How To Improve Your Running Economy - Women's Running UK

How To Improve Your Running Economy

Read Time:   |  December 10, 2019

How to improve running technique

What do we mean by “running economy”? This phrase refers to how efficiently you use oxygen at a given running speed. When developing your running economy, you are looking to ensure that you are running at your optimum speed while expending as little energy as possible. There are many aspects to developing and improving running economy, but the focus here will be on improving three critical aspects – oscillation, cadence and ground contact time.

Aspect 1: Oscillation

We’ve all seen runners out and about – gazelle like, bouncing, flying through the air. It looks fantastic. There are even shoes being sold on the basis that they help you bounce. It might then come as a surprise that “bounce” or vertical oscillation in your running stride is not an efficient way to run. Your energy is propelling you upwards rather than forwards and you are increasing the force of each foot strike.

How to improve it:

Lean, don’t push. Actively pushing yourself up or “toeing off” using a big calf-muscle contraction tends to lead to a high degree of bounce. Instead, focus on engaging your core and glute muscles to extend your hips, taking your weight onto your forefoot. From this position a gentle lean from your ankles will set your body in motion, reducing your body’s need to “push” off.

Aspect 2: Cadence

Think of changing gears on a bike or a car to get uphill or when you have the wind in your face. You drop a gear and turn your legs or the engine over at a faster rate to operate more efficiently. Many runners tend to “lope” with a long, slow stride, striking the ground in front of their body, causing a breaking action in their stride, which both slows them down and increases the risk of injury.


How to improve it:

Increasing your cadence will improve your running economy and reduce muscle fatigue. Run to the beat – download a metronome onto your phone and set the counter to 180 bpm. Practise turning your legs over at this rate through “strides” – short bursts of smooth, relaxed running over 100m.

Cut the stride – reducing your stride length can be a very easy way of increasing your cadence. Count how many strides it takes you to run 100m in 30 seconds. Now repeat, still aiming for 30 seconds but with more foot strikes. You’re aiming for a balance. Your speed is governed by your cadence and your stride length – cut this too far and you start to lose efficiency again.

Keep everything moving forward – check your arms, as they play a big role in governing the tempo of your legs. Your arms should be moving freely and smoothly from the shoulder, and in a straight line backwards and forwards in short, efficient movements, with a 90-degree bend at the elbow – not rotating across your body.

Aspect 3: Ground contact time

Why is it some runners seem to float over the ground, barely touching – running like a deer – whereas some runners appear to plod (sometimes very fast!)? While it’s only a matter of milliseconds, every moment your foot is on the ground means a little momentum is lost. Trying to increase the speed at which your foot strikes and returns from the ground is crucial to increasing running economy.

Foot contact time

How to improve it:

Run on hot coals – not literally! But try to imagine the ground as super-heated under your feet – and don’t get burned!

Drill yourself – running drills can be enormously helpful in reducing ground contact time. Carry out a “flick-out” drill, where, with the weight on the balls of your feet, you kick your legs out in front of you with your feet flexed up, in a short, snappymotion and lightly moving from one step to the other. Repeat three times over 20m.

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