Natural running is not some ideal, archetypal running form; it’s what happens when you let your own body figure out what works best for you when you minimize interference between the foot and the ground. It’s what happens when you let your own muscles, ligaments, tendons, and bones do all or most of the work. It will vary depending on the type of ground under your feet, how fast you’re running, and so forth. It could hurt you – just because it’s “natural” does not necessarily mean that it’s always good. It could also help you – some people have overcome chronic injury by going “natural.” It’s a form employed by you, not necessarily a form employed by all. And your natural running form can change with time and practice. It might reach a comfortable steady state, or it might continue to change in small ways.– Pete Larson, Runblogger

The Pose Method is a system for teaching of human movement developed by tw0-time Olympic Coach Dr. Nicholas S. Romanov in 1977 in the former Soviet Union. The name of the method comes from the word “pose” or “body position.” {It’s the} ability of certain poses to integrate the whole chain of preceding and subsequent movements into one whole, wasting no energy on inconsequential movement. -Pose Method website


Screen shot 2013-07-29 at 7.56.05 PMIn 2012  at the University of Virginia RunMed conference, I was asked to contrast Principles of Natural Running with the Pose Running method. I  continue to get weekly emails and blog comments asking to help differentiate the two running form methods.

So to clarify or contrast these two approaches to running, I had prepared the following summary that was included in the handout for all participants at the RunMed conference.

What is the comparison between Principles of Natural Running and Pose Running? In my mind, there is no debate: we agree runners were not designed to land in the heel-strike overstride pattern with modern pronation-control. elevated-heeled shoes.

Natural Running is best learned while you are in motion. Unless runners understand the important principles of the gait cycle, or running movement, it can be difficult to know how to make the personal (and go-it-slow, gradual) adaptation to Natural Running. Still, it bears mentioning: Natural Running is not a brand or specific method, but rather what humans have done for several million years. View our NRC video here called “Principles of Natural Running.” Although this video might appear technical in a few places, the information can be easily learned for all runners. Also included in the video are some simple drills that will help you run natural.

So let’s move on and dissect a bit of the Pose Principles and Methods being taught and how we compare.  I’ll use 20 Pose Method teachings to highlight the discussion. My purpose is not to specifically critique a method, but rather to highlight what I think are the key principles in an efficient running gait. I think all methods including Pose do a huge service to draw attention to the risks and inefficiencies of the heel strike/overstride pattern.

Screen shot 2013-07-28 at 2.00.51 AMThe Pose Method Principles below are presented in bold numbered bullets as taken from the literature on Pose and guides given with is DVD (see references at end). My comments following are not in bold.

 •    Pose Principle: Raise your ankle straight up under your hip, using the hamstrings

I differ here. The lower leg passively springs forward using quick reflexive knee drive forward maximizing the elasticity from Achilles, plantar fascia, and hip flexors.  The abdominals initiate the lifting of the leg with the hip flexors perpetuating the motion.  The glutes primarily, assisted by the hamstring,  decelerate the swinging lower leg and snap it back to ground when eccentric stretch  kicks in. Hamstring works in harmony with the glutes to get the foot back to ground in terminal swing. Use angular momentum to swing heel up instead of using hamstring contractions.  Hamstring fires briefly at preswing to assist in flexion of the knee and fires again at midswing through full foot loading. Also, heel goes way back in a wide arc due to hip extension. The lower leg doesn’t come “straight up”. At slow speeds there is a much lower heel recoil.

What is described in Pose Method is not observed in elite or natural running. Under Pose there would be no hip extension. I have seen runners doing Pose instruction and with abnormally high ‘butt kick’ well above horizontal even at slow speeds. They are getting nothing from the glutes to generate adequate forward thrust.

Screen shot 2013-07-28 at 11.52.26 PM•    Pose Principle: Keep your support time short

Yes….you should pop off the ground.  But allow full elastic loading and recoil.  Do not cut this too short with an active early “lift off”.  Think of a pogo stick  A strong and active core promotes this.  If you are weak in core or have poor timing of activating these muscles, your center will not support the strong pop off the ground and assist in forward motion of pelvis.

