This last weekend, I had the opportunity to hold a running clinic with Dr. Mark Cucuzzella at his minimalist running store in Shephardstown, WV. We covered a ton of useful information, most of which is included in Mark’s video he did for Running Times.
When we were discussing running form, Mark describes the legs as springs. The tendons and ligaments of the feet and legs store energy as the foot hits the ground. This energy is released as the foot leaves the ground. It’s a little more complicated, but that’s the gist of it.
He had the clinic participants run in place to feel this phenomenon. If their cadence, or number of steps per minute, were too slow, they lost the “springiness” and it took more work to run in place. If their cadence was too high, the feet weren’t on the ground long enough to properly load the springs. Again, it took more work.
The point- teach the participants what the ideal cadence feels like based on “feeling the spring.”
When we actually started running, Mark encouraged the participants to use that “feel the spring” feedback to figure out how fast their cadence should be.
And I had a grand epiphany.
This is the missing link to my own teaching methods. Over the years, I’ve simplified my own methodology. As of right now, Merrell’s Bareform method, the methodology I use, consists of three steps:
A) Teach “Athletic posture”,
B) Teach a balanced foot landing (both foot placement relative to the body and foot strike),
C) Teach cadence, or the ideal number of steps you take per minute.
The methodology works well. It taught the fundamentals without giving our students too much to think about. It put them on a path toward more efficient form. The problem has always been describing what the ideal cadence should feel like.
Some like to teach 180 steps per minute as an absolute, but that idea is stupid. It’s not supported by anecdotal or empirical evidence. Cadence clearly varies among individuals based on a litany of factors… which makes it difficult to teach.
Until Mark planted the “feel the spring” idea.
The running in place drill was great in that it perfectly demonstrated how the ideal cadence feels. Equally important- it demonstrated how a too fast or too slow cadence feels.
If a runner can feel that springiness when running in place, they can identify the cadence and stride length where the same phenomenon happens when moving forward. The great thing about “feel the spring” is it can be utilized at any pace, with or without footwear, and on roads or trails.It can be practiced by running in pace, jumping rope, jumping in place, or running. If you make common newbie mistakes, you won’t feel the spring. For example:
- If you overstride, you don’t load the springs.
- If you run on your toes, you don’t load the springs.
- If you unnecessarily lift your feet (like in my last rant), you don’t keep your feet on the ground long enough and allow the spring to unload.
This is the proprioceptive/tactile cue I’ve been looking for.
What do you think? Can you feel your spring? Give it a try and report back.