself. Even small details can be noticed, as well as the broader image, and this awareness is something I have a focus on during running.

    For instance, I can zoom in on my right foot and observe what it does and keep this focus for as many steps as I like. I can notice where on the foot I am landing, on the outer or inner part, how much weight is on the forefoot vs the heel, wich direction is my foot pointing, how much tension am I holding in the foot and so on. Also, I can notice what the foot does while being airborne. Am I holding tension, moving it somehow, or can I just let it relax at the end of the leg? And then do the same on the left side.

    For quite some time one focus I had was how the pressure going up trough my body as I land on the foot travels trough my leg, pelvis, spine, neck and head. How much of a “wobble” is there, or easy stability.

    Other things I observe is how my breath moves in my body, am I tensing or holding the chest or other parts relating to my breath? And also the arms and the hands? Where is the most relaxed postion to hold my arms? But also in such a way that I am not hindering or holding tension, or delaying the movement of other parts of my body?

    • canute1 Says:

      Hans,
      I am not a practitioner of either Alexander Technique or Feldenkrais Method. My knowledge is derived from reading and from talking to practitioners, and from some personal practice of Alexander technique. I have frequently used the technique of Progressive Muscular Relaxation to relax my muscles. As a clinician, I often guided my patients in achieving relaxation using PMR. (I am medically qualified though I retired from medical practice recently.) Several of my colleagues are experts in Mindfulness and I occasionally engaged (as the subject) in Mindfulness therapy sessions with my students as they developed their therapeutic skills.
      I agree it is not easy to practice the ‘body scan’ when running. I find it is helpful to practice it when doing session on the elliptical cross trainer. I now have a fairly well developed ability to do it while running.

    • Hans Holter Solhjell Says:

      Canute,

      There are free and easily available Feldenkrais lessons available here, http://www.openatm.org for anyone who would like to try some lessons.

      I did about thirty lessons in Alexander technique myself before Feldenkrais, and find it useful still. Even though the pedagogy differs a lot from Feldenkrais. Depending somewhat on the teacher of course. My first introduction into mind body exploration started with the martial art of Aikido in my early years as a student at university, with its focus on breathing, sitting and standing meditation and so on. And I also wrote my master thesis in 2003 (not really similar to a regular master thesis, since it was 200 pages long. An old arrangement here in Norway, not possible now as everything is aspected to be short and efficient. Following the program and finishing on time has become more important that learning and growth) on topics relating to attachment, trauma and how subjective experiences influence on the shaping of the brains capacity’s for self and co regulation, and the process of healing and change. Mostly influenced by the work of Robert C. Scaer, Daniel Siegel, Allan Schore, Antonio Damasio and Stephen Porges. The title of my thesis was “the homeodynamic self”. So I find these topics, neuroscience in relation to subjective experience, highly interesting.

      Mindfullness and all the research done in relation to this term I think is very useful also for Feldenkrais practitioners, and practitioners of other body oriented method’s. It is not that there from a practical perspective is a lot of new things, I think many method’s includes most of what the mindfulness people bring to the table and also are a lot broader, especially in terms of the body, seen from a practical perspective. But the mindfulness researchers are good at relating it to established theoretical models within the medical field, do research on effects, bring in some fresh ways of talking about things, and some new areas to apply the methods and skill to. And mindfulness has turned out to be a good term from a marketing perspective as well. Feldenkrais does not work so well in a marketing sense. And some research has been done showing good effects on various factors, but as the method is not connected with or has grown out of an established research institution, like mindfulness has, the process and financing of research works quite slowly.

      • canute1 Says:

        Hans
        Thanks for the summary of your background in integrating subjective experience with neuroscience, and related topics. Thanks also for posting the link to the openATM project.

  2. g2-f477380b7cf325543ca01338086d52f8 Says:

    Canute, my apologies but my comment has nothing to do with your article. It’s just that I saw the word “neuroscience” and thought it would be interesting what you make of the following:

    I ran an ultra last week dealing with calf cramps in both legs between miles 31 and 35. Yesterday, 10 days after that race, I was cycling along, thinking about the race and my troubles, when my left calf suddenly started cramping! There was no physical reason why my calf should have done this. I was only cycling 5 miles into work at a very easy effort (I don’t want to turn up at work bathed in sweat). I have never before heard of a cramp being induced purely by memory, but that’s exactly what happened to me.

