Mental Imagery to Improve Your Running

Close your eyes and imagine someone running. What does it look like? Do you picture the runner from the side, the front, the back, some other angle? What parts of the runner’s body move? Do any parts stay still?

I’m going to take a wild guess that your mental image in some ways resembles this:

The legs and arms are moving a lot, your torso and head are moving less and may even feel pretty still, and the world blurs by. Or maybe the world doesn’t even move at all, just the runner, as is the case when we use a treadmill:

(No particular comment on the content of this video in either way, it just happened to be a treadmill video filmed from the side that I could easily find on YouTube.)

What you pictured relates to how you think of your own running and affects how you run. Here are some of the ramifications of this mental imagery:

  • It seems as if the legs swing backwards as well as forwards
  • It seems if running is a thing we do with our arms and legs while the torso and head stay fairly quiet.
  • It seems as if running is a thing you do with just your body, separate from the environment.

Now let me propose a radical shift in perspective. What if you thought of your running this way instead:

Here are some ramifications of this very different mental imagery:

  • No body part ever moves backwards in space, even if it happens to move backwards relative to other parts of your body. We only move forwards.
  • There is only one thing that is ever still when we run: the foot that’s on the ground. Everything else is moving all the time.
  • Running depends on the ground. Everything you do when you run is for the purpose of applying force to the ground with one foot at a time in a way that makes you move forward.

What would be different about your running if you thought of it this way? Try it and leave a comment describing what you felt.

3 thoughts on “Mental Imagery to Improve Your Running”

  1. Interesting. It is true, the whole motion of running, is motion about the foot, which itself is in contact with the ground, and how that contact changes through time from initial contact to lift off.

    • I think how the contact of the foot with the ground changes through stance is really interesting and informative, but all of that happens because of the very large movements going on within the body passing above the foot. That was what I was aiming to highlight in this post — we think about running in terms of our extremities moving around some sort of still point in the middle of our bodies, but actually running is about asymmetrical force coming up from the ground through our foot and moving our bodies.


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