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On the Second Day of Christmas My Run Coach Taught to Me…

Welcome to our holiday gift to you:
Twelve Days of Healthy Running Tips

Second Day of Christmas: Healthy Running Tips

On the second day of Christmas

my run coach taught to me:
To use my Achilles Tendons
and a proper foot strike...

Contrary to popular belief, the main function of the Achilles tendon is to act as a spring when landing NOT to push the foot off the ground to drive you forward - unless, of course you're trying to get Achilles tendinitis. Think of the Achilles as your body's strongest rubber band that connects your heel bone to your calf muscles. When you pull back a rubber band and let it fly, you release all of its stored energy - the farther you pull back, the more stored energy you have, the farther it will fly. Likewise, the Achilles stores energy as it absorbs impact when you land on your forefoot and it releases the energy back into forward movement upon each stride. To put this into physiological terms, you are leveraging "muscle-tendon elasticity" versus pure muscle-power to move forward - you may be shocked to learn that the energy cost of running can be reduced by 50 percent using the former over the latter.

Think about how impressive this design really is... When your foot makes contact with the ground, your muscle tendons lengthen like a bowstring, absorbing the impact. The muscles and tendons then shorten, releasing the absorbed energy back into your stride like an arrow released by a bow - that's right, you get energy for free!

There's one catch: this only happens if you land on your forefoot. If you heel strike, you not only lose the "free energy" you get from your tendons reacting to striking the ground, you also damage your body by letting your bones and joints absorb the impact. In short, ….you will use less energy and perform better when you don't over-muscle your stride or heel strike.

Tips on ensuring you're using your Achilles tendons effectively…

Don't fall into the trap that many barefoot and minimalist shoe runners do by thinking that all can be corrected by simply landing on your forefoot - unfortunately, it's not that simple. It's not enough to replace heel striking with forefoot striking if you're landing with your foot well ahead of your hip and you're driving the foot into the ground.

To take full advantage of muscle-tendon elasticity, you must allow your foot to land on its ball but ALSO under your hip - you do this by avoiding full extension of the knee. We used the word "allow" because you should think of it as something that will happen naturally versus you powering your foot downwards into the ground in an effort to land on your forefoot.

One trick to make sure you're not driving your foot into the ground is to think of your foot as simply landing to catch yourself as if you were falling. Try running in place and feel how your feet land naturally on the forefoot. As your foot lands, the Achilles will stretch to absorb impact, and your heel should drop to touch the ground with a slight kiss. Most of your body weight should remain on the ball of your foot as the muscles and tendons shorten again and release as you lift your foot off the ground.

Jump Rope with Forward Movement

This is an effective drill we use with our clients. The goal is to increase your perception of muscle tendon elasticity by landing on the balls of your feet, falling forward and then catching yourself repetitively.

  1. Start by jumping rope in place (imaginary jump rope can be used). Try not to push off with your toes or to use your calf muscles to jump upwards, instead think of un-weighing yourself by slightly raising your shoulders each time you lift off. Focus on landing forefoot and letting your heels briefly kiss the floor - feeling the springiness of your Achilles at work.
  2. While jumping rope, begin to move forward by slightly shifting your hips forward over your base of support (the balls of your feet).
  3. The forward movement should come from falling forward, again, aided by a slight raise of your shoulders as you jump. The more severe your angle of falling before you jump to catch yourself, the greater forward distance you will cover with each jump - so keep the angle slight at first.
  4. Repeat for a series of jumps forward, making sure you can feel your body weight on the balls of your feet and the springiness of your Achilles doing most of the work.

We hope these tips serve you well in your quest to become a healthier, lifelong runner! Stay tuned for more TIPS TOMORROW and we wish everyone happy holidays!! 

Keep on Running!

Julia, Patrick & Jo-Jo

Pose, RRCA, USAT and ITCA Certified Coaches


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