Archive for Run Form

035: Open Water Swimming with Alcatraz Legend Gary Emich [Podcast]



Elite open water swimmer and coach, Gary Emich

Elite open water swimmer and coach, Gary Emich

Today we’re stoked to have Alcatraz swimming legend and triathlon coach, Gary Emich, on our podcast. Gary is most well known for having completed over 1000 Alcatraz swims (without a wetsuit!) and for a host of other impressive open water swimming accomplishments. 

Gary is a Certified Level 1 USA Triathlon Coach specializing in open water swimming and a Certified Level 2 ASCA Coach.  He is co-host and co-producer of the DVD “Lane Lines to Shore Lines:  Your Complete Guide to Open Water Swimming” and co-author of “Open Water Swimming:  Lessons from Alcatraz.”  And, from 1998 through 2009 he was the race director for the “Alcatraz Challenge Aquathlon & Swim.” His open water swimming CV includes the Amazon River replete with piranhas; Peru’s Lake Titicaca; Scotland’s legendary Loch Ness; the Hellespont (a swim from Europe to Asia); and the 20km Rottnest swim at the age of 58.  Relay crossings include the English Channel (2000 and 2011), Catalina, Santa Barbara, Monterey Bay, the Bay of Naples (Italy) and the Strait of Gibraltar as well as relay circumnavigations of Manhattan, Key West and Pennock Island in Ketchikan Alaska.


On today’s podcast, Gary and I chat about all things open water swimming related including…

  • Navigation and sighting: What’s the impact of poor sighting? Tips and drills on how to improve this critical skill
  • Wind, waves and current and how to deal most effectively with these challenges
  • How training in the pool can cheat you
  • Safety considerations for swimming in the open water
  • Race starts and finishes
  • Goggles: what are the most important considerations for open water swimming?
  • Triangulation: what is it, and how can it help you in the open water?
  • Are you a bilateral breather?  Is it a worthwhile skill to develop?
  • And much more!

Thanks for joining us! Make your next open water swim a great one!

~Coach Al

ps: Here’s a neat funny which I know you’ll enjoy!


030: Trueform Runner: A Remarkable Tool For Honing Your Running Technique [Podcast]




Trueform Runners in action!

If you’ve listened to our podcast or visited us at the gait lab, you know that we believe running form is a product of your mobility & flexibility, strength & stability, biomechanics, and what the brain tells the body to do.  In fact, in most cases, we reduce the emphasis on technique in the beginning of an athlete’s journey with us to focus on restoring balance to the frame.  Once that mission is accomplished (or is at least a work well in progress) we feel that is the time to start to develop and improve running form.

Today on the podcast we had the great pleasure of sitting down with Brian Weinstein and Jeff Vernon, founders of Samsara Fitness and creators of the Trueform Runner. The Trueform Runner is a non-powered treadmill whose deck is curved up a bit at either end.  It’s quite simple in design, and it is truly a revolutionary training tool.  Coach Al and I have recently had the opportunity to spend some time on one of these machines and experiment a bit.  In the gait lab when we work with athletes on running technique, the first concepts we introduce are proper posture and appropriate cadence.  I can tell you without hesitation that these two things might well be the Trueform Runner’s strong suit.  It provides immediate feedback to the user, increases activation of the posterior chain (that would be the butt!) and it’s quite a lot of fun to play with!  We’re very excited to be doing some research using a Trueform Runner in the coming months, and we’ll share what we learn with you along the way.

Many thanks to Jeff and Brian for joining us today!  We really enjoyed having them in the lab, and we hope you enjoy the podcast.


027: Does Running With a Forward Lean Help Efficiency? Does Your Bike Pedal Fit Matter? We Answer [Podcast]



Forward_LeanHi Everyone!

Today on the podcast we discuss two things.

First, the foot-pedal interface is an important part of a bike fit, yet it is frequently overlooked.   When this is executed correctly, it can improve power and reduce injury.

Second, we answer the question about whether running with a forward lean improves efficiency. This questions leads to a rich discussion of running form. To quote Coach Al, unless you build and integrate the qualities that make for strong, efficient running on the inside, “you can lean forward all day long and all you’re gonna get is a mess.” We dive in.

018: The Secret To Running Technique No One Is Telling You (Podcast)



Hey Everyone!

Want to know the secret to running technique no one is telling you? (Hint: It has nothing to do with shoes or drills.)

Boston_MenWhen it comes to running, we tend to put the cart before the horse. Browse the web and you’re sure to find plenty of coaches and trainers eager to help you improve your running form. And there’s certainly no shortage of shoe companies who will tell you that their shoes are, in fact, the magic bullet you’ve been looking for.

