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Find Your Running Style: Are You a Pusher, a Hopper, or Do You Run like a Stick?

Updated: Apr 14, 2022

(Oh, and how your cadence and stride length basically determine all of this...)

Have you ever struggled to describe how your form felt off on a run?

Or what even felt off about it?

Or have you ever noticed how you and your running partner can have the exact same stride length and cadence, but still look totally different?

Or have you tried adjusting your form to run like somebody else and then realized just how weird and unnatural it felt?

You're definitely not the only one.


Despite all the research out there, runners are still confused and still struggling to describe what exactly is going on with their running form.




The solution may be here. The question is…

Are we ready to change?

Are we ready to look at running differently?

Are we ready to learn a new way of talking and describing running, even if it is based on the research?

That's what I found in this week's heavy-duty research review article. It's a fascinating approach (although definitely over my head at points).

What Oeveren and his team set out to accomplish is NEW.

Even GROUNDBREAKING.

They took the objective data collected from running research performed over the years that we know is imperative to running and they added a qualitative aspect to it.

In other words, they took the numbers that matter most in running, found out which ones REALLY matter.

And then, described them.

But in ways that make sense to runners, not just scientists.


They decided to create a new running-form vocabulary.

Here's a sneak peak of their work.

This part they're talking about the numbers:

"We submit that the full spectrum of running styles can be described by only two parameters, namely the step frequency [cadence] and the duty factor [the ratio of stance time and stride time] as assessed at a given speed. "

This part they're talking about the new running form/biomechanics vocabulary:


"This framework allows categorisation of distinctive running styles (coined ‘Stick’, ‘Bounce’, ‘Push’, ‘Hop’, and ‘Sit’) and provides a practical overview to guide future measurement and interpretation of running biomechanics."

I LOVE the normalcy of 'Stick'. 'Bounce'. 'Hop'. How these words are easy to understand and convey compared to stride frequency, step angle, vertical displacement, etc.

But why the change? Why do we even a new vocabulary in the first place?

What O. and his team found was a tendency to describe running styles based on a single parameter. (Think: heel strike, but without context or "low cadence" again without context.)

The reason this is a problem:


"Without considering the interdependencies and redundancies between parameters, false claims and misleading interpretations are readily made.

The analysis of isolated parameters may explain…why the literature on the relationship between running technique and injury risk suffers from considerable inconsistencies."

Yeeeaaaa.

Soooo to sum that quote up: collecting data on your run is amazing! And extremely helpful when adjusting your training or planning out a new mesocycle. However, isolating one thing and trying to improve one thing only without respect for the other data points, is gonna be a hot mess.

Take this quote:


"Feedback from commercial applications (aka running watches) is predominately based on isolated parameters" and "running styles cannot be described based on a single parameter".

This is where the New Vocabulary comes in.

It provides a new language, a new framework, that already has the multiple parameters worked into it. They've done the hard work for you of identifying if you run "this" way, you most likely have a cadence like "x" and a stride length like "Y".

Why does this matter?


Because it can help normalize how you run. It can help put your mind at rest if your spinning around and around with cadence and stride length numbers and you can't figure out why you run the way you run when the numbers aren't adding up….!!

Deep Breath.

This new vocabulary puts it together for you. It describes the result of the data you've been collecting with your GPS watch. It helps you give it a name.

To sum it up, this new Vocabulary and Framework help:

  1. Define a running style as a visually distinguishable movement pattern of a runner

  2. Already does the work of taking into consideration all the data:

    • "the frequency of movement, vertical displacement during the stance and flight phase, and the landing/take-off asymmetry" and the fact that "these characteristics can be predicted from commonly used spatiotemporal parameters, including [cadence], [stride length], stance time, flight time, and vertical displacement. "

    • In other words:

      • They've boiled down the most important numbers in running.

      • Which is this:

        • running is characterized by how many steps we take, how much ground we cover, how much time we spend standing on one leg, how much time we spend in the air NOT touching the ground, and how much we might bob up and down while running.

So let's hop into that new running language, shall we?

Here's a little diagram from the research article itself to help guide our explanation (I personally love it because of the google-y eyes).

Top to Bottom

BOUNCE:

"Characterised by a short [stance time] and a relatively long flight time" due to "reusing elastically stored energy" which results in "lots of vertical displacement"

If you have a "bounce" type running style this means, your feet don't stay on the ground for a long time. You're in the air for longer periods of time and you tend to bob up and down noticeably.

STICK:

"Characterised by a long [stance time] with a short [flight time]" and is "associated (with) low [vertical displacement] (which) can be beneficial at low running speeds, or in conditions in which high vertical peak forces are unbeneficial (such as while running with a heavy bag or in loose sand)"...With increasing speed, [flight time] increases relative to [stance time], but plateaus around ~20 km/h."