    Have you ever come across anything like that?

    Thanks
    Thomas

    • canute1 Says:

      Thomas,

      It is good to hear from you. I am afraid I have not been a regular visitor to your blog in recent times, though I did eventually catch up with the account of your great run in Vienna last year. However I should visit you blog more often, not only because you write in an entertaining manner, but also because I often find interesting physiological things to ponder. Several times in the past I have wondered about your cramps. I remember your description of the cramping when you speeded up after the Hell of the West at Connemara in 2010.

      I think that of all the factors that contribute to cramps, a pronounced contraction is the most important. Various factors, especially accumulated micro trauma that produces local inflammation can increase the likelihood that contraction will trigger cramp. Maybe electrolyte imbalance also contributes. At Connemara in 2010, I suspect it was the more vigorous contraction of your hams as you increased pace that triggered the spasm.

      Although I have never encountered exactly what you described during your gentle cycle ride to work, it is well established that imagining an event elicits much of the same neural activity in the brain as occurs during actual performance. In some instances, vestiges of the action are performed. My guess is that your brain replayed the relevant section of the race 10 days previously, generating a slightly more pronounced contraction that triggered the cramp. Sometimes it requires a surprisingly small adjustment of the magnitude of a contraction to do this. I find that this is especially the case with the calf. It is also possible that you still have some localised inflammation due to micro-trauma – were you running a little more on your forefoot this year? Had you had more noticeable DOMS in the calf muscles two days after the event?

      Although cramp when cycling to work probably caused no more trouble than a slight delay in getting to work, the bigger issue is working out how to stop this happening during races. Does it happen if you pick up speed at the end of the second of two back-to-back long training runs? I think it is worth considering the possibility that memory of cramps in the late stages previous ultras might increase the probability that your brain will evoke the pattern of activity that produces the unwanted cramp yet again. It might be worth focussing on ‘being in the moment’ especially during the final few miles of an ultra. This requires the skill of Mindfulness (mentioned in my response to Hans). The crucial thing about Mindfulness is a non-elaborative, nonjudgmental, present-cantered awareness of thoughts and sensations. The skill is in being able to experience a sensation without jumping to conclusions about its consequences. It probably sounds a bit mystical (and indeed the origins of the practice are oriental). In reality it is a quite prosaic skill – but worth cultivating.

    • canute1 Says:

      Thomas,

      On re-reading, it appears that was probably a bit more ‘advice’ than you were expecting So take it all with a pinch of salt, but maybe some of it helps answer your question.

  3. Hans Holter Solhjell Says:

    A little additional information on the Feldenkrais method, to supplement my last comment.

    The Feldenkrais method is about awareness (Mindfullness seems to be a more popular word to day, but is mostly the same), but also about learning by sensing differences and by performing a kind of movement experiments. For instance, in regards to the arms, I can hold my arms in various positions while running, high, low, close to the chest or more outwards, let them move straight forward and back, or also more to and away from the midline. And then I can notice the various effects effects this has, for instance on tension levels, both in the arms, but also in the chest, shoulders and throughout, change of support and so on, and also what feels overall most comfortable, efficient, pleasurable, coordinated, easy and so on.

    In the Feldenkrais method, the various movement experiments, called Awareness Trough Movement, ATM, are informed by mechanical and biomechanics ideas of what would be an optimal movement, but these ideas are mostly not directly thought, pointed out or demonstrated, at least not initially, to the learner, as the whole idea is for the learner to make his or her own experiments while observing what happens, differences in performing a movement this way or that way, and what feels easiest, most comfortable and so on from the subjective perspective of the learner. This allows the learner to adapt the “instruction” to his or her individual body, with it’s own structure, history, current capabilities and limitations and emotional and cognitive factors. This also allows for the personal growth and increase in the self knowledge and self care of the person, rather than increased reliance on an external authority, teacher or expert. I see this as a mayor difference from methods or ways of teaching that says, move like this, follow the instruction, repeat, repeat, repeat.

