Last summer I had lunch with one of the best HS coaches in the state of Colorado. The name of a local runner, who also happened to be a national-class runner, came up and the HS coach noted, “he’s really good, but he needs to work on his form.”
“How’d you know?” blurted the HS coach, “have you seen him run?”
I had not, but my guess that his problem is his forward lean is correct over 90% of the time (at least when a coach thinks a particular runner should work on their form).
I made this point as a quick aside last Friday at the Colorado High School Coaches Association clinic as part of my suggestion that distance coaches should focus on the posterior chain (i.e. the muscles and fascia that make up the back of the body) when assigning General Strength (GS). The next day I was going through some things in the garage and I found a Sports Illustrated dated August 2nd 1971. While I knew the issue had an article by Bill Bowerman in it, the real reason I had the magazine was the cool photos of Oregon runners, most notably a clean shaven, young looking Steve Prefontaine. I skipped the prologue and went straight to the words Bowerman had penned:
The most important element in developing and maintaining a smooth, efficient running style is an upright posture. This is just as true for the sprinter as for the jogger. Ideally, when you are running, your posture should be so erect that a plumb line could be dropped from your ear lobe straight down through the line of the shoulder, the line of the hip and then on to the ground (note Prefontaine’s carriage). Unfortunately, many people, including athletes, seem to feel it is necessary to lean forward in order to generate maximum thrust while running. This is wrong.
I literally had goose bumps when I read that. Why? Because as much as I know posture is important, and as much as I’m trying to get athletes to strike under their hips, I still can’t tell you where the origin and insertion of the Psoas muscle is. Just 60 seconds ago I realized that the Iliopsoas probably means the Psoas Major, Psoas Minor and the Illiacus as one muscle group. Does this matter? Yes and no. Yes in that we should all be striving to be excellent in our field, especially if we feel we’ve found our avocation (thanks Vig for teaching me that word). On the other hand, it doesn’t matter. For example, when I watched the young men from FSU working their butts of in this video I couldn’t help but notice that most of them couldn’t perform the “can-can” without leaning forward or backward, exposing either hamstring/gluteal weakness and or inflexibility. And these FSU guys are good, but as Bowerman pointed out over a quarter century ago, most runners struggle with this issue and even a talented, accomplished group of collegiate males will struggle with the same issue(s).
So what should you do? Well, first you should buy Phil and Jim Wharton’s DVDs–their AIS method is magical and in three weeks you’ll be a different runner. What else? I’ll keep coming back to this issue when I share videos because I’m learning that while it starts with inflexibility (which can be remedied with the AIS method) the long term issue is strength and the ability to generate force with the back side of your body.
I look forward to your questions and comments, so fire away.