When I was finishing the second part of the “Motility” article (soon available in English) I was about to start my trip to Kenya to search for the content for the next part. The third part is dedicated to the quality image of the locomotive perfection in running.
Why Kenya? Ethiopia would probably also provide some inspiration and nudge me to the further scouting for the ideal running form and its description. Out of many reasons, both technical and private, the latter decided.
You don’t have to leave Europe to realize that the training based on the scientific foundations is effective and it pushes the frontiers of the long-distance runners’ locomotive abilities. Since Emil Zatopek’s marathon debut, the marathon world-class standard improved by 20 minutes. Predictions concerning the further progress and breaking the barrier of 2 hours are as evocative as in 1950s when Roger Bannister tried to break 4 minutes in a one mile run.
However, there is a huge difference between those two barriers. In the 50’s, the running training was very often based on testing the new methods and ideas (often the extreme ones). After the decades, the knowledge regarding long-distance training is consolidated, common and easily accessible. In this aspect,we don’t have such a margin allowing for the groundbreaking training conceptions which would significantly increase the marathon pace without the considerable increase in the energy consumption.
Indirect work on improving movement
Training the aspects of motility such as strength, speed and endurance indirectly affects the quality of movement and its economics. Different training units (that aim to improve the above-mentioned aspects) are also credited for improving the running form. This is a classic approach towards the issue of improving the running form. This stereotype is solid and its validity is rarely questioned. However, the reality tends to vividly exposes the locomotive flaws of the world’s top long-distance runners. It means that the indirect work on the running movement, performed “on the fly” during some other training units is not very effective and doesn’t result in significant improvement.
Direct work on improving the movement
In this scenario the strength, speed and endurance are put in the shade. They are being trained “on the fly”, while working on the quality of the movement. Such a distinct approach gives a wide margin for experiments and clashes of the new ideas concerning running training. In this sense, we are somehow back in the 1950s. Summoning the qualitative features of the motility as the most important aspects in the training sets other priorities. Firstly, correcting of movement as much as it is possible and then its strengthening (improving the strength), then working on the frequency (improving the speed) and finally working on sustaining the designated movement while running (improving the endurance). With such an approach to the running training, a hypothetical 21st century Emil Zatopek would significantly differ from the locomotive archetype.
Problem with the running form evaluation
A problem with the running form evaluation may lead us far from the natural core of the phenomena to its intersection with art, or even more, into the realm of mastery. You can find more about it in the 3rd part of Running Dynamics article (soon available in English) in the paragraph about natural running.
The correct running form is can be described in terms of the standard of shape (the anatomical predisposition), and the standard of movement. Without such established standards of shape and movement it is not possible to compare and evaluate one’s running to create a prospective training plan. In the field of professional running, the “natural selection” among the athletes promotes certain physical features which determine the success of a long-distance runner. Establishing the standard of shape is not a problem, but when it comes to the standard of movement it becomes very problematic. The difficulty lies in focusing only on the most apparent and measurable aspects of the running movement. These aspects are: the position of the torso and its angle, range of arms’ and legs’ movement, the manner of landing and all the non-locomotive movements that determine the individual character of one’s running style. The advanced electronics allows only for monitoring cadence, parameters of the running dynamics and stride length. These apparent and measurable features often lead to misunderstandings and inconsistent conclusions, by leading us away from tracking the standard.
Whenever a given activity is based on the dynamic locomotion of the whole body (running constitutes such an activity), a particular movement can be performed in a multiple ways. There are many factors influencing movement in general and it is hard to determine which way is the most effective one. Unfortunately, any results in sport competitions cannot be treated as the determinants of the proper running form, because a given result can be affected by many non-biomechanical factors. Long-distance running is still evolving on its own and the biomechanics constitutes only one of many factors affecting final result.
