In the pulling phase of the run we are simply turning the legs over. As the lean creates forward momentum, the legs do not need to push; instead they simply keep the body balanced as gravity pushes us forward.
Imagine the Roadrunner cartoon and draw a circle around the feet of a heel striker. It’s more of an oval because of the foot placement out in front of the body, and the pick up of feet behind the runner. What we want is a compact foot pick up and placement, almost entirely under the centre of mass. You want a small circle drawn under you- Roadrunner style!
In this article we will cover the below cues:
- activate glutes
- pull heel directly to bum
- track heel up inside of support leg
- relaxed ankle
- not pushing with hip flexor
- not allowing foot to hang out the back
- height of pull as contributor to speed
Getting into the pose position (or Figure 4) you will have already have activated the glutes and hamstrings. This ensures they will be doing the majority of the pulling. They are bigger muscle groups than the hip flexors and as a result will be able to last longer before fatiguing.
When you’re ready to take a step you need to think in terms of pulling your foot up, rather than striding forward. Remember: gravity will give us forward propulsion, you just need to keep your legs turning over. When you lift your foot off the ground, pull it directly towards your hips rather than kicking it out the back. We want to eliminate excess movements so straight up is all you need.
If you imagine your pulling foot (the one lifting off the ground) tracking the inside of your support leg this will show you the trajectory necessary to eliminate excess movement. The pulling ankle can follow the opposite leg to make sure that it’s not kicking out the back.
Try to relax the ankle when it’s in the air. It takes some concentration but is well-worthwhile. A tense ankle when landing will put extra strain on tendons and the calf and soleus and the repeated motion of a run will see injuries sooner than you would like. Practise pulling your foot off the ground and have someone slap your foot to ensure it’s relaxed!
When pulling up be sure you’re not leading with the knee. That’s a sign that you’re using the hip flexor to pull. This is a common fault and at best will see you fatigue earlier than necessary. At worst you will end up heel striking again. There is a sweet spot where you will be pulling with mostly glute/ hamstring and only part hip flexor/ quad. You wont be able to pinpoint which muscles are doing the work and it will be easy. That’s where you want to be. Take note of where your raised foot is in relation to your opposite leg- it might be right beside but it could be slightly behind. This is a personal preference, just be sure to notice.
Check yo’ Self
As you pull the foot up, look behind you to see how far back your foot is. You don’t want the foot hanging out the back. This is a sign of using too much hamstring. Look at yourself side on in a mirror. Draw an imaginary line down your front and one down your back. When pulling, keep your foot between those two lines. This is effectively keeping your feet beneath your centre of mass at all times.
The height of the pull will differ depending on how far/ fast you are running. For shorter sprints you will find a high pull (just above your knees) will be best. If running long a small pull (bottom of calves) will suit. The exact height will be factor of your height and flexibility, as well as speed and distance to be run but play around with different speeds and different height pulls. You will soon find comfortable pulling heights.
Think of your legs as pistons. They simply go up and down (ground to hips). If your lean is correct (hips over toes) your pistons will be on a slight angle, therefore, giving you small steps. Go out and play with the lean and the height of your pull. It may feel like a prancing horse to begin with but it will be second nature in no time!
PREVIOUS ARTICLE IN SERIES: The Art of Falling
NEXT ARTICLE IN SERIES: Floating on Air