Running: Forward Knee Drive–Why It Is Essential, How To Get It

Forward knee driveIn our triathlon team forums, we have been discussing the issue of forward knee drive in running. It is, in fact, an important element of great running. Once you understand what forward knee drive is, I bet you will instantly create a picture in your mind of what that looks like. Every elite runner has it, and we’ve all seen it. It’s worth taking the time to read through this post and understand what forward knee drive is, and how to create it in your own running.

Forward driving knee is an action of the knee that is, in fact, very much a PASSIVE reactionary movement/response to the amount of force being applied to the ground during the mid-stance phase of the stride. It is very much like the “bouncy ball” analogy I use a lot with runners and triathletes we train. That is, the harder I throw a bouncy ball to the ground, the faster that ball comes back at you, and the higher into the air it will go. Your body is the exact same way.

So, my point here is simply this: the STRONGER you are, the more force you are able to apply to the ground with each foot strike during that mid-stance phase. Assuming adequate length in the calf (and, thus, dorsiflexion of the foot), the tissues along the backside of your body will then be able to create a big STRETCH. This stretch results in that leg swinging forward very rapidly and, assuming appropriate mobility of the hips and good strong glutes (resulting in a more neutral pelvic position), the knee will continue to drive forward…..in what, to reiterate, is a largely passive response to the action of applying that force.

Reading through this, what I hope you’re getting, is that there are a number of factors and elements that need to be in place, and are important, in order for all of this to happen as it should.

You must have the following:

  • Muscular balance. This balance creates better pelvic position and appropriate strength/length around the key joints, especially the hip and ankle.
  • Appropriate mobility of the hips and ankle, and length in the calf.
  • STRONG GLUTES and posterior chain as a whole, which is responsible for improved force production into the ground.

All of the elements above are engaged at a higher level as speed increases. In other words, at slower rates of speed, there is less overall dynamic application of force and loads, thus less evidence of these elements in action. To put it more simply….a “survival” shuffle has been called this for a reason….with slow running comes more of a shuffle, vs. a very fast running action.

There are even more elements in place beyond these I’ve mentioned, especially when considering the holistic elements of fascia and the nervous system.

My goal here ISN’T to complicate this at all! My goal is, simply, to say that all of you …

You MUST focus first on GETTING FUNCTIONALLY STRONGER, and then focus on learning how to gradually run FASTER. If you do those two things and stay the course, the knee drive will HAPPEN passively, WITHOUT YOU having to consciously think about it or control it.

There are drills to help with these skills also, but they are “frosting” on the cake, not the cake itself.

The cake is:

  • strength, strength, strength
  • balance in the body
  • appropriate mobility of the key joints
  • patience and persistence in learning, or “re-learning” how to run fast!

Questions? Fire away!

~Coach Al

Email Address * First Name

Comments

  1. I learnt this lesson through the pain of ITB injury. Doing proper streches after every running session, focussed on strengthening the glutes and improving balance has reduced my pain drastically and I feel the impact of enjoying the run! Lets hope I will improve my time as well, This article puts all that into perspective.

    • Glad you’re doing better, Sharon. Check back with us anytime for ongoing guidance. We want you to be strong and the best athlete you can be.

  2. Dear coach Al, your last line “questions? Fire away? Well, I have a queston……
    I believe for 100% all you have writte, but I miss one important answer… How…….
    The glutes are a huge driver of knee driven running style, you need strong glutes. My question is what can you do what specific excesises should you do to make the glutes stronger… I know my glutes are very weak, i know this is a major loss of strenght in my running speed, but what can i do?
    Thank you for your help…..
    Kind regards,
    Jan

    • Hi Jan,
      Posting this here again to be sure you see it. :)

      Thanks for being in touch. You can certainly strength the glutes with bridges–the are highly effective as are one-legged squats. BUT….as We wrote in a previous blog post, “Getting functionally strong, activating your glutes, and strengthening your hips is far more than just throwing a bunch of exercises at your body, especially if you do them with bad form, or if they’re an incorrect exercise for you.” It is more about a holistic, integrated strengthening. Creating this integrated program is ideally done through the lens of your gait analysis so that the entire program is customized to shore up what’s weak in your personal situation. http://pursuitathleticperformance.com/2012/gluteal-amnesia-heres-your-rx/

      But whatever you do, exercises must, must, must be done with PERFECT form–progressing from a basic move to things more challenging only when earlier levels of movement are perfected. Hope this helps!

  3. Dear Al,
    Looks like my question is not posted, but my email correction was no problem… Strange, my appolgies..
    Question, do you have glute excercises that you remomment for strenghten my glutes?
    Thanks for your help…
    Kind regards,
    Jan

    • Hi Jan,

      Thanks for being in touch. You can certainly strength the glutes with bridges–the are highly effective as are one-legged squats. BUT….as We wrote in a previous blog post, “Getting functionally strong, activating your glutes, and strengthening your hips is far more than just throwing a bunch of exercises at your body, especially if you do them with bad form, or if they’re an incorrect exercise for you.” It is more about a holistic, integrated strengthening. Creating this integrated program is ideally done through the lens of your gait analysis so that the entire program is customized to shore up what’s weak in your personal situation. http://pursuitathleticperformance.com/2012/gluteal-amnesia-heres-your-rx/

      But whatever you do, exercises must, must, must be done with PERFECT form–progressing from a basic move to things more challenging only when earlier levels of movement are perfected. Hope this helps!

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