    So in theory there might be an ideal way of moving the arms, but for this ideal to be realized, or to come closer to it in a healthy way, the personal process of learning with awareness and personal integration becomes important. And for some that particular movement might just not be possible due to various factors, and some other more creative solution has to be experimented with.

    Personally I have for the last month been experimenting with holding the arms closer to the chest. This increases tension slightly, but it seems to give a feeling of “slipping” trough a smaller space, a more compact stride and higher cadence, one of my weak spots still. This might be due to rotational forces and the Coriolis effect (have only read about that in Romanov’s 2008 triathlon book) so if you can inform me on this point I am interested if there is anything else to say about it.

    • canute1 Says:

      Hans

      I agree that each individual needs to learn for themselves how to move, though I think the role of the coach is to suggest helpful procedures that might foster the skill. Another important principle regarding posture is that if you believe you have achieved the target posture and attempt to remain fixed in that position, you will lose it by introducing unnecessary muscle tension.

      You must also trust your body and not scrutinise it too intensely. In the photo of me at the end of the half marathon, I was not consciously thinking about my hand at that instant. Although it was several years ago, I remember the occasion vividly. For the preceding 6 miles I had been focussing on high cadence and short stride to minimise the force on my torn hip adductor, and during the final sprint, my thoughts were focussed only on avoiding serious damage to my hip adductor while striving to overtake the runner in white (number 7484) and two others just ahead.

      With regard to Coriolis force, I think that might be another one of Dr Romanov’s forays into cartoon physics. Coriolis force is a virtual force that appears to account for the path of an object viewed by an observer in a rotating frame of reference. I think that neither you and nor a stationary observer are in a rotating frame of reference when you run. An observer watching your hand via a video camera attached to you upper arm might observe your hand rotating through a smaller range of motion than either you or the stationary observer, and might attribute this to a (virtual) Coriolis force, but I do not think that is relevant to your perception. In my opinion, when you decrease the range of motion of your hand relative to your torso, it is likely that you also decrease the range of motion of your foot. You will spend less time on stance and will probably increase your cadence. Thus I think it is likely that your perception is a realistic perception of changes in your gait that do in fact increase your efficiency.

      It is also probable that your experience of greater tension in the arms is associated with a non-conscious increase in the push of your foot against the ground. It is desirable to ensure that you do not develop unnecessary tension in the arms. This is why I consciously place my forefinger lightly against my thumb (to provide my brain with an easily evaluated measure of forearm tension) and also attend to relaxing the shoulder muscles. As you can see in the photo of me ‘sprinting’ at the end of the HM, when under pressure and focussing on other things, I did manage to maintain the light opposition of right forefinger and thumb, but I generated excess tension in the left shoulder.

      • Hans Holter Solhjell Says:

        Canute

        I agree that to much scrutiny can get one into trouble as well. So I use it more as a learning tool. Especially the very focused, zooming in variety. A lighter overall awareness I find I can have with me most of the time. One exeption is in an all out situation, involving very explosive movement, or a high level of stress. But then again, the movement better be working well, or the risks of problems increase.

        I have also done some training in self defense, in the Israeli style of Krav Maga, and there is no awareness training or subtleties involved in the training, just pure self defense. If I for instance are doing one rotational kick as powerful as I can into a punching bag I can be aware of my balance, placement of weight and relationship of arms and legs. If I do a series of ten kicks, I can adjust various factors as I observe the effect on how much power I am kicking with relative to effort. I also can observe my breath, whether I am holding it or not. This I can do more as a part of the overall image without zooming in to much. No need to zoom in on the left little toe. Obviously, in a higher stress situation, working with an opponent, this gets more difficult, but is still doable. In a high stress situation, for example actually being, hopefully not, attacked, even harder, and probable not useful, as the only focus should be on external orientation, survival, escaping or defending and counterattack. I still might notice fear, adrenaline surge, high pulse and so on.