The problem with the description and definition of the ideal running form stems from the necessity to leap forward. We need to leave the particular examples of movement and start selective synthesis and anticipation of the most effective movement form. In other words, the description of the proper running form is a “frankenstein-like” experiment of composing the ideal “creature’ by taking the particular elements from many “donors”. This is what the evolution of running would look like if the biomechanical factor were to play a dominant role in the final result. Only then, the result itself could become a better determinant of the proper running form. Consequently, the laws of running would be more predictable. It is difficult to establish how much time would it take to achieve such an impressive level of awareness regarding the technical aspect of running. Of course, this subject is definitely unrewarding for the lovers of some easy “crash course running” advice. I don’t think that we will see a breakthrough before the Olympic Games in Tokyo. Such a change won’t occur in the upcoming years. In fact, it may take a generational shift to unleash the full potential hidden in the direct work on improving the movement.
Following doctor Frankenstein’s methods we can not only create the standard of shape but also the standard of movement. It means that we can take, for example, the Rhythm of a particular runner, the symmetry of the other one, dynamic stabilization and coordinated eccentric work of some other runners etc. Most of these features are described in my other articles. Here you can find out more about the Rhythm, the key role of specific coordination and the proximality of the movement. The issue of dynamic stabilization is mentioned in the article about the Pelvis, and in the article about the arms movement (soon available in English). Eccentric work and coordination of the anti-gravitational muscle chain are described in the 2ndpart of the running dynamics (soon available in English). The descriptions of the other features of the ideal running form such as the symmetry of work, low muscle tone and feeling the inertia of the pendulums also appear in these articles or will be also explored in the future.
What connects all the features mentioned above is the fact that they are not so clearly observable for an observer, and they are practically immeasurable, which makes them invisible for electronic devices used by runners nowadays. Because of that, in order to notice the features of the proper running form one needs to gain some experience and specific sensitivity (based on cognitive empathy). It requires some previous theoretical preparation, posing a great challenge during the observations of the best runners.
Awareness of one’s own body is a sense which plays a decisive role in biomechanics and movement training. A body in a good shape is a body which fulfills our expectations. However, only an 'aware’ body is a body can assess its current position, both when it does or does not fulfill our expectations. If an athlete is able to break 29 minutes on 10 000 m distance, it doesn’t mean that they have a good body awareness. It may turn out that in terms of biomechanics such an athlete is far from representing an ideal running form. Fortunately, the same athlete may still improve their movement by focusing on proprioception. Such a focus on movement and movement awareness may at first impair one’s performance. However, it also sharpens the ability to sense the body and provides an athlete with detailed perception of its structure and position. As a result, an athlete will know the reasons behind their slower running pace, and this may motivate them to further training and improvement of the performance.
The first and essential step in running form training is a realization of such problems as one’s excessive strain, some shortcomings in coordination, any non-locomotive movements during running, asymmetry or lack of elasticity, etc. Without this step, accompanied also by a firm 'step back’ and re-evaluation of one’s approach towards training (see: Direct work on improving the movement), one cannot change their movement. Consequently, the next step entails exploration of various components of one’s body structure, which have been beyond the scope of one’s perception. This can be achieved by means of certain coordinative and functional exercises (which were presented in the previous parts of motility), as well as visualization and relaxation techniques.
What may come to one’s mind upon hearing the suggestion ”relax!”? Maybe it will be a deep sigh, a shrug, or a lowering of one’s shoulders, etc. Such associations are examples of an image of oneself, know also as a mental image (which becomes even more poignant if we focus on one’s reaction to the suggestion). If the suggestion to relax will be accompanied by something like ”shed this shell!”, it may turn out that one’s image of ourselves can extend to encompass one’s back or the entire torso (which have just shed the imaginary shell). During the training aimed at decreasing the muscle tone, and improving movement, it is necessary to become aware of tension by focusing on the body, as well as its individual parts. A suggestion to 'rest one’s body on the skeleton instead of support it by means of muscles’ may be visualized by a reference to a fixed, mesh-like construction used for hanging meat at the butcher’s. Such visualizations are limited only by our own imagination. Their effectiveness depend on the self-identification with such mental images.
Concentration on breathing and its metaphoric to penetrate our bodies in search for tense areas can greatly supplement static mental images. It requires, however, a little bit of introduction. A suggestion to visualize yourself as a collection of dots leads us to the outline of a silhouette. The picture below represents the mental image of a breathing face.
A static image of a face is expanded as to encompass breathing movements (contraction and relaxation during exhalation and inhalation). The dots follow this 'in-and-out’ movement pattern.
