“Pushing Through the Ball” Cue for Active Stance in Running Gait

Earlier today I found a useful video from John Foster describing and giving the rationale for a simple running technique cue:

“Push through The Ball”

…which is very different to landing on the ball of the foot. We’re not talking about contact pattern here.

As John describes it:

The goal of this cue is to stiffen the ankle and pre-set the calf muscles to prevent excess dorsiflexion (forward ankle bend). The result is normally shorter ground contact and a feeling of ‘ticking along’. We are not after a large recoil or bounding action – just a reduction in the slow spongy slog pattern we sometimes see when running slowly…

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In a previous video post, my colleague Ian Griffiths gives some brilliant insights into the importance of limb stiffness from a running performance and injury rehab point of view.

Active Stance Phase

The simple method John presents in the video is basically a neat way of cueing the plantar flexor muscles to create an increased internal plantarflexion moment at the ankle. This acts to counter the external dorsiflexion moment experienced at the ankle due to ground reaction force during midstance phase of running gait. Essentially increasing joint stiffness.

You can learn more about the different phases of the running gait cycle here: The Running Gait Cycle Made Simple

N.B. Some runners have limited weight bearing dorsiflexion. This comes with its own specific set of issues and is definitely an article for another day! This cue however is of most use for those runners who display dorsiflexion on the normal-to-excessive side of the scale, and fail to control their available range of motion at the ankle during dynamic weight bearing. This often leaves them feeling like they sink excessively into each step, with a drawn-out contact time… Is this you?!

In my experience, this becomes especially powerful in runners I meet with overuse pathologies biomechanically associated with increased mid stance dorsiflexion and knee flexion angle.

Such injuries as Achilles Tendinopathy, Patellofemoral Pain and Medial Tibial Stress Syndrome (to name a few) frequently react well to this kind of coaching at the right point in the rehab plan.

I tend to coach a very similar set of cues to reach the same end result as John. Many of my athletes will have heard me referring to this as an Active Stance Phase.

Try it, but don’t force it… The feeling you’re looking for is ‘responsive under foot’ not ‘bouncy’ 🙂

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Calf Conditioning Drill for Forefoot Running
Last updated on March 2nd, 2021.

1 Comment

  1. James, Thanks for this post as I have been wondering about how much ankle stiffness I should have on landing and was not sure if I should be working towards allowing a greater degree of bend and relaxation of the ankle.

    Yes I like this cue of stiffening the ankle which leads to feeling like the ball of the foot is pushing down into the ground actively rather then sinking into the ground passively. My perception is that I resist sinking at the ankle first and then the knee by stiffening both and pushing into the ground only so that I am able to push off of it again as quickly as possible. I then use the push as the cue to pull my foot from the ground. So the cue is Push-Pull, Push-Pull, Push-Pull. I have heard this kind of pull described as pulling your foot from the ground as though it is stuck with sticky glue or gum and using a little bit of force for the pull, just enough to unstick it.