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Alexander Technique & Running

Malcolm Balk's talk: Friends Meeting House, London, 28 April 2009


By Lynn Edmonstone


Malcolm Balk, an Alexander Teacher from Canada came to give a short talk on his life as an AT teacher and how he has applied the technique to his passion -running.


The purpose of this review is so that anyone who was unable to make the talk can still benefit from his words of wisdom on the chosen topic.


Malcolm trained with Patrick McDonald and Shoshana Kaminitz in 1984.  As an AT Teacher, he works a great deal with musicians as he himself confessed to previously playing the cello like a hockey player! 


Before his Alexander training, Malcolm used to compete in marathons and had observed an increase in injuries, a lack of emotionality for the pursuit and the fact his technique was not improving.  Upon embarking upon his AT training he was advised by McDonald to "Continue to run . . . but don’t tighten yourself up".


Since applying the technique to his own running practice, he now teaches many workshops for runners all over the world including the International Congress in Brighton and with Robin Simmons in Switzerland.  Since these workshops, Malcolm noticed the number of injuries was reducing.


Before going any further, Malcolm wanted to find out why we had come to this event and what we wanted to gain from the evening.  Here are the responses:


·        How to find more joy in running;

·        How to learn to work better with pupils who do running as a hobby;

·        How to get more motivated and run with less effort;

·        What about breathing in running compared to singing?

·        What about equipment i.e. running shoes, does he have any advice?


One of the first things Malcolm mentioned was "It makes sense to take lessons".  If one was to embark on any other sport i.e. hand gliding you wouldn’t think of starting before getting some tips from an expert.  The same applies to running, however many people think they can do a marathon with little preparation and simple shoes.


We began to look at some typical unhelpful habits that hinder one’s joy and cause too much effort to be used when running.  With the help of a video camera (the modern version of F.M Alexander’s mirrors) we observed several runners and here is what we discovered:


  1. Many people have their gaze / head towards the ground (mainly to avoid stepping on dog poo!)  The first piece of advice was to "stay up" and ensure the "head leads and the body follows" . . . . . this was repeated several times during the event.
  2. When running a common habit is to land on the toes.  Malcolm advised it was better to land on the ball of the foot.  He also said that good runners spend less time on the ground, their steps are quick and light.  "tap, tap, tap"
  3. "Pulling on the breaks" . . . this is where one would drive the heal of the foot into the ground when in reality we should be aiming for the foot to land underneath you.  Malcolm said that if you run barefoot, you never dig your heal into the ground.
  4. "Pushing off" . . . this is where the back leg is straight propelling us forward when in actual fact we want the "Head to lead us into length" and avoid having such a wide stride as gravity will naturally move us forward without having to make so much extra effort.
  5. People don’t stretch enough -"Stretching is a bit like flossing, we should do it more often".
  6. Many people waste too much energy from moving up and down in space when running but in an ideal world the head should stay level.  (Watch George Best run with little movement up and down on You Tube).


To the question of breathing, Malcolm said that:


"A good Alexander Teacher doesn’t talk about breathing" . . . "If you lengthen and widen, the breath takes care of itself" . . . "When you start running, the breath happens by itself".


This led onto how he works with runners in an Alexander lesson and he uses several methods:


  • As per usual working on a chair to improve the student’s general use because many people "run like they sit".  He gave the obvious example of the football player on the bench slouching over and then getting up to play the game in peak condition.  So it makes sense to improve how one moves and sits throughout the day so as to avoid a "split personality" and "stay the same person . . . to stay up and with length always and everywhere so that when you start to run, you are continuing in the same fashion".
  • Negative practice -this is where you would exaggerate the negative activity with the student so they can really sense what they are doing repeating the negative habit.
  • Continue to emphasise the right way to reinforce a more desirable technique i.e. head up with a good connection from the head through to the foot, arms bent.


In response to the question about equipment, Malcolm recommends a running shoe that is not too bulky and not too thin.  He reminded us that running shouldn’t be hard work unless you are a competitive runner.


Further information can be found in his book "Master the Art of Running" . . . or by attending a workshop . . . details of which can be found on Malcolm’s website:




 © Lynn Edmonstone 2009



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