        The attitude with which one observes is also important. It works better if it is with a non critical, playful, friendly to self curiosity, rather than hard self criticism. In the last case in creates extra stress coming from the observing, which is counter productive.

        But as you say, and I agree, most of what happens should just be allowed to happen, with trust in the body. What I am talking about does not work against that, more working with what happens, and refining it. But also some times completely changing it, for example as I did for running with the help of a coach, from a push and drive, to a spring and a pull. So now I can be aware of what happens as I allow my body to spring and pull, rather than push and drive, and refine that. And I think that the spring and pull is more in line with the basic ideas of Moshe Feldenkrais. The push and drive was not his idea, but was imported by others, based on ideas picked up elsewhere.

      • Hans Holter Solhjell Says:

        Canute,

        Regarding the arms and rotational forces while running.

        As I have understood there is rotation and counter rotation going on as I run. This also implies that rotational forces are at work. An ice skater doing a pirouette will experience that as she draws the arms and legs closer to the midline of the body the speed of the rotation will increase.

        My experience is that If I run with my arms and legs wide, the rotation and counter rotation will work slower and if I have both arms and legs closer to the midline the rotation and counter rotation becomes faster, easier. This I feel is contributing to in some way, the faster shift of support, and cadence.

        Although there is several aspects of your explanation I agree with, I would be interested in your comment on what is going on from a physics perspective, regarding rotational forces, even if Coriolis force is not the right term.

    • canute1 Says:

      Hans,
      I agree, the arms rotate about a horizontal axis aligned along a line from side to side through the shoulders, and also about the vertical axis. The rotation around the vertical axis helps balance the small amplitude rotation of the swing leg around the vertical axis. Because the leg is heavier than the arm, a somewhat larger amplitude rotation of the arm is required, but it should nonetheless be fairly economical.

      Keeping the arms close to the body makes rotations about both vertical and horizontal axes more efficient. In terms of physics, bringing the arms in to the torso decreases the moment of inertia. The moment of inertia is less for a compact body, as illustrated by a pirouetting ice-skater. The force required to produce rotation is proportional to the product of moment of inertia and the rotational acceleration, so a lower force is required when the arms are drawn in.

      As we discussed recently, in my own usual arm action, my hand starts near to the sternum, and rotates around both vertical and horizontal axis to bring the hand to a position slightly behind the waist. In the HM photo above, the left hand was starting to rotate down from a somewhat more lateral position than usual because I was trying to minimise rotation of the swing leg around the vertical axis on account of my torn hip adductor. The awkwardness of this unaccustomed action probably contributed to greater tension in my left shoulder.

  4. Ewen Says:

    Canute, I’ve done some sessions (some years ago) with a Feldenkrais practitioner who was a runner in the Calwell group. I thought it was a good method for teaching body awareness when moving. One thing though, many of the movements were very
    slow… this was a good way to get a feel for what one’s body was doing but it left me wondering if the many repetitions of slow movement had the undesirable side-effect (for a runner) of wiring slower than usual movement into the nervous system/brain. Also, when applied to running, the movment could become a little ‘mechanical’.

    I like your suggestions for reducing tension in parts of the body that don’t need to be tensed when running. Your hand position reminds me of a former Australian triathlete Peter Robertson who used to carry light pieces of wood in his hands when running to reduce tension – he’d pick these up at the end of the bike leg.

    • canute1 Says:

      Ewen,
      It is interesting to hear about your experience of Feldenkrais. As you say, it is a good way to get a feel for what your body is doing. Slow motor programs are a good starting point in ironing out the wrinkles that can creep in when one goes too fast. However, because getting off stance quickly is necessary for efficient running, one also needs to practice speeding up the programs.

      My current opinion is that if you have consolidated the link between hand and foot movement, you can then practice a brisk hand movement and be confident that the foot will do a similar movement. Therefore, I start off performing drills slowly but then speed up while focussing mainly on the hand.

      I was also interesting to hear of Robbo’s technique for reducing tension. In light of the way in which triathletes plan every last detail of the transition, I was amused by the possibility that he might just pick up some bits of wood that were lying around – or did he carefully pack some balsa strips with his transition kit?

