Running Form – learning from robots, kids, and ice

Physics. It’s not just a good idea, it’s the law.

Want to improve your running technique?

I have three suggestions:

  1. Watch robots run
  2. Watch little kids run
  3. Learn to run on ice!

Running Robots

The gang at Boston Dynamics are creating robots that do AMAZING things. For one, check out this one:

Robot built by Boston Dynamics can run and jump
Oh, sure, it’s not going to win any races, but what do you notice about its running form?

Look at where the foot lands in relation to the body.

Is it reaching out in front of the body (“overstriding”)? Nope.

It’s landing, basically, with the foot under the center of mass.

This is the most important thing to emulate.

You may also notice that this robot contacts the ground with its forefoot first. It doesn’t land heel-first. It doesn’t land flat footed.

Research from Harvard’s Dr. Irene Davis suggests that this is the optimal way for humans to land also. Why? Because you’re putting the foot and ankle in the optimal position to give you strength, structure, and shock absorption.

You know who else runs like this?

KIDS!

Especially kids who haven’t spent much (or any) time in shoes.

Take a look at this video. Especially the youngest, littlest kids at the back.


Not every stride is perfect (nor should it be… they are, after all, on a non-flat surface), but you’ll see that they’re landing much like the way the robot does.

Forefoot first. Foot under their center of mass.

And, perhaps more importantly, it looks like they’re having FUN!

I also love when the littlest one stops for a few moments because he’s “done,” then starts again when he’s ready to go.

Running on Ice!

I’m often asked how to run/walk/hike without slipping.

Actually, what I’m asked is “Can you make a shoe or sandal that’s totally slip resistant?”

In short, No.

Like I said at the start of this post: Physics is the law.

There is no material that can prevent slipping under all conditions.

Even the materials that help have limitations and trade-offs. For example, typically, the grippier the sole, the faster it wears out.

But you can prevent slipping almost regardless of the sole’s composition, or even the surface you’re on.

How?

By doing the same thing that robots and little kids do: Land with your foot UNDER your center of mass (or as close as you can get).

One demonstration of this is running on ice.

Check out these two videos:

Efficient Running Technique - RUNNING ON ICE
In the first video, the runner builds to his full speed on carpet, then holds that speed on ice. In the second, the runner is even able to build speed with proper foot placement.

This works because landing with your foot under your body reduces horizontal forces enough to eliminate slipping.

A word about slipping in sandals

Sometimes people will tell me that their sandal doesn’t slip, but their foot slips across the sandal.

This is caused by the same issue — landing with your foot too far away from your body.

In that case, the sandal hits the ground and stops while your foot is continuing to move.

Landing with your foot under your body, like our kids, robots, and ice-runners, will take care of this, too.

 

Let me know what you discover as you become a child-like robot on ice!