Running Biomechanics 101

Some wise words here from our osteopath Matthew Mihaljevic.  Matt is completing a Masters in Strength and Conditioning at Edith Cowan University. He was recently chatting to me about his current unit where they look closely at running and our chat resulted in this little piece for you. Enjoy and I hope you find it helpful. Matt will be incorporating this current evidence informed approach into his treatment and management of his patients.

How do we run SMARTER, in order to be FASTER?

Swing those legs faster… right? No

From Usain Bolt to the weekend warrior there is very little difference in the number of times an individual will swing their legs whilst running.

Instead… Hit the ground harder! At top speed, elite runners apply appreciably greater mass-specific ground forces and, do so during shorter periods of foot-ground contact.

Cast your minds back to secondary school when you would have learned something about a guy named Newton and his 3 rules: Newtons 3rd law dictates… ‘For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.’

If we apply Sir Isaac’s rule to the concept of running – the more force we can generate from the quadriceps and gastrocnemius’ (calves) the greater the reaction force from the ground to propel us forward – therefore running faster.

Imagine the human body as a large spring. As our foot comes into contact with the ground, a reactive force is generated and begins to compress one end of the spring. As our upper body catches up and moves over the centre of the grounded leg, compression of the spring is at its peak, with gravity now compressing from the opposite side. Once the force of gravity is released the body is propelled forward.

Why do we swing our arms when we run?

To help us move forward!… Kind of… Not really… Eventually…

If you sit on the ground and pump your arms, do you move forward or up and down? You will find that there will be little to no movement forward, instead you will move up and down on the spot.

The reason we deliberately swing our arms whilst running is to counterbalance the opposite leg. This allows the force we generate from the contact with the ground to be solely concentrated in propelling us forward, keeping us streamlined and not wasting the force on balance.

3 exercises to improve your ability to generate force and arm swing.

1. Rocket Jumps: The aim is to get a full stretch from the tips of your fingers to your toes. While in air, your body will look like a straight line. Immediately upon landing, quickly squat down and explode off again.


2. Lunge Jumps: Lunge jumps are done by beginning in the “lunge” position then exploding off the ground. While in air, your legs will cycle so the front leg is behind you and the leg that was behind you is in front. The goal is to get as high as possible and to land in the lunge position with the legs that were switched in air. Then, explode off again.


3. Skips for Height: Using the basic skipping motion, spring up as high as possible with each skip. Really pump your arms when you explode for each skip. Do these for 30 metres, walk back and then repeat the drill.



Hamner, S.R., Seth, A., & Delph, S.L. (2010) Muscle Contributions to propulsion and support during running. Journal of Biomechanics. 43(14)

McGowan, C.P., Grabowski, A.M., McDermott, W.J., Herr, H.M. and Kram, R. Leg (2012) Stiffness of Sprinters Using Running-Specific Prostheses. Journal of The Royal Society Interface: 9; 1975-1982.