“Natural movement is a lost art” | Shane Benzie
As a former ultra runner Shane Benzie found that, after competing for years, he was punishing his body in a way that other athletes were not.
Shane set out on a mission to find a better way to move and to fully understand natural movement. He needed to get off the track, away from the city and out into the real world where people were free from the constraints and pressures the developed world puts on our body. Natural movement is found in natural environments.
A better way to move
After failing to find a more effective way to run online, Shane decided to go on a journey to find a better way to move. 7 years later, after setting up his coaching and performance company, Running Reborn, he is still on that journey. Only now he has worked with numerous elite athletes, including world record holder Eliud Kipchoge, former world record holder Wilson Kipsang, leading Team GB ultra runner and caytoo athlete Tom Evans and Tom Daley and the GB Diving team.
Shane’s coaching is based on the nature and efficiency of movement and, as research suggests that running on a treadmill creates ‘contrasting biomechanics from those produced running in a natural environment’, all of Shane’s training takes place outside.
He has worked in extreme environments all over the world including; the African highlands, the Amazon, the Himalayas and the Arctic. All in his pursuit to discover the lost art of running.
“I believe that for a runner to move well, we really
need to move the way in which our species was designed to move.”
The ‘outside’ lab
Whilst training, Shane places motion sensors on the athletes, as well as videoing their movement. This allows him to create a ‘360 degree video of the whole body’ and, therefore, educate athletes on how to move more naturally.
As it is vital that his training takes place outside, all of Shane’s technology is portable. However, to get even more emerged in the environment he works in, Shane aims to turn a Land Rover Defender into a laboratory on wheels. This high-tech training hub will allow him to move around more freely with the athletes, as well as track and trek in the terrains in which they train.
“I’m really looking to upgrade the way I move with athletes. I’m going to create a moving lab so I can chase people around on Dartmoor, get down onto beaches into forests and through the woods.”
Elasticity, fluidity, synergy and connectivity are vital to Shane’s practices, but so too is tension. Tensegrity, the idea that a structure is is stable through elasticity and tension, is deeply rooted in Shane’s theory to natural movement.
“As a human, all the bones in your body are floating. No bone touches another bone. It’s held together in a sea of tension [muscles, ligaments, tendons etc].
“If we put height into our body then we move with a lot of elastic recoil. If we have big changes, such as leaning on one hip or sitting down a lot, we start to take out the tension in the body.”
Posture and form are key in the way you move and this elastic system is never more than 7 months old.
“The elastic system that binds us together is responsible for the recoil and elastic energy we create,” Shane said. “ That’s never more than seven months old so any of us can start working on it today and it will change pretty quickly.”
Why is this important for athletes? Shane uses the example of a footballer. Whilst they may have been drilled on how to move with the ball and the movements they need to make off the ball, there are massive gains to be made in the way they move away from play.
“How a player moves very quickly to the other end of the pitch with the ball not in his sights tends to be on auto-pilot. If he or she does that with some thought and efficiency in movement, next time they need to run the length of the pitch, they’ll have a lot more chance of doing that with efficient energy.”
Shane’s skills can be applied to any sport that involves running in order to get marginal gains. Whether it is the three steps of a GB diver, or the 250,000 steps of the GB 24-hour running squad.
Shane’s methods are also extremely effective for disability athletes. The way we move is unique to each individual. No two people move in the same way, your movement is like your fingerprint.
“Our movement is an accumulation of idiosyncrasies. When you’re working with a para-athlete, there is the opportunity for some big imbalances.
“I’ve worked with some amazing athletes where we have been able to create more balance and symmetry than in able bodied runners.”
“We live in a surreal place in the Western world. We no longer
move, or interact, in the way that our species would have done.
Shane is also able to work with blind runners on the visualisation of their movement. By training them to recognise what natural, elastic and fluid movement feels like, they can walk out onto the track full of confidence.
“If you can get an athlete feeling confident when they walk to the starting line because they know they are balanced and what their symmetry is, it makes a huge difference. The mind is just as important as the body.”
The office is dangerous!
But rather than just studying elite athletes, Shane looks at the way humans move. In order to obtain this information, Shane has been to Kenya, Uganda, India and Mongolia to spend time with runners in Ethiopia, Sherpas in the Himalayas and tribes in the Amazon.
“I study natural movement. In the Western world we’ve forgotten how to move naturally. A lot of my work involves travelling to different environments, so if I go to the Amazon, I will analyse and research athletes, but also look at the way the indigenous people move as well.
“I believe that for a runner to move well, we really need to move the way in which our species was designed to move.”
When it comes to movement, Shane believes there is a lot the Western world can learn from the East.
“We live in a surreal place in the Western world. We no longer move, or interact, in the way that our species would have done.
“In a lot of the places I go, people don’t sit, if they are static, they squat. We can spend 8-9 hours a day sitting in a chair.”
In the UK, the office is a dangerous place. Shane believes the amount of time we spend sitting down is massively unhealthy, so much so that it should be considered a health epidemic.
He also believes the West is massively missing is a sense of community.
“The power of the group is one of the most important
things that I have come across with athletes.”
“Communities aren’t what they were. I think they’ve broken down to a large degree and this power of the group that I love and see whenever I go travelling, we don’t really seem to have.
“The power of the group is one of the most important things that I have come across with athletes. We should take pride in what we do and enjoy it, but try and interact with as many other athletes as we can. That is incredibly motivational and something we can all learn from.
“That’s why I’m working with caytoo, it’s a great way of networking. Not just for athletes, but for coaches too.”
A more dynamic future
Shane’s mission of discovery shows no sign of slowing down. Firstly, he is off to Namibia with adventure sports specialist Beyond the Ultimate, then to Kenya, the Himalayas, India and finally Mongolia to continue his education on natural movement.
As well as his extensive travels, Shane runs a charity in Uganda that helps local children to kick substance addictions through running.
After starting to work in Uganda, Shane found that a lot of street children were living on rubbish tips, addicted to alcohol and drugs.
“The idea was to get them running as part of their daily routine to get them interested in their health”, Shane explains, “That worked really well and the older children are now coaching.
“Next year we’ll have the first generation of coaches teaching other coaches. It’s something I’d like to spread throughout Africa.”
Shane also has a three-book deal with Bloomsbury, with the first book on his studies, titled The Lost Art of Running, documenting all the lessons and inspiration he has collated on his travels. Yet, despite having worked with world record marathon runners and Team GB athletes, Shane’s lessons aren’t just for elite athletes, they can be applied to everyday life.
If you’re interested in connecting with Shane, click here.