One of the running technique cues runners sometimes struggle to master at first when changing their gait is the “foot pull”. Mastering this movement will help you prevent a lazy heel lift.
Why Lift Your Heels When Running?
Picking your foot up beneath your hip as your leg swings forwards engages the hamstrings during mid-swing phase of your running gait. This reduces the load placed on your hip flexors, as they pull the swinging leg through on to the next stride.
A common flaw in many runners is to run with a hip flexor dominant swing phase which results in overactivity in the hip flexors, specifically rectus femoris, as described here.
Often this looks like a “lazy heel lift” when running. As a consequence of this shuffle running technique, the swing leg acts as a longer lever, placing more strain and demand on the hip flexors.
Sometimes this results in more tension through the iliotibial band, and often affects pelvic posture.
This kind of muscular imbalance around the hips can also contribute to relative glute weakness or gluteal inhibition.
Learning to use your hamstrings to contribute more in the swing phase, by picking (or “pulling”) the foot up under the body, rather than overly relying on the hip flexors, creates a more balanced and efficient distribution of the effort around the hip and knee.
Remember, the hamstrings are a very strong and powerful muscle group; anatomically they’re aligned to be powerful, prime movers.
A signature feature of POSE technique is the specific focus on getting the hamstrings working in this way. However we find that many athletes over-do this cue, with counterproductive results, as they start flicking their legs back in an effort to force the movement.
This drill will help to keep the “pull” movement under the body as desired, rather than becoming more of a flick behind the body.
Jeff Grant of Hillseeker Fitness has shared a great drill for mastering the “foot pull” in the short video above.
How Does Heel Lift Relate to Proper Running Form
When we speak about proper running technique, we look to encourage muscle balance around the hips and pelvis, in particular, combined with good posture. I look to see a runner staying “tall” rather than “sitting back”.
Engaging your hamstrings during the swing phase helps to achieve these two goals specifically by sharing the effort with the hip flexors, and keeping the whole leg motion neatly under the body, rather than over-striding.
Here’s an article (and video) that better describes how the quality of your heel lift and leg swing when running will determine whether or not you over-stride: