Examining the Role of High Knee Lift in Sprinting

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      • Mike Young
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        Mike Young on #18616

        If you go to any track meet or practice you’ll likely hear the sprint coach yelling “KNEES UP” to one or more of his athletes. And perhaps the most utilized drill in the entire sport is the high knee drill. So what’s behind this ubiquitous cue? Why do we want athletes to lift the knees when they run fast? Many recognize and observe the benefit in performance but few understand the actual mecha

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        ELITETRACK Founder

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        peterthach28@yahoo.com on #118546

        Would an active knee lift be too taxing to hold for an 800?

      • Mike Young
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        Mike Young on #118547

        That somewhat depends on how fast you are but in general, I’d say that other than the elite of the elite males, the energy cost of a high knee recovery outweighs the benefits.

        ELITETRACK Founder

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        the_chosen_one on #118549

        High Knee lift is a myth…knee lift in elites happen to be a bi-product of pushing/acclerating the thigh forward. Artificially focusing on knee lift is a total miss.

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        Albert Naugle Gudiño on #118552

        High Knee lift is a myth…knee lift in elites happen to be a bi-product of pushing/acclerating the thigh forward. Artificially focusing on knee lift is a total miss.

        I somewhat agree with this. I’ve always thought (and been taught) that the high knee recovery is a result of forces being pushed into the ground and that force being transferred through the body. I realize the more I’m able to relax on the recovery phase the higher my knees, the more extension I get, thus the longer my stride… Could all just be sensations but I feel that if you concentrate on pulling your knees up, your not putting all your force into the ground…

        Mike?

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        the_chosen_one on #118554

        To add, if you ever look at elites, the thigh or knee is never parallel or 90degrees. You are correct that the perceived “high” knee/thigh lift is attributed to the heel recovery & toe dorsiflexsion.

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        Ryan Banta on #118559

        Chosen one I think dr. Ralph Mann would disagree with you. Pick up his book actually the biggest difference between elite and non-elite is front side mechanics which of course includes proper knee lift

        "Nature hides her secret because of her essential loftiness, but not by means of ruse." -Albert Einstein

      • Mike Young
        Keymaster
        Mike Young on #118560

        High Knee lift is a myth…knee lift in elites happen to be a bi-product of pushing/acclerating the thigh forward. Artificially focusing on knee lift is a total miss.

        Since the knee is essentially the most distal part of the knee, how is it that ‘pushing / accelerating the thigh forward’ is not the same as knee lift other than semantics?

        Both EMG studies on sprinters and the kinematic studies of Dr. Mann and others contradict you’re assertion that high knee recovery isn’t active and important.

        Perhaps it (high knees messing things up as you say) is more a case that ‘high knees’ is not a cue that works for many in the context of the other cues or training that are being used.

        I know you haven’t said this but since we’re on the topic, I wanted to dispel the idea that athletes get to their peak hip flexion based on a ‘rebound’ of the leg from the ground. This was a popular idea for a while but this is absolute nonsense refuted by EMG and observational studies as well as basic biomechanical estimations of what it would take to get the thigh to recover with significant hip flexion.

        The best sprinters from yesterday, the best sprinters from today, men and women, all have big front side mechanics / high knee recovery.

        ELITETRACK Founder

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        Anthony Wallace on #118561

        Well Put Mike “big front side mechanics / high knee recovery.”

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        W.E. Price on #118562

        What I see most from developmental and even some emerging athletes are poor execution of high knee drills. I would believe that there are better preparatory and/or activation exercises than pointed high knee runs with excessive back leaning.

      • Mike Young
        Keymaster
        Mike Young on #118563

        W.E. Price-
        I agree. After ‘b-skips’ it’s probably the worst performed drill out there.

        ELITETRACK Founder

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        the_chosen_one on #118564

        [quote author="the_chosen_one" date="1353702589"]High Knee lift is a myth…knee lift in elites happen to be a bi-product of pushing/acclerating the thigh forward. Artificially focusing on knee lift is a total miss.

