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Enhancing Your Run Economy

trail runningBy Kelly Wissolik

Good form and proficient running technique allows you to run longer and more quickly with less effort. It also will help prevent injury. So how do you improve your running economy?

Below are a couple quick tips to get you moving in the right direction. For a complete understanding of running economy and how to improve your running form, you can also check out our article on how to improve your running economy to get faster.

Check your stride

A low stride rate means you are likely producing more vertical oscillation (projecting more energy and motion upward instead of forward), which produces greater impact forces and undermines your forward propulsion. A good stride rate incorporates a quick cadence of 185 to 195 strides per minute – each foot will strike the ground about 95 times per minute.

Do a quick test and see what your stride rate is - as you run, count on your left or right foot how many times it strikes for 20 seconds. This number should be 31 to 33 times per left or right foot (start count with zero, one, two, three...).

Increasing the stride rate will initially feel awkward. With the proper lean and point of foot strike, you'll soon feel more comfortable and you will be able to run quickly with efficiency!

Foot Strike

Make sure your foot strikes directly under your center of gravity. The foot should land under your hips. If you imagine a line from your belly button to the ball of your foot, your foot should land on that line. If it lands ahead of that line you will produce braking forces that will decelerate your momentum.

Strike the ground mid-foot, just aft of the ball of the foot. A mid-foot strike limits the amount of time your foot spends on the ground, lessening overall load and increasing forward momentum. Push off on the extension of the running stride with a quick contraction from the muscles in your leg and roll off the ball of the foot to propel forward.

Try barefoot running. Begin barefoot running gradually and make sure the surface is clean of debris. Start with 100 meter repeats and only barefoot run for 5 minutes initially. Gradually add time. Your foot will naturally use a mid-foot strike when barefoot running. Barefoot running will strengthen the foot and lower-leg muscles while improving your foot strike.

Arm Motion

Make sure shoulders are relaxed and loose allowing your arms to swing like pendulums. Hands should make a light fist and elbows are very bent, and you can utilize the internal and external obliques with each arm swing.

With each arm swing, hands near your chin as elbows drive back and forth opposite of each other. Arms work freely front to back, skimming your sides without crossing the midline of the body.

Posture

Run with relaxed shoulders, head neutral and eyes on a point about 30 feet ahead. Your hips and chest should be stable and facing forward as the whole body leans forward from the ankles. Propel forward with each stride and be sure to not bend from the waist!

Try working with a partner for exercises like the partner lean and push drill. Have your running partner or coach stretch out his or her arms and place his or her hands on your shoulders. Lean from your ankles into his or her arms.

Keep the hips and chest square with a strong core. Relax your shoulders and keep the head neutral. Bend at the elbows to form a 90 degree angle or more, with your hands forming a light fist near your chin. Stand with your feet at shoulder width apart and focus on leaning forward into your partner's/coach's arms from the ankles and be sure not to tuck your chin and look down. Focus on the "drop" of the knee and a quick push off from the ball of your foot.

As you lean, drive forward with quick pushes, and keep your abs and core stable while the side abdominals engage the arm carriage to drive the elbows back and forth. Think “push, push, push!” and be sure not to lift and pull. Make your coach/partner work to hold you in place! Your coach or partner can step out of the way and then you should propel forward with proper form, running with a quick cadence, leaning and pushing your way straight ahead!

Drills

Do drill work twice a week. These are great options:

Striders/Pick-ups/Accelerations

  • After an aerobic base run, do 4-6 repetitions of 50-meters of running as quickly as you can.
  • Begin with a short, quick stride and a comfortable pace. Accelerate through the stride and lengthen your stride as you increase your speed over the 50m.
  • Ease down and jog easily in-between for about 20 to 30 seconds.
  • This will train your neuromuscular system to move your legs more quickly as you use quick cadence and a forward lean.

    Walk/run progression  

    • Start by walking in your running stance form.
    • Shoulders are rounded and relaxed, head is neutral, chest and pelvis is square and elbows are bent with arms skimming the body.
    • Begin walking with a short step and quick turnover.
    • Lean forward from the ankles and accelerate into your walk/run threshold.
    • Move your feet as quickly as you can without breaking into a run at first and then slowly and seamlessly progress into a slow run.
    • Maintain a fast turnover and feel the lean and push.
    • Drop the knee and spring forward until you are running comfortably with a forward lean and quick cadence. 
    • Goal: Lean forward, quick cadence, push off on extension and feel smooth propelling forward with little vertical movement

      Tempo training  

      • Use a tempo trainer device to beat at 190 beats per minute to match your footfalls.
      • Focus on the lean and push to find a rhythm running at that beat.
      • Be sure the forward lean is from the ankle and utilize the whole foot to enhance the push off with each stride.
      • Try jumping on a treadmill and practice maintaining that 190 strides per minute at a variety of speeds and grades- cadence 95 to 100ish.
      • Focus on "Drop and Spring Forward" and "Lean and Push off"

      More running drills to improve your form can be found here.
      For more information on improving your running economy, click here.

      Kelly Wissolik is a USAT Level II coach and elite long-course triathlete. She lives and trains in Monclova, Ohio, with husband and fellow coach Rob, and she is the owner and creator of Energy Fitness Coaching, LLC (EFC), which has coaches located throughout the U.S. and hosts camps and clinics nationwide. To learn more about Energy Fitness, including youth programs and the interactive Power Log and Power Chat, please visit www.energyfitnesscoaching.com.

      Active.com