New running technique could help soldiers pass fitness test
September 13, 2016
LANDSTUHL Germany — Army Sgt. Mia Lawrence detests running.
“I hate it, yeah,” she said during the classroom portion of a running clinic held here last month.
Lawrence, 25, was trying to tweak her running form with hopes of improving her time on the 2-mile run. She dreads this endurance component of the Army’s annual physical fitness test, which is required of all soldiers.
Lawrence and about a dozen other soldiers had just spent an hour on the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center track, trying to run in a way that felt awkward at first: shortening body strides, landing under the body on the balls of the feet, with feet under the torso, leaning forward and letting gravity do some of the work.
They were attempting the Pose Method, a running technique that its practitioners say can reduce injury and improve performance.
Such claims are appealing to the military, where injuries from running and fitness test failures from slow run times are costly and contribute to decreased readiness.
Some fitness experts in the Army, like Maj. Charles Blake, swear by it, which partly explains why the technique is gaining a foothold in military circles.
Blake, 45, a physical therapist and certified Pose running instructor who’s practiced Pose for about 10 years, led the running workshop at LRMC for about 45 Army and Air Force physical therapists, physical therapist assistants and technicians, and fitness trainers from around Europe.
“What I noticed when I started to train with this method, my heart rate didn’t get as high,” Blake said, referring to a time when he would run a few hours at a time and check his heart rate the next morning to monitor recovery.
“Mechanical efficiency leads to aerobic efficiency, which leads then to an overall (better) efficiency because I could recover faster and I could train more.”
About 60 to 66 percent of soldiers who report to sick call — the Army’s term for needing medical attention — have muscular-skeletal related injuries, Blake said.
“We estimate that 50 percent of that is caused from our own physical training — primarily running,” he said.
Part of the problem, Blake said, is that “we run too much for what we actually train and test for.”
And there are no instructions on how to go about it, beyond just running more, he said. “We just tell them, ‘Go do it,’ without any guidance, without following any regulation, without seeking any help, and there’s a lot of help out there,” Blake said.
Lt. Col. Mae Miranda, chief of physical therapy at LRMC and the Army’s physical therapy consultant for the region, snagged Blake for the workshop after learning he was already traveling to Europe for his duties as the inspector general for U.S. Army Medical Command in San Antonio.
Blake has done the same training at Army installations in the States for physical therapists, master fitness trainers and drill sergeants, Miranda said.
The goal is for military physical therapists and fitness trainers in Europe to be able to help personnel “reduce injury and increase speed” when it comes to running, Miranda said.
But first, they have to get comfortable with the technique themselves; it’s not something that can be learned overnight, or even in just three days.
“I definitely need more practice, because you have to break out of your mold and do something different,” Miranda said. “Your legs aren’t used to that, so it’s repetition, repetition, repetition.”
Nicholas Romanov, a Russian sports scientist, developed Pose running in the mid-1970s as a way to take unneeded pressure off joints and muscles. The technique begins with “the pose,” in which a runner vertically aligns his shoulders, hips and ankles with the support leg while standing on the ball of the foot. Using gravity, the runner falls forward, then pulls the foot up under his center of gravity to resume the original pose.
“Imagine someone on a unicycle,” said Yvette Albright, a physical therapist at Wiesbaden, while coaching a runner in Pose at the LRMC workshop. “How do they initiate going forward? They fall, and the way they keep from going all the way flat is that they start pedaling.”
“Part of the essence of this is pulling your foot off the ground versus pushing to try and accelerate forward,” she said.
Albright said the clinic will help her better guide patients in improving their running technique, since there are some 70 or more Pose drills runners can practice.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re super strong, you have the best shoes in the world, the prettiest shirt,” Albright said. “If you don’t have good technique, that’s where it’s going to fall apart.”
Some critics say the method puts undue pressure on the ankles and calves but Blake said Achilles tendons are much better equipped to bear weight than the knees.
Lawrence, the soldier looking to improve her run time, said she had a lot more practice to do. Key will be “trusting myself to fall forward and relaxing my shoulders” and shortening her long strides.
“If I’m doing insanity butt kicks, then I know I’m doing something wrong,” she said.