        Since the knee is essentially the most distal part of the knee, how is it that ‘pushing / accelerating the thigh forward’ is not the same as knee lift other than semantics?

        Both EMG studies on sprinters and the kinematic studies of Dr. Mann and others contradict you’re assertion that high knee recovery isn’t active and important.

        Perhaps it (high knees messing things up as you say) is more a case that ‘high knees’ is not a cue that works for many in the context of the other cues or training that are being used.

        I know you haven’t said this but since we’re on the topic, I wanted to dispel the idea that athletes get to their peak hip flexion based on a ‘rebound’ of the leg from the ground. This was a popular idea for a while but this is absolute nonsense refuted by EMG and observational studies as well as basic biomechanical estimations of what it would take to get the thigh to recover with significant hip flexion.

        The best sprinters from yesterday, the best sprinters from today, men and women, all have big front side mechanics / high knee recovery.[/quote]

        Mike, it is not the high knee recovery but rather a heel recovery….the knee position is the chicken after the laid egg. I’m sure you’ve even heard Loren speak and teach thigh pop/acceleration and not high knee recovery.

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        the_chosen_one on #118565

        Chosen one I think dr. Ralph Mann would disagree with you. Pick up his book actually the biggest difference between elite and non-elite is front side mechanics which of course includes proper knee lift

        With all due respect to Dr. Ralph Mann…but there is a difference between what the data tells us and what actually happens. I think we sometimes get lost in the science or the need to create an explanation rather that just looking at things for what they are.

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        the_chosen_one on #118566

        W.E. Price-
        I agree. After ‘b-skips’ it’s probably the worst performed drill out there.

        Not to be controversial but technically, the “A” skip or running “A” is the only things that remotely resembles a real track movement. I don’t teach B’s…C’s at all as there is no crossover and I find other ways to prep. What I do use is a heel recovery drill which is similar to what folks would call high knees but the focus is on a circular heel recovery with dorsiflexion irrespective of how high the knee gets. This is to prepare for optimal ground force output. Just because you bring a hammer over your head to drive a nail in doesn’t mean your going to drive the nail in further. We must look at the speed of the limb or acceleration of the thigh.

        Bring the hammer over my head without a focus on limb speed creates more air time and less force. The notion that elites spend more time in the air is a symptom….what really is happening is they are recovering the heel faster which creates the thigh/limb speed needed to output optimal force. In. Doing this, when you don’t look at the whole but instead the pieces you see a high knee position.

        Food for thought…

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        Ryan Banta on #118568

        [quote author="Ryan Banta" date="1353714745"]Chosen one I think dr. Ralph Mann would disagree with you. Pick up his book actually the biggest difference between elite and non-elite is front side mechanics which of course includes proper knee lift

        With all due respect to Dr. Ralph Mann…but there is a difference between what the data tells us and what actually happens. I think we sometimes get lost in the science or the need to create an explanation rather that just looking at things for what they are.[/quote]

        I assume you are a coach have you broke down film on these athletes? Also do you own or have read Ralph Mann’s book? It is what we are seeing the front side along with high knee lift. The ideal model is not always present in some cases but overwhelming so in elites on average again of all points measured in the stride the front side mechanics is the biggest difference then any other point in the stride. As for drills something’s need to be included not because they improve you knee lift but for other reasons like just making your athlete more athletic and to avoid the over usage of some move,ent patterns that can lead to injury. In addition b skips might not improve front side mechanics but it does prepare the body to load the hamstring without injury by its hip, knee, ankle, and back pawing action

        "Nature hides her secret because of her essential loftiness, but not by means of ruse." -Albert Einstein

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        W.E. Price on #118569

        [quote author="Mike Young" date="1353720525"]W.E. Price-
        I agree. After ‘b-skips’ it’s probably the worst performed drill out there.

        …What I do use is a heel recovery drill which is similar to what folks would call high knees but the focus is on a circular heel recovery with dorsiflexion irrespective of how high the knee gets…[/quote]
        Is the focus here more on recovering the heel close to and under the glute with an emphasis on “crossing over the stance leg knee?”

