Vertical oscillation can turn an average runner into a great runner

Last week, we talked about the importance of running cadence and how it tells us a great deal about how fast, efficient and injury-resistant a runner is.

Vertical oscillation is another equally important variable that adds even more detail to the overall picture of a runner’s performance and resilience.

What is vertical oscillation?

Vertical oscillation is the amount of vertical movement you have with each stride as you run. Greater vertical oscillation is associated with increased ground reaction forces and vertical loading rates.

Where running cadence is more predictive of injuries like Achilles tendinopathy, and knee and hip issues, vertical oscillation tells us more about our risk of injuries such as tibial stress fractures. Essentially, vertical oscillation indicates how much of our energy is being spent to move our body vertically up into the air and then smash back into the ground rather than smoothly propel us forward horizontally.


How can it make me a better-performing runner?

A cue that can help with reduced vertical oscillation is to “keep your body as low to the ground as possible without slouching” or to reduce how much bouncing you feel as you run.

Efficient running should feel more like gliding over the ground than bouncing up and down, jarring your knees and lower back on each step. The less energy your body puts into moving up and down the more you are translating physical work to horizontal movement. When you can relatively transfer more of your energy towards forward movement, you become more efficient. This means faster running at a lower energetic cost.

Where technology can help

While some smart watches attempt to measure this, effective accuracy can be challenging to realize due to the movement of a single arm during running is not always highly reflective of what the rest of the body is doing. For example, many people have asymmetric reciprocal reach patterns with their arms – they swing one arm differently than they swing the other. If they only looked at their watch to inform their assessments, they could improve (or worsen) their vertical oscillation by simply switching their watch from one wrist to the other.

This is why many coaches are hesitant to rely on vertical oscillation data from a smartwatch. It’s very difficult to know how reflective that data is of the reality of the runner’s actual movement, and you don’t want to make decisions on information that is fundamentally questionable.

urban sports, healthy couple jogging in the city at early morning in night

Running, like pretty much everything else, is an emergent product of lots of things happening and interacting at once. Thus, there is no single factor or cue that controls everything, but each factor has some measure of influence on the overall system. This is why it’s so important to bring multiple data points and the most complete picture of your body’s movement and function as possible into focus. Better date means better training, improved performance and great resiliency.  

This is where Cipher Skin comes in. Cipher Skin’s multi-system sensor platform captures a detailed picture of your body’s 3-dimensional movement alongside simultaneous internal metrics such as heart rate and oxygen saturation.

The Cipher Skin BioSleeve knee sleeve can measure a much more detailed picture of your body’s movement, which provides much more accurate data on metrics like vertical oscillation. Cipher Skin’s tech is able to see everything from knee joint angles to the relative position of your femur and tibia relative to the ground throughout the full gait cycle, including the vertical oscillation of specific landmarks on the body.

This data can be used for both real-time feedback and live training adjustments as well as post-workout data analysis. This next-generation level of personal data brings us a big step closer to having a full biomechanics lab built into our normal day-to-day workout clothing, which helps everyone from recreational runners to Olympic athletes train harder, perform better and reduce injuries.


Start your journey towards enhanced performance today!

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