Smoothness: An unexplored window into coordinated running proficiency

John Kiely, Craig Pickering, David J. Collins

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Over the expanse of evolutionary history, humans, and predecessor Homo species, ran to survive. This legacy is reflected in many deeply and irrevocably embedded neurological and biological design features, features which shape how we run, yet were themselves shaped by running.

Smoothness is a widely recognised feature of healthy, proficient movement. Nevertheless, although the term ‘smoothness’ is commonly used to describe skilled athletic movement within practical sporting contexts, it is rarely specifically defined, is rarely quantified and remains barely explored experimentally. Elsewhere, however, within various health-related and neuro-physiological domains, many manifestations of movement smoothness have been extensively investigated. Within this literature, smoothness is considered a reflection of a healthy central nervous system (CNS) and is implicitly associated with practiced coordinated proficiency; ‘non-smooth’ movement, in contrast, is considered a consequence of pathological, un-practiced or otherwise inhibited motor control.

Despite the ubiquity of running across human cultures, however, and the apparent importance of smoothness as a fundamental feature of healthy movement control, to date, no theoretical framework linking the phenomenon of movement smoothness to running proficiency has been proposed. Such a framework could, however, provide a novel lens through which to contextualise the deep underlying nature of coordinated running control. Here, we consider the relevant evidence and suggest how running smoothness may integrate with other related concepts such as complexity, entropy and variability. Finally, we suggest that these insights may provide new means of coherently conceptualising running coordination, may guide future research directions, and may productively inform practical coaching philosophies.
Original languageEnglish
Article number43
Number of pages9
JournalSports Medicine - Open
Early online date9 Nov 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2019


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