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Learning HOW to Run: Evolution of Running

stew smith running

Learning HOW to Run.  The Evolution of Running

When remembering all the different coaches (distance and speed) I had during my life as well as some of the forms and styles I picked up along the way on my fitness journey, I realize that we have come a long way in the way we teach running today. Now with slow motion cameras on your phone, we can dissect a stride, arm swing, and foot strike with more accuracy than we could in the 1980’s. What this article will discuss and show in video the many different styles out there and let the reader decide what works best for them.

One thing I have learned in more than 35 years of running is that different body types, load bearing situations, and ground conditions create the need to learn different running styles. For the purposes of this article, the focus is on timed run and distance running not short distance sprints or agilities.

Before I wrote this article I asked over 100 people:

How do they run? What form do they use?

Here is what I found from an informal poll of avid runners who use running as entertainment / fitness conditioning. Many even race 10km and marathon distances.

63% - Did not know what form they ran – they just ran.
22% - Used POSE Method
10% - Used Chi Method
5% - Used Barefoot Running or minimalist shoes

The funny thing is that everyone swore by their method. Even the 63% stated that this is how they naturally run. Using the styles of above, we will break them down and discuss the differences and similarities of each.

Heel – Toe Contact:
What does this mean?

I do not think anyone teaches this method anymore and for good reason.  I remember my first coach teaching to run by "just run" he mentioned heel – toe contact in the early 80’s when I was in my early teens. In fact, I have used this term in training as well, but also realized that I was never running on my heels – it just looked like it to the naked eye. The actual impact point was more mid-foot and directly under me as in the videos of world class runners. But my heels grazed and rolled forward vs a hard impact of the ground. The last thing you want to do is hit hard on the heels - in fact, do not even say heel striker or heel contact unless you are correcting someone you is over-striding. 

Some beginner runners open their stride / flexed their ankles and hit hard on the heel (heel striker) as opposed to rolling past the heel and across the foot (mid foot impact) and pushing off the toe. So, there is some confusion to teaching running especially to young beginning runners. However, my first coach in running did teach teach two important skills that helped limit running injuries. These were the Audible Test and limited vertical bouncing while running. I think these are valuable no matter what method you use to run. The limited vertical bouncing when rucking is also helpful with reducing impact injuries as well. 

Audible Test - The one thing I still use from my coach from the 80’s is the Audible Test – IF you can hear your foot slapping the floor on impact you likely are running wrong if jogging. It could be because of over-striding, lack of ankle mobility, heel strike – foot slap, or calve and shin muscles overworking and unable to extend / flex the foot during the foot contact.

Limited Bounce – If you notice some of the best runners in the world, they have very little bounce from the waist up. In the military, we call this marching from the waist down to prevent head bobs when marching. This is just applied to running. See Kenyan Runners running a Marathon (analysis) video.

- The narrator breaks down some of the world’s best runners. Notice foot strike, hip rotation, leg extensions, body position, and arm swings.

I experimented with both methods over the years.  I have in the past used this heel - toe method, but it most more of the mid foot actually taking the impact of body weight / not the heel once reviewed in slow motion. Learning to run requires a keen eye and slow motion really helps. We know that hard heel strikes are a result of over-striding and can lead to many foot, knee, and shin injuries. Also the heel strike in front of the body can limit your momentum and slow you down significantly. You are basically running with the brakes on when you heel strike. 

In the video, the human eye would see a heel contact with foot roll where as the super slow motion sees differently from this marathon winner’s stride. The heel may touch first, BUT it is not the point of impact, the mid-point actually is taking the impact of running when the foot is directly under the runner. Looking at this pro-runner running form, he is mainly using the mid-foot landing at greatest impact. The mid-foot strike means that the heel and the toes touch the ground at the same time at full weight impact. There is a roll of the entire foot and with a slightly bent knee, the foot will hit the ground under the center of gravity for apparently a world class running posture.

