The Purpose of Push-Off in Running

By Jae Gruenke | Natural Running Form

May 07

“When you push off the ground, what’s the most important thing you’re pushing forwards?”

That’s the question I asked last week, and I got 36 excellent, thoughtful answers–many with great insight into how running works.

But only 6 of them were right: the head.

When you push off the ground, you’re pushing your whole body into the air. So the force needs to go all the way through your body to your head.

If you’re running at all then you’re basically managing this. After all, your head is attached to the rest of your body–you can’t go running off without it.

But are you really pushing your head forward with your foot, or are you just pushing enough of yourself forwards that your head gets pulled along?

The performance difference between having the force from your foot go through your head vs. just having your head pulled along is quite large. I explain more about how this all works in this post.

It’s something you can actually feel. If you haven’t experienced it before, go back to the speed hack I shared two posts ago. Once you’ve done step 3, your feet are directly pushing your head forward. That’s why it starts to bounce from side to side.

After you take your hands off your hips, if you’re able to maintain your lean and the relaxation of your jaw and neck, you’ll be pushing your head with your feet while running in normal fashion.

Kenenisa Bekele is a master of this movement. Take a look starting at 7:11:

Next time you’re out for a run, give that a try. Then, once your head is moving nicely, try stopping the movement and see how your feet and legs feel. You’ll probably feel more stress, and your speed will drop.

Then let your head go again and notice what changes.

It’s important to remember that your head movement is also fundamental to shifting your weight from leg to leg, and when you don’t do this well you get all kinds of foot and leg stress, including IT band syndrome.

Naturally your head will move more when you’re running faster. But even when you’re running slowly and the movement is small, you shouldn’t be tensing your neck muscles and preventing it.

Have fun experimenting with this, and remember it the next time you’re struggling for speed!

And congratulations to John Link, Joan Acton, Nan, Suzanne L, Kate Bray, and Jane Hart for giving the right answer last week!


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About the Author

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.

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Nan May 11, 2021

Jae, This quiz is quite fun – thanks! Also, I have found that using the hands on side of hips move during the latter part of a run really helps me correct form and both move and feel more efficient/better.

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