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Knee Drive and the Trail Leg

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More stuff on form. This time we look closely at the leg movement as it pertains to forward drive, particularly knee lift and your leg movement at the trail phase.

I’ve mentioned in a previous post the importance of good form. I realize now that I mostly focused on form as it related to the upper body: erect body, raised chest, neutral head, eyes forward, arms relaxed and at a 90 degree angle, etc. Those things help us run economically through efficiency of movement. What really makes us better runners is what happens from the waist down.

Running speed over long distances can be improved by increasing the speed of your knee drive and the pull back of your stride.

An aggressive forward knee drive increases our stride length. It starts with a strong pushoff from our trail leg. A strong extension of the ankle joint during push off along with an aggressive forward knee drive helps increases hip extension. When we can increase the speed of our forward knee drive, we increase our stride length. How can you tell if your push off is aggressive? Your trail leg should have a slight bend in the knee, but mostly straight at the time of push off. When this happens you can almost always be sure your toe is pointed downward having completed a maximal push.

A good knee drive doesn’t mean high knees. Sprinters develop high knees because it produces more ground force on impact which propels the body forward at higher speeds. The problem for distance runners is high knee action isn’t sustainable for long distance. Therefore, we focus on a forward knee thrust; when our knees extend beyond our body (we should catch a glimpse of our knee without moving our head to look down). The key is to drive the knee with some speed to create more length in our stride.

Aggressively bringing our leg back to the pushoff stage is critical in maintaining a high turnover rate. What needs to happen when our foot lands is to quickly pull the foot back (what sprinters call “pawback”). Assuming your foot has landed slightly in front of your waist or directly under your waist, you begin the movement by dusting the top of the surface with the sole of your shoes (like a cat paws at something). This movement insures minimal ground impact time and sets up the trail leg movement (extension of the leg and ankle flex). The trail leg foot should only rise slightly higher than the knee. At that point it should be aggressively driven forward. For shorter legged people the foot may not rise as high. It’s more important to focus on speed of transition: from pushoff to knee drive; foot landing to pull back.

The picture above illustrates a good form. Notice how the knee is driven forward with a nice pushoff. the trailing foot is pointed down and the leg is mostly straight with a slight knee bend. The foot lands slightly in front of the waist and kicked back.


I tried looking for a better video, but this was the best I could do. Good explanation of form.

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