Vertical oscillation

By Keith Bateman

Running, unlike walking, has a flight phase, meaning that at some points both feet will be off the ground and you will be travelling through the air. The secret of efficient running technique is to leave the ground with minimal effort. Runners with good technique will have an impressive flight phase – an image you may have seen in still photographs of top runners seemingly suspended in mid air. If you want to achieve an effective flight 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 your foot lands too far in front of you, that is, you are over-striding, you will slump into in a semi-squat position once you have landed and your hips will be low to the ground. To recover lost speed you will be forced to push up and forwards. Your low point after landing combined with this push upwards results in a great deal of wasted energy and produces a big vertical oscillation that would otherwise have not been required.

Good vertical oscillation

If you are running with good form then your whole body will be going up and down but it will feel almost effortless because your balanced, near-vertically aligned landing uses the elasticity of your body to generate a large proportion of the lift. If you concentrate on a balance landing rather than thinking about 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 naturally, automatically adjusting as you re-strengthen and become more skilful.

Error warning

Some people actually advocate keeping the hips travelling parallel with the ground (zero ‘vertical oscillation’), but this is impossible, as your hips move vertically in relation to the ground in order to run. Trying to achieve zero vertical oscillation is detrimental to good running technique as the only way you can move while trying to keep your hips from rising or falling is to lift and put your foot in front of you; in other words, by over-striding.