Different Running Forms

The goal of this section is not to be critical of any form. In fact, many people prefer their methods and I tell them. ”You cannot argue with results.” So, if one of these is your form and it works for you and makes you a faster / injury free runner, then keep it up. The other forms may or may not work for you but may work for others, but the discussion is meant to look at the differences and similarities of what people swear by is the ONLY way to run. As you will see below there are MANY ways to run – which one works best for you!  I will be honest, every time I tried to "fix" my running and try something new, I would in some way injure myself with an aggravating tendonitis injury (shins, foot, knee, even hips). 

There are running forms that people now use as slang. “I’m a POSE runner or I’m a Chi runner, or Natural Barefoot or Evolution runner. What does this mean? Here are some of the similarities and differences between the forms.

POSE Running - Dr. Romanov, two time Olympic Running coach for the former USSR, teaches methods of certain body positions, or poses, to assist the runner with the mechanics of running.

Here is a video on showing the Pose Method taught with before and after shots of a heel striker. 

Clinical study discusses efficiency of POSE method. 

Physiological differences may be minimal but you need to test it out to see if it saves you from any nagging injuries. One physiologist I spoke with who works for a government agency stated many injuries are caused by weak posterior tibialis muscles that are quickly developed once you run barefoot or use a foot strike. Impact on the mid foot or fore foot will at first challenge your Achilles / calve region of the leg but will soon strengthen you for more distance and load bearing marches. As with any running - progress logically. 

Chi Running – Chi Running was created by Danny Dreyer, an American Ultra-marathon runner and T’ai Chi practitioner. This video may help you further understand, but on a basic level Chi is very similar to POSE running with added Chi components.

See video: One of the best explanations of CHI running I have seen. Also see to learn the basics of this running style. Basically, you learn to lean while running and have more internal awareness of HOW you are running. The mix of T'ai Chi may or may not be your thing but it never hurts to learn internal focus / awareness and listen to your body when you are creating pain for yourself.

The POSE / CHI methods are similar with the use of the forward lean but there are some differences:
- Foot landing (full-foot or mid-foot vs. fore-foot)
- Calf/lower leg usage (disengaged vs. active)
- Leg motion (knees low vs. knees lifted via heel 'pull' and use of hamstring momentum)
- Cadence (constant vs. variable)
- Emphasis on a level pelvis (Chi)
- Pelvic rotation (Chi)
- Emphasis on arm swing (Chi)

Video: Here is a good comparison of Pose vs Chi

Barefoot Running – This grew in popularity in the late 90s and early 2000s. It makes sense to me as I grew up running around barefoot as a kid. In fact, about the only time I wore shoes was to school, church, or athletics when I was an elementary school kid. Check out the video explanation as you will definitely want to learn this method properly if you select it.  Personally, I will only do this on grass, dirt, sand, or turf, but many natural runners have toughened their feet to handle pavement. 

Evolution Running - Was created by Ken Mierke, a two time World Champion tri-athlete and physiologist. See the Evolution Running website for more information on his style which you will find is very similar to POSE and Chi. You could say it is a combination of both styles.

This running style focuses more on turnover rate versus stride length and limits the amount of time the runner's feet are on the ground absorbing impact. Create short kick leg movements while remaining relaxed sums up the Evolution Running style. See more on the style.

Some of My Own Experience with Running,
Rucking in Spec Ops Prep and Many Years Later

In Closing - Eventually, running became a love - hate relationship. Basically, I still love to hate it, but after learning to run faster, longer, and better over the years, it is not as bad as it was 30-35 yrs ago. I actually can tolerate it now as it is a great way to burn calories as long as I do not get too heavy.  The heavier I am the more painful running will always be. 

Running Plans - All books and ebooks will contain some form of progressive running plan and some with rucking depending on your goals.  But here are some links to running:

Special Ops Running / Rucking Plan (advanced)

1.5-2 mile Running Plan (PDF free) (steeper progression - intermediate /advanced)

3 mile running plan (PDF free) - Advanced

Beginner Running Plan (article / free) - Easy / every other day progression

Running Plan for TO and THROUGH Training

Running Distance vs Timed Run Pace

See programs for running, calisthenics and other specifics to the PT test and follow on training you need to prepare: 

Military Programming

and many more...