      • Ewen Thompson (@EwenThompson) Says:

        No, the ‘sticks’ (as the commentators of the day called them) were especially made for the task. He made a point of picking them up before the run leg.

        You make a good point about gradually speeding up a movement drill (even ‘overspeeding’?) until the movement happens naturally and without tension when running.

  5. Robert Osfield Says:

    Hi Canute, thanks for another intesting post 🙂

    Others haven’t mentioned it but there a couple of instances of what you talk about being taught out in the wider running world.

    The body scan is part of Chi Running and actually one of bits that I actually found really useful. I think a body scan is particularily useful when doing an Ultra as fatigue can gradually erode your form and posture and miss signs of problems accumulating.

    Lee Saxby also talks about running limp writsted as drill to ensure that your ankles and feet stay relaxed. This sounds exactly like the connection you talk about. I’ve practiced and found it useful too.
    However, when doing normal runs I use the technique of imagining a butterfly caught between your thumb and index finger as way of keeping the hand relaxed. Your picture looks like your practicing this too!

    • canute1 Says:

      Robert
      Thanks for your comment.
      I agree that the body scan during an ultra sounds like a very useful way to detect unwanted tension.
      The butterfly wing sounds a bit more elegant that Robbo’s trick with sticks as described by Ewen. It is good to hear of such widespread use of the principle of linking the movement of hand and foot.

  6. Robert Osfield Says:

    Hi Canute, one thing I’ve been pondering :

    1) The mechanism how running whilst listening to music can effect
    the runners efficiency and performance.

    2) A technique you mentioned in a post a long while back that suggested that a visualization technique that was able to improve efficiency. I can’t remember which post, and what the exact technique was but I vaguely think it might have been about centering ones conscious thought on the stomach. Perhaps you’ll know what I’m writing about and save me from my inglorious attempts at recollection.

    3) General visualization techniques like floating along, or being pulled by a string, or even “using the lean to engage gravity”, all of which are silly but perhaps they can help as well.

    4) Positive thinking and associated visualizations and their effect on running performance.

    I mention these as I’m guessing if they do work at improving our efficiency and performance then they are likely to be working on similar parts of on neuromuscular system, or perhaps just
    distracting the conscious thoughts we have from messing up our
    unconscious activity. Or perhaps it’s hormonal in effect. Or a mixture of all, or none of these!

    Now these issues are likely to be something you have a much better handle on than I, so hopefully you’ll be able to provide some of the insight that is missing from my own attempts at understanding.

    Robert.

    • canute1 Says:

      Robert,
      Current neuroscience can throw a little light on the questions you ask but provides few definite answers. The various mechanisms you mention probably all play a role. Nonetheless, it is worth identifying a few general principles. The first is that when we are carrying out a practiced motor act it is better to trust our non-conscious brain to take care of the subtle adjustments. So visualization that makes the task seem easy is likely to produce a better coordinated output.

      The fact that the pattern of neural activity associated with performing a task can be evoked by various cues that recall the action also explains why the appropriate neural pathway is can be engaged more easily if we consciously provide the cue and then let the non-conscious control system do the fine tuning.
      Cultivating awareness of one’s own body in space is likely to maximise use of the useful cues that the circumstances provide for our non-conscious brain, provided we can do this without letting the conscious control system from taking over,

      On the other hand different circumstances can create different priorities. When we need to squeeze out the last bit of energy, mobilising the release of adrenaline is what we need. But, in fact in any situation there is an optimum balance between the need for relaxed confidence and effortful drive. So overall, I think that mental focus is more helpful than distraction.

      As regards music, despite all that is known about what music does to patterns of brain activity, I think neuroscience is a long way from accounting for the richness of our experience of music and why it moves us physically and emotionally. However, when running I mostly prefer to regulate my own level of emotional arousal. I think that being attuned to the sensations evoked by the action of running produces the best calibrated response. Many a runner in the Boston marathon has come to regret getting carried away by Wellesley scream tunnel.

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