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Theory & Practice: Muscle Elasticity

What is muscle elasticity? If you were to stretch a muscle you would see it shrink back a bit. In plain words, it’s a natural ability to recover to original form upon the removal of the force initially applied. In physical activity it is the ability of muscles to perform work, specifically, to contract rapidly after and immediately prior to extension.

A human body is a mix of physics, geometry, psychology and all that good stuff, so we should not talk about muscles and their function as separate from the whole. Muscles are a part of our entire system, and as such, whatever functions they perform or whatever is going on, it does not happen on its own. There is a whole chain of processes happening.

What is Muscle Elasticity

So, actually, ‘muscle elasticity’ is an incorrect term to use. Muscles do not work independently, nor do they work under our command. The sooner you let go of what you imagine you control, the sooner you will discover what you do control and consequently you will move better.

In Pose Method all of the key elements that are of any significance or benefit are brought together. Everything is connected. The center of the method, the Pose, is the most ‘ready to go’ pose of the body facilitating optimum elasticity allowing for the most effective interaction with the support where the entire musculoskeletal structure is ‘loaded’ with potential energy.

When we talk about muscle elasticity what we should be discussing is a ‘muscle-tendon complex’. Tendons play a very important and active role in this process, but the muscles run the show, yet let’s not forget that the true master is gravity.

Muscle-tendon Elasticity Complex

The concept of muscle-tendon elasticity complex is a relatively new one and research with the correct goals is much needed. There are, however, already some very certain and obvious facts about muscles and tendons and how they work together making for a unique system. For example, it is a fact that tendons can stretch more than muscles. It is most likely because tendons were meant to stretch and muscles weren’t as much, muscles were meant to contract and relax.

Speaking of tendons, let’s mention the Achilles tendon, the biggest tendon in our entire body, which just happens to be located at the ankle, which is part of the ‘mechanism’ of movement like walking, running. So instead of being concerned with overloading the largest tendon of the body during running (if it is the largest tendon, is it not logical to assume that it was meant to and it can handle the loading during running? It’s not the loading it is how it’s done that causes the problem), why not question the integrity of the idea of loading the joints (knees) that were obviously meant to simply bend, yet it is often recommended to actively use them in some many other ways.

It is a requirement in Pose Method of running to keep knees slightly bent at all times, why? Besides the fact that joints bend and should not be in locked positions when in motion, especially during running, bent knees help to absorb the shock during movement. It is also a part of the ‘rules’ of the muscle-tendon elasticity complex.

How It Works

Muscle-tendon elasticity complex is the natural ability of your musculoskeletal system to ‘return to its original state’. When the limb of your body is moved in any way in any direction for any purpose, muscles and tendons accommodate by elongating or shortening at various key spots. When we move our limbs back to where the movement had started, it is easy to notice how everything goes right back to its shape and form, and place. When we pull the foot up with the hamstring we work with this mechanism.

Muscles and tendons work in unison and in tandem, each one however, with its own timing doing its own job. As should be expected and as mentioned above, muscle-tendon complex has ‘rules’. In order to ‘activate’ the complex and benefit from it, one must adhere to those ‘rules’ otherwise the effectiveness of the complex is dramatically minimized or completely lost. And worst of all – injuries happen. Muscle tears and tendon ruptures are consequences of breaking those rules and performing moves out of synch with gravity.

Muscle-tendon complex, like so many other processes in our body, happens in space and time. It is a rhythmic work of muscles & tendons combined with rhythm of loading. And, it is a biomechanical law that guarantees the magic – with high cadence muscles ‘come to life’, so to say, and work at the highest level of their elastic function. Without much effort on your part your body continues forward movement. Elite athletes, most of whom are naturally highly talented, instinctively run with high cadence. Their perception allows them to naturally sense the ease of movement provided by it.

With age muscle-tendon complex naturally changes, but the decline in elasticity is less for active people than for non-active. So keep moving!

Check out progressions of drills and exercises in our video program for runners aimed at developing your muscles’ elasticity to help you become a better runner.

Read more about muscle-tendon elasticity complex in the Pose Method of Running.

Did you know? The payoff to “elastic” running is that you can maintain a high stride rate without “going anaerobic” and using up your body’s available energy supply of ATP (Adenosine Triphosphate), the fuel of your highest intensity sprints. Elastic running gives you the ability to run faster for greater distances and still keep something in reserve.

References:

  1. Alexander, A.M., 1988, Springs as energy stores: running. Elastic mechanisms in animal movement. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, pp. 31-50.
  2. Cavagna, G.A., Saibene, F.P. and Margaria, R., 1964, Mechanical work in running, J. Appl. Physiol., 19:249-256
  3. Cavagna, G.A., 1977, Storage and utilization of elastic energy in skeletal muscle. Exercise and Sport Science Reviews, 5, 89-129.
  4. Cavagna, P.R., La Fortune M.A., 1980, Ground reaction forces in distance running, J. Biomech, 13:397-406.

About the Author

Dr. Nicholas Romanov is the developer of the Pose Method®. A passionate proponent of higher level of education in athletics, Dr. Romanov dedicated his entire career to sports education, scientific research and coaching. An Olympic Coach and a bestselling author, Dr. Romanov has taught on all continents and visited almost every country in the world.
[ Click here to learn more ]

CONTINUING EDUCATION + LIVE SEMINARS + LOCAL CLASSES

Pose Method® 2-Day Educational Seminar is approved for 16 contact hours towards continuing education for Certified CrossFit Trainers and Physical Therapists. Athletes and parents of school age children are encouraged to attend.

