The Quest For Perfect Running Technique
On a cool rainy October morning in 1977 I was returning home from the stadium of my Pedagogical University, where I had just completed a lesson in track and field with my students from the faculty of physical education. At the time, the Pedagogical University, located some 600 miles from Moscow in the city of Cheboksary, was a key cog in the Soviet Union’s awesome athletic empire. Many athletes who would go on to score Olympic medals, set world records and lead powerhouse Soviet teams were enrolled at the University and did their daily training on our track and in our workout rooms.
A former student of the University myself, I was now a teacher and Track & Field coach. Yet, despite the many successes of our athletes and the level of prestige enjoyed by the faculty, my mood was in tune with this gloomy day, downcast and somewhat sullen.
After two years of working with my students and doing my own postgraduate studies, I realized I was caught in a paradox. On the one hand, I was now equipped with more facts and knowledge than ever before as I made the transition from competitive athlete to coach and scientist. At the same time, however, I realized that all my university education had not equipped me to teach my students such a seemingly simple exercise as running. The problem wasn’t that I was a bad student or anything like that. On the contrary, I had graduated from my post-graduate studies at the top of the class and was preparing to write my doctorate in the sphere of sports science.
It was a curious dilemma. Taking full advantage of the wonderful professors and the excellent textbooks, I had been exposed to pretty much everything about running that had been accumulated in scientific and educational practice of that time. But the one thing I wanted most – a method of teaching running technique – was simply non-existent in current theory and practice.
What did exist was a body of different and generally contradictory viewpoints on the significance of running technique and the methods of teaching it. One prevailing theory held that running was second nature to humans and should not or could not be taught, since each individual’s running style was preordained, essentially at birth, by his or her physical stature. Another bit of popular wisdom taught that the appropriate running technique differed for sprints, middle distances and marathons and thus required different ways of teaching it in every case.
Regardless of what side of this fence they were on, most qualified coaches and teachers appeared to agree on a certain mindset concerning running. Almost without exception, they believed that running is a simple exercise, and the best runners were those who combined the hardest training with superior genetic makeup. Following this reasoning, they felt there was little necessity to pay much attention to the specifics of running technique, unlike other track and field events like jumping, hurdling or throwing or, for that matter, other movement disciplines like ballet, karate or dancing where technique was considered of paramount importance.
Mastering any of these other endeavors, it was universally agreed, requires extensive involvement of intellectual and psychological efforts structuring fundamental movement, creating mental imagery and perfecting repetitive motions. At the same time, we were expected to believe that running, perhaps the most essentially human movement of all, required no technical training.
So I was puzzled by the realization that basically I didn’t know what running is, from a biomechanical and psychological standpoint. Consequently, I didn’t know either what to teach or how to teach my students. I felt simultaneously powerless and challenged. With nowhere left to turn for answers, I knew I would have to work this out for myself. The question had been ripening in me for a long time, but had never felt so urgent as it did this gray, dreary day.
I had been trying to solve the riddle of what to teach and how to teach for some time. In my quest, I had studied martial arts, dance and ballet. The latter was particularly easy, as I lived in Russia where the art and tradition of ballet were drawn to perfection. I had developed friends among the ballet dancers, and was able to watch both their training sessions and actual concert performances, thus mixing business with pleasure.
My observations of some of the world’s greatest ballerinas left me with a burning question: why, is it that the movements in ballet, dances, and karate are so perfect (Fig. 1.1)? Could it be narrowed only to the number of repetitions of simple exercises? And the answer came on this dull autumn morning as a sudden flash of insight…everything is simple!
Fig. 1.1 The origins of the Pose Method. Teaching technique through poses.
Simplicity itself is the key. Education in ballet, dance, martial arts, etc., is done through poses, or to be more precise, through a countless series of poses. Perfection of movement is achieved through the flow of perfectly rehearsed poses. Everything fell into place for me immediately like pieces of a puzzle. Neuromotor patterns are more easily acquired and ingrained through the space-time fixations of movements of the body, that is, through poses.
Now I was faced with another question. What were these poses in running and how could I isolate the key poses from the infinite number of poses through which the body moves in time and space? What are the criteria for choosing them? I decided to concentrate on poses emphasizing balance, compactness of the body, the readiness of muscles to do the work required to change each pose.
After years of study and observation, I at last felt I was ready to begin my life’s work, to get to the very nature of running, breaking it down into its component poses and develop a system for teaching it to one and all.
Dr. Romanov with the British Triathlon team, 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece
Now I find myself nearly 25 years down the road from that gray October day. Following up on the decision I made, I have devoted my career to understanding one of the most fundamental human activities and developing a technique that will allow anyone to run further, faster and with significantly less stress on the body.
In those 25 years, much has happened in my life. With my wife, Svetlana, and my children, I was able to emigrate from Russia and settle in Miami, Florida. In Florida, I opened up shop as a professional running coach, working with individuals and small groups as I refined my theories of correct running technique.
At the same time, I began to develop relationships with a variety of national governing bodies and running clubs. I have worked on the national coaching committee of USA Triathlon, conducting seminars and clinics with top American triathletes and coaches. I traveled to the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia as a consultant and coach to Great Britain’s triathletes. In 1997, I released my first video*, which continues to be sold to runners and coaches around the world.
Throughout this entire time, I have made it a point to work with runners of all ability levels, from Olympians to octogenarians. To my mind, if there really were a singular correct running technique, it would have to work for everyone, not just the elite world-class runner. In fact, while I have taken great pride in seeing the run splits of my Olympic triathletes drop significantly, I get even more satisfaction from middle age athletes who were ready to quit running due to chronic injuries and now run pain free, with faster times and less effort than they did 20 years ago.
As I have come to have a greater understanding of running, my frustration from 1977 has been transformed. Where I once struggled to come to grips with the underlying nature of running, I am now frustrated when I watch the struggles of people who want to run well, but are handicapped by a lack of knowledge about proper technique.
It is for those people that I have written “The Pose Method of Running.” This book represents 25 years of thought, research, and fieldwork in the human laboratory. It is my greatest hope that it will give anyone who wants to run the freedom better than they ever thought possible. And that, in turn, their health will be better and their lives will be greatly enriched by their embrace of this most human, most elemental sport.
* This video was released in 1997 in a VHS format. It was transferred to a DVD format in 2001. The video is no longer sold in its original format.
Check out newer free educational videos on our YouTube channel POSEtv
Chapter 1. The Quest For Perfect Running Technique. The Pose Method of Running (2002) by Nicholas Romanov, Ph.D. with John Robson.
Copyright © 2002 Pose Method Publishing, Inc
Library of Congress Catalog Number 2004091106
The Pose Method of Running book is now out of print. However, all of its material, as well as lots of additional information and updated graphics, is now available via an online course Pose Method® of Running: A Master Course on Running (2020).