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14 useful exercises to minimize the vertical oscillation while running

A.I.C.N. (Associazione Italiana Corsa Naturale)
The subject we will cover in this article is vertical oscillation in running, a very broad and, in some cases, complicated topic. The knowledge and skills to draw from range from physics to training methodology, passing through per biomechanics, physiology and kinetic chains. Our goal is to make you aware of the factors that affect vertical oscillation in running and how to improve performance. First, we will clarify what it concerns by identifying the main information to know and to deepen to then put it into action with concrete and precise indications to improve running performance.

Vertical oscillation while running: a definition

The only point of contact between our body and the ground is via our feet when running. At each step the main objective is to develop a propulsive impulse. A running foot makes contact with the ground and generates different types of forces, the main ones being the reaction of the ground to impact and the friction force of the foot against the ground. The reaction force of the ground is in fact the one that opposes the breaking through of the ground itself. It is possible to represent it with a vector that originates at the point of contact on the ground, direction approximately equal to the axis of the lower limb, directed from the foot to the Center of Gravity. This vector can be broken down into two components, one vertical, representing the opposite resistance of the ground to its own breakthrough, the other horizontal and facing backwards representing the braking we impress on our centre of gravity. This horizontal compound, contrary to the forward direction, will be the greater the distance between the ground vertical of the barycentre and the first ground contact point of the foot.

The friction force of the foot on the ground is in fact the one that allows us to generate the forward thrust as it prevents the foot from moving backwards during the thrust phase with loss of efficiency of the thrust itself.

Decreasing the braking phase and improving the propulsion phase is the focus to run better and faster.

Efficient Running = Reduced distance between the point of contact on the ground of the foot and the projection of the pelvis on the ground.
Running performance depends on finding the optimal pulse direction. To run faster, we need some vertical pulses to push us into the flight phase, but also important horizontal propulsive pulses to accelerate and maintain speed, and small horizontal braking pulses to control grip during contact. All this optimizes forward speed.

Exercises to minimize vertical oscillation

Non efficient running = Increased distance between foot contact point on the ground and pelvis projection on the ground

Let's now see which exercises can improve and minimize the vertical oscillation. We begin by working on the sensitivity of the ankle foot. The proposals that we have chosen are those that according to our experience produce better results over time. Every professional like trainers, coaches, technicians or professional figures working in this field can choose the type of exercises on the basis of basic skills, objectives and availability relative loads and intensity.

    • Heel Walking: Walk forward on the heels trying to keep the foot in maximum dorsal flexion during all the movement, the knee blocked, trying to take the length of the foot as a reference for the width of the support. For example, if my foot is 28cm long, my support in this case with the heel should be a maximum of 28cm, taking the heel as the starting point of the support.
    • Toes Walking: Walk forward on the toes trying to keep the foot in maximum plantar flexion during all the movement, the knee locked for the maximum length of the support we always take as reference the length of the foot.
    • Jumping with feet together, knees locked, forward, with great effort of the feet, avoid touching the heels on the ground, hands at the hips. Maximum length of the jumps = maximum foot length. You can make variations such as side jumps trying to follow a straight line, or backwards jumps.
    • One leg Jumping with blocked knees, advancing, with great effort of just the foot, the suspended leg tries to keep your knee as flexed as possible with heel back up. Avoid touching your heels on the ground, hands at your hips. Maximum length of the jumps = maximum foot length. You can make variations such as side jumps by trying to follow a straight line, or backwards jumps.
    • Alternating jumps on one foot in the same way as above but we do not consider it a variant but a progression because on this movement we insert the variants as alternating side jumps, backwards and with support in "spread" beyond the width of the shoulders.
  • Running legs outstretched forward with strong foot bounce. This exercise only free arms and follow naturally the coordination arm and opposite leg. The body moves forward thanks to alternating "jumps" forward with knee stuck where the feeling is to give consecutive "kicks" forward following a straight trajectory.
  • Running kicked behind, the heels approach the buttocks, in this movement try to maintain a support frequency above 180 steps/minute. Arms free. You can make variations such as lateral kicks trying to follow a straight line, or backward kicks.
  • Skip run, with slightly high knee exaggerating the flexion by bringing the heel "under" the gluteus as much as possible. Arms at the hips or behind the back of the neck. You can perform variants such as side-skip trying to follow a straight line, or skip backwards.
  • Kick-stroke-Skip, same modalities as above but we don't consider it a variant but a progression because on this movement we combine 4-6 supports in kicking alternated with 4-6 supports in skip we insert the variants as lateral supports in advance.

We continue with pelvis and hip exercises in preparation for our goal related to vertical oscillation:

  • Walk with virtual obstacles, walk forward and imagine that I have obstacles about 30-40cm (high) in front of me every 4-6 supports, and then I cross them simulating that there is an obstacle as high as possible. The movement must be carried out frontally passing first with one leg and then the other. Arms free.
  • Walking lunges, walking forward as if the path you are running has a very low height and therefore to advance you have to lower yourself as much as possible but trying to maintain as constant a speed as possible. Free arms
  • Walking with a low-high obstacle, we walk imagining that in front of us there is the 30-40cm low obstacle in front of us but this time we climb over it and the next time we pass under it lowering ourselves as much as possible. Then a sequence step obstacle high and then low. Arms free.
  • Forward Circular Stroke, running forward, arms free, looking forward-high trying to exaggerate in alternating succession of foot landing behind the gravitational axis, hip flexion with maximum passive flexed knee, hip extension with maximum passive flexed knee.
  • Circular Run Backwards running, arms free, looking forward-high trying to exaggerate in alternating succession of maximum knee flexion towards the gluteus, hip extension with maximum passive flexion knee, knee extension and landing as far away from the gravitational line as possible.

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  • Vincenzo Pirola, The Human Movement applied to re-education and sports activities.  Publisher EDI-ERMES
  • Anthony Blazevich, Sports Biomechanics, basics. How to optimize performance, Editrice Calzetti-Mariucci.
  • Fernando Ponzoni, Technique and Didactics of Athletics, Sport Press Society Publisher.

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