On Running Form: The Kenyan Method

Just when you think you’ve learned all there is to know about running form, someone lectures about how the rules have changed. Way back when during the 80s, we were taught that the best foot strike was to land on your heels first then roll your foot forward and take off with your toes. I’ve had my share of injuries while doing this style of foot strike so i abandoned this and just ran on something i would feel comfortable with. Well, it still didn’t make me a faster runner nor did it make my running more efficient so i experimented with various running forms until i found the stride and the form which kept me more relaxed without stressing the muscles too much.

Now, enter Coach Jojo Macalintal. Jojo has been recently hired by Runnex to coach the participants of the Runnex Sunday Running Clinic on proper running technique, fitness, mental technique and devise a training program geared towards the participants in finishing the 42k 1st Quezon City International Marathon this coming October 18. Lecturing what he has learned from the latest on running techniques at the running clinics he attended in Singapore recently, Coach Jojo now preaches the “Kenyan” method of running.

The Kenyan method dictates a straight body to a slight forward lean, a mid-foot landing on a slightly bent knee, a fast turn-over or cadence of about 130 steps per minute, and short strides or the so called “baby steps”. The Kenyan way uses less over-all energy and alleviates the shock in the knees. However, the pain would initially shift to the calves, hamstrings and buttocks once you start this technique for the first time.

The Kenyan technique incorporates long, flowing, seemingly effortless stride.

The Kenyan technique incorporates long, flowing, soft, effortless stride.

But why the ‘baby steps’ as the elite Kenyans are famous for their long, smooth giant strides? Coach Jojo explains that the shorter strides would automatically make your midfoot or forefoot land first thereby avoiding the usual ‘heel-toe’ push of the regular runner.

During our first Sunday with Coach Jojo, we started with stretching and warm-up exercises. He demonstrated the drills we had to do, firstly, the jump rope drill of up and down bouncing, jumping on one leg while the other is stretched sidewards, at the front and at the back then vice-versa. We did short backward runs to emphasize the butt kick. We then ran 3 laps (2.2k per lap) at the academic oval while he critiqued and corrected each runner’s form. He showed us how the arms should go forward and back and avoid the side to side sway in order to help the legs propel straight and the foot to strike underneath the center of gravity. (But we already knew this).

Short strides, fast turnover, stand tall, fall tall is the name of the game

Short strides, fast turnover, stand tall, fall tall is the name of the game

During the run, some of the pacers would shout out the cadence steps of “1-2-3-4/1-2-3-4” like drills in ROTC. It would be repeated intermittently with the reminders of “stand tall, fall tall” and when the slower pacers couldn’t keep up with the fast pace, they would order, “slow down, slow down!”

While looking at the runners in front off the pack, i observed that some of the newbies were adapting and getting the feel of the new method. Coach Jojo informed us that it would take about a month to master this technique.

Getting the feel of it

Getting the feel of it

Smile, the Kenyan way

Smile, the Kenyan way

I was even more surprised to see the grizzly old-timers and marathon veterans in the group like Art, Rudy F., Jun , Obet and the others, including myself  (who were first adamant and skeptic of this new technique) gamely adjust to this new method, like true Kenyans doing their cool-down jog after a grueling 20kms of hill training.

Now, who ever said you can’t teach old dogs new tricks?


20 responses to “On Running Form: The Kenyan Method

  1. nice post, mr rene. i’ve been searching the net on how kenyans run & all i got is a headache and a question mark.

    very informative post!


  2. Thanks, Rod. It’s calf and butt aches we had the first week we tried this method.

    hope this would translate to faster running. 🙂

  3. Pa, I have 2 questions:

    1.) Do you know anyone who plays the saxophone who can teach me?

    2.) How much do you think will a sax cost?

    Btw, this blog is nice. I’m thinking of joining your runs one of these days because I am JUST SO OUT OF SHAPE.

    Love, Chica

  4. Now, what does a saxophone have to do with the Kenyan running method?

    Ok, i’ll ask around. i’ll be at marlisse’s school this pm. Hmm, another jazzrunner in the making?:-)

    • Nothing I was listening to this song in sax while reading your blog. Ok please do ask around! I am totally interested to learn.

      Though I’d love to keep shape by running, I could never run like you do.


  5. Ok, Chi. will ask friend from the UP College of Music. Heard you’re now teaching some kids in school. I’m proud of you! keep it up!

  6. Hi Mr. Rene,

    This is very informative. I’ve encountered some problems in my runs – maybe due to running form, foot strike, or other reasons. When I read your blog, I tried it immediately during one of my after-office run here in LTI. There was less stress on my shins and I was able to do a tempo run of 6:30mins/km.

  7. Thanks, Eric. i hope you can join us this Sunday for another round of running form sessions with Coach Jojo. This style has helped my running too.

    hope to see you soon:-)

    • Thank you for inviting me. But, unfortunately I am coming from the south in Las Pinas. Hope to meet you in one of those weekend races. =)

  8. Pretty cool post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wanted to say
    that I have really liked reading your blog posts. Anyway
    I’ll be subscribing to your blog and I hope you post again soon!

    • Hi MinnieRunner! Runnex will be sponsoring a running clinic at UP on Feb. 14, 2010. I’ll announce it soon on this blog once everything is finilized.

      Thanks for dropping by!:-)

  9. Pingback: I ran 10k in bare feet this weekend. « Vanessa Runs

  10. I don’t like this technique because am worried that by adopting the Kenyan style I would also got skinny. Maitim ako at kulot, baka mapagkamalan akong Kenyan, kawawa naman sila kasi mabagal ako tumakbo, di ko mabibigyan ng hustisya ang pagiging Kenyan-look.

  11. Thanks so much for writing this. Super helpful. I’ve been experimenting with my form lately, and I guess what’s confusing to me right now is: is it more important to have higher knees when you run or do more of a butt kick? Hopefully that makes sense.
    Thanks so much!

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