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Picking the Brain of Nicholas Romanov

The creator of the Pose Method talks about all things running form during a visit to Competitor's office.

The creator of the Pose Method talks about all things running form during a visit to Competitor’s office.

Land on your forefeet. Shorten your stride. Improve your running posture. For runners, these nuggets have become the parlance of our time, and Dr. Nicholas Romanov, a Soviet-trained physiotherapist, is a big reason why. In a sport now filled with buzzwords like natural running and Chi Running, Romanov, in fairness, was way out in front of this trend years ago with his popular Pose Method.

What is the Pose Method? Well, in a very small nutshell, it’s a particular technique of running that embraces gravity and eschews the notion of pushing off the ground, relying heavily on a specific leg angle (22.5 degrees, since you asked) at the key moment in the stride (the “pose” phase). Doing this, he says, can enable a runner to become faster, more efficient, healthier and injury-free. And he’s quite emphatic about it.

A little mystique is often part of the package for gurus in any kind of pursuit; though he does nothing to actually play it up, Romanov’s whole presentation—his Iron Curtain sports background, pronounced accent, charming English-as-a-second-language phrasing and warm manner paired with brazen outspokenness—is irresistible. No matter how skeptical one might be about his teachings, the guy has been at this for years, studied more film than an NFL coach and has a lot to say. He’s an enthralling interview.

Although he typically charges $295 for his all-day running form clinics at his Miami sports academy, Romanov serves us many of his insights and secrets in his latest book, “The Running Revolution” (Penguin, 2014), which distills his exacting technique into a 10-lesson program, and is filled with diagrams, stretches, training plans, shoe advice and more. He stopped by Competitor’s office recently to talk about it, as well as the world of running in general. Here are some highlights from a couple hours spent with him.

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Ninety percent of people who consider themselves forefoot strikers are actually heel strikers. In minimalist shoes, on pavement!

My concept is that running is a skill; there’s no such thing as “natural running”—there’s no basis for that. If I were to ask someone, “Define ‘natural running.’ What is natural?” They couldn’t do it.

Pose Method is not my opinion or desire, but the blueprint of nature.

What propels you forward is only one force: gravity. Which is transferring gravitational torque, or momentum of the body weight.

Similar books didn’t exist before mine. In the U.S., people started to talk about running technique after I brought up Pose. Sorry for my obnoxious claim, but it’s really so.

What happens when people learn the Pose Method? They continue. There is no end. This is the point. You will start to understand your body.

After marathons, many normal runners couldn’t walk upstairs or down. You’ve all seen it. The finish line for any marathon is a battlefield—people wobbling and moaning. People I prepare, they finish their marathon, get a PR and go shopping.

In 100 years, human physiology will not change because gravity will not change. So what we can increase? That which I am talking about: Angle of falling. Cadence. The mechanical part, which requires much higher perception.

I went to a ballet with some friends who were in that scene. I wondered: How are they moving so well? It’s because teaching goes on there. And then I started reading that five basic positions in ballet create everything. Everything! Based on five positions. Then came martial arts, where my friend was black belt. In October 1977, it hit me: bang! Everything is a pose. You’re working, it’s a pose. You’re moving through unaccountable number of poses, a few key poses that define your movement. When I found this concept, everything fell into line. It was not only running or track and field. For any sport.

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It’s a concept of using body weight through the pose. This is how physics works. In order to punch you in boxing, I need to apply my body weight, not my muscles.

If we bring this to people, they will understand themselves much more. They will not be running like robots, just mileage, you know? They will be running or discovering themselves. This is a journey.

How does running this way feel? It feels good. And when nothing hurts, you want to run the next day.

The worst topics in running? Stride length. Push with your big toe. Toe off—which is completely nonsense! Nobody can do this, physically speaking! And it exists like a mantra.

We don’t concern ourselves with stride length, because stride length is a byproduct or derivative or outcome from falling angle. It’s nothing to concern yourself with. When you worry about these things, you’re shortening and putting yourself in tight condition, muscular contention—or you’re over-striding and then you’re creating breaks. Neither is good.

Alberto Salazar once said, “Everything that I know about running technique goes against Pose Method.” Right now his best student, Galen Rupp, is running Pose Method. I’ve analyzed him.

We are unique among creatures for our ability to learn. Only in running for some unknown stupid reason we took wrong route.

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Since Pose Method came out, people now perceive running as skill. A bunch of methods came out after that. Like Natural Running, New Balance Good Form Running, Chi Running, it’s all come after Pose Method. It’s a change globally. Now everybody talks about running skill, which was never much of a topic in the running community.

People now consider that I’m not nuts. Interest in this book came from the publishing house—the editor in chief of Puffin, part of Penguin Books. We’ve grown up to that high level where there’s already interest in the public. It’s already alive. It’s in the air.

Toddlers run with Pose Method. They move by falling. But then they start thinking, and thinking, “I’ll use push-off method.”

I’ve already calculated what it’s possible to achieve. As far as sprinting, Usain Bolt is so far away from what he could do.