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Running Evolution

stew smith 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 super slow motion cameras that can be bought at any local Best Buy, 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 30 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 distance running not short distance sprints.

I started off this article by asking over 100 people – How do they run? What form do they use? Here is what I found from 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 remember my first coach teaching to run with heel – toe contact in the early 80’s when I was in my early teens. In fact, I have taught this method but now realize 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 below. But my heels grazed the ground.

Many runners took that literally as landing on the heel and rolling across the foot and pushing off the toe. Some took the heel toe contact as the heel / toe landing on the ground at the same time. My first coach in running did teach teach two important skills that helped limit running injuries however: they were the Audible Test and limited vertical bouncing while running. I think these are valuable no matter what method you use to run.

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 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

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

So in the 80’s, I experimented with both methods. The one difference the coaches I had in the 80’s taught that the heel strike was not a hard strike on the back of the heel with the toes pointing up, but on the front side of the heel closer to the mid-foot. I have in the past used this heel - toe method in teaching with lack of further explanation and have since explained it differently as more of a mid-foot strike and roll of the foot. I apologize for any confusion. 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.

Here is the difference between the 80’s and today. 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!

There are running forms that people now use as slang. “I’m a POSE runner or I’m a Chi runner, or 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 other than a hard heel strike. Impact on the mid foot or fore foot will at first challenge your calve region of the leg but will soon strengthen you for more distance and load bearing marches.

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)
Here is a good comparison of Pose vs Chi:

Barefoot Running – This is the “latest and greatest” of all the running trends I have seen in the past 25 years. It makes sense to me as I grew up running around barefoot. In fact, about the only time I wore shoes was to school, church, or athletics when I was an elementary school kid.

Evolution Running - Was created by Ken Mierke, a two time World Champion tri-athlete and physiologist. See 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:

Other Great Sources:

Barefoot Running -

Running and Racing Website Link -

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