Vertical oscillation

By Keith Bateman and Heidi Jones

Running, unlike walking, has a flight phase, meaning that at some stage of the running cycle both feet will be off the ground and you will be travelling through the air. The key to efficient running technique is to maximise the flight phase while leaving the ground with minimal effort. You may have seen photographs of top runners seemingly suspended in mid air — this is an example of their impressive flight phase. If you want to achieve an effective flight like an elite runner it is not useful, and probably detrimental, to deliberately reduce your vertical oscillation.

Bad vertical oscillation

Poor running technique will produce too much energy-wasting ‘bad’ vertical oscillation. If you are over-striding — that is, your foot is landing too far in front of you — it will cause you to slump into in a semi-squat position upon landing, with your hips lower to the ground. In order to recover lost speed from the poor landing you will be forced to push up as well as forwards. Your low point after landing combined with this push upwards results in a larger than necessary vertical oscillation and a great deal of wasted energy that would have not been required without the over-striding.

Good vertical oscillation

If you are running with good form your whole body will be going up and down but in a way that feels almost effortless. This is because your balanced, near-vertically aligned landing uses the elasticity of your body to generate a large proportion of the lift – without the need to push up and out of the semi-squat landing position of the over strider.

If you concentrate on a balanced landing rather than trying to control your vertical oscillation you will naturally achieve the optimal height off the ground appropriate for your current skill and fitness levels. All you need to do is to learn to land near-vertically aligned and the rest will follow unconsciously, automatically adjusting as you re-strengthen and become more skilful.

Error warning

Some people advocate keeping the hips travelling the same height off the ground during all phases of the running action (zero ‘vertical oscillation’). However, trying to achieve zero vertical oscillation is not only a waste of mental and physical effort on an impossible task, it is also detrimental to good running technique because it will result in you trying to keep your hips from rising or falling by lifting and putting put your foot out in front of you; in other words, by over-striding. Hence, trying to achieve the impossible zero vertical oscillation will create a walking action and thus should be avoided. Good runners fly!