      • Mike Young
        Keymaster
        Mike Young on #118573

        Mike, it is not the high knee recovery but rather a heel recovery….the knee position is the chicken after the laid egg. I’m sure you’ve even heard Loren speak and teach thigh pop/acceleration and not high knee recovery.

        How is thigh acceleration different from knee lift / hip flexion? I’m not following your argument at all. Even “stepping over” cues active hip flexion. Different cue same response in my opinion. Are we debating cues or action?

        ELITETRACK Founder

      • Mike Young
        Keymaster
        Mike Young on #118574

        Not to be controversial but technically, the “A” skip or running “A” is the only things that remotely resembles a real track movement. I don’t teach B’s…C’s at all as there is no crossover and I find other ways to prep. What I do use is a heel recovery drill which is similar to what folks would call high knees but the focus is on a circular heel recovery with dorsiflexion irrespective of how high the knee gets. This is to prepare for optimal ground force output.

        I don’t think this is controversial at all. There’s actually research that’s looked at the kinematics of the A and B skip and found no significant correlation with Bs and normal sprint mechanics. That said, I think they can still serve a role in teaching posture, warm up, and maybe even getting athletes to feel the outcome (knee extension) or an active stepping down action.

        Just because you bring a hammer over your head to drive a nail in doesn’t mean your going to drive the nail in further. We must look at the speed of the limb or acceleration of the thigh.

        Bring the hammer over my head without a focus on limb speed creates more air time and less force. The notion that elites spend more time in the air is a symptom….what really is happening is they are recovering the heel faster which creates the thigh/limb speed needed to output optimal force. In. Doing this, when you don’t look at the whole but instead the pieces you see a high knee position.

        Food for thought…

        That’s taking the analogy out of context. I very clearly say something to the effect of drawing the hammer back a couple inches….not pulling it over my head. Sure, I could do Kung Fu high kicks and get my knees up by my chest as I bound ridiculously down the track but I don’t think anyone is suggesting that or thinking that will make you faster….just that you need sufficient ROM of the thigh to accelerate the thigh adequately.

        Since you keep coming back to a high heel recovery being the cause of a higher knee recovery, are you suggesting active knee flexion? I see heel recovery as an anatomical consequence of rapid hip flexion following toe-off. EMG studies back this up (knee flexors shut down right after toe off and hip flexors turn on).

        ELITETRACK Founder

      • Carl Valle
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        Carl Valle on #118583

        If anyone can share EMG studies of sprinting as I see nothing on the Psoas because of the need for wire (read sticking needles in your pelvis area) and it would be good to see why and when things are doing what.

        I believe that early activation of the hip flexors and adductors happen earlier with sprinters sort of like pretension of the foot.

        High knee drills don’t guarantee anything but I find them better than isolation exercises. I think drills do something, most likely strengthen and mobilize. As for learning drills do show to get more motor learning from getting body to act as a sponge but I don’t have the papers handy as they were scans of a german study years ago.

      • Mike Young
        Keymaster
        Mike Young on #118594

        Carl-
        I’m not aware of an in vivo non-treadmill, in-competition, fine wire needle EMG on the Psoas using sub 10 sprinters (just in case anyone wanted to ask that question to refute my EMG assertions). That said, there’s plenty of surface EMG studies on adductor magnus and rectus femoris. Both of which act as hip flexors (and given the kinematics of swing phase are obviously doing this rather than than adduction or knee extension respectively following toe off) The adductor magnus is likely also counteracting the external rotation of the hip from sartorius and the major TFL. And the work of Nachemson who has used fine wire EMG, suggest psoas would have the same role in running. And since we know muscles rarely act in isolation, I think it’s safe to say if these other hip flexors are lit up, the Psoas likely is too.

        I increasingly use drills the same way you mentioned….strength and mobility but I still require athletes to match a technical model to learn body awareness and my cueing system.

