A Great Running Pattern will save you pain further down the Road
Running starts with the legs, they provide the power and drive, but how do you make it efficient? This is how we teach running – the leg cycle!
If your goal is to run fast, or stay safe and run slow, an efficient leg cycle is the best way to do so. Our four stage cycle will work out the kinks and prime you into a technique that will serve your entire running journey.
Although I will break the cycle down into four movements, they obviously all work together in a fluid motion, although it can feel a bit alien at first, the more you practice, the more natural it becomes.
Push – use your glutes!
Often underused and undervalued, the glutes are the largest muscle group in your body, and should be used for running. I like to think of the push phase as the starting pillar of running. Before you move, the gluts must engage, to push the floor away and propel you into a running motion. This is primarily the glut max which is responsible for extension of the hip, it’s a strong muscle, but due to a number of factors is under used.
A drill to practice this motion and get your glutes activating is simple. All you need is a smooth floor and a pair of socks… On your feet of course. Stand up tall in your running stance, take an arm and help yourself with balance using a wall or support. Move 75% of your weight onto the standing leg, then with your other simply drag your heel backwards approximately one foot or slightly longer. I want you to feel a slight squeeze of the buttock when you do this, however it is a light moment with low force. The goal is to increase strength of the neural pathway that gives your hip this extension – improve the signal strength.
Complete this for two minutes on each leg, once or twice a day and you will be on the way to getting those glutes going. Once you have the signal, you can then add resistance to strengthen the muscle group and improve your drive, using the same motion but with a weight or theraband.
Lift – switch on those hammys!
Stage two is the lift of the legs. As a rule of thumb we would like to see your heels lift up to the height of the back of your knee. Even when you’re running slowly, the cycle should be very similar. The faster you go, usually the size of the overall leg sycle will increase, so the hamstrings will pick the heels up even higher. The reason we want this much movement is to use the kinetic energy in your body properly, using the muscles through their full range and elasticity will generate the most economical power making you a faster more efficient runner.
Firstly we need to get your hamstring switching on and off, this is called phasic motion. Due to postural and lifestyle issues, our hamstrings can get tonic, as in they are always switched on a bit or in a slight state of contraction. We want to avoid this by getting them lengthened and shortening in a fast manner, like they do when running. It’s simple to do. One drill before running is to lay prone or on your belly, bring your heels off the ground to 90 degrees, and then kick them back and forth alternately in a swimming kick motion. Take them through as much range as you want, or you can get a friend to hold a swiss ball in front of your feet which you can kick. This will get the hamstring working phasically. This is actually done regularly by runners in the form of butt flicks, the basic warm up activity. But I think our way is more fun!
Now you can combine this with our first drill. Standing in a running stance with your sock on, take a leg, push the floor away using good hip extension with the glutes, then lift your heel sharply with the hamstring – try to get it close to your buttock.
There you have it, phase 1 push, phase 2 lift – combine the two and you have half the cycle.
Getting there now! Here is the money maker, using the quads, you fire your legs with the momentum of your hamstring heel lift into a knee drive. The knee drive should get above 50 degrees to the vertical line providing your power and stride. People are often stronger through their quads and have a decent drive. The focus is therefore more prominently based on the first two stages of your leg cycle. However this is where you get a huge amount of power. A different way to practice your knee drive is to complete hill sprints. Stay as tall as you can so you are running on top of the ground and not into it, and get a focus of lifting you heels and bringing your knees as high as you can comfortably.
You can then combine this with your static exercise. Push the floor away, lift with the heels and drive your knee through. Drive to about 90 degrees when practicing in your stance to enhance the movement pattern and really engrain it into yourself. Then taking it to the track, using straight line running, practice the 2nd and 3rd phase of the leg cycle over a distance of about 30m. Focus with speed on lifting the heels up and whipping the knee through. They fit together quite nicely. There we go, we are 75% of the way there, let’s finish it off!
Place – finish the cycle with the perfect landing!
Don’t think heel, don’t think mid-foot! Just land comfortably underneath your hips, or as close as you can to it. Overstriding or reaching out in front of your body will increase the load through your ankle, knee and hip up to six times your body weight. The closer you are to the centre of mass the better. It can be very hard to focus in practice on where you place your foot. But here is the upside, if you get close to perfecting the first 3 stages of the leg cycle, which provide all your power and momentum you should land very comfortably without issue. Once you place down, you simply push the floor away and begin the cycle again, thus completing it, and repeating it, taking it smoothly and efficiently into a beautiful flowing running technique. Although this blog is all about the leg cycle, it is important to note that if you have a significant forward leaning posture, you will overstride to keep your body balanced, so be sure to work on a nice upright posture when practicing your leg cycle. If this is a real struggle, try releasing your quads and hip flexors through rolling and stretching, once they are lengthened out, standing up tall and practicing leg cycle can be significantly easier.
Have you practiced your leg cycle? Feel free to attend a running logic workshop and get into the clinic to see leg cycle coaching in live action.
- Use your glutes and push the floor away propelling you forwards.
- Use your hammys and pick up your heels above the height of your knee.
- Snap your knee through and drive yourself forward.
- Facilitate a nice landing underneath your knees and hips.
- Rinse and repeat!
Building Better, Stronger & More Efficient Runners