The Single Secret to Becoming a Better Runner:
What is Vertical Oscillation Running?
Vertical oscillation running (VOR) refers to the ability of runners to maintain their speed over long distances. VOR is defined as the ability of runners to maintain or increase their speed while maintaining a constant horizontal distance from the ground at any given point during a run.
How does it work?
When runners are moving forward, they have to overcome resistance from the ground. This resistance occurs because there is air above them and below them. When a runner runs downhill, the air flows past him/her faster than when he/she runs uphill. So if you were to run down a hill with no wind, your legs would not move very fast. If you ran up a hill with no wind, your legs would not move very slow.
So why do runners run downhill?
Because it allows them to go faster without having to expend as much energy. But if you were to run uphill, then your legs would have to travel further before they could reach the same speed. Because of this, you would use more energy.
How can we get the benefits of running downhill without going downhill?
By increasing or at least maintaining the distance between our feet and the ground.
When a runner runs on flat ground, the vertical force (air pushing up against the bottom of his/her feet) is equal to his weight. When he accelerates, he has to push harder against the ground so that he can move forward.
The faster he goes, the more force he has to use.
Now how does this all fit together?
Well, a runner’s feet should be close enough to the ground to where the air can slip by and move under his feet. If his feet are too far off the ground, then there won’t be any air flow. This is why the best runners in the world such as Usain Bolt (the fastest man alive) or Kenenisa Bekele (who has broken world records in the 5K, 10K, and the two toughest half-marathon distances) have quick strides. Bekele, for example, has a vertical oscillation of just 1/4 inch: this means that his feet never get far from the ground and he can use less energy to maintain speed.
So how do you increase your vertical oscillation?
Well, you can try to take bigger steps as you run and relax the muscles in your legs so that they are less tense and require less energy to maintain speed. Another tip is to bounce a little more as you run. Both of these techniques will help you go faster.
The Single Best Way To Increase Your Vertical Oscillation:
This is a single exercise that you can do anywhere. It’s called the “butt-kick drill”.
Here’s how it works:
First, find a flat surface that you can run on. This can be a sidewalk, a road, or even a gym treadmill.
Start running at about 60% of your maximum speed (or at whatever speed you typically run).
Now, try to kick your knees up as high as you can with each step. Really try to feel the motion.
Now, try counting how many times your right knee goes up and down. Now count how many times your left knee goes up and down.
They should be close to the same number (if they are not, then adjust your running form).
Now, as you run, visualize lifting your knees up as if you are trying to kick yourself in the butt. Continue running and count the number of times that your right knee goes up and down.
Then count the number of times that the left knee goes up and down. If you’re doing it right, they should be fairly close to the same.
Ok, now that you’re done, here’s what you should’ve found out. When you were running and focusing on kicking your knees up, you probably slowed down a bit.
This is because kicking your knees up makes you have to stop moving your legs forward (which is what you need to be doing to run fast). By focusing on it, it slowed you down significantly.
Now, try this. Start running quickly again and focus on lifting your knees as you run.
As you do this, count the number of times the right knee goes up and down, then count the number of times the left knee goes up and down. Then, simply forget about counting and just run naturally. Count the number of times the right knee goes up and down, then count the number of times the left knee goes up and down.
The results will most likely surprise you. The second counting method (in which you simply forget about counting) will yield a much higher number of knee lifts than the first one (in which you were trying to kick your knee up).
This means that by focusing on kicking your knees up as you run, you slowed yourself down significantly. Your body doesn’t like being in an unnatural position while running, so it will automatically resist doing it.
What does this mean for you?
It means that while you should definitely work on your running form, you shouldn’t focus on it. Your body is perfectly evolved to run and does not need “fixing”. You do not need to try to imitate the way that world-class runners run. Instead, you should just run naturally, and any fixes will simply come as a natural part of this process.
How to Run Downhill:
Some of the best runs are those in which you go down a mountain. Unfortunately, most people have no idea how to go downhill.
As a result, they end up using their brakes (or worse, their hands) and they don’t get any enjoyment out of the run because it is scared/dangerous.
Beginners should never try to increase their speed while going downhill. Even professional runners will tell you this.
You need to build up your quad and hamstring muscles before you can do this without risk of injury.
There are three basic techniques for going downhill. The first is the most common (and the one that most people use when they begin running).
It involves shifting your body weight forward and letting your legs roll underneath you. The second is to lean back and use your legs to slow yourself down.
The third way, which few people know how to do, is to increase your speed while going downhill. This sounds crazy, but if done correctly can actually be much faster than jogging.
Let’s discuss the technique for going downhill. It’s called free-running and is exactly what it sounds like.
You increase your step frequency (number of steps you take per second) to a point where your legs can move you faster than normal with minimal effort.
Now, this is a fairly advanced topic and I won’t pretend to be an expert on it. However, I do understand the basics of how to do it.
The first thing you need to do is increase your step frequency while going downhill. You do not want to lean back and use your legs to slow yourself down, as this will not allow you to increase your step frequency enough.
You can begin by simply shifting your body weight forward. As you are doing this, focus on increasing your step frequency (number of steps you take per second).
The first time you try this you may only get your step frequency up to 2 or 3 steps per second.
This is fine and will still allow you to go downhill faster than you could walk. However, over time you want to increase your step frequency as much as possible.
I have personally gotten my step frequency up to 6 steps per second while going downhill.
This might not sound like much, but it feels as if I am flying down the mountain when I do it. If you want to know what 6 steps per second feels like, try this:
Stand in your room and start jumping up and down. Count the number of times you jump in 2 seconds.
Now double that number. That is what 6 steps per second feels like.
If I have peaked your interest then you might be wondering how to increase your step frequency. The first thing you need to do is focus on your posture.
Don’t bend your knees or lean back, as this will slow you down (and possibly hurt you). Next, relax your arms. When your arms are relaxed and hanging at your side you can move them faster.
This will increase your step frequency. You can practice this by just jumping in place in your room.
Start off by jumping once every second (take a step every second). Then try to double that count (take a step twice every second).
As you get better at this, continue to challenge yourself. Try counting to 3, then 4, then 5, etc…
You want to focus on increasing your step frequency when you jump. You do not want to bend your knees or lean back. Keep your body straight and shift your weight forward.
This is the most important thing. Now that you know how to increase your step frequency, here is how to use it while running down hill:
Run down hill at a steady pace that you are comfortable with. Do not try to run fast.
Every 5 or 10 seconds, focus on taking twice (or more) the amount of steps as you are used to.
As you are focusing on this, try to shift your weight a little more forward.
Continue doing this until you reach the bottom of the hill.
Once at the bottom, you can either stop or start walking and your legs will still be moving at a much higher step frequency than when you started.
If you do not get dizzy then you are ready to try this while running. You can either choose a mild hill or find something to really jump off of (like a bench or table).
Make sure you do not try this with any rocks, trees, or other things you can trip on.
The only potential danger with this is getting dizzy. You might feel dizzy for up to an hour after the first few times you do this.
However, your body will eventually get used to it and you will not feel as dizzy anymore.
Sources & references used in this article:
The secret of fast runners: symmetry by I Loomis – Science News for Students, 2014 – sciencenewsforstudents.org
Peak: Secrets from the new science of expertise by A Ericsson, R Pool – 2016 – books.google.com
Jane Austen, or, The secret of style by DA Miller – 2003 – books.google.com
The Road Runner millennium by O Harari – Management Review, 2000 – search.proquest.com
Authentic leadership: Rediscovering the secrets to creating lasting value by B Merchant – 2017 – Hachette UK