Making A Better Runner – Stretch-Shorten-Cycle – BOUNCE!

So we’ve gone through the classic format of looking at different types of training that people tend to do and come to the conclusion that although there are some things that are more important than others on the training continuum for runners, a balance needs to be struck in order for progression and improvement to manifest itself.

There is one thing that hasn’t been talked about, and that is Bounce, or the stretch-shorten-cycle. Essentially, it is the load response of a tendon, its brief amortization phase – when the tendon is no longer lengthening, and is not shortening, and then there is the recoil, when the stored energy is released.


Faster runners seem to have more bounce to them than slower ones.
Think about it, if, on every footstep you hit the floor lose momentum and then pretty much start your movement from scratch in terms of energy production, you are going to use a lot more energy than someone who hits the floor, stores energy in their tendon and releases like a spring back off it again in a bouncing motion.

I’m not going to pretend that it uses any less energy, but I reckon (with no scientific backing beyond my own experience) that it’s a whole lot more efficient as a running style.

The caveat here being that you need the strength to absorb, store and recoil the energy which would otherwise go into the floor through your foot and be wasted as impact.

(I know… we come back to strength… again).

What to do about it? Well – what not to do is go out and try and run in a bouncy and fore-footed way if you’ve never tried it before. You’ll end up with painful calves and possibly end up not running because of pain for a week. (I know, I did it). Not so cool.

If you already have basic Strength, consider jumping and hopping progressions, but specifically looking at only touching the ground for short periods of time with your feet. Experiment with broad jumps and depth jumps – this is very much a specific part of the Power phase, but it is the ability to control that Power in terms of recoil, and direct it in a very specific way.

This is a neuromuscular control issue, something that happens over a period of time. Improvements come in increments, and there are pitfalls along the way. As ever, the danger of injury is there, as it is with any training beyond that which you are used to.

So there you have it – a number of exercise strategies to think about in terms of running improvement. Of course, if you’re going to change something in your training regime, do so over a period of time, introduce it slowly and allow your body to get used to it. We all change and adapt at different rates, so if you end up very sore and feel like it’s too challenging, or things are hurting a bit too much, lay off a bit, but don’t give up hope. Change slowly, improvements will come.

If you have any questions / arguments you want to pick / suggestions for me / and so on and so forth, please drop me (Tim) a line on

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