At SoleFit, we see patients with a whole range of activity levels.  From someone who walks the dog or works a bit in the garden, all the way to Olympic and professional athletes.  We do however get a lot of runners coming through and we wanted to put this little video together to give a few simple suggestions when looking at improving your running efficiency.  It’s a great time to be a runner because there is so much information out there, but it’s a very confusing time to be a runner for the very same reason!

This could easily be a 3hr video but for now we wanted to put together a few of our broad stroke tips on running biomechanics – let’s call it Running Efficiency 101…

It’s a great time to be a runner because there is so much information out there, but it’s a very confusing time to be a runner for the very same reason!

Experiment of One

We're all made differently and have different goals and as such, we should have different plans when it comes to working on our running efficiency.  There are just so many variables that can influence a treatment plan.  Everything from upcoming races to fitness goals to mobility levels to strength.   We completely understand that it can be very tempting to make changes based on a magazine article or book that we've read.  We strongly urge to fight that temptation and find out how it applies to you first!

It’s not just about the shoes

Never before has there been so much choice in terms of footwear on the market.  Minimalist shoes are better for those with already efficient technique and a good infrastructure of mobility and strength.  The more overly protective running shoes can have their place for someone who's not quite there yet.  Unfortunately, no shoe can fix our running inefficiencies.  Like in our first point,  it's important to know where you're at, and find the appropriate shoe to match where you are.  The type of footwear that you may need can certainly vary over time and generally, the more efficient you get, the less shoe you'll need.

Ask the question ‘Why am I not running as efficiently as I could?’

A question that we feel is not asked enough with respect to running efficiency is 'Why are we not running the way we're supposed to?'  We're humans and as such are generally born with all the tools we need to run efficiently.  However, as we get older we don't always nurture those tools that we're born with by sitting much of the day and wearing overly protective shoes for a majority of the day from an early age.   It's important to find out what's causing inefficiencies and to fix those first before trying to make conscious changes.

Fix the Source

As a continuation from the last point, it is just so important to fix the source of our biomechanical problems.  Even if we could implant perfect running technique into most runners minds, it likely wouldn't go well due to the lack of infrastructure (mobility, strength, etc).  If a runner isn't extending their leg far enough behind them, we want them to loosen hip flexors that are likely shortened from sitting all day.  If a hip is dropped on one side, we want to figure out the cause (muscle weakness, leg length discrepancy).  A bit