The Pose Method® system is a combination of online learning, live seminars and local classes making it the most effective solution available to health and fitness professionals as well as anyone who enjoys an active lifestyle.

Theory & Practice: Stride Frequency and Muscle-Tendon Elasticity Complex

Stride frequency is one of the most important parameters of running technique. Why is stride frequency so important? Why do we pay so much attention to it?

The frequency of our strides in running is really nothing more than the rate at which we change support from one foot to the next. When we change support, we start free falling and let the force of gravity accelerate us forward. Yes, gravity is a force that, here on Earth, is always directed downwards, but it is not correct to say that gravity acts downwards. It is better to say that on Earth gravity pulls objects towards the centre of the Earth. So no matter where you are on Earth all objects fall to the ground. However, in combination with objects and other forces, in running, gravity is the leading force in movement forward.

Acceleration due to gravity is a constant, but our ability to take full advantage of gravity’s pull is a function of our body’s free fall and our stride cadence. If you fall forward and don’t move your foot to create a new point of support, you will quickly find yourself face first on the ground. Lean very slightly and you can move your foot slowly to prevent hitting the ground. You’re still falling forward – you’re just not falling down. Increase the angle of your fall more and you have to move your feet faster to avoid hitting the ground with your face.

The less we do to counteract gravity, the less is the load we place on joints, ligaments and tendons, which in turn reduces our chance of injury.

The faster we change support, the less we do to interrupt the gravitational pull and the faster we run. Even better, the less we do to counteract gravity, the less is the load we place on joints, ligaments and tendons, which in turn reduces our chance of injury. It really is that simple.

The faster we run the higher is the stride frequency. The fastest 10K runners, for example Haile Gebrselassie or Kenenisa Bekele, in a final lap could run with up to 240 steps per minute, while fastest sprinters like Usain BoltTyson Gay and Wayde Van Niekerk are way in 250-280 range and above.

The magic number

So what is the minimum number or maximum number are we talking about? The answer for maximum is quite obvious – the higher the better. If you can go 200+ more power to you.

The lowest number recommended, however, is 180 and the idea behind it comes from research conducted back in the 60s. Such or higher level of frequency allows to use the elastic property of our muscles which doesn’t ‘activate’ until you reach it. It was shown by same scientific research that usage of elastic properties of muscles reduces oxygen consumption around 20% and increases efficiency up to 50%.

Interestingly, Jack Daniels, the respected American coach, noted in his book that there is data from his many years of practical observation that indicates elite runners tend to run with a stride frequency of not less than 180 strides per minute.

Additionally, a recently conducted research concluded “increases in step rate can substantially reduce the loading to the hip and knee joints during running and may prove beneficial in the prevention and treatment of common running-related injuries.”

Learn and practice it

So the benefits are right there, but how do we learn it? First we need to understand and learn to perform stride frequency as a part of running and that it serves the process of falling forward. We couldn’t move forward if we were to just pull the foot from the ground, we need to lean forward first. So lean first, pull the foot from the ground second.

Then we need to learn to pull the feet from the ground, and concentrate the efforts on feet only, not the legs, just feet. And learn to use hamstrings.

You can find a whole list of exercise for that in the Pose Running book and the video series. You can use downhill running with slight inclination. Run with the partner’s slight push on your back with his/her hand or pull with the elastic bands.

It is very helpful to use a metronome-like device to help you maintain the appropriate pace. And as you progress you can move the speed up to continue your development process.

Strength training

This is the topic where the importance of strength training for runners becomes apparent again. While it is true that running itself does develop some of the strength necessary, to fully take advantage of what’s already on offer by nature, a bit of effort is required on our part to bring it all together. Specialized strength training doesn’t take much but will give plenty in return.

It is important to remember, however, that high stride frequency does not demand a huge muscular effort. On the contrary, you should avoid unnecessary effort and tension. Improved strength of your muscle systems will allow you to quicken your movements and reduce the amount of time you actually spend on support, the faster you pick your foot off the ground, the faster you will run.

Read about stride frequency in greater detail in “The Pose Method of Running”.

References:

  1. Effects of step rate manipulation on joint mechanics during running. Bryan C Heiderscheit, Elizabeth S Chumanov, Max P Michalski, Christa M Wille, Michael B Ryan; Medicine and science in sports and exercise 02/2011; 43(2):296-302
  2. Alexander, A.M., 1988, Springs as energy stores: running. Elastic mechanisms in animal movement. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, pp. 31-50.
  3. Cavagna, G.A., Saibene, F.P. and Margaria, R., 1964, Mechanical work in running, J. Appl. Physiol., 19:249-256
  4. Cavagna, G.A., 1977, Storage and utilization of elastic energy in skeletal muscle. Exercise and Sport Science Reviews, 5, 89-129.
  5. Cavagna, P.R., La Fortune M.A., 1980, Ground reaction forces in distance running, J. Biomech, 13:397-406.

About the Author

Dr. Nicholas Romanov is the developer of the Pose Method®. A passionate proponent of higher level of education in athletics, Dr. Romanov dedicated his entire career to sports education, scientific research and coaching. An Olympic Coach and a bestselling author, Dr. Romanov has taught on all continents and visited almost every country in the world.
[ Click here to learn more ]

CONTINUING EDUCATION + LIVE SEMINARS + LOCAL CLASSES

Pose Method® 2-Day Educational Seminar is approved for 16 contact hours towards continuing education for Certified CrossFit Trainers and Physical Therapists. Athletes and parents of school age children are encouraged to attend.

The Pose Method® system is a combination of online learning, live seminars and local classes making it the most effective solution available to health and fitness professionals as well as anyone who enjoys an active lifestyle.