I know Tigger is very adorable bouncing on his spring like tail down the trail of Hundred Acre Wood, but running is not supposed to be adorable and runners don’t bounce, right?
Common sense says that pushing off the ground with a higher stride angle, the angle of your ankle joint, (so you travel up more than forward), would equal less running economy, but there’s at least one study from 2013 that says more bounce is better. Don’t get excited my bouncy friends, there are lots of studies that show bounce is bad.
It’s a long-held belief that running with a bounce, or vertical oscillation, wastes energy because runners want to move forward not upward. Runners with more bounce tend to be heel strikers as well. If you think about it, it just makes sense. Pushing off so you move up rather than forward, when forward is the goal, is going to use more energy over time than moving forward without so much upward motion.
Of course, it’s not that easy. There are runners who bounce and land toward their forefoot. There are two types of bouncing runners: those who run with a forefoot strike and have an elastic bounce and those who run with a heel strike and have a muscular bounce.
An elastic bounce uses the stored energy of the Achilles tendon to power the runner and can reduce energy costs. A muscular bounce on the other hand, is caused by a long stride length, the breaking action of a heel strike followed by a hard toe-off from the forefoot. The problem with the muscular bounce is it places more stress on the musculature of the lower legs and feet.
Not only does this waste your energy, but the impact of hitting the ground flows through the body in the wrong way and can cause injuries such as shin splints, runners knee, lower back pain, and soft tissue vibration and injury.
Alright so you’re a bouncer, what now? If you are a beginning runner, the bounce may fade away as you build muscle and get into your running groove. If you’ve been at this running thing for a while and you still bounce, make sure your stride is short and your leg turnover is about 180 steps per minute. Pay attention to your arms as you run too. They should be at a 90-degree angle and swing mostly straight forward and back. Your elbow comes up to your hip and your wrist goes back to your hip. Keep your hands lose.
If you’re a heavy heel striker, try to adjust to landing on your feet when they are beneath you, so you’re landing on your mid-foot or forefoot. This will happen automatically if you have a slight forward lean, your shoulders are pulled back, and your head is up.
Tigger is very happy bouncing on the trails, but you’ll be happier and faster if you reduce the bounce.