The goal of running is to move forward as fast as possible without moving up and down too much. However, some up and down movement is necessary to create forward momentum. You’ve probably spent countless hours monitoring and analysing the way you move forward as you run, but have you ever paid attention to the way you move up and down?
INCUS is introducing a revolutionary new metric called Vertical Ratio, which will give you a score based on your vertical oscillation divided by your stride length. Get the expert insight into everything you need to know about vertical oscillation, how it feeds into vertical ratio, and how this could make you a better runner from Lewis Moses, Running Coach and Founder of New Levels Coaching.
What is vertical oscillation in running?
Put simply, vertical oscillation refers to how much you move up and down as you run. Some people have a naturally bouncier stride while others will barely move up and down at all. Lewis explains, “Vertical oscillation measures the amount that the torso moves vertically with each step while running. This is usually measured in centimetres (cm). A lower vertical oscillation has been related to better running performance, as higher oscillation can lead to wasted energy going in the wrong direction. In this case upwards, rather than forwards.”
Why should runners measure vertical oscillation?
Vertical oscillation can have an impact on both your performance as a runner and your preclusion to getting injured. One study from 2018 published in the National Library of Medicine found that a lower vertical oscillation in healthy runners resulted in reduced lower limb loading, meaning less force and a lower chance of impact-related injury. Lewis explains, “If you are using more energy to propel yourself higher, then you are going to come back down to the ground with greater force, which could put you at a higher risk of injury.”
Lewis goes on to explain further reasons why runners (and coaches) should measure vertical oscillation. “Vertical oscillation can tell runners and coaches how well a runner is moving and in which direction. Vertical oscillation will show how much energy is being spent propelling upwards (vertically) and back down to the ground, rather than propelling forward horizontally. If you are using too much energy to move vertically, you could be wasting energy, and this could contribute to slower running times.”
Can a runner have too much vertical oscillation?
For the reasons explained above, it’s generally better to have a lower vertical oscillation. Research into vertical oscillation is limited, but the research that has been done would suggest that a good range for runners to aim for is between 5-10cm. Under 5cm would mean that your vertical oscillation is low and above 10cm would potentially be too high.
Lewis comments, “It’s important to remember that we are all unique and this is a ‘general’ range, so don’t panic if you fall slightly outside of this range. My best tip for looking at any running metric is to look at things in more detail if you are having injury problems or you’re struggling to improve. At this point, you may want to try new things, but it’s not always a good idea to try and fix things that aren’t broken.”
How to tell if you have too much vertical oscillation in your running
Generally, you’ll be able to feel if you are a bouncy runner or not. Lewis has the following advice. “I remember figuring out this issue with my own running and it was a relatively simple process. I saw a video of myself running in slow motion and it was obvious to the naked eye that I was bouncing too much vertically. I know not everyone has an eye for this, but you could get a coach or someone with a biomechanical background to video you running and analyse your stride.”
It’s important to remember that sometimes, how you look can be far different to how you feel. This is why measuring your metrics with a device like INCUS CLOUD | RUN will be invaluable in getting a more accurate picture of vertical oscillation and your running technique as a whole.
Vertical Ratio: Vertical oscillation in relation to stride length
INCUS is introducing a new metric called Vertical Ratio, which will divide your vertical oscillation by your stride length to give a percentage score. This will tell you how you are propelling yourself forward in relation to how much you are bouncing up and down. Essentially, you will be looking for that sweet spot that allows you to run faster with more efficiency.
Lewis explains, “Generally, low vertical oscillation is related to a shorter stride length and longer ground contact time. This is because there isn’t enough power, or force, being generated to lengthen the running stride. Higher vertical oscillation is often related to a higher flight time, which usually means a longer stride. Again, this isn’t always the case, but if we look at it generally, these are the relationships we see when it comes to metrics.”
How to improve your vertical oscillation
It may seem like an unimportant metric, but Lewis testifies that by optimising his vertical oscillation as a runner, he was able to achieve a 13:47 5k time. He explains what he did to improve. “I worked on strides, which are ‘controlled sprints’ at approximately 1-mile pace, or slightly faster, and focussed on trying to take my momentum forward, rather than upwards.”
A good drill you can practise is ‘lean pose’ where it feels like you are leaning forward when you run. Lewis explains, “A good tip for practising this is to stand up straight on the spot, shift your weight towards the front of your feet (as if you’re going to fall forward) and just as you feel like you're about to fall, break out into the running stride.
If you have a running partner or buddy, you can get them to hold your back by pulling on your running t-shirt, you start to fall forward (trust they will hold you of course) and then they let you go as you fall forward. Not only is this a great drill, it’s also lots of fun, so why not give it a try?”
About the author: Alex Parren is a Freelance Health & Fitness writer as well as a qualified Personal Trainer and Nutritionist.