Yesterday, I saw a video of one of my favourite sporting moments of all time - Michael Johnson's 200m world record at the '96 Olympics.

Watching him glide along that track at breakneck speed metres ahead of the guy behind him (who also broke the world record that day) before realising just how fast he'd gone as he crossed the finish line is emblazoned on my memory.

Many commentators and running coaches at the time believed Johnson's success to be in spite of his "unique" stride but given the scope of his success during his career many sports scientists subsequently confirmed that Johnson's stride was actually far more efficient than his competitors.

I don't know if I would say that there is a perfect way to run.

We all have different frames. We all have different muscle types that attach at slightly different points on our skeletons. We often run for different purposes. The stride of a footballer dribbling is by necessity different from that of a sprinter.

One universal-ish component of outstanding running is the minimisation of the movement of the centre of mass of the runner in any direction other than the intended direction of motion.

That was quite a mouthful, wasn't it?

Let me break it down.

Imagine the entire mass of a person could be represented by one point within them. In standing and running, this point would exist somewhere around the level of the belly inside of them.

When we run forward, we want this point to move forward. Not up and down, not side to side, not around and round, just forward as any of the movements in the other directions use unnecessary energy.

Those movements make us slower and they make us tire more easily.

The problem for many of us is two fold:

  • We don't carry our centre of mass were we should even in standing or walking before of mobility restrictions and muscular imbalances.
  • We are so used to carrying our centre of mass inefficiently that to take measures to do it better feel alien and require fairly long term reeducation.

One of the most striking examples of expert centre of mass management I ever saw in running was from distance running legend Kenenisa Bekele in an early season cross-country race.

On a downhill section, Bekele completely left the field behind. Thinking of downhill running for a second will probably bring about the feeling of trying to stop yourself going too quickly so you don't lose balance or injure yourself.

These guys all had gravity pulling them down the hill. Bekele was the only one in that race who could take maximal advantage of it, decelerating with each step minimally compared to his competitors.

I'm guessing a study of his motion during this race would show minimal up and down movement of his centre of mass, allowing him to put less effort into decelerating himself.

Next time you run, pay attention to how much you are going forward as opposed to side to side, up and down and round and round. Just doing this alone may help you develop a more lossless stride.

I'll write again on improving your running in the coming days.


Arton "Lossless" Baleci
Float Sting - Athletic Training + Rehab