Support time is in part dictated by how much EVA foam in the shoe needs to be decompressed and also how strong the foot muscles are. If the foot cannot control pronation, it will not create a quick and effective take off.  The elastic phases are passive but strong; think of a carbon-fiber spring.

Shorter contact times (as speed increases) are the result of increased hip extension velocity (for example, using more power to the ground from the glutes and hamstrings rather than lifting off.)  The Achilles complex and foot are loaded and unloaded more rapidly with a strong foundation (the foot). Think of throwing a Superball to the ground.  Firm is good; mushy isn’t good. World-class elite runners have been shown to have a higher hip extension velocity, even running at similar speeds as slightly less talented competitors.

Some Pose proponents mention getting faster primarily by cadence increase. This is a “U” curve.  If contact with the ground is too long or too short you compromise elastic recoil.  A cadence above 200 steps per minute will not be more efficient or make you faster than 170-190. You are sacrificing elastic recoil in efforts to increase cadence. The proof is in the cadence of elite marathoners who may approach 190 at top gear but rarely if ever go faster than that.

•    Pose Principle: Your base of support (BOS) is always on the balls of your feet

Midfoot is the ideal settling place. Adequate balance between the tricep surae (gastroc/soleus) and anterior compartment are paramount. A midfoot settling is preferred as it reduces the forefoot variation foot types. A forefoot varus or valgus person may not be safe forefoot striking as imbalances may translate to knee. Let your heels settle to load your foot springs and pop of the ground. In stance you may slightly favor the forefoot but the heel must touch the ground to engage the springs. Some efficient barefooters have a gentle “proprioceptive” heel landing where they roll gently from the heel to load the elasticity.

If the heel does not touch down, the loading phase will be cut short and elastic recoil will be diminished, if not lost. Also this Pose cue might encourage the athlete to stiffen/plantarflex the foot too much ahead of and during contact causing a hard, potentially injurious landing with high loading rates. Stretch and spring is preferable to maintaining stiff, shortened muscles in the lower leg. Medial Tibial Stress Syndrome might follow!

Any discussion of BOS is not complete without discussing neutral posture and static and dynamic posture and how it affects the efficiency of running. Bad posture habits in standing and walking can leak into dysfunctional movement patterns during a run.  The poor posture becomes one’s “default”. How you stand, sit, and walk dictates how you run. A stable and strong spine leads to efficiency at any speed.

One must learn to control unconsciously one’s center of mass (COM) in relation to the base of support (BOS) – the full  foot. Enter proprioception: good static and dynamic posture is one that allows you to be more aware of where your body is in space. Being proprioceptively aware of your body and the relationship between the COM and BOS is essential for your ability to load, unload, and recover properly.

Do you land with the BOS directly under the COM?  You should land slightly in front of your COM for shock absorption and energy storage during the loading phase and maximal force production during the propulsion phase of running. When done correctly you are storing and then releasing energy–like the pogo stick or Superball.

Some great runners may have seemingly awkward form (for example, Paula Radcliff or Emil Zatopek),  but in fact they have excellent dynamic posture to load, unload, and recover correctly allowing for a highly efficient transfer of energy to the ground and back.

What then is considered neutral standing posture and how does this relate to walking and running? Good standing posture is the straight vertical alignment of your body from the top of your head, through your body’s center, down through the middle of your feet. From a side view, good posture is seen as an imaginary vertical line through the ear, shoulder, hip, knee, and ankle. The three natural curves in your back will be maintained. This posture will result in the COM being directly over the BOS allowing your weight to be primarily over the heel when standing but evenly distributed throughout the whole foot in athletic posture of running (ready to spring).

Now for the connection to running. The dynamic posture is essentially the same as one’s static posture, but one now employs a very slight lean forward from the ground (ankle joint), not from the waist. The forward lean shifts the COM forward,  allows shock absorption, and sets up the glutes to be the primary force producers during running. The posture coordination will result in the center of mass (COM) being directly over the foot/base of support (BOS) allowing your weight to be evenly distributed throughout the whole foot and not just the ball of foot.

