Mo Farah has done it again! He won gold at the 2016 Olympic 10,000m finals. Absolutely, he has the will and mental drive to win, but he also has been trained to develop a smart biomechanical habit.
The Perfect Stride of Mo Farah
In the past, foot strike and leg swing mechanics were woefully underestimated in elite distance running. That is a shame because, when used properly, you’ll be able to outperform every time.
To maximize running economy, you must work on your biomechanics from the ground up, which is exactly what Alberto Salazar did when he re-engineered Mo Farah’s gait.
Salazar tweaked Farah’s form in a way that reflects sprinting mechanics: anterior foot strike, no over-striding (i.e. ankle lands under the knee at touchdown), no trailing leg (i.e. leg is rapidly pulled up to the buttocks to initiate the next stride). Note that Farah does have a long stride, he just doesn’t over-stride.
To reduce anterior leg swing activity (i.e. less forward leg swing and braking), Farah increased his cadence to promote more posterior leg swing activity –hence a higher back-kick. The advantage of such adjustments lowers energy cost at fast running speeds (speeds greater than 10 mph).
The brilliance of Farah’s refined gait is that it increases flight time. This means that Farah’s feet spend minimal time on the ground. Less stance time, or shorter support phase duration, reduces contact forces.
- For instance, horizontal forces, or the braking phase, makeup more than 33% of the total metabolic costs in running (Chang and Kram). Reducing ground contact through forefoot running would reduce this force.
The Take Home Message
Performance is walled by bad mechanics. Yet the core battle between better performance and injury prevention will remain, but can be fought through by forefoot running, even with the most delicate body frames (like most Kenyan runners).
Identifying components of Farah’s gait is a key step towards discerning running efficiency at its most fundamental level. Likewise, Farah’s gait illuminates fundamental forefoot running mechanics, running with success in a way even Salazar never achieved with his heel strike, shuffle.
Click here to learn about specific drills Farah used to improve his form.
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Chang, YH and Kram, R. Metabolic cost of generating horizontal forces during human running. J Appl Physiol 86: 1657–1662, 1999.
French, J., Long, M and Cook, B. The Perfect Stride. Athletics Weekly, 2014, July. pp44.
BSc Neurobiology; MSc Biomechanics candidate, ultra minimalist runner & founder of RunForefoot. I was a heel striker, always injured. I was inspired by the great Tirunesh Dibaba to try forefoot running. Now, I'm injury free. This is why I launched Run Forefoot, to advocate the health & performance benefits of forefoot running and to raise awareness on the dangers of heel striking, because the world needs to know.