Running Performance: Identifying Your Runner Type

Hi Folks! As we launch into the Running Performance Series, I thought I’d start with helping you gain a perspective on just what type of runner you are. There are many ways to interpret that concept, and I’d like to start by assisting you in identifying the athletic mechanotype which characterizes your running style. This is a principle which I explain across all sports and body types in my book, AnimalFIT, but it’s especially useful for self-understanding in the runner.

Regardless of the distances or terrains you traverse, your running gait will represent one of three basic mechanotypes. These are concentric/force-dominant, isometric/elastic, and eccentric/rhythm-dependent. Based on your genetics and anatomy, your body automatically self-organizes into one of these movement patterns. Each pattern has some unique features, and they all work to locomote the body. I’ll list out each runner type below and describe them a bit. Just remember, no one style is better than another in and of itself, but there is one that best fits your unique inner beast.

Concentric: These are runners who are very strong and muscle-driven. They are capable of both absorbing and generating high amounts of force. They are sometimes labelled knee-dominant or quad-dominant because they run with deeper knee flexion angles than other types. This is because they rely heavily on muscle contraction for propulsion. The main thing we have to keep in mind with concentric runners is that they need to progress workout duration very gradually in their programs. Doing so allows time for their muscular system to adapt and build up a tolerance, thus avoiding injury.

Isometric: Elastic runners are — in one word — bouncy. They utilize isometric contractions to stiffen their limbs and thus transfer energy through the tendons. These athletes have that snappy/poppy characteristic to their footstrikes, and generally present with the shortest ground contact times overall. Load management via being very cautious with overall volume (such as weekly mileage) is critical for these runners because the connective tissues and bones upon which they rely are slower-adapting than the muscles of the concentric athletes mentioned above.

Eccentric: These are the kinds of runners who neither generate nor transfer huge amounts of force in their gait cycles. Instead, they use technique to contain momentum and minimize its leakage from the system. This is accomplished by eccentric contractions that accept and steer their running energy into slingshot or slinky-like pulling mechanisms. They tend to be very precise and rhythmical in their stride. Because of this condition, we’ve got to be strategic in the dosing of intensity with these athletes. While they are very durable in the presence of workout duration or cycle volume, high intensity can be like kryptonite for these critters. 

So that’s it. How you run can be a powerful indicator of how your body is designed to function. While we can and will (in this Series) give consideration to optimizing running form, we’ll keep it within the bounds of your natural structural mechanics. As you watch the Olympics this year, you’ll see runners of each of these three types in many of the different events. This kind of stuff is the secret sauce the champs use to become Olympians, and you can use the same knowledge to achieve more of your athletic potential.

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