One caveat to all this is the truly elite runner with an incredibly strong foot and ankle. When racing at high speed, I think some elite runners do favor the ball of foot. but this is not an “always”scenario as the Pose principle suggests.  The new or recreational runner does not have the foot and ankle strength and forcing them into this position might be bad advice.

Screen shot 2013-07-28 at 2.01.41 AM

•    Pose Principle: Do not touch the ground with your heels

I disagree. This may occur in sprinting but not in endurance running.  When making contact with the ground, the lower leg from the knee down should ideally be perpendicular to the ground. This results in the ankle joint being neutral, setting up the calf and Achilles tendon to be loaded for a recoil effect. This effect can be easily understood by taking a rubber band, stretching it, then letting it go. The energy that is created by stretching the rubber band is returned relatively for free; it just needs to be taken advantage of. This is the stretch reflex. At loading, if the heel is off the ground or the foot is taken off the ground too fast, the “free energy” that is given by the calf-Achilles complex (rubber band effect) will be reduced. This will ultimately lead to more work and inefficiency. The calf will try to do the work and act as the hip. This can lead to reduced force production, potential calf strains, Achilles tendinopathies, and dysfunction up the body chain

Making contact primarily in the rearfoot with overstride heel strike pattern allows for significant braking forces, reduced elastic energy storage, and longer ground contact times which can lead to a number of different injuries. Landing on the outside of the foot is ideal for the foot to be loaded effectively. This helps the transfer of weight from the outside of the foot to the big toe. This transfer of weight allows for the foot to passively lock-up, creating a natural rigid lever to push off of in the propulsion phase of running. The leverage is from the big toe.

I think most sprinters also fully load by touching down the heel– possibly most, but I’ve not looked into it enough. Usian Bolt’s ground contact time is 0.08 seconds; a top distance runner 0.12-0.13 seconds.

•    Pose Principle: Avoid shifting weight over your toes: raise your ankle when the weight is on the ball of your foot. Don’t point your toes.

You do dorsiflex and shift weight to the toes on toe off for windlass effect (action of plantar fascia to restore arch and makes it into a rigid lever) and propulsion.  Plantar flexion of the ankle is assisted by dorsiflexion of the hallux, otherwise the windlass effect does not work as well. You must load the big toe for maximum efficiency. Think of hammering with four fingers gripping the hammer without using the thumb (The “hammering” analogy  is from Jay Dicharry’s book “Anatomy for Runners”).  The big toe provides  a majority of stability, leverage, and power.  Though your other toes are small, they are powerful and mighty. Moving weight onto the toes with the forefoot rocker helps engage the posterior compartment.

Note: hallux limitus (limited mobility in big toe joint) will impair the windlass effect and will cause premature calf engagement.  Do not strive for an active toe off, but rather allow your foot to roll forward and spring off. If timed poorly (and it frequently is) it creates premature gastroc/soleus engagement which creates premature heel rise and then the gastroc drives lift instead of propulsion.  This puts too much axial load into the foot and first  MPJ  joint in an untimely manner. This may have been my problem prior to corrective surgery for hallux limitus.

•    Pose Principle: Keep your ankle fixed at the same angle

There is dorsiflexion and plantarflexion; this is the magic elastic effect.  If you disagree watch any high level track race.

•    Pose Principle: Keep knees bent at all times

Yes , I agree. Knees are flexed on landing and  in stance and flexed more in leg recovery to bring lower leg parallel to ground. Amount of knee flexion in recovery is dependent on speed.  Run fast, the heel folds up. Run slow, there’s lower heel recovery.  It’s as if you were holding a hinge from the top and whipping it forward. In skilled runners the knee flexes more during contact/stance, especially during easy running. As the pace increases the spring stiffens and the flexion on contact becomes less. The knee extends pretty far during maximum hip flexion. The good runner increases knee flexion before contact.

