Why Haile Gebrselassie’s Strange Running Style Can Help Your Golf

Why Haile Gebrselassie’s Strange Running Style Can Help Your Golf

Take a look at this video


Haile Gebrselassie is one of the greatest distance runners of all time, winning Olympic gold medals and marathons, and owning the masters age group world record. He runs with a very distinctive style – his left arm is crooked. Why is that? And how can it help your golf?


So, the strange technique that he uses arose from the way that he learned. It is not likely to be a conscious decision to hold his arm in this way – this is another important aspect.





The Men’s restroom

We have new ‘movement sensitive’ lights installed in our restroom at work. Unfortunately, they are too effective at their energy saving job; they turn off if you are to stand motionless for 3 seconds or more, leaving you in the dark.

As a result, I have learned to wobble back and forth as I am washing my hands – this movement keeps the light on so I can see what I am doing. This wasn’t really a conscious decision, just something that started to happen the more I got annoyed with being in the dark.

Here’s the interesting thing 

The other day I was at home in my own bathroom, with perfectly functioning lights which stay on. As I was washing my hands, I noticed something – I was wobbling back and forth. The unconscious behaviour I had learned in the work restroom was carrying itself over to other similar situations.



Constraints led learning

In motor learning, we have a concept called ‘constraints led learning’, where something in our environment, equipment or the task itself causes a technique to arise (emerge) out of necessity, and then this technique will stay with us. The beauty of this way of learning is that it can often be an unconscious process. This means that you will learn the technique automatically without having to ‘concentrate’ or know too much information about it.

This lack of consciousness about the movement can be hugely beneficial, especially under pressure. We often revert back to unconsciously learned behaviours when under pressure, stress or fatigued – so wouldn’t it be good to ingrained some quality behaviours?

Athletes in any endeavour often report a sense of ‘non-thinking’ when they perform their best. Which way of learning do you think would produce this state more often – learning by thinking a ton of swing thoughts, or learning automatically through tasks which demand the technique?

listen around the 3 minute mark, he says

There are many shots or putts where I don’t remember hitting. I remember seeing the ball flight, I remember preparing for the shot, but once I’m walking into the shot, I don’t remember anything until I see the ball leave

How many of you can say you have experienced that? How many of you allow yourself to experience that?



Seve Ballesteros

Seve was one of the greatest golfers alive. He learned to play on the beaches of his home with just a 3 iron.

Playing from sand is very demanding; in order to hit a ball as far as possible, you must strike the ball first and then sand perfectly. Hit just an inch behind the ball and you will lose all of the distance. In essence, it has a much lower margin for error than playing from a driving range mat or the fairway.

As a result, quality ball striking automatically arose, allowing him to win 91 professional tournaments.


Seve was also known for being very instinctive and not knowing about or understanding a lot of technique. His technique was almost entirely subconsciously learned through the task and the environment.



What can we learn from these Examples?

We are so used to the culture of learning things in an overly conscious way, specifically trying to focus on our technique in order to bring about a specific function or shot. While this can be an important supplement to our practice routines, people forget (or don’t even know) that humans and animals everywhere don’t typically learn movements in this way.

There are other ways to learn movements which can be more robust under pressure, and ways which engage the brain differently (in terms of locus of focus, bypassing the pre-frontal cortex etc), such as task led and constraints led learning. There are also ways which push and pull the system as a whole (synergistically), including physical constraints, perceptions and co-ordination.

In my book “The Practice Manual – The Ultimate Guide for Golfers”, I discuss different ways of creating specific constraints to cause technique to arise (equipment, environment and task constraints), as well as how to create a learning environment which speeds up the whole process.


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I also discuss the things which could stop this process of automatic learning happening, so we can overcome them more effectively.  If you are serious about learning, if you have ambitions of being the best, or if you are a coach training players daily, it can be a great tool to add to your repertoire of tricks and ways to improve yourself (or your students).

I also use constraints to create rapid improvement in the strike quality of my pupils. I put many of these ideas in The Strike Plan, which has been downloaded by almost 3K golfers. Click the image below to learn more.

Strike plan enter

One Comment


    Senior pro Allen Doyle, whose constraint was practicing in his basement in the winter time. There are many paths on the mountain and they all lead up…

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