        ELITETRACK Founder

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        peterthach28@yahoo.com on #118600

        That somewhat depends on how fast you are but in general, I’d say that other than the elite of the elite males, the energy cost of a high knee recovery outweighs the benefits.

        Anatomy for Runners: Unlocking Your Athletic Potential for Health, Speed, and Injury Prevention says something along the lines of an active knee lift being beneficial for half-milers and milers in the 4:20-4:40 range. Pretty cool stuff! A 4:39 1600m just knocks me out of that qualification >.< On the bright side, I've still got that 800.

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        MBZweifel@dbq.edu on #118698

        Great discussion!

        While we know that greater front side mechanics is associated with higher running speeds, how do we get greater front side mechanics? I always thought that knee lift/drive is a combination of ground forces and active hip flexion. Doesn’t the leg initially “react” back off the ground after foot strike (newtons 3rd law)? And then during mid-swing actively driven up into a good knee lift?

        You can tell your athletes to focus on knee lift/drive during running, but any coach will tell you this usually hinders their speed, alters their mechanics, and leads them to thinking to much during running. For example tell a kid to get a higher knee lift during this next rep, and they’ll usually lean their torso back, lose turnover and stride length, and be consciously thinking about their knee lift while losing other valuable qualities. And if research has shown that running drills don’t transfer over to sprinting then how can we fix poor front side mechanics?

        Do we take a couple steps back and lose speed to have them consciously think about knee drive during sprinting and hopefully accumulate enough practice time that this ingrains in their motor pattern????

        Do we work a ton of strength everywhere and maybe add in extra work on the hip flexors so the knee drive becomes more efficient and natural? I think yes

        From my experience I think greater knee drive is associated with greater ground forces being applied and greater strength. I feel it is very hard to improve front side mechanics through cueing and practice. And with sprinting being a very intense movement, it is hard to get a lot of reps to change the pattern. Now if you have young athletes and who have a lot of time to develop, then I think you can catch them early enough to instill the motor pattern.

        Just my 2 cents. Thanks for the great discussion and content on here!

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        star61 on #118705

        Great discussion!

        …And if research has shown that running drills don’t transfer over to sprinting…

        Are there any studies that actually show that running drills do not impact sprint technique? I’m not talking about performance, simply direct impact. For example, video analysis of two groups of sprinters, whith only one group including some drill like high knees. Is there no evidence that extended training with the drill actually alters the sprinters mechanics? Again, not talking about performance, just altering the sprint technique.

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        MBZweifel@dbq.edu on #118706

        Whoops I miss ready from previous posts where it said B-drills were studied to have no correlation to running mechanics, I thought I read both A and B’s.
        But I have not read any studies stating running drills do or do not correlate and carryover to improved running techniques. Have you read anything about the carryover or effectiveness of form running drills?

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        star61 on #118708

        Whoops I miss ready from previous posts where it said B-drills were studied to have no correlation to running mechanics, I thought I read both A and B’s.
        But I have not read any studies stating running drills do or do not correlate and carryover to improved running techniques. Have you read anything about the carryover or effectiveness of form running drills?

        Not that I can remember off the top of my head. Others may. You would think that not only have running drills been tested for changes in mechanics, but also changes in performance between groups. I would think that some pretty detailed analysis has been done correlating different aspects of both front side and back side mechanics with performance, and how changes in front/back side mechanics has impacted performance, but it is not an area I have looked into much, even though I find it interesting.

      • Mike Young
        Keymaster
        Mike Young on #118712

        There has been at least one peer reviewed published study that looked at the kinematic sequencing of joint actions in common sprint drills (I believe A & B skips + butt kicks) and compared it to the kinematic sequencing of joint actions during sprinting. I’m 90% sure it was published by someone out of the LSU kinesiology department (before I was there). The results indicated no correlation between the drills and sprinting. This doesn’t mean they’re not worthwhile though….just that they’re not sprinting. Any time you look at partial movement drills there’s going to be a reduced likelihood that it resembles the full movement. I’ll try to track down the study.

