What’s A Good Vertical Oscillation When Running? + 5 Form Mistakes You May Be Making

Is your VO in the sweet spot? And what are the consequences of it not being in it?

Vertical oscillation running is an aspect of the running stride and your running technique that can affect your running efficiency and speed.

It’s the distance your body travels up and down as you run, and it can tell you a lot about your running form and even your likelihood of future injury!

A good vertical oscillation when running is generally around 5 to 10 cm, but this varies wildly from person to person and is also dependent on the type of running you’re doing.

What's A Good Vertical Oscillation When Running? + 5 Form Mistakes You May Be Making 1

What Is Vertical Oscillation?

Vertical Oscillation (VO), also referred to as Vertical Bounce, is a measure that quantifies the distance your body travels up and down during each stride when you run. It is measured in centimeters.

When you watch some people run, they seem to be bounding with a lot of up and down motion, whereas other runners tend to stay more steady in the highest point and lowest point of the gait cycle.

If you were to observe each of these runners from the side, the top of the head of the runner with a lot of vertical oscillation would bob up and down a lot with every stride while the runner with very little vertical oscillation would exhibit only a small amount of difference in peak height and lowest height of the top of the head across the entire gait cycle.

Vertical oscillation running is one of the metrics that falls under the larger umbrella of your dynamics while running.

A person running.

What Is a Good Vertical Oscillation Running?

The goal should be to minimize excessive vertical oscillation to maximize the horizontal distance traveled as quickly as possible.

Excessive vertical oscillation is wasted energy going into up-and-down motion, which does not contribute to horizontal or forward progression.

Most running coaches and biomechanists suggest that a good vertical oscillation running is about 5 to 10 cm.

Above and below this vertical oscillation measurement can compromise your efficiency and running economy, reduce your running speed, and potentially increase the risk of injuries1 Adams, D., Pozzi, F., Willy, R. W., Carrol, A., & Zeni, J. (2018). ALTERING CADENCE OR VERTICAL OSCILLATION DURING RUNNING: EFFECTS ON RUNNING RELATED INJURY FACTORS. International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy13(4), 633–642. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6088121/.

A person running.

Why Is High Vertical Oscillation Running Bad?

So, if good vertical oscillation running is around the 5 to 10 cm range, why is it bad if a runner’s vertical oscillation is more than 10 cm?

Basically, too much vertical oscillation while running is inefficient and will reduce your running economy.

Again, the vertical displacement is not directly contributing to forward motion, so extra energy is being expended, bouncing up and down that is not getting translated to forward motion.

A higher vertical oscillation will therefore reduce your running economy because the oxygen cost of running is higher, yet you are not able to run faster and cover more distance in less time since the bouncing while running is not advancing your forward progress.

Moreover, when vertical movement is very high, the runner is at an increased risk of injury because their center of mass is traveling up and down quite a lot.

The higher the body gets from the ground, the greater the impact forces of your foot strike because the acceleration due to gravity will increase if your body is “falling” from a higher height.

When impact forces increase when you run, the risk of injuries, particularly bone stress injuries and joint injuries, increases.

A person running.

Why Is Lower Vertical Oscillation Running Bad?

Much below 5 cm of vertical oscillation while running can also be problematic.

If your vertical oscillation running is too low, it is indicative of a lack of that “flight“ phase in running. If you are not getting airborne, you are likely shuffling and almost walking rather than running. 

With running, after the push-off on one foot, there is a brief period of time where your body is not in contact with the ground at all. The flight phase helps improve efficiency and running speed2 Cagla Fadillioglu, Möhler, F., Reuter, M., & Stein, T. (2022). Changes in Key Biomechanical Parameters According to the Expertise Level in Runners at Different Running Speeds. Bioengineering9(11), 616–616. https://doi.org/10.3390/bioengineering9110616.

Thus, a very low vertical ratio while running is a sign of poor power and likely a slow running performance.

Moreover, a low VO running is usually a sign that your ground contact time is much higher, which again means that your feet are in contact with the ground for a longer period of time before pushing off. 

The more time your feet are on the ground, the less time you are actually traveling forward quickly. Therefore, an increase in your ground contact time will generally decrease your running speed. 

Depending on your foot biomechanics, extended ground contact time can also potentially increase the risk of certain injuries, such as plantar fasciitis, because the small intrinsic muscles of the foot, as well as the plantar fascia, have to spend more time under tension supporting the arch of the foot under your weight.

Another reason for a low vertical oscillation while running is if your stride is very short. Although there are problems with overstriding, a very short, choppy higher cadence stride is also not going to be efficient and can reduce your running speed3 van Oeveren, B. T., de Ruiter, C. J., Beek, P. J., & van Dieën, J. H. (2017). Optimal stride frequencies in running at different speeds. PLOS ONE12(10), e0184273. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0184273.

A person running.

5 Vertical Oscillation Running Mistakes

Like other aspects of running dynamics and biomechanics, it is possible to improve your vertical oscillation running.

Here are the common reasons for excessive vertical oscillation running:

#1: You’re Too Tense

If you are holding tension in your quads and calves when you run, your knees and ankles will remain quite extended. This will make your body stiffer, which will propel you up and down more, increasing VO running.

Allow your ankles and knees to go into flexion during the stance phase of running after your foot hits the ground. This will help absorb shock and will reduce the bouncing in your running stride.

#2: You Aren’t Leaning Forward

Although you do not want to be hunched over when you run, and it is ideal to have a pretty upright torso, there should be a slight forward lean in your torso coming from your hips. 

If you push off from the ground with a lot of force and you are not demonstrating that forward tilt, your body will spring up higher, which will be evidenced by a higher VO running.

Try to have at least a 5 to 10° forward lean to your trunk when you run.

#3: You’re Pushing Off Too Early

If you push off too early in the gait cycle before your foot has really rolled forward towards the toes, you will bounce up and down more. 

Try correcting this by working on running strides. This will help you get more onto the balls of your feet when it is time to push off.

On the other end of the spectrum, here are some reasons for too low of a VO running:

A person running.

#4: You Are Shuffling

If you are shuffling or dragging your feet when you run, you are not using your glutes and leg muscles properly at push-off to actually achieve an airborne phase in your stride.

Try picking your feet up more and using your calves to generate a propulsive force at push-off to lift your body off of the ground and increase your stride length.

If your calves are weak, consider strength training exercises.

#5: Your Stride Is Too Short

Although most runners struggle with overstriding, if you have a short and choppy stride, your vertical oscillation may be too low. 

Look into the flexibility and mobility in your hips, hamstrings, and hip flexors.

Curious to learn more about optimizing your biomechanics when running? Check out our guide to how to increase your running cadence here.

A person running.

References

  • 1
    Adams, D., Pozzi, F., Willy, R. W., Carrol, A., & Zeni, J. (2018). ALTERING CADENCE OR VERTICAL OSCILLATION DURING RUNNING: EFFECTS ON RUNNING RELATED INJURY FACTORS. International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy13(4), 633–642. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6088121/
  • 2
    Cagla Fadillioglu, Möhler, F., Reuter, M., & Stein, T. (2022). Changes in Key Biomechanical Parameters According to the Expertise Level in Runners at Different Running Speeds. Bioengineering9(11), 616–616. https://doi.org/10.3390/bioengineering9110616
  • 3
    van Oeveren, B. T., de Ruiter, C. J., Beek, P. J., & van Dieën, J. H. (2017). Optimal stride frequencies in running at different speeds. PLOS ONE12(10), e0184273. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0184273
Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.