Strap on a pair of those babies and you’ll run faster and injury-free.

Um, not so much.

The truth is, our running technique is a product of the way we move.

It is the sum total of our flexibility, mobility, strength, stability and biomechanics. We see evidence of this in our Fast Lab everyday. When athletes restore balance in muscle length, achieve appropriate mobility in the joints, and develop strong, stable cores, the way in which they run is transformed.

Small tweaks can be made to things like posture, cadence and arm carriage, but these are not central. They are the “frosting on the cake.” A particular shoe or the latest method can neither create core stability nor compensate for short hip flexors.

The way that we run is derived from the inside out, not the outside in.

To ignore this is to invite injury and deny yourself your true potential.

Don’t settle for broken and slow. Choose healthy and fast!

Helping YOU Be Great!

Coach Al and Kurt


We hope you enjoy our podcasts and find them useful for your training and racing. Any questions? Hit us up in the comments, or on Facebook. Let us know of any topics you would like us to cover too.

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015: Ben Greenfield, Coach Al, and Dr. Strecker Take On Minimalist Running Shoes (Podcast)



Hi Everyone! 

Here’s a simple but often overlooked fact:

Ben Greenfield, Pursuit Athletic Performance Podcast

Triathlon Coach Ben Greenfield

Each one of us is unique.

We each have a unique history and lifestyle. As runners, we all have unique foot mechanics, unique training and racing histories, and unique running goals for the future.
Why is it then that so many experts in the running world say there’s one approach, or one shoe, that is good for EVERY single person?

That’s just not true.

What is true? Try these two statements:

1. There is NO SINGLE running shoe or approach to running that is perfect for EVERY SINGLE runner on the planet.

2. There IS appropriate foot wear for every single runner on the planet.

When I am scouring the research, or reading a book, or checking out an online journal and find that a professional in the field states that every single person should do “this” or do “that,” it instantly raises a red flag.

For me, given my passion about and on the topic of running, red flags fly frequently regarding pat, undiscriminating recommendations about running shoes.

Use this shoe…or go without shoes…

My problem with this advice comes in when the experts promote the idea that what is good for some runners is good for ALL. At Pursuit Athletic Performance, our mission is to make sure runners get the straight scoop on what is ultimately going to be best for them, as individuals. If you want to say it is my agenda to try and set the record straight on what I believe are MYTHS, then so be it, I accept that freely.

Fast forward…

On September 15th, I read a blog post written by well-known and highly-respected triathlon coach, Ben Greenfield. You can find Ben Greenfield Fitness here. I know Ben, having met him at a USA Triathlon Coaching Conference in Colorado Springs some years ago, and again at the Ironman World Championships in Kona last year. I have a great deal of respect for Ben, and know he speaks to a vast audience.

I was really taken aback, however, when I read the opening sentence to his blog post “Barefoot Running Is Healthy, Ancestral And Good For Your Feet – But Is There Such A Thing As Minimalist Cycling Shoes?” The sentence reads:

As you may have heard, there are a ton of benefits you get when you switch to minimalist running shoes or go barefoot……instead of constantly making your feet weak by protecting them with a bubble of built-up, fancy footwear. But is there a natural, ancestral way of treating your feet when you’re riding a bike? Or are cyclists and triathletes doomed?

My first reaction to this statement was quick and simple: He’s flat out wrong here.

Ben then goes on to recommend the potential benefits of a custom made cycling shoe made by a company called Rocket 7. I see that as a contradiction. Isn’t having a bike shoe custom made really having a version of an “orthotic” made for your feet? Yes, in fact, it is.

To me, custom shoes are a far cry from “minimalist cycling.” and it presents a contradiction. On the one hand, Ben is promoting that it is better to go “natural” for running (and cycling as well based upon the title of the post). Yet, he recommends the potential benefits of what, in essence, is a custom made foot-bed for a shoe that is ATTACHED to the bike pedal.

In my opinion, there is nothing remotely “minimalist” about being clipped into a bike pedal with high-end bike shoes, let alone taking it one step further and using a custom made foot bed.

I decided to reply to the post.

In my response, I told Ben that while I enjoy his blog, and very often learn some new things while reading, this comment: “there are a ton of benefits you get when you switch to minimalist running shoes,” was in my opinion, wrong.

