Dr Nicholas Romanov’s Pose Method of Running

Dr Nicholas Romanov’s Pose Method of Running 
Nicholas Romanov, PhD. Coral Gables, FL: PoseTech Press, 2002

The Pose Method is a running technique book meant to teach the best way to run. Author Nicholas Romanov earned a physiology PhD in the Russian athletic machine of the early-70’s and has run, coached, and taught since then (from ’93 in the US). The Pose Method is the result of his insight that running is as much a skill sport as a training sport.

Romanov believes there is a correct technique for running that is essentially the same for everyone. The core motivator for his technique is the notion of “doing nothing” — finding the minimum energy output per unit of forward motion. The core of learning is the felt experience of running correctly.

Romanov is insistent that without feeling it, the Pose Method cannot be learned. This is a problem. Because we feel different body systems differently, it takes an effort of both internal sensation and mental adjustment to feel properly. To make this less abstract, we feel lactic acid buildup in our muscles quickly and accurately. We don’t feel microtears in our ligaments or cartilage the same way, and in normal circumstances we don’t feel our bones at all. Contrast the good-form runner going down hill and absorbing the shock correctly via the muscles (which requires alertness and results in immediately conscious fatigue) with the poor-form runner crashing downhill taking the impact shock in his or her ligaments, tendons, cartilage, and skeleton.

Romanov understands this, and is unambiguously specific in both what he means by the Pose Method, how to learn it, how to feel it, and how to develop the capacities to express it.

What is the pose Method? The most striking core notion is that the chief element of correct running is pulling your foot up off the ground, straight up under your hips, as quickly as you can. Running is falling forward while lifting your feet as quickly as you comfortably can. There are seven aspects to the method:
1. Use of “the running pose” – an S-shaped position, with legs bent at all times and support coming from the balls of the feet.
2. Free-falling, with a forward body lean
3. Using muscular elasticity
4. Pulling the support foot in a straight line up from the ground
5. Using the hamstring to lift the foot (This follows from the instruction to lift the foot directly upwards; there’s no other way to lift the foot as described other than with the hamstring.)
6. Keeping the body inside the running frame
7. Keeping all muscles relaxed

The S-shaped position of “the running pose” does not mean a curved back. Romanov (correctly) insists there should be a straight line between shoulders, hips, and ankles. The two more radical statements are that the legs never straighten and that support always and only comes from the balls of the feet (the forefoot, behind the toes). In photos of elite runners, the trailing legs straightens, or very nearly so, when any level of speed is achieved – not just sprinters, but 5- and 10-K runners, too. More on this below. Romanov also insists that all runners land on and are supported by the balls of the feet, and goes further to claim neither the heel nor the toes should be involved in running. From a barefoot or a fast runner’s perspective landing and taking off from the ball of the foot is credible; for a shuffling ultrarunner, it’s a different story. And, for a sprinter, the idea of consciously not using the toes must seem absurd. When running well, this reviewer is conscious of using the toes to “grab” the ground and would feel both less connected and less effective if this were suppressed. In Tim Noakes’ book, a picture of barefoot Abebe Bikila winning the Rome Olympic marathon barefoot clearly shows him landing on his heel. So while the “Pose” concept seems valid, the extreme statement of it appears to overstate the evidence.

One wonders if there’s a conflation of two elements here. Romanov instructs to keep the feet under the body, which is correct. For most people in motion, that does mean the ball of the foot – but attempting to enforce the ball seems to claim what’s common is what’s correct.

Free-falling, with a forward body lean, is intended to elicit relaxation in the upper legs. While Romanov emphasizes forward lean, he’s careful to emphasize balance equally or moreso. His notion of letting gravity do the work follows naturally. You lean forward slightly and “fall” – you lift your feet quickly, in the right position, then let gravity pull them down directly underneath you — and you’re running in full cooperation with gravity. This seems (and feels) exactly right, though it takes some concentration to do.

“Using muscular elasticity” is something of a mystery. Romanov lists it as a critical element, and emphasizes flexibility, but other than an analogy with a cheetah, he doesn’t explain what he means specifically regarding technique. (In an otherwise thorough and carefully-thought-through book, this a surprising omission.)