Police and Fire Fighter Programming

and many more...


Which Program is Right For Me - Special Ops Candidates - Get on a Program 


Navy SEAL Workout Phase 1 Beginner Weeks 1-9 
Navy SEAL Workout Phase 2 - 3 - Intermediate Weeks 1-12
Navy SEAL Workout Phase 4 Grinder PT - Four weeks before Hell Week

Navy SEAL Weight Training Book
Complete Guide to Navy SEAL Fitness Book

The Pipeline of Training Options: 


It depends:  The Complete Guide to Navy SEAL Fitness is a classic and focuses on high rep calisthenics and running and swimming base.  You will build up your running over 12-18 weeks to 20 miles but very fast paced focus on both the 1.5 mile run for the PST and the 4 mile timed run for weekly run test at BUDS. If you are an athlete with a strong power / strength background in lifting and not running or swimming, Navy SEAL Fitness is ideal for you. IF you need some place to start Navy SEAL Fitness is ideal for you as well because a calisthenics base / running / swimming progression is a good place to build a foundation.  Though you will likely need to spend some time in the Navy SEAL Weight Training Book OR if Navy SEAL FItness is too challenging, go with Navy SEAL SWCC, EOD, Diver, PST Phase 1 Workout.  Phase 1 is a good starting point if Navy SEAL Fitness program is too tough. 

Navy SEAL / SWCC, EOD, Diver Program Series - Phase 1 is what I call a beginner guide, but it is still challenging.  It is geared toward those who are scoring minimally or failing their Navy PST test - 500yd swim, pushups, situps, pullups, 1.5 mile run.  It is easier than The Complete Guide to Navy SEAL Fitness and a good prep course before attempting it. 

Phase 2 and 3 of the Navy SEAL / SWCC, EOD, Diver program is about the same level of intensity as Navy SEAL Fitness and is also a good follow-up plan after Phase 1

Phase 4 ot the Navy SEAL Key to Mental Toughness is by far my toughest workout ever created.  It resembles a day of BUDS, complete with "wet and sandy", runs after eating, high rep punishment push-ups, 4 mile timed runs, 2 mile swims with fins, log PT simulation, and even a HellWeek Simulator with 3 workouts a day.  

Other EBOOKS (Military, Police, Fire Fighter, Special Ops, General Fitness– Most of my programs tend to focus on getting TO and THROUGH a specific tactical training program.  So you may see a mix of all the seasons in some of these books, but if you are training long term, you can take advantage of Seasonal Periodization and save yourself some of the over-use, long term pains that tend to follow many of the tactical preparations - especially on the spec ops level of training. 

Start training today with workouts that focus on the specifics of getting to and through tactical profession training from firefighter, police, swat, military to special ops. We have programs to help you get TO and THROUGH training. We also have training programs to help you with training as you age in these professions (Tactical Fitness 40+ series).


Tactical Fitness Series - Tactical Fitness, Tactical Strength, and Tactical Mobility is an ALL-encompassing program that focuses on lifting, calisthenics, run, ruck, swim, speed, agility, and flexibility / mobility. Many people focusing on USMC (OCS, RECON, MarSOC) Army Ranger / SF, Air Force Special Warfare, SWAT / Federal Law Enforcement, and Navy Special Warfare have done very well focusing on the Tactical Fitness Series and developing themselves into an all-round Tactical Athlete

The Warrior Workout Series - If you are solid with making your own workouts, but need some ideas.  This three part series has 300 workouts (100 / book) to pick from focusing on all the elements of fitness and training programs. Each book is organized with periodization cycles in mind along with calisthenics only, weights / calisthenics mix, cardio options and more. Warrior Workout 1   -  Warrior Workout 2  -   Warrior Workout 3. 

Personalized Training Programs
There are many more options as well as 
personalized training programs member's only program and the new : 

Try Our Stew Smith Fitness Members Only Club - #1 Best Selling Tactical Fitness Programs

Questions?  Just email me at

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