What can make me both a more economic and faster runner?


Running economy has been acknowledged as being strongly related to running performance. It relates to your ability to consume and utilize oxygen efficiently during sub maximal running. This means that a runner with good running economy is able to use less oxygen at the same speed as someone else with poorer running economy; therefore, making them more efficient. 

Think of this concept with reference to cars. Compare a Prius versus a Hummer. Both cars can travel at 45 mph down the road, but the Prius is going to be utilizing much less gas at that speed, compared to that of the Hummer. 

Running economy can be driven by your vertical ground reaction force, stride length, speed of contact with the ground, and vertical stiffness. 

Running speed is primarily dictated by your cadence (i.e. the number of steps you take per minute) and stride length. However, those two factors can only get you so far; there will be a point where you will not be able to increase your stride angle or cadence without also compromising your running efficiency.

How else can we influence our running speed? Force applied to the ground.

The period of time when your foot is in contact with the ground (i.e ground contact) – is the only phase during the run cycle that can produce force and influence both stride length and running speed. Research has found that runners can achieve faster running speeds by applying more force to the ground rather than simply increasing turn over. 

When trying to improve your running speed, there are additional concepts to consider, such as breaking force. This is a deceleration of your body as you run. This can occur due to your run form (i.e. overstriding). If your form limits the ease of transition into the next phase of running, it will slow down your overall speed.

Increased time on the ground and deceleration associated with braking upon initial contact can influence both running speed and running economy. Therefore, the ideal running form is characterized by small degrees of vertical oscillation, longer stride length, limited time on the ground, and limited braking associated with ground contact.

Research shows that strength training can improve both running economy and speed, but an even greater influence on running speed is the force applied to the ground. However, it was found that horizontal, rather than vertical, force played a greater role in increased running speed. Meaning that, instead of trying to improve our force production up and down, we need to improve our force production to propel us forward.

What does this all mean?

This means that in order to be both economic and speedy, we need to improve our horizontal force production when we are on the ground. 

Here are a few options of how you can work on this: (Be sure to focus on speed off the ground and focusing on propelling yourself forward rather than upward)

  1. Double leg hurdle hops
  2. Single leg hurdle hops
  3. A skips, B skips, C skips

This information is not intended to be medical advice. Consult with your physician or physical therapist before beginning any exercise program.

Reference: Nummella A., Keranen T., Mikkelsson L.O. Factors Related to Top Running Speed. International Journal of Sports Medicine. 2007; 28: 655-661. https://www.practice-field.com/uploads/1/3/1/6/131695905/top_running_speed_and_economy.pdf

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