Pulling the support foot in a straight line up from the ground has the effect of subtly recruiting the butt muscles, particularly in going uphill. When this is first attempted it may feel like a “circular” running motion. However, practicing Romanov’s instruction to just lift the foot and let it then fall quickly leads to a more natural feel. On the other hand, slavish adherence to this makes little sense – your support foot has to be behind your center of gravity for the free-fall to work (if it was in front, you’d fall backwards), so you can’t pull it directly upwards. Thinking of it as being in line with your hips seems to work.
Keeping the body inside the running frame means avoiding letting your legs get ahead of you, at any time, but especially on downhill; and more controversially not extending too far behind. For most runners, most of the time, this is excellent advice. Watch the end of a local race, and you’ll see most of the competitive runners (except those at the front) do let themselves extend too far, and try to do with raw muscular strength what they should be doing with coordination and fluidity. On the other hand, as noted, the elites extend behind themselves. Perhaps the error is in looking at the elites and generalizing to the good (or mediocre) recreational runner. Looking at Gebrselassie running a 5000 at 4:04 pace and making generalizations for the rest of us may mistake the correct form at one speed for the correct form at all speeds.

There’s another element to “running in the frame” Romanov stresses, which is evenness of upper body forward motion. Training partner Russell Beste, a miler, bounced ridiculously at 7-minute pace; but he ran dead-smooth at 4-minute pace. By keeping the body within the frame and not over-extending, up-and-down bounce is reduced, which translates directly into forward efficiency.

Even if it had nothing on running form, the book would repay its price for the amazingly rich dictionary of trunk and leg-strengthening exercises and stretching and flexibility poses.

The Pose Method will be most useful to those readers willing to do the mental work of learning to feel the technique and practicing it regularly. Romanov’s surrounds the Pose with points at the core of good technique: improve speed with stride frequency, not stride length, always keep your footstrike underneath you, minimize movement, unify the entire body in running, feel your running. With the cautions above about rear leg extension, lifting the foot directly under the hips, and having all runners always land and launch from the balls of their feet, Romanov’s book is an excellent source of clearly explained, specific, testable, and pragmatic instruction on running form.

–Jim Kornell, February 2004

Add: Only one or two days after posting the above review, Tim Noakes and collegues published a study on the Pose method. The abstract:

SUMMARY: ARENDSE, R. E., T. D. NOAKES, L. B. AZEVEDO, N. ROMANOV, M. P. SCHWELLNUS, and G. FLETCHER.
Reduced Eccentric Loading of the Knee with the Pose Running Method.Med. Sci. Sports Exerc., Vol. 36, No. 2, pp. 272-277, 2004.
PURPOSE The aim of this study was to compare the biomechanical changes during natural heel-toe running with learned midfoot and Pose running.
METHODS Twenty heel-toe runners were instructed in midfoot running and a novel running style in which the acromium, greater trochanter, and lateral malleolus are aligned in stance (Pose running). Clinical gait analysis was performed for each running style and the biomechanical variables compared.
RESULTS In comparison with midfoot and heel-toe running Pose running was characterized by shorter stride lengths and smaller vertical oscillations of the sacrum and left heel marker. Compared with midfoot and Pose running heel-toe running was characterized by greater magnitudes and loading rates of the vertical impact force. In preparation for initial contact, the knee flexed more in Pose than in heel-toe and midfoot running. The ankle at initial contact was neutral in Pose compared with a dorsiflexed and plantarflexed position in heel-toe and midfoot running, respectively. The knee power absorption and eccentric work were significant lower (P < 0.05) in Pose than in either heel-toe or midfoot running. In contrast, there was a higher power absorption and eccentric work at the ankle in Pose compared with heel-toe and midfoot running.
CONCLUSIONS Pose running was associated with shorter stride lengths, smaller vertical oscillations of the sacrum and left heel markers, a neutral ankle joint at initial contact, and lower eccentric work and power absorption at the knee than occurred in either midfoot or heel-toe running. The possibility that such gait differences could be associated with different types and frequencies of running injuries should be evaluated in controlled clinical trails.

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