        ELITETRACK Founder

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        JeremyRichmond on #118716

        This study might have some information for you. I tried to attach it but it was too big.

        Harrison AJ. Biomechanical factors in sprint training – where science meets coaching.
        XXVIII International Symposium of Biomechanics in Sports, July 2010.

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        Uros Zivkovic on #118717

        Hey Mike, I have been training with the bear protocol lately and according to them, high knee action in sprinters is a bi-product of high vertical forces during ground contact, isn’t that true?

        Also, if I try and lift my knees higher, will my GC be affected(shorter, longer)?

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        star61 on #118724

        This study might have some information for you. I tried to attach it but it was too big.

        Harrison AJ. Biomechanical factors in sprint training – where science meets coaching.
        XXVIII International Symposium of Biomechanics in Sports, July 2010.

        Jeremy,

        An interesting study, thanks for sharing. While this type of study is interesting and can teach us a lot, its not the kind of empirical study I like to determine whether or not some training means actually contributes to performance. This type of theoretical study makes huge assumptions based on what ‘seems’ likely or reasonable. The fact is, there are many, many unknowns. A simple study like the following provides more usable information.

        Example Study

        – 50 high school or college sprinters with at least 3 years sprint training, of which very little drill work was performed.

        – Five groups of 10: One control group and four groups performing different combinations, and volumes, of sprint drills. All other training remains the same for all five groups.

        – Testing, for both changes in sprint mechanics and performace, at beginning, middle and end of 12 weeks.

        This is the kind of study that actually tells you if something works. Not why or how, but if. Surely, this kind of study has been done. If not, I find it unbelievable that drills that almost every sprint coach in the nation use as staples have never been shown to be of any benefit.

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        MBZweifel@dbq.edu on #118734

        So my question is how do each of you feel or go about improving front side mechanics?

        Do we continue to use cueing? Does anybody feel that cueing an athlete improves thier mechanics and makes them faster, and what cues do you like best?

        Does anybody feel that running drills have made a benefit or crossed over on their athletes mechanics. Or are they just more of a warm-up exercise?

        Do we try to increase GRF? Or specific hip flexion strength?

        Or do we just let it be natural to the athlete?

        Very nice study by the way. Need to show that to the Pose followers who think that actively flexing their knee is the most efficient way.

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        tkaberna on #118741

        Haven’t read through the entire post but here is my .02 with your questions.

        Improving Front Side Mechanics – Show video and educate on why it is better. Give cues to get them in the right positions.

        I feel strongly at the high school and club level that you should cue and it makes them better. This would be after a powerpoint and showing film of fast people and how they look as well as using cues.

        My cues for max velocity which may or may not help with front side mechanics. I give one at a time through 60m at 80%.
        1. Toe up
        2. Step over opposite knee.
        3. At toe off don’t let foot dangle back there, be 70% frontside to 30% backside.
        4. Hips are a bucket of water dont allow them to spill out the front. Tuck hips under. Squeeze butt and abs.
        5. Get your lower back flattened out. No curvature in.
        6. Get hips as high as possible while up tall.
        7. Get knees to parallel to the ground.
        8. Drive knees up fast as possible.
        9. Drive knees down and dont let gravity do it for you.
        10. Strike ground with foot so that you bounce off of the ground.
        11. Keep shin perpendicular to the ground so that you are not throwing your bottom half of leg out in front of you.

        Obviously many of these are the same but I use them all because some work for some kids while kids will react to others more positively. I have more for the upper body too but I am not sure if it will help with frontside.

        If you are strict with the warmup with watching it and making sure the kids are hitting the right positions there can be cross over especially if you connect it later on when working running mechanics with the athletes.

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        MBZweifel@dbq.edu on #118743

        Great ques, haven’t heard of some of those. Sounds like you do a great job with your athletes.

        My debate is whether running with focus on great frontside mechanics (high knees) = you’ll run fast(er)
        or whether being fast = you’ll run with great fronstdie mechanics.

