Running and the Science of Biomechanics

Functional Movement

Conventional training for efficient running performance focuses on isolated joints and muscles and this approach is not based on the scientific principles of functional anatomy and the science human movement.

My study of functional anatomy and kinesiology revealed that a proper running movement cannot be achieved by training body parts such as legs, knees or ankles. Also, it is not widely understood that body movements are not accomplished by single commands to move joints and muscles during the running stride.

One of the main principles of functional anatomy is that movements are produced by combined action of interconnected joints and muscles. Therefore, muscle groups must together in a coordinated fashion which can be referred to as a functional or kinetic chain movement. For instance, your ankles, knees, hip joints and pelvic girdle, and calves, hamstrings, quadriceps and gluteal muscles are responsible to provide movements for different phases of a running stride.

Most training programs do not take into consideration that muscles, joints and bones form the links to comprise a functional chain movement and they must move together in a coordinated manner. If one of these links is not working properly, the entire functional chain is faltered and it can lead to a high impact throughout the body, and contribute to injury.

There’s no lack of advice and coaching recommendations how to improve the efficiency of running and walking. Also, many research studies explore different aspects of running and walking related to gait analysis, kinetic chain of running including a role the hip joint, pelvis and the foot and ankle play in the running stride cycle.

However, the research related to the reasons that running causes a high impact on the human body and suggestions how to reduce the body impact from running has been very limited.

Conventional training methods for an efficient running stride focus mostly on improving of isolated body parts such as legs, knees or ankles. The simple action of moving a leg forward as a part of the running stride will be performed as a functional chain by engaging interconnected joints and muscles. 

The brain must be programmed to move a functional chain movement and to issue a series of commands to activate muscles responsible for moving pelvic girdle, hip joint, knee joint and ankle joint in a coordinated manner.

As a result, efficient running movement cannot be achieved without a proper understanding of functional anatomy and interconnection between joints and muscles related to running stride. For instance, during a running stride cycle, quadruple flexion and extension of ankle joint, knee joint, hip joint, and pelvis must occur in a synchronized fashion.

If one of these links is not working properly, the entire functional chain is compromised and it can lead to a high impact throughout the body and contribute to injury.

Weight Shift and the Center of Body Mass

When I started my research about running, I wanted to find an answer does why running bring such a high impact throughout the body? To this date, I couldn’t find any research and analysis to address this issue and provide scientifically sound answers. When I was running in a conventional way I felt that my legs are under constant pressure of the body weight.

Movement can be described as changing positions with proper weight shift. It is not widely understood that it is necessary to shift the center of body weight as opposed to moving the entire body. In a vertical position, the center of body weight is located in the pelvis region below the navel. Shifting the center of body weight is associated with the ability to use pelvis and hip joints along with gluteal and abdominal muscles as primary movers.

My study of functional anatomy made an unexpected discovery that human body is anatomically built to shift the center of body weight. Therefore, the goal is to identify the links of the functional movement for running and how they function with each other as opposed to using your “own science” how to move the body.

Also, a lack knowledge of functional movement efficiency will reduce significantly the ability to move properly in any sport, physical activity and daily life.

This means that attributing the loss of movement to aging exclusively is a misconception. In addition, if the movement does not include pelvis, hip joints, and gluteal muscles it will cause significant dysfunction throughout the body. It goes without saying that we need to learn how to walk before starting to run.

Running is an advanced form of functional movement and demands properly coordinated actions of the multiple joints and muscles at a higher speed. If the walking gait is not efficient, jogging and running will put a multitude of tears and strains on the entire body.

Training Approach

In order to provide a proper transition from walking to running I recommend to divide training into three phases: 1) speed and race walking, 2) jogging and 3) running. When you become efficient in speed and race walking, you can start transitioning to jogging and running. Also, you don’t have to run or jog because efficient race walking can produce a sufficient vigorous intensity and build aerobic stamina.

Applying the scientific principles of functional anatomy, the running and walking stride should include the three basic components: 1) single-side balance, 2) forward/back lunge and 3) split squat. These movement figures need to be performed in a particular sequence with a neuromuscular precision and the training should start with practicing the single-side balance.

If you can keep when one-side of the body in airborne position by shifting the center of body weight and hold the entire opposite side (from the neck to the feet) airborne without excessive tension.

Once you learn how to keep a half-body or one-side of the body balanced you can move to working on the forward/back lunge and split squat. If you cannot hold the one-side of the body balanced in the airborne position it will prevent you from executing properly the forward/back lunge and split squat.

Multiplanar Movement

Human movements are related to the plane in which the body pass through. In this regard, the body is divided into imaginary sections that represent anatomical planes of motions and it is designed to produce movements in three dimensions or 3 planes of motions.

Research has shown that the length of running stride is related to height, cadence and speed. However, I was unable to find a research study to establish a correlation between the length of the running stride and multiplanar body movement.

The human body is anatomically designed to move in 3 planes of motion during every running stride and movements pass through each plane when the body transitions from one movement to another. If the movements between the planes are compromised it will put undue stress through the entire body and reduce the length of the stride and speed.

A typical runner intuitively moves forward and runs in sagittal plane. When a runner does not move through the frontal and transverse planes the running stride length is significantly reduced. Also, the weight transfer cannot be accomplished properly if running occurs in one plane of motion and it leads to a speed reduction and a high impact to the entire body.

Runner’s Body Weight, Speed and Impact

The body is subject to a force about to 2.5 times your body-weight with each running step and takes approximately 1900 steps to run a mile. To date, I have not found any scientific research related to the relationship of the body weight and its impact during running.

When I began my research, I was thinking if I can figure out how to shift the body weight efficiently and avoid fighting gravity it would reduce the impact on the body to make running naturally faster. It turned out to be a milestone assumption and led me to into the area of functional movement and I found out this issue has not been explored yet.

My analysis established that if the center of body weight is not shifted properly it reduces the running efficiency considerably and increases the body impact. Web MD reported that a study of about 75,000 runners published in June 2013 found that, contrary to popular belief, running does not increase the risk of developing osteoarthritis.

Another study published in September 2013 showed no significant difference between walking and running impact because a runners’ feet touch the ground less frequently and for a shorter period of time.

Knee injuries affect a high percentage of runners and improved functional movement efficiency can remedy this problem. The knee is not designed to withstand and absorb a significant impact from running.

If the knee is aligned with the ankle joint, hip joint and pelvic girdle and the body moves in three planes of motion with a proper shift of the center of body weight it will remove undue stress from the knee.

It should be noted that a key aspect of reducing the body impact is to understand the shift distinction between the body weight and the center of the body weight. This aspect is a major factor of efficient functional movement and if you train to shift the center of body weight it will relieve the impact from running throughout the entire body including the knees, hip joints, low-back, ankles and other body parts.