He replied a bit shocked at my candor, and said: “that was blunt! What part was wrong would you say?”
I took the opportunity to open a discussion, and you can read my extensive and somewhat technical reply here. To Ben’s credit he was interested in what I had to say (no surprise really — he has a very open mind). Since we seemed to have a disagreement on what I feel is a very important topic, I asked Ben if he would like to join me in a podcast to discuss the issue in more depth for the benefit of our listeners. Let’s talk about it, put our perspective out there for all to hear, and let the listeners make up their own minds about what they believe.

I really appreciate Ben’s willingness to come onto our podcast to discuss this important topic. In truth, we were not very far apart at all. In the end, I believe that is a good thing.

Thank you, Ben, for sharing your time. This information will certainly help de-mystify the topic and provide a solid foundation for a better understanding of the unique nature of our feet and the shoes we decide to put on them.

Coach Al

NOTE– If you are interested in reading the full text of my reply to Ben’s blog post, you can find it here. It’s quite technical, but very thorough for those of you who would like to go deeper into the issue of minimalist shoes. Thanks to my partner, Dr. Kurt Strecker, for contributing some important information in the response.

We hope you enjoy our podcasts and find them useful for your training and racing. Any questions? Hit us up in the comments, or on Facebook. Let us know of any topics you would like us to cover too.

NOTE! If you review our podcast on iTunes you could win TWO MONTHS FREE on our training team! Click here for details, register below.

Click here to subscribe via RSS (non-iTunes feed)

We’re on Stitcher Radio too!

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… 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

Coach Al On The Run: Here’s How to Get the Most Out of Doing Strides

pursuit athletic performanceAny experienced runner will tell you the value of doing strides on a regular basis. I prescribe strides in just about every run. While strides are a very familiar concept, the finer details of doing them correctly can fade over time. Let’s revisit and how to do them well in order to reap the most benefit from this simple yet powerful exercise.

I think of “strides” as form accelerations, usually done for around 20 to 30 seconds duration. They are not only great for increasing leg speed and “waking up” our nervous system, they are also a great way to routinely practice good running form at a faster rate of speed. What are the mental cues you can use to make these more effective?

Here are a few tips:

  • Great running starts with good posture: run TALL and lengthen your body through your spine.Don’t bend or collapse at the waist; push through your hips to open your chest, which will allow you to get that swing-leg knee farther out in front of your body with each stride.
  • Along these same lines, as you “run tall,” imagine a rubber band wrapped around your chest as an imaginary kite pulls you up and forward – you’re flying!
  • Great running is absolutely relaxed and efficient. Learn to relax MORE, and use strides as an active way to enhance relaxation! As you think about extending and lengthening your spine and running “taller,” relax your shoulders down and in and keep the elbows back.
  • Pay attention to how much NOISE you are making when your foot hits the ground, as well as how horizontal your movement is. Less noise is better (more effective deceleration/force reduction – less energy leakage), as is more horizontal (not vertical) movement.
  • As you land underneath your body, extending your hip, feel yourself pushing through the toes. Focusing on this periodically can help increase speed at a lower effort level. Don’t over exaggerate this and turn it into a “toe push,” but learn how to reference different parts of your body as you run, swim, and bike. Subtle awareness cues can help you feel more relaxed and more efficient.
  • As you warm up, have some fun by playing around with stride rate, mixing a faster stride and shorter stride length with a longer, bounding type stride that comes directly from over emphasizing hip rotation/drive, and toe push off. Make the movements MORE DYNAMIC to actively improve hip mobility and functional strength.
  • Running with a faster, shorter stride will, at first, make you feel like your shoes are tied together. Stick with it. Most runners would benefit from a higher stride rate and a more compact stride during most running. Keep in mind that the true dictator of stride LENGTH is your strength, e.g. how much force you put into the ground!
  • As you go through these mental exercises, you may notice that you need to sometimes go back to the beginning and remember to relax the shoulders and breathe deeply through your belly, starting the process all over again!
  • Have some fun playing around with your run form and enjoying every minute of experimentation and learning about your body!

These kinds of mental exercises are what keep your run training fresh and interesting, and should keep you coming back for more!

Try it! Have fun! Be great!

~Coach Al

Runner, Once Frustrated, Learns How to Refine His Form

One of our great clients, Glen Elliot, does a terrific job explaining the frustration most runners face when trying to improve their form. He tried to work on every cue in the book while running–cadence, land on forefoot, good posture, etc.–and came to the conclusion, “this just isn’t working.” A few weeks after his gait analysis and subsequent training with us, Glen returns to the lab for a tune up. What you will hear is his “lightbulb moment.”

Great job, Glen! You are really fitting together all the pieces of the puzzle!