If you have a "stick" type of running style this means you spend more time on your feet, not as much time in the air. You also tend to NOT bob up and down as much. What the authors are implying here is that this type of running style is fairly common and even beneficial when you're running very slowly or through challenging terrain (running on sand). They're also saying, as you pick up the pace, running with a Stick type running style will eventual cause you to tap out and you will transition into a different running style in order to be efficient (and just run faster).

Left to Right

HOP:

"The Hop has a relatively high [cadence], with a low to medium [duty factor] (the ratio of stance time and stride time). This combination suggests that the runner generates relatively limited forward propulsion during the stance phase. The resultant propulsion force is directed too vertical. As a result, the push-off angle is not optimal, resulting for a given speed in a non-maximal [flight phase]. This phenomenon can have multiple causes, among which insufficient leg extension, too upright trunk orientation, or insufficient leg swing velocity."

If you have a "hop" type of running style, this means you have a high cadence, you're not spending too much time on the ground but you may not be running as efficiently as you could be even though all the numbers say you're golden. The main takeaway I can glean from this article is you might be a little too vertical or upright. There's a small amount of leaning forward that occurs in your trunk while running which allows you to "fall into gravity", especially since running is basically…just catching yourself over and over again on one leg.

PUSH:

"The Push involves large steps, and a [duty factor] that is medium to large. The large [duty factor] occurs at the expense of a long [stance time]. The [flight time] is shorter than maximally possible, since the propulsion force is oriented more horizontally or lower. The long [stance time] may be the result of a movement strategy that includes prolonged [propulsion during stance phase] to prevent peak force generation."

If you have a "push" running style, this is where your stride may be a tad larger than it needs to be. What's happening as you take these large, long steps is you're spending more time on the ground than you need to. You want more air time! You're trying to create the power for you next step with your foot that's on the ground rather than enjoying the free-fall from gravity into your next stride. Take a load off; shorten that step a little, lean forward, and let gravity do the work.

SIT:

This running style in the centre of the model (has an) "intermediate [duty factor] and [cadence]. This running style is likely to be characterised by a relatively large knee-flexion at initial contact...Due to the expected ‘sitting posture’ this running style is coined ‘Sit’."

If you have a "sitting" running style, it sounds as if your cadence and stride length literally sit between the 2 extremes of pushing and hopping. From the author's description, is sounds like both your cadence and stride length are OK. (I'm not gonna lie…this one feels more vague.)

But to wrap up this new language, I want to tie together everything with this last point the authors make.

It's this:

"Note that three visually distinctive running styles (Bounce, Sit and Stick) are possible with similar cadences. The range of styles with corresponding cadence may explain why some previous studies might not have found significant differences in cadences between runners despite considerable variation in performance levels."

This last quote is GOLD.

They're essentially stating, your cadence could be the same as your running buddy's.

And yet, you two can look entirely different while running AND perform differently!

It's NOT all about your cadence.


The authors are calling attention to the fact that running is BIG PICTURE. And when you change on small picture thing about your running, it WILL impact the bigger picture. And that's normal!


That's ok.


It’s a reminder to zoom out, look at all the running data you've collected as a whole, and don't get too bogged down over specific numbers. Because we're all runners; but our bodies are still all very unique.

The End point: you can run differently, but still be running correctly.

This study is suggests there is no "one" way to run.


It recognizes the factors that influence forward propulsion and body mechanics. It's saying that the aspects that have the biggest impact on your running style are cadence, duty factor (the ratio of stance time and stride time), and stride length. (Just a side note, don't get caught up with duty factor; I just want you to know it exists.)

If all of these fall within healthy ranges for YOU, you're probably doing ok.


And with time, you'll still see individual variations within your running form.


And that's ok.

That's normal.

That's what this new running language is all about: exploring the variety of running styles and being able to put a name to it.

So running fit fam, how do you feel about all that?

Too much and overwhelming or illuminating and validating? I want to hear from you in the comments below and answer your questions too.


Because around here, no question is stupid because we Dare to Train Differently.


Until next time,


Dr. Marie Whitt // @dr.whitt.fit

P.S Super confused about cadence and stride length and all these crazy words? No worries! Check out these past blog posts. I promise everything (ok, well almost everything) will make more sense.


P.P.S. Read all those and wondering "well, what's next though??" Then you're ready for the deep dive into my Running Form 101 Workshop where we clarify everything about cadence, stride length, running form, and restore your return-to-run-confidence after injury. Nothing is slowing you down after this workshop. ;)


 

Resources:

Van Oeveren, B., de Ruiter, C., Beek, P., & van Dieën, J. (2021). The biomechanics of running and running styles: a synthesis. Sports Biomechanics, 1-39. doi: 10.1080/14763141.2021.1873411

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