Recently I filmed my 7 year old son running. He was playing a random game of football with some friends in Vondelpark. They were definitely hamming it up, and definitely not paying attention to what they were doing.
Later I went through the film frame by frame and compared their form to what I know about good running form.
I was stunned. I knew that kids have good running form, but this was remarkable. Upper body long and slightly tilted forward, head held high, shoulders free, knees bent with foot landing mid foot under the body, short contact time, and that simultaneously toned and free torso that is so tricky to learn.
I put a series of these frames next to a picture of Haille Gebresellassie – the Ethiopian superman of distance running and widely considered one of the greatest runners of all time. The comparison was remarkable, as you can see in the blog photo to the left. Is there a difference? If so I can’t see one. Not only are they perfect matches in terms of form, but they share that energetic “upness” that shows passion in activity.
My son has no training other than school yard games and his twice per week football club. Furthermore, his friend Elijah, running next to him, was displaying stride for stride identical form (you can see a little bit of Elijah in the photo).
What are we to make of this? Normal kids running in the park run like marathon superstars with years of training. Is great form natural? Our birth right? And if so, where does it go when we become adults?
As an Alexander technique teacher I study and teach what I believe to be “natural” posture and movement. We believe that we are teaching people how to use their bodies the way they were designed to be move. Many children do this fairly well because they are practicing natural movements all day long – running, jumping, climbing, chasing – never sitting still for too long, always curious about the world around them. Then comes years of school, computers, and long days of sitting still. You can imagine that the body gets pretty confused. We lose the natural alertness in the head an neck, length of the spine, and freedom in the limbs.
The good news is that it is possible to rediscover this stuff. It takes patience, experimentation, and lots of practice. It requires gradually reawakening the neural pathways that the body once knew. And it requires rebuilding the necessary muscles and connective tissue at a sensible pace to avoid injury. But it is all worth it when you do start to tap into naturally good form. You feel like a child again.