Such a pulsating collection of dots on the surface of the silhouette can be expanded by adding some dots within it. They would represent sensory receptors of muscles and joints. Consequently, we arrive at a three-dimensional sensory map, which can be animated by means of breathing. Then, we may come up with a next issue, namely, to look for other tense body areas (represented as a collection of dots), which do not move during breathing. In such a way, we may scan the entire body, creating a sensory and very detailed scheme.
The mental image of a collection of dots animated by means of breathing can be used also during the exercises presented in the first and second part of the article on motility. In the context of this article, breathing (especially the relaxation after exhaling) can be helpful in adjusting the rhythm/pace of the exercises. If we coordinate arm and leg movement with exhalation during the exercise with the accentuation placed on “three” (every three steps), we can transform a very automatic action in to a sensory and eye-opening experience. Here, the formal definition of proprioception acquires a new and very personal meaning.
Human body and its movement can be represented by means of a system of conjoined parts, where a single bones constitute modules linked by joints. These connected parts affect one another by mutually restricting their range of movement (the range would be less limited if the parts were not linked). Our joints are characterized by three levels of the latitude of motion. As the example, we may choose the link between the pelvis and the femur, namely, the hip joint. From the point of view of mechanics, by establishing the pelvis as a basis or a frame of reference for the femur, we obtain the relative mobility of the femur within the scheme of XYZ axes (the advancing movement of the femur is restricted within this scheme). In the functional sense, such mobility equates to the rotations in the sagittal plane which work on the basis of bend and straightening of the joint. In the transverse plane, the previously mentioned mobility it can be translated to the internal and external rotations of the joint, whereas in the frontal plane, it is represented by the adduction and abduction of the joint. A blockade of the femur (e.g. by pressing it to the ground), results it the relative mobility of the pelvis within the scheme of XYZ axes.
A kinematic pair of the pelvis and the femur can be described also in terms of their proximality (the pelvis as the initial, proximal part) and distality (the femur as the final, distal part). Consequently, the femur itself can be divided into the proximal part, namely, the head of the femur bone, and the distal part composed of the femur bone condyles (which form the knee joint). The notions of proximality and distality can be also applied while describing some other parts and joints forming the kinematic chain of the lower limb.
The kinematic chain of the lower limb can be open or closed. The opening of the kinematic chain is determined by the state of the distal (final) part, namely the foot. When the distal part of the chain can move freely, the chain is open. When it comes to running, such a situation occurs during the float phase. If the distal part is blocked, e.g. by means of pressing the foot to the ground, the chain is closed. Then, a change in the relative relations of movement occurs. The proximal part of the chain (the pelvis), can move in relation to a given distal part. In the case of running, such a set up may take place during the support phase.
The concepts of the open and closed kinematic chains as well as the proximality and distality help to fully describe the movement. The running movement that is proximally initiated in the open kinematic chain is characterized by spaciousness, speed and effortlessness. It responds to the issues of inertia of the moving masses and the economic leg performance in the pendulums. On the other hand, the running movement in the closed kinematic chain is characterized by bonding its parts which results in taking their effortlessness in favor of effective strain interception by the whole chain. It responds to the issues of dynamic stabilization and eccentric work of the supporting leg. I will elaborate on the issues of inertia and dynamic stabilization in the another article.
The example of a whole-body proximal movement, which illustrates the dynamics of the woman with a fan.
The example of an isolated distal movement, which illustrates the dynamics of the man with a remote control.
Even the most detailed and meticulous descriptions cannot describe movement in a way that pictures can. The dynamics of movement is visible in the relocation of the center of the mass and the opening of the kinematic chains (the trajectory of which results from the movement of the center of the body). It means that the parts which are further from the center are less stable and precise. Precise movements of the chains or their parts (e.g. the studied grace of the fan lady or the action of switching between channels with a remote control) are enabled by the support in a form of the center of the mass immobilization or the closure of the kinematic chain. Obviously, we may easily imagine that the fan lady won’t stop fanning herself while falling from the top of the stairs. However, such scenarios can come true only in cartoons. Similarly, in the case of the man with a remote control who would loose his precision and movement repetition continuity while forced to move.
Is it possible to describe movement in a way different from scrupulous and time-consuming analysis of trajectories and angles?