We understand that each person’s running form can be unique…

However, amidst the individuality, there are fundamental principles that apply to all runners, contributing to efficiency and injury prevention. Today, Coaches Sandi Nypaver and Sage Canaday delve into a crucial aspect of running biomechanics. They will breakdown vertical oscillation—exploring what it is, its significance in your running form, and how understanding and optimizing this element can elevate your running experience.

The Risk of Too Much Vertical Oscillation:

We’ll first start off discussing the dangers of excessive vertical oscillation, which refers to the bouncing up and down in your running stride. We use the term ‘danger’ because it poses a risk of injury, potentially leading to issues such as knee pain, Achilles tendonitis, plantar fasciitis, calf strain, hamstring strain, and more.

Moreover, excessive vertical oscillation can significantly hinder your efficiency in distance running events. We understand that many individuals, like yourself, come from different sports backgrounds, such as basketball. Often, athletes transitioning from sports like basketball, high jump, soccer, or sprinting to distance running tend to exhibit a pronounced bounce in their stride.

Our goal is to guide you in minimizing that bounce and redirecting that energy into the forward motion. One effective way to reduce vertical oscillation is by adjusting your stride rate. If you currently have a relatively low stride rate, say around 155, consider increasing it to a range of 165 to 175. Stay tuned as we delve further into these concepts and provide practical tips for improving your running form. Let’s optimize your stride and enhance your running experience together!

How to Improve Your Vertical Oscillation:

Again, this adjustment may take some time, but the payoff lies in redirecting your energy towards forward momentum. To ease this transition into your running routine, consider incorporating the fast feet drill. Maintain a solid center of gravity with weight evenly distributed across your feet. Focus on maintaining a good upper body posture while executing quick, small steps close to the ground. As we just discussed, monitoring your stride rate, the number of steps you take in a minute, is crucial. If you find yourself exhibiting excessive vertical oscillation or quad dominance, it’s likely a sign that your feet aren’t moving swiftly enough.

In long-distance races, especially marathons, opting for shorter, quicker strides tends to be more effective than bounding with excessive vertical oscillation. Unlike sprinting or high jump scenarios where some vertical movement may be beneficial, distance running demands efficiency. Avoid the pitfalls of too much bounce where a ballistic stride with excessive quad engagement can compromise your overall efficiency. The goal is to strike a balance with shorter strides, lower foot position, and minimal head movement for optimal performance in the realm of long-distance running.

How to Engage the Correct Muscles:

When tackling uphill terrain, it’s natural to engage your quads, but the key is to shift the power focus towards your gluteus maximus—the powerhouse responsible for propelling you forward. A quick check to ensure you’re activating your glutes is during the phase when your leg is coming over your foot. If, at this point, you don’t feel any activation in your buttocks, it’s likely that your glutes aren’t being utilized adequately.

Developing awareness of your glute engagement is crucial for long-term performance and injury prevention. Overreliance on your quads can lead to overdevelopment. The quads play a vital role in stabilizing the knee joint and are instrumental in downhill running, but for uphill climbs and powerful forward propulsion, the glutes should be the focus.

Lack of glute engagement may strain your hamstrings or calves, potentially leading to issues down the road. Remember, the goal is to channel the power from the backs of your legs, specifically the glutes, to optimize performance and maintain the staying power needed for a successful and injury-free running experience.

While the aim is to minimize vertical oscillation, it doesn’t translate to adopting an extremely low and slithering form. Finding the middle ground is crucial. Striking a balance between minimal bounce and avoiding the extreme of sitting too low is key to efficient and sustainable marathon running. Unlike the exaggerated bounce seen in sports like sprinting or high jumping, marathon runners should focus on a more controlled and energy-conserving stride.

It’s worth noting that elite runners may exhibit some degree of bounce, but this can be attributed to their specific training, muscle fibers, and the high velocities they maintain during races. For the majority of marathon runners, a controlled and efficient stride with minimal vertical oscillation is the goal.


Thank you for tuning in to our running form tutorial. Remember, the key is finding the right balance—avoiding excessive bounce while maintaining a form that supports endurance and efficiency in your marathon journey. Stay tuned for more insights and tips to enhance your running experience.

Happy running!

– Coaches Sandi and Sage