•    Pose Principle: Feet remain behind the vertical line going through your knees

Yes this should occur ideally, but the key is landing and loading with balance (land slightly in front of COM, fully load under COM)  and having foot behind hips on recoil/propulsion .  Do not focus so much on this to be free-falling forward and off balance; this is inefficient!  Practice running with a jump rope.

•    Pose Principle: Keep stride length short

I disagree.  Do not overstride in front of you. You want to increase stride length and thigh angle through mobility on hip extension and applied power to the ground.  Stride angle opens up as speed increases, but equally in the front and back; it’s like a pendulum. I’m not sure how one would get faster without covering more ground with each stride.  Cadence can only go up so much before it begins to compromise elasticity. Again just study the elites.  When going fast they cover huge amounts of territory with each “leap.”

Screen shot 2013-07-28 at 1.57.26 AM•    Pose Principle: Keep knees and thighs down, close together, and relaxed

Again watch the elites run.  You need to use knee drive forward, activate the abdominals in swing, and use eccentric stretch of hip flexors as triggers.  This is a bit active at initiation of swing but then passive.  In forward swing thigh angle is often 45 degrees to ground for the faster runner.  Sprinters may be 90 degrees to horizontal.  This increases thigh spread.  Good knee drive enhances eccentric hamstring stretch for better acceleration of foot back into the ground with the glutes. All elite runners bring thighs forward.

•    Pose Principle: Always focus on pulling the foot from the ground, not on landing

I think this creates the flaw of actively lifting your foot.   Instead, focus on driving your foot to the ground down and back from the glutes and some hamstring at terminal swing. (See photo below.)  Your “foot should “pop”  or “push” off the ground and not be “pulled”.  For faster running, the foot is driven down and back into the ground using hip extension and allow push-off to become a powerful “pop”.  Screen shot 2013-07-30 at 2.16.52 AM

It would be more helpful to encourage runners to pursue an active landing (using hips, knees and ankles). Habitual heel-strikers delay this activation by keeping the toes up or foot and ankle dorsiflexed ahead of landing.  Running barefoot enhances active landing.

•    Pose Principle: Do not point or land on the toes (toe running)

I agree! Do not land on toes in a prancing style.

•    Pose Principle: Gravity, not muscle action, controls the landing of the legs

Screen shot 2013-07-30 at 7.26.09 AMYou need active glutes to drive leg down and back into ground to get best pop off the ground.  This shortens stance time and gives more elasticity. See photo to right. Gravity pulls down (equal and opposite is up) – hip extensors (glutes most powerful) need to drive leg down and back (equal and opposite is a forward force vector). Also hamstrings recoil in “preparation” ; they get stretched out in faster running then contract with knee flexion ahead of contact.  With the best runners, even in very easy running there is activity to get foot to ground 

•    Pose Principle: Keep shoulder, hip and ankle in vertical alignment

Yes, this should all happen in midstance.  With faster running there will be a very slight lean to set up the forward force vector. But the foot and ankle will have a wide arc in the gait cycle and not just come straight up. Really strong runners seem to get a massive hip extension and still hold a strong neutral spine in hip extension.  This I think separates the elite from the world class. Have a look at the runners below. If there is a lean there it’s very small.

Screen shot 2013-07-27 at 6.13.27 AM

Photo courtesy of Brian Martin

•    Pose Principle: Arm movement is for balance, not for force production

Elbow drive to the rear complements the hip extension and glute activation. The arms then recoil forward.  I think an active elbow drive back enhances the hip extension.  Kind of like classic style cross country skiing.  Upper arm and opposite hip extend back in harmony. Lats and strong shoulder muscles are the drivers.  Coaching legend Arthur Lydiard said “when I train athletes I try to make their legs go faster, not their arms”.  I think this is 100 percent true at slower speeds. The science was catching up to Lydiard as what he did worked.  Lydiard had his runners do lots of hills and bounding and if you watch the arm action of his runners they were using them even though not actively thinking about it!

