What Bill James and “Moneyball” is to baseball, Dr. Nicholas Romanov and the “Pose Method” may be to running.
Although the past decade has seen the illumination of a number of methods promoting an overhaul of running form—Chi Running, Evolution Running and the New Balance “Good Running Form” workshop, the Pose Method was created decades ago. Dr. Romanov, a PhD sports scientist and coach within the dominant Soviet Union athletics system of the 1970s—set out to identify, through the prism of physics, the critical elements that made for the best way to run. This is where the analogy of Bill James comes in. It was about the same time that Romanov was analyzing running through the unforgiving lens of physics that James applied his education in economics to a mystic-free interpretation of baseball statistics. James was long considered a marginal voice in the baseball world until Billy Beane and the Oakland A’s put his ideas on the map, a story that was captured in the book and movie entitled, “Moneyball.”
As Romanov described the process in his 2004 book, “Pose Method of Running,” he first studied the movement of both humans and animals with the intent of establishing the core scientific principles at work in fast, efficient locomotion.
“Have identified those principles, I then attempted to develop a system of human movement that would derive the maximum benefit from forces that exist in nature,” wrote Romanov. He says he believed that running movement could and should be considered with the same respect and care that one might consider that of a gymnast or a ballet dancer. The purpose of the Pose Method curriculum, Romanov offered, was to help a runner diminish the risk of injury while improving athletic performance.
The Pose Method and the various iterations of the Pose Method continue to be considered unorthodox from certain corners. This is in part because university researchers apparently are still trying to get a grip on what’s at play within the complicated topic of running form. As Kevin Hatala, leader of a recent study on barefoot running in Kenya, recently told the New York Times, “Mostly what we’ve learned is how much still needs to be learned.”
Most of the New York Times review of the recent research focusing on heel-striking versus mid-foot or forefoot striking would not be particularly relevant to Romanov, who states, “When people talk about the Pose Method of Running, the tendency is to simply equate it to a forefoot landing. Folks with a better knowledge and understanding of the technique know that forefoot landing is only a small part of the scenario.”
What is the Pose Method? In the new book, “Power Speed Endurance: A Skill Based Approach to Endurance Training,” author Brian MacKenzie–a former student of Romanov’s who has incorporated Pose fundamentals into the CrossFit Endurance approach— summarizes the Pose Method as a blend of using gravity through falling forward and shifting supports by “dropping the feet directly under the body as you move forward.” The changes of support are what Romanov characterizes as the different positions—or poses—that we move through in each cycle of running. Perhaps the most important thing for a beginner to understand when attempting to learn the Pose Method is that the number one consideration in moving swiftly and efficiently is that gravity is the one relentless force that influences all in terms of movement, and to run well your best bet is to use gravity as best you can as opposed to fighting it.
Valerie Hunt is a master-level Pose Running instructor, with 13 years experience in teaching the method in Austin, Tex., where she coaches both runners and triathletes. Hunt claims that a year after learning the technique directly from Romanov her road racing paces dropped rapidly. “I went from 8:30 per mile pace to 7-minute pace to sub-7:00 minute pace.”
Learning how to fall, Hunt says, is the most essential step in adopting the Pose Technique and making better use of gravity.
“Runners who are using all channeling all of their muscle contraction into moving up and down rather than moving forward are wasting so much energy.”
So learning how to fall is the thing. She adds. “Gravity is our prime mover. If you can at least feel it once you will at least get the basics of the Pose. You’ll get a sense of what gravity feels like, what’s it’s doing and how to use it. But it’s scary. Your body will fight you on it at first by naturally breaking the fall. You have to practice enough that your brain gets the message that this falling thing is something you really want to do.”
Hunt explains the problem further. “Runners and triathletes are control freaks. It’s about losing control. The first time I cried because it was such an emotionally-charged challenge for me to let go that way. So I’ll tell runners that even if I never see them again at a workout, just practice this one thing: Falling.”
“Most runners find me when they start to hurt or have reached a point where they are not seeing any more results in their training,” Hunt says. “Since Pose reduces stress on the knees by 53% [according to a 2004 study published in “Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise,”] this is a big positive with runners experiencing pain and will try anything to be able to continue running.”
Valerie Hunt’s Top 5 Tips for learning the Pose Method
Start by learning the Pose position. Work up to be able to hold it for one minute on each leg, Hunt recommends. Stand with the body weight on the ball of the foot, with a bend in the knee of the standing leg and the lifted foot relaxed with the ankle under the hip. The upper body is aligned.
Practice falling. “Every time you see a wall, fall into it,” Hunt says. “Practice falling from standing and from the Pose. Move further back from the wall as long as you can hold your midline stable.” (To help with developing midline stabilization, see “Better Pushups for Running,” http://running.competitor.com/2013/01/training/better-pushups-for-better-running_65070)
Learn to pull your foot properly. Start barefoot and slide the ankle up your leg. This is a good way for you to learn how to use your hamstring correctly.
Change support between the Pose positions. Stand in the pose and pull your foot from the ground before the lifted food lands. “This is a priority,” Hunt says. “Then fall and change supports. Check to see that you land in correct Pose position. Now-work up to 3 in a row. Then you are ready to run!”
Develop a rapid cadence. Ideal Pose running requires a cadence that may be much quicker than you’re used to. Hunt says to shoot for 180 footfalls per minute, or 90 running strides. “Get a metronome and set it for 90 or higher beats,” she says, syncing the pull of one of your feet with the chirp of the metronome. Developing the proper cadence will help you achieve more speed and greater elasticity, Hunt says.
Additional advice Hunt offers to those new to the technique: “It’s important to be patient. Perhaps choose one day a week where you work on practicing Pose drills and practice the technique with short intervals.” That way, she adds, you don’t interrupt your regular running schedule. Also, don’t make a rapid transition from your trusty motion control shoes to minimalist shoes. It’s a recipe for tendon problems. Rather, Hunt advises, “Ease into minimalist shoes by just wearing them on this one day per week of skill work. Then slowly integrate them into longer runs as you feet and legs adapt.
“The best way to learn is with a coach and get video feedback,” Hunt says. Instruction with a coach in person or through video analysis may be necessary to fully integrate Pose-style running form. For a list of coaches and workshops, go to www.posetech.com.
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In Inside the Box, veteran journalist and marathoner T.J. Murphy goes all in to expose the gritty, high-intensity sport of CrossFit®. From staggering newcomer to evangelist, Murphy finds out how it feels, why it’s so popular, and whether CrossFit can fix his broken body.