Film Runner Technique Analysis
In 2020, to amuse myself and my runners in lockdowns, I started doing technique analysis of people running in films - taking requests on social media. The links I've included are to the YouTube clips of the sections of film I reviewed.
Here is a summary of the results!
The first request that came in (on Twitter) was for this clip of the late, great, Muhammad Ali.
As you’d expect with someone with great strength he’s running really nicely, very little movement in the torso and energy focussed on moving forwards. Nice and relaxed in his gait. He’s running very gently in this clip and I suspect that’s why his cadence and foot pick is a bit low. I’d love to see him run faster as he’s got all the ingredients for great technique at speed!
Sue in Crocodile Dundee
This request came in on Instagram; Sue running to catch Mick at the end of Crocodile Dundee. It’s a nice example of the impact of running in heels!
She has a good movement pattern, but is having to adjust her foot landing point due to the heels at the start. When she ditches them she has a great leg turnover with a really good range of motion from the hip and foot pick up and can really accelerate!
Her posture and upper body movement is somewhat compromised by the fact she’s carrying her bag the whole time!
Forest Gump, a classic film runner! Two key scenes sprang to mind here; when he’s a boy and runs until his leg braces fall off and then the long run across/aruond America.
In this first scene, one the leg braces are gone, he runs beautifully as kids do (annoyingly). Great posture, backwards extension from the hips and shoulders, excellent knee drive, pretty perfect!
For his longer run it’s a bit more difficult to see as most shots are taken as closed ups of his upper body or from a distance taking in the views. What I will say is that his form changes pretty accurately depending on how far into the run he is, from an enthusiastic fast start with big arm drive and fast leg turnover. This moves gradually more towards a more fatigued running style with lower foot pick up, less arm drive and lower cadence.
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
Ferris has quite the obstacle course race route for his run to beat his sister back home.
Matthew Broderick was 24 when he played the role but still moves more line a teenager as he runs, great mobility and movement range.
As he tires you can see a little torso lean, pelvis twist and rotational movements creeping into his form; followed by much more pronounced shoulder rotation leading to his arms crossing right over his body.
So Steven Seagal has a few different running styles that crop up. In a flat out sprint (at the start of this clip) he’s running really nicely. Look at that hip extension and arm drive!
Running in more cramped areas with lots of direction changes he starts to get quite arm dominate, with them driving more forwards and he shortens his stride, almost becoming choppy.
In the short clip of him running on a trail he keeps this choppy stride and the arms are still driving forwards more, hinting to me that he rarely ran on trails before than scene was shot!
Danny Zuko in Grease doing the Hurdles
Danny is running pretty well round the track, a gentle pace with good posture, arm movement and efficient leg movement.
The hurdles start well; with great “triple extension” where the muscles in the legs work the ankle, knee and hip to drive him up and forwards. At one hurdle you can see he’s not looking where he’s going, but back at Sandy instead, and it’s almost to be expected that at the next hurdle he misjudges his stride, clips it and falls!
I could also comment on the array of wonderful retro “gym kit” on display across the various sports he tries in the film. But perhaps that’s a topic for another series :)
Jason Bourne - the Bourne Supremacy - Beach Run
So this is an interesting clip, but not for the running form…! His form is great, he’s running fast on firm sand, posture, leg and arm backwards extension is excellent and flowing really well.
However! His mouth is closed the whole time, which is completely unrealistic at the fast pace he’s running at, especially towards the end. He’s also running pretty fast/high effort for a very long time. The sequence goes on for nearly 2 minutes and you can’t go flat out for that long, especially without signs of fatigue creeping in. This is a trait of many action film running scenes, which we’ll see more of in coming videos!
Ace Ventura when nature calls
So this clip is fascinating, as I don’t think it reflects how Jim Carrey actually runs at all. But it does very much reflect how Ace Ventura, the character he’s playing, moves very well!
HIs arm and leg movements are flamboyant, there is side to side movement which looks deliberate. He’s pushing his head forwards to get a feel of speed and to pull his famous facial expressions.
All in all, not very efficient running when you are trying to escape - but it makes for a great film ending :)
Ewan McGregor - Trainspotting
This clip is a bit difficult to analyse as you never get to see his whole body, either the top of his torso or his lower legs. With that insight though, I’d say he’s running pretty well. The arms are driving hard, although some noticeable rotational movements are coming in through his shoulders.
The cadence is high, foot pick up behind him is good and his feet land close to his hips. This looks like proper fast/fear running to me!
In the background you can see the men in suits running in a rather more forced and stilted way…!
Hot Fuzz; the Shoplifter Chase
This scene involved a running chase; and Sergeant Angel is running with great form, as you would expect as someone who won the MET 100m dash…! Really good arm drive, posture and backward extension of the leg from the hip.
