Your push off matters–especially if you want speed. But a lot of runners make mistakes trying to maximize their push off because they don’t understand how it works. This can stress your hip joints, back, and neck, as well as actually slowing you down or tiring you out too fast. So let’s look at how to get it right.
When you try to push off more, you’re usually looking for the feeling of pushing off…and this is usually right in the moment before your foot leaves the ground.
That’s your mistake.
Pushing off actually happens earlier, starting from the moment you leave midstance (when you’re right over your standing foot). Beginning from that split second, your body starts to unfold. Your hip joint starts to un-flex, then your knee. Your heel starts to lift from the ground and your big toe starts to bend, lifting your arch. Your pelvis starts to tip and turn, with the stance side moving downwards and backwards and the swing side moving upwards and forwards, un-compressing your stance side. Your shoulders also start to turn away from your stance foot, towards your swing knee as it comes forward.
In other words, the entire stance side of your body starts to expand like a telescope, in many joints at once, all throughout its length. This isn’t just done by muscles, but through the recoil action of tissues that were stretched by the compression of landing and moving into midstance. That compression was approx 2.7 times your body weight pushing down, so the recoil is powerful!
How much you’re leaning forward helps direct this telescoping action either upwards or forwards, so aim well. This is speed-dependent too; for distance running, a deeper lean will produce a longer stride length and, if everything else is working well, a higher speed. For a light jog you won’t lean very much or do any of these things very strongly.
However when you try to push off, you usually activate your glutes on the stance side towards the end of stance, and this shuts that telescoping action down by pushing that hip forward and up when it should be moving down and back.
It also interferes with your forward lean, so you’re not aiming yourself well. And it can even start to produce an energy-wasting forward-and-back head bob.
I explain all of this and demonstrate it in this video:
The most important thing to remember is that a good push-off doesn’t feel like you’re pushing off (unless you’re accelerating or running uphill).
If you want to improve yours, work on your core action and your lean. As I recommend in the video, my Hip Extension Lessons are the best way to get started doing that.
Click on this image to access those for free:
Also check out my How To Run Faster videos for more on this!
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Jae Gruenke, GCFP, is a running technique expert and Feldenkrais Practitioner. Known as a “running form guru,” she is the Founder and CEO of The Balanced Runner™ in New York City and The Balanced Runner UK. She has helped runners from beginner to Olympian improve their form to become pain-free, economical, and fast.