RUNNING TECHNIQUE PRINCIPLE: MINIMISE ‘BOPPING’
RUNNING TECHNIQUE PRINCIPLE: MINIMISE ‘BOPPING’
The second step towards pain- and injury-free, and faster running is running with great technique. This step is of high importance for all runners, from beginners through to the elite. Sadly though, this step is often overlooked by aspiring runners. Quite simply, if you wish to run to your fullest potential, running with great technique is critical.
The concept of being deliberate about ‘how’ we run isn’t a natural one. Many people believe that runners have their own unique style of running, with some runners naturally looking better than others. Not recognising that there is skill in the technique of the better runners is a common error.
The below principle is one of 5 key principles that I believe constitutes great running technique. This is an excerpt taken from my AMAZON Running and Jogging Bestselling book ‘You CAN Run Pain Free!’.
Minimise Bopping Up and Down
The old maxim ‘what goes up must come down’ certainly holds true in running. The higher the body launches into the air at push off, the harder, and with greater impact, the runner’s landing will be. Typically a runner experiences two to three times their body weight on landing by way of what is known as ground reaction forces.
Cast your mind back to high school physics and you may recall that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. For example, if you were to push someone, the same force that you push someone with will be exerted back onto your body by way of the equal and opposite reaction force. In this example, the equal and opposite force appears to be ‘invisible’ in that it is absorbed by the pusher’s body. In contrast it is easy to detect the force being elicited onto the person who has been pushed.
For runners, the impact with the ground that occurs is exactly what the body must then deal with in terms of the ‘invisible’ reaction forces that are transmitted into the runner’s legs due to the ground reaction forces. The impact made may be appropriate, such as with a mid-foot strike, or excessive, such is often the case with a heel-strike. Greater crashing on landing results in greater loads on the runner’s body. This in turn heightens the chance of developing an injury.
With too much ‘bopping up and down’, the runner’s body gains excessive amplitude (height) during each stride. The problem with this excessive bopping is that the further up the body travels into the air, the harder it will come crashing down. Bopping up and down while running is connected to over-striding, with greater bopping movements created by an over-striding running technique. When a runner is over-striding with a cadence of fewer than 90 single steps/min, their foot will likely land out in front of their knee and their body’s centre of mass at the time of impact with the ground. When this happens, the ground applies an equal and opposite force back up the runner’s leg. This equal and opposite ground reaction force is akin to literally putting the ‘brakes’ on as a runner. This is why such equal and opposite ground reaction forces may be referred to as ‘braking forces’.
When a runner over-strides and encounters equal and opposite ground reaction forces with every stride (see following figure), the runner must exert extra energy to overcome the braking forces. To do so, the body has to get ‘up and over’ the foot as it lands, which requires the body to move higher into the air. This results in the up and down bopping motion observed in the over-striding runner.
In addition to an increased risk of injury, the other problem with excessive bopping is that it slows a runner down. The longer the runner’s body spends going up and down, the less time it spends going ‘ along the road’ in the direction it needs to go to get to the finish line. In other words, time spent going up and down comes at the cost of running speed.
The over-striding runner will also experience a greater need to bop up and down, due to the momentum required to overcome the braking forces that are being transmitted up the straight leg.
If you watch the side view of any elite runner at the front of a race, you can see that their head position stays almost parallel to the road. Their body is projected forward with minimal up and down movements of their body. I liken elite runners’ bodies to being like fixed ‘boxes’ from the waist up. Their torsos hardly move except for the swinging of their arms. The elite runner with great technique has legs that propel them in an almost ‘cyclist-like’ circular and smooth movement. These runners tend to travel horizontally instead of vertically, which makes sense given that the finish line is always forwards and not upwards! Remember, a flat trajectory is more economical than a trajectory of bopping up and down.
Reducing excessive bopping
The good news is that if you focus on correcting over-striding by getting your running turnover rate to 90 steps/min, you also eliminate the majority of excess bopping. This is because, as a runner works on taking shorter and faster steps in order to increase cadence, they also experience a smoother body trajectory with less up and down movement.
A quick turnover rate of 90 single steps/min negates the excessive braking forces that an overstriding runner experiences. With a good turnover rate, the foot lands under the knee close to the body’s centre of mass and the braking forces of an overstriding runner are no longer experienced. The runner with a good cadence will, however, still need to overcome the friction or resistance from the ground.
In addition to running with the correct turnover rate in order to avoid excessive bopping, other tips to ensure you run smoothly include the following:
- Recite a mantra such as, ‘I run light, smooth, fast and easy’ as you run. By reinforcing this message your body is more likely to run in the way it is being instructed – ‘light, smooth, fast and easy’.
- When going for a run, take note of the sensation of where your energy is going. . Is it going up and down? Or is it being projected forwards down and along the road towards the finish line?
- Have a running buddy video you running side-on. You do not need elaborate equipment – simply use your smartphone or digital camera to capturing 30 seconds of side-on running footage. This will allow you to analyse the degree of bopping of your body. Capturing this footage while you run on a treadmill, with ideally a plain white wall in the background, is best. Many great smartphone apps (such as Ubersense and Coach My Video) are also now available that help you to capture the footage and then review it in slow motion. It’s worth noting that when a runner’s technique is analysed in slow motion, a relatively large degree of bopping up and down will often appear. This is due to the exaggerated movements that slower motion analysis produces. But when running at normal pace, the bopping up and down of a proficient runner with great technique will be negligible.
To get your hands on a copy of ‘You CAN Run Pain Free!’ click HERE.
To attend real time running technique coaching click HERE for information about our upcoming RUN101 Workshops.
Brad Beer (APAM)
Physiotherapist, Author, Founder POGO Physio