By Keith Bateman
Running has a flight phase so, to be running, you need to leave the ground, but with minimum effort. Most people learning to run correctly will get a good flight phase, which obviously means getting higher off the ground – just like the images we see of top runners in flight. Vertical oscillation, just like cadence, is an indicator, but not a good measure of, efficiency in running. Therefore, it is not wise to reduce the vertical oscillation directly.
Bad vertical oscillation
Bad running technique will produce too much energy-wasting vertical oscillation. You might have a significant heel-strike over-strike in which case you will be landing with a near-straight leg and in a semi-squat position. Your hips will be low to the ground as with any over-stride. As you catch up with your foot, and since you also have to push to recover lost speed (due to the braking effect of an over-stride), you will be forced to push up and forwards. Your low starting point combined with this push upwards produces a big vertical oscillation. If your excessive vertical oscillation is because you are running badly then trying to reduce it is no solution to curing your bad technique.
Good vertical oscillation
If you are running with great form then vertical oscillation is just what you want. When you run well, you will be going mostly up and down but it will be almost effortless. This ‘good’ vertical oscillation, is largely produced by using the elasticity of your body from landing near to vertically aligned. You will naturally achieve the optimal height off the ground according to your current skill and fitness levels. All you need to do is to learn to land near-vertically aligned and the rest will follow naturally and you re-strengthen and become more skillful.
Some people actually advocate keeping the hips parallel with the ground (zero ‘vertical oscillation’ as some say), but this is impossible, as your hips must leave the ground to run. Don’t try this, as it means the only way you can move or keep moving is to lift or swing your foot in front of you; that is, by over-striding.