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Photo credit: Dave Olinski.

Improving your posture, cadence and footfall

04-Oct-16

Last updated: 06-Nov-18

By Luke Jarmey

Shane Benzie is a movement analyst, coach and researcher. He has a particular interest in implementing a running style that focuses on reduced impact and energy efficiency. We have a chat with him to further understand what this is all about and how we can apply this to ourselves.

Q. Why is efficiency so important in running, Shane?

A. In preparation for multi-day races, competitors will leave no stone unturned: endless Google searches on nutrition, hydration, kit and how light you can get it, fitness plans, foot care, the list goes on. Of course it is vital that we get them all absolutely right but how many of us also consider how we will move all of our kit, food, water and ourselves throughout the race. 

On a multi-day ultra race in extreme environments it's essential that we concentrate on moving our body efficiently, allowing us to perform to our full potential and protect ourselves from the inevitable pounding that our body will take.

Think about it. You will probably take around 300,000 steps during a six day event and each footfall creates around 2.5 x your body weight. Imagine that, 300,000 x 2.5 x your body weight coming back at you in one event! It's not surprising that if you add extreme terrain, temperature, humidity etc the race will be a massive test on your physical ability.

So doesn't it make sense to ensure that every one of those 300,000 footfalls is carried out with maximum efficiency?

Q. Of course and certainly when you put it like that! Ok, so how can we as runners start to improve our efficiency?

A. Moving with the correct posture is essential when covering long distances with a pack. Our skeleton is designed to support the weight of our body and whatever we are carrying. If we do not move with the correct gait our muscles have to do much of that work. Muscles tire prematurely and injure if we misuse or overuse them.

One of the things we must understand about posture is that not only is it fundamental to our running, but our running posture is always going to be an extension of our everyday posture. That's pretty exciting as we are not just restricted to training in between work and family commitments, we can think about and adjust our posture 30 times a day.

Q. Well that sounds like Christmas come early for most ultra runners. Aside from posture are there any other biomechanical details we can start to think about?

A. Yes, another important aspect to consider when carrying out your training plan is cadence. We will inevitably come across cadence in a multitude of articles and, of course, technology allows us to monitor it. However, we must maximize it rather than just record it. Due to our fascial system we are basically very elastic and as we run we create a lot of elastic energy. To ensure that we enjoy the fruits of our ability to provide free elastic energy, we must run at a cadence that syncs with our fascial system (its creation, store and release of elastic energy). We generally run at around a 158-164 cadence during ultras. This is some way short of the 180 cadence considered to be the most efficient number. 

Much of my research on gait fatigue in extreme environments is on monitoring and coaching efficient cadence. There is no doubt that this faster cadence increases efficiency. Initial experiments with an increased cadence can be difficult as our breathing is often linked to our cadence resulting in faster and shallow breathing increasing our perceived rate of exertion, but it's well worth persisting, you will never look back!

Q. Is there anything we can do with our feet to mitigate the pounding they and the rest of our body receives?

A. Those poor feet that are going to take such a battering are actually one of our biggest assets when it comes to efficient movement. Our feet are our antenna for the world below us. Utilising 200,000 nerve endings, they tell us everything we need to know about touch and feel as we move. The proprioception provided by those nerve endings give our brain and inner ear vital information on where we are in space and our perceived rate of exertion.

The best way to protect your feet and, indeed the rest of your body, is to allow the foot to work naturally. Information is the best cushioning aid there is. Learning to create the correct foot contact is vital for this and enables the arch of the foot (which is essentially the core stability of the foot) to work tirelessly to dissipate 2.5 x your body weight that, as already discussed, is coming back at you with every footfall.

You should work towards a full foot landing with the heel making contact at the same time as the fore foot but remember the foot is the end of your running chain and will land where the rest of the body puts it. If we run planting our feet where we think they should be that is bio mechanically incorrect and just the start of many problems. 

So, the next time you are in preparation mode for your event put some thought into how you will move and give yourself plenty of time to practice.  

Thanks Shane, some compelling food for thought there.

Learn more about running biomechanics from Shane here.

And find him online here.

Shane will be at the MdS Expo on Saturday 22nd October at the IET, London, details HERE.

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