He’s also actually out of breath when he stops, good realism. There are a few pauses in the running which makes the fast pace he keeps up throughout the scene more realistic.
During the chase there is some fence jumping. I’ll leave @vaultoclock to take a look in more detail but Sergeant Angel seems to be moving with good mobility and coordination. Danny’s attempt goes wrong before the first fence as he trips on the run up!
My only real issue with how running is portrayed in this film is calling runners “fun runners”…! :)
Tom Cruise Mission Impossible 3
Tom Cruise starts this scene at a sprint, for quite some time down the side of a river. He has a very upright posture and stable torso as he runs. His arm and leg movements are big, with quite a lot of forward arm and knee drive as well as backwards. I guess that looks good when you are running towards the camera.
I’m somewhat doubtful of his ability to keep talking on the phone he’s carrying after sprinting that fast for that long though.
Interestingly when he slows to a jog towards the end of the sequence some interesting pelvic drop to the side and rotational movements creep in to his movement, that may well be fatigue related or that he’s not that used to running slowly…!
James Bond, Skyfall
James Bond runs in various places throughout this film, the longest sequence being through London in his suit. He is dashing through the MI6 office to start with with a little instability in his torso and rotation in the legs and feet as he changes direction.
Once he gets into a faster sprint he’s running well with good posture. I do wonder if the suit is constraining his arm movement, as when he’s running in a looser jacket later in the film he has better backward arm drive.
You can see a great forward lean as he accelerates to a sprint to jump on the tube train to!
Rocky’s Run - Rocky 2
Rocky does a bit of jogging and a bit of sprinting in this sequence. He sprints well with great hip extension and fast leg turnover. In slower sections more shoulder rotation and hip drop creeps in, He’s quite “arms forward” as a runner, perhaps due to all the boxing training.
Someone calculated that the route he runs in the montage throughout adds up to just over 30 miles, a distance I’m fairly convinced he wouldn’t have been able to run at that speed. Nor would it have been that useful for boxing training!
Goldie Hawn in Wildcats
Goldie Hawn plays to her strengths in this film by challenging the unruly team to a distance run. She’s got a lovely efficient running style, and again players of a faster team sport it’s an easy win (assuming she’s got a good endurance base which her character seems to have!)
She paces herself really evenly which helps beat the team, and her form doesn’t change much with only minor signs of fatigue creeping in towards the end - far less than the last team member standing who’s hinging forwards and rotating lots!
Will Smith - Men in Black
As with a few films I’ve looked at, when you start looking for the details in the running you realise how much your brain fills in. This sequence has such dark lighting and much of the running is obscured behind things!
That said Will Smith is sprinting and doing standing starts really well, great backward arm drive and forward lean as he accelerates and good balance and agility around the corners.
Due to the limitations of that sequence I also found a compilation video of Will Smith running in lots of films. Whilst it’s mostly action sprinting with great agility and form there is a sequence where he plays a character who runs differently and for different reasons and the changes in form are clear to see! Top run acting points :)
I also love the treadmill running with the dog clip!
Men in Black
Run Lola Run
In this Film Lola does a lot of running! There is some variation in her technique throughout each sequence, I suspect as different sections of each scene were filmed at different times. If you watch the clip you’ll see much more rotation in some than others, fatigue creeping in!
That aside she runs with lovely form, and at a fast pace. Great arm drive, lovely backward leg drive and hip extension at “toe off” where the back foot is just leaving the floor.
Chariots of Fire
I’m ashamed to say I’ve never watched Chariots of Fire, it’s on my Christmas film list now - so don’t worry!
Suffice to say the young, fit runners in the film move well. There are some in the opening scene who are moving with rotation, or a fatigued backward head position, but the main characters move beautifully.
Our key protagonist has an interesting habit of scooping the air backwards with his hands as part of his arm drive, which gets much more pronounced as he tires.
I’ve learnt a couple of coaching tips too, who knew a stick should be part of my coaching kit and that coaching whilst hanging out the back of a car was an option :)
Brittany Runs a Marathon
So, shame on me, I’d not heard of this film. But reviewing the clips for technique inspired me to put it on the Christmas film list!
Brittany starts her running journey nicely and with a really gentle pace to build endurance - perfect. She has a short stride as she starts out and slow foot turnover, which is pretty normal for a new runner and this improves throughout the film - good accuracy!
The forward hinge at the hips and shoulders creeps in when she’s tired - again a really common thing for all runners, look at the finish line to a marathon :)
Her form really improves as she gets more into her running, from taller posture to better foot pick up. She has a little rotation of the legs in the hip sockets, causing some foot flick and pelvic drop to the side; so I’d be recommending some glute stability work to her in future