Additional Pose Principles from companion book to DVD:

•    Pose Principle: Don’t try to increase  stride length or range of motion to increase speed

I’m not sure how one gets faster than other than picking up cadence to a ridiculously high number and compromising the recoil. Harness the free energy. You need range of motion to increase thigh spread.    You must also create enough power to lengthen stride length. Remember power production ceases when foot leaves ground.  Increased thigh spread is a result, not a cause of, increased stride length. It comes from increased power and range of motion and it has to happen to increase speed.

•    Pose Principle: Don’t try to move your knees and thighs too far apart, forward and backward, during stride

I disagree. You want thigh spread for faster running.  This happens as a result of glutes driving foot to ground and good hip extension (see #15).  For really easy running and warming up there is little thigh spread as minimal power is generated.  Watch the Kenyans warm up.  They still have the springy 180 cadence but strides short.  As they really start running the cadence increases slightly but thighs now open in full flight. Watch this video and see the thigh spread in the easy vs the faster running in the naturally running Kenyans.  Also witness that they do not lift their ankles straight up. Glutes are driving the engine.

•    Pose Principle: Don’t fix on landing, just lifting

I’m sounding redundant here.  Do not focus on lift. To get off the ground you need to apply a force to the ground.  Period.  You need to activate glutes to get foot to ground to enhance elasticity.  Glutes are powerful and move only hip joint.  See photo below from the Principles of Natural Running Video.  Focus on pulling foot down and back before it is weight-bearing using hip extensors.  Hip extensors must generate propulsion, you can’t just “fall forward”.  Think of a tree falling in nature. Which way does it fall?  The way it is leaning.  Does it ever move forward?  No, there is not power on the ground.

•    Pose Principle: Don’t push off or toe off, lift only

You need to apply force to the ground to get off the ground, this is what we see with force plates.  Practice jumping romp to feel the natural bounce which is passive (you are not “lifting” when jumping rope). You cannot run without applying a force to the ground.  It is physically impossible to “lift” when three times your body weight is being loaded onto the ground. Once foot-strike is initiated with a powerful hip extension, the generation of propulsion from hip extension and plantar-flexion are mostly passive, not voluntary contractions.  Efficient runners set it up and allow the energy release instead of  forcing it happen– like an archer with a bow and arrow or a sling shot. Most efficient is releasing energy quickly, the longer you hold it muscles start activating and it gets shaky. Agree an active “toe -off” would encourage runners to spring onto their tippy toes  — and a good way to blow a calf.  We have seen runners overuse the calves as a  way to compensate for no glute strength or hip extension.

•    Pose Principle: Keep body leaning forward and free falling

You do not free fall, this is off balance and uses more energy. Keep balanced at all times as if running with jump rope or skateboarding. For a recovering heel-striker, it may feel like a bit like you are falling forward.  Once learned, it will feel balanced.

Referenced Material
•    SMITH, S. (2005) Pose: a beginner’s guide. Peak Performance, 216, p. 1-4
•    ROMANOV, N. (2002) Pose Method of Running. PoseTech Press
Pose running technique principles in summary
1.    Raise your ankle straight up under your hip, using the hamstrings
2.    Keep your support time short
3.    Your support is always on the balls of your feet
4.    Do not touch the ground with your heels
5.    Avoid shifting weight over your toes: raise your ankle when the weight is on the ball of your foot
6.    Keep your ankle fixed at the same angle
7.    Keep knees bent at all times
8.    Feet remain behind the vertical line going through your knees
9.    Keep stride length short
10.    Keep knees and thighs down, close together, and relaxed
11.    Always focus on pulling the foot from the ground, not on landing
12.    Do not point or land on the toes
13.    Gravity, not muscle action, controls the landing of the legs
14.    Keep shoulder, hip and ankle in vertical alignment
15.    Arm movement is for balance, not for force production



For a simple and clear explanation to what all this is go to “Dr Mark’s Running School” on our Two Rivers Treads site. Don’t overthink it….just get out and feel the spring.