Anatomy of Running Mechanics

running athlete cross country xc grass hills terrain outdoor run runner

Every now and then, I get asked to discuss various topics to participants of The Running Room clinics. I love these nights! The look of “AH-HA” moments make me smile from ear to ear! Finally, I decided to put down into words what I discuss in my Anatomy of Running Mechanics talks. A lot of the information I discuss is in line with Steve Magness’ The Science of Running or what I have learned from various running coaches such as Jennifer de Cocq (a local here in Calgary!). I typically break this talk down into phases of running with a little bit of injury prevention thrown in at the end (I’m an AT! I can’t help it!). For the purpose of this post, however, I’ll be breaking down the movements in the body in each phase of of the run: foot contact, mid-stance, toe off, and swing phase.Screen Shot 2015-03-12 at 3.16.04 PM

Foot contact

When the foot comes down to make contact with the ground, most of the contact should be made on the outside edge of the foot and, depending on speed, either at the mid-foot or forefoot. The majority of contact should not occur on the heel even when running at slow pace. Why? A heavy heel strike causes a braking mechanisms in the body effectively slowing you down while you try to move forward. Not very helpful!

Landing should occur in a neutral position at the ankle. This allows for optimal use of elastic energy that is stored within the Achilles and calf muscles. So how do we use this energy? Allow the foot to load up – allow the foot to fully support the body! As good ol’ Newton explained, every force has an equal and opposite reaction. When the foot is on the ground, force is transferred into the ground and the amount of force transferred into the ground is rebounded back into the foot/ankle/calf. It’s important to know that having a short ground contact time is ideal but it should be due to transferring force faster and not quickly picking up the foot.

Now this may sound contradictory but you will need to allow the heel to make contact. By staying on the forefoot, you will inhibit the stretch-reflex on the Achilles-calf complex. HUH? During foot contact, the Achilles-calf complex goes from a neutral to fully stretched once you are in the mid-stance phase and then becomes fully contracted upon toe off (aka propulsion phase). I love how Steve Magness describes this:

… the complex acts like a spring as it stores energy that comes with ground contact and then releases it when ground contact is broken.

 Is everyone else having flashbacks of high school physics?!?

There are so many components to your run that it can seem entirely overwhelming. BREATHE! Take is one step at a time (pun intended ;)) and allow yourself to master one component at a time.

Happy running!


About Caitlin

Caitlin is the owner of Align Sport Therapy & Yoga. As a Certified Athletic Therapist and Registered Yoga Teacher, Caitlin works with athletes full time on ice, in the clinic, or in a studio, helping to rehabilitate injury or progress strength and flexibility. Always fascinated by the human body, Caitlin was naturally drawn to Athletic Therapy and yoga and constantly works to intertwine both disciplines when working with clients. Her Athletic Therapy work includes sports teams (football, hockey, basketball, rugby, and karate to name a few) as well as general population.

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