        I know it’s the whole chicken or the egg, but from my experiences it is just soo hard for cueing to transfer over to competition. Either they focus on the knee lift and they lose other mechanics and run slow because they are thinking to much, or they just revert back to their old habits.

        I mean just think about how hard it can be to change a high school kids shooting form in basketball. It takes thousands upon thousands of reps, and in basketball you can take a 1,000 shots a day, 7 seven days a week with very little stress/fatigue. While in sprinting it’s hard to get in 1,000 quality contacts in a whole week without causing big CNS fatigue/stress.

        Now it sounds like many of you have great success with cueing and that athletes pick up on those cues and run faster. That just hasn’t been the case for athletes I’ve worked with. I work hard at it too, but when it comes down to nut-cutting time, theres a big tendency to revert to what is most natural.

        I will say that I have found wickets or mini hurdle runs to be more effective than cueing. Maybe because running over the hurdles is basically an external cue and transfers over better? But my focus has shifted to more on improving other speed qualities (GRF, strength, stiffness, P-Chain, Psoas) and just making sure they are in a good body position to let these qualities take over during sprinting.

        Maybe I’m totally off base, but I really appreciate the discussion, good info being thrown around

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        tkaberna on #118744

        I have had kids be fast with backside mechanics and frontside mechanics. They changed mechanics and they were still fast. I coach jumps mostly and can say they will have a much harder time jumping well with crazy backside mechanics than with frontside mechanics so I make my kids change.

        I would say your answer lies in watching the best every year in HS, College and elite and you will get your answer. Not many running with backside mechanics because of the problems it causes up and down the chain.

        Maybe you just haven’t made a good enough argument and explained well enough why you want frontside mechanics. If they buy into what you are saying they will make the changes unless you are just cueing them wrong. Hell I fib to my kids about things to get them to change because I am not smart enough sometimes to have all of the answers of the why but I know what they need to do better. So tell them that guys that run frontside can exhibit 30% more force into the ground with the higher knee lift thus running faster.

        I have seen kids go from backside to frontside in a matter of weeks so to be honest I don’t think it is something you need thousands of reps for at least in kids that are high school or younger.

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        Chad Williams on #118746

        Dusting off my keyboard for this one . . .

        I have found two drills that help. Increasing speed high knee drills and running over halfed tennis balls at progressive increasing distances. Like Michael, I have found that an object helps aids this process of the knee lift. Issues such as strength and posture greatly effect running style. Their true running form will show up in how they exist in daily life. Carrying a heavy satchel all day will certainly aid in back side mechanics :). Teach posture in everything and running will follow.

        I agree with the thousands of reps. You can get a hundred in each practice between high knees and cone drills. Visual change during practice can come rather quickly. Race posture and overall posture can take longer. Reps needs to be at Max in order to elicit true change, but I have always liked, “fake it till they make it.” Good physios aid the posture process as the musculature of the individual needs to be in balance.

        Changing jumpers v. changing sprinters, IMHO, is a little different. No gun goes off and rattles the nerves on the runway. Control is much easier to maintain. Change in a race setting takes longer.

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        the_chosen_one on #118747

        If anyone gets a chance, you should ask Loren Seagrave about thigh acceleration & thigh pop. From what I know, he teach and examines thigh acceleration during the recovery and not high knees. Maybe Mike can get his take on this since he’s teach with him.

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        W.E. Price on #118750

        If anyone gets a chance, you should ask Loren Seagrave about thigh acceleration & thigh pop. From what I know, he teach and examines thigh acceleration during the recovery and not high knees. Maybe Mike can get his take on this since he’s teach with him.

        When you say examines “thigh acceleration” is this more akin with angular velocity of the thigh in the propulsion phase or back-swing velocity after touchdown or toe-off?

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        Paolo Taboga on #230770

        Good article!

        “By flexing the ipsilateral hip! As one hip extends aggressively, the other should flex aggressively.”

        Do you mean “contralateral hip”?

      • Mike Young
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        Mike Young on #230978

        Thanks for catching that mistake!

        ELITETRACK Founder

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