Hip Flexors, Poor Knee Lift, and the 90 Strides a Minute Myth

Let me say right up front that I really like Inform Running.  In fact, having regular access to their facilities and brain power in the U.K. is probably the only thing that could make me want to live in a place with weather that is even more miserable than my home of Seattle.  Today, they took on the Pose (and by association, the Chi) running methods.  I’m so glad that they did– someone has to dispel the myth that there is one perfect running form for everyone.  But, in typical Inform Running style, they did it with some real hidden gems that might help a lot of folks gain better running form.  Here are two key lessons from their excellent post earlier today.

The 90 Stride a Minute Myth

my running metronomeAbout 3-4 years ago, two different experts (one coach and one physical therapist) told me that I needed to increase my running cadence to 90-95 strides per minute because research showed that it was a more efficient running pattern.  I started running with a metronome in my hand on every single run.  I even raced all of my races– including Duathlon Nationals in 2012– with the metronome in my hand (I didn’t qualify for Worlds, which may indicate where this story is heading).  After two years of running with the metronome, I stopped running with it and just ran my “natural” cadence.  Despite all that time running at 90-95 strides per minutes, my stride rate settled back to the upper 80’s almost immediately.  And I also got faster immediately.  I concluded that high stride rates don’t work for me, but always felt guilty that I wasn’t running correctly.

So I was delighted to see the folks at Inform Running come to the same conclusion!  Looking back, it is utterly absurd that the 90 stride a minute myth ever began.  It apparently all started when Jack Daniels was counting stride rates of elite runners in races– the best ones all hit 90 strides a minute or faster.

  • “elite runners”
  • “in races”

Let those two ideas marinate for awhile and ask yourself, “what possible application should that have for my everyday training runs?”  It turns out that, as a general rule, it has absolutely no application: the 90 strides a minute myth needs to be put to rest.  At the same time, there are some situations where 90 strides a minute helps address specific biomechanical issues, but those need to be determined on a case-by-case basis.  Also, I find that stride rates naturally rise for me in races– but that doesn’t mean I should train that way.

Hip Flexors, Knee Drive, Glute Engagement, and a Useful Exercise

Inform Running didn’t stop there when it came to attacking some serious weaknesses in the Pose and Chi running methods.  Another one was knee drive.  In the Pose and Chi methods, running is seen as a controlled “falling forward” in which a forceful knee drive is not desirable.  In my experience in analyzing running form, this comes down down to the difference between gazelles and gliders— and almost everyone I know (including me) wants to be a gazelle (high knee drive).  And, because of the crossed extensor reflex, the higher knee lift and related early activation of the hip flexors also means greater glute muscle engagement.  How cool is that?  You can look better and get stronger at the same time!

One takeaway that I found really interesting was their take on front of the hip pain.  One of the athletes at track on Tuesday was complaining of exactly this problem– and I also happen to know that her knee drive is sorely lacking in her running form.  Coming to the rescue, Inform Running described some basic theraband exercises that you can use to strengthen the hip flexors and become more gazelle-like.  Bear in mind that, if you start working on these, you should do a generous amount of hip flexor stretching.  Most of us in western societies sit too much and our hip flexors are notoriously short and tight.  But tight doesn’t necessarily mean strong (as my fellow track runner demonstrates).  Building strength in an already tight muscle just leads to more tightness, so be sure to stretch it out.

There is no Perfect Running Form

I’ll end this post by saying that there is no such thing as perfect running form.  Sure, if you google “Ryan Hall running form,” you’ll find plenty of photos and videos of utterly beautiful running.  While Ryan is exceptionally talented, few would dare to compare him with Haile Gabrselassie, who is the best runner of our generation and possibly the best runner of all time.  Google his running form and you’ll also see some great looking running form.  Now check out the following video– but be sure you’ve had your breakfast already.

From behind, everything also looks fine for Haile from the waist up but then start looking down to his feet.  From this video alone, it should be clear that we can’t be too obsessed with perfect running form and with what the “experts” tell us.

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