Bruce Lee’s one-inch punch: Implications on running mechanics.
Written by: Alan Couzens, MS
Bruce Lee was truly a martial artist ahead of his time. In a world of age-old tradition, Bruce took a very scientific stance in his approach to the sport. His approach was not one of ornamentation, but of necessity – strip out all of the pretty moves, all of the style and focus on what really matters. So what really mattered? Getting to your opponent first and hitting him hard!
Nothing epitomized this approach more than his demonstration of the so-called “one-inch punch”. Bruce would place a clenched fist a couple of inches from the chest of his opponent and wham!, with nothing but a barely noticeable jerk, he would send the man flying.
By now you’re probably wondering if you’ve gone astray with your web browser input and stumbled upon a martial arts website. No, no, no, my friend. Bruce Lee has some lessons for us runners also.
See, there is a similarity in the essential focus points of the martial artist and the distance runner:
- - Get to the ground in the most direct route possible
- - Hit it hard!
Distinct from a sport like cycling, running is a power sport. In cycling, you have a relatively long period of time within each pedal cycle in which you can productively apply force. But in running the situation is different. Within each gait cycle of say 7/10 of a second, less than 2/10 of a second is spent in contact with the ground. Of this, half of it is spent applying force and half is spent in recoil. So, unlike cycling, you have only about 1/10 of a second in which to apply productive force. Thus, power is a priority. You must hit the ground fast and hard.
How hard? At relatively fast running speeds of 18km/h, force peaks of 1600-1700 N are common (Nigg, 1995). This represents four times the peak forces seen in a typical pedal cycle over a period of time less than 1/3 of that of force application during cycling.
Applying force quickly is a neuromuscular skill. If you have ever watched a novice attempting plyometrics, you’ll know what I mean. When attempting to ‘bound’ over the ground in the case of plyometrics or increase stride length in running, the first instinct for a novice is to hold onto the ground longer and push back further, making it an exercise in flexibility. This is the complete opposite of what you should do. If you ask the same of an elite runner, ground contact time decreases and the athlete tightens up at impact like a coiled spring. It is a beautiful thing to watch an elite runner go through a plyometrics routine. The yin and yang of work and recovery is very clear. A millisecond of complete focused power and then several tenths of a second of relaxed ‘float’. You can see the same thing, to a lesser degree, if you watch the faces of elite track runners – the facial musculature tightens for an instant as power is applied to the ground and relaxes as the runner floats.
So, if it is a learned skill, how do we go about practicing the rapid application of force? First, get yourself a metronome. In my opinion, this is one of the most beneficial tools a serious runner can own. With a metronome, a speed and distance device and a hill you have your very own running power meter. Next time you go running on a rolling course, practice holding cadence and pace while going up a slight grade. In order to do so you will need to increase the ground contact force, i.e. hit the ground harder and faster.
Another great tool to improve your ability to impart force quickly is a set of plyo hurdles of varying heights. Set up a small hurdle and set your metronome at your desired cadence (I suggest 90 rpm). Make a running approach to the hurdle in rhythm with the metronome and attempt to stride over it without breaking that rhythm. Once you’ve mastered that, do the same with a medium hurdle. In this way, cadence is fixed, so to increase power you must increase ground force. These rate-force drills can be applied to a number of traditional bounding drills – single-leg hops, bounds, single-double, etc. Practice these complex tasks with the desired force-rate application it will become second nature to your running.
So, that covers 1/10 of your time running; what do you do for the other 9/10′s? Does it even matter if it has nothing to do with force production? Yes. The remainder of the running gait cycle is about two things:
- - Setting up the body to maximize the elastic recoil that occurs after force application
- - Getting the foot ready for the next force application in the most direct, economical manner.
I will cover my thoughts on the implications of body and limb position on the efficacy of these two tasks in a separate article.
For now, focus on hitting the ground quickly and forcefully – a simple, productive application of power. Bruce would be proud!
Alan Couzens, MS (Sports Science), CSCS, PES, is an exercise physiologist and coach who helps athletes at www.EnduranceCorner.com. He has a passion for performance and has been coaching endurance athletes since 1993.