Develop Your Running


Develop Your Running

Running, Running Economy, Strength, Plyometrics

We will explore how to develop your running further and faster without having to spend hours more on mileage or pushing hard for a quicker time.

Ways to develop running ability

You’ve hit 2018 running. Battled through the January winds, rain and snow, and put some consistent miles in. But now you want to progress, either running faster or further. How can you go about this?

Two obvious methods are:

1. Gradually increasing the distance you run

2. Setting a time to beat on over a set distance.

These two methods look to increase maximal oxygen uptake (VO2max), which means a greater amount of oxygen being delivered to cells, and the ability to sustain a high percentage of VO2max for a longer time 1,2,3.

However, there is a third option not a widely known: Increasing your mechanical efficiency, known as Running Economy. This refers to the amount of effort required to run at a given pace 1. The better running economy the less oxygen needed to run at a pace 2,12, or in other words the less effort it is to run. Generally, ‘better’ runners (those finishing higher in races)9,12 and runners with a longer training history have the best running economy 2. This can be attributed to several factors: innate ability, technique training, hours trained and specific training to improve running economy 1,2.

Attributes for better Running Economy

There are several traits runners with better economy show:

Optimal stride length- the stride length allows effective foot placement for force absorption and production. Choosing the stride length should come from experience and not a prescription, however sometimes an adjustment for more effective mechanics is needed. For an effective stride the foot should be travelling back towards the body when contacting the ground. If the foot is travelling forwards it creates breaking forces that will slow the body down 1,6,9,12.

Leg Stiffness- Muscles move the body, however, muscles

have components that have elastic properties and there are

other soft tissue structures that are elastic. These can act like

springs and propel the body along. Having a stiff leg requires

the muscles hold an isometric contraction whilst the elastic

properties absorb then rebound the forces applied to them.

This uses far less energy than the muscle absorbing all the

force then creating force. There is an optimal stiffness, having

legs that are too stiff is also detrimental 1,2,3,9,10,11,12,14.

Optimal Ground Contact Time- Spending too long in contact

with the ground will cause breaking forces that slow the body

down. Too short contact and not enough force will be

generated. More economical runners have short ground

contact time as they can produce more force faster through

their leg stiffness 2,6,10.

Low Vertical Body Oscillation- The upper body of more economical runners moves up and down less. Minimal oscillation comes from an optimal stride length and effective leg stiffness 1,6,9.

Stronger- More economical runners are generally stronger. This relates to being able to keep leg stiffness with knock on effects of ground contact time and low upper body oscillation. The muscles need to be strong enough to hold the isometric contraction during the stance phase of absorption and propulsion 2,3,10.

Low Bodyfat- Carrying a lower amount of bodyfat means carrying around less ‘dead weight’. Having a healthy amount of bodyfat is crucial for normal body functions 1.

Methods to improve Running Economy

There are a few different methods that can improve Running Economy:

Mileage- More experienced runners have generally been found with better running economy 2. So, getting out there and putting some more miles in under the belt will help.

Technique- Spend time working on stride length and body position will reap great rewards 6. Whilst the subtlety of the foot traveling backwards on strike is hard to see, aim to be striking the ground just in front of the body. This will encourage a mid to fore foot strike which is prevalent in more successful distance runners 8. In addition, running tall with correct alignment, including the upper body, will assist improving running economy. Correct alignment can also reduce the risk of injury 1,4,5. Finding a running coach to advise on technical changes will accelerate running development.

Strength- As mentioned above more economical runners are stronger. Making the muscles stronger will ensure enough strength to hold the isometric contraction needed to use the elastic energy. In addition, strength training can improve neuromuscular efficiency, training the muscle to activate more motor units and synchronicity of firing 2,10. Being stronger increases the ability to absorb and create force, and delays muscular fatigue as less effort is used in each force application the stronger the muscles are 2,3,7.

Performing exercises for 5-15 repetitions with a weight that is challenging will improve strength more than going over 15 repetitions and performing ‘endurance’ weights. Using free weight (barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells) are more effective as they require stabilisation and the exercises are more akin to the running motion. Lastly, improvements can be seen in as little as 6 weeks with 2 sessions per week. Dropping down to 1 session in a competition phases or leading up to a race will maintain strength 3.

Performing running training concurrently with strength training nullifies hypertrophic (bodybuilding) effects of lifting weights. So, there is no worries about putting on too much muscle. Strength training also increases tendon stiffness, assisting in the development of elastic energy 2,10. Lastly, strength training has been shown to assist all runners from beginners to the elite 3.

Plyometrics- These are quick powerful movements that use a counter movement to pre-stretch elastic properties of the body followed quickly by movement quickly in the desired plane/direction 13. Running is a plyometric movement, the more efficient the body can be at utilising the elastic properties the less energy required at a set speed.

Movements like Jumps, hops and bounds are all plyometric and improve leg stiffness 2. They also improve the speed at which force can be generated meaning quicker ground contact/less breaking forces 3. Plyometric training is harsher on the body, therefore those new should start with a small amount of contacts (repetitions) and gradually build up. 2 sessions per week of plyometrics is ideal for developing leg stiffness. The 2 sessions can be a blend of both strength and plyometric exercises to keep training efficient and not impact on too much running time.

Final Thoughts

A systematic review of hundreds of studies concluded that the most effective results occurred when sessions (strength/plyometric/technique) were conducted with a qualified coach 3. Investing in a coach is worthwhile. Running is probably an enjoyable past time; therefore, all related training should be equally enjoyable. If one method of strength or plyometric training doesn’t suit you, there are plenty of different methods of strength training so keep looking and trying.

If you would like more information or coaching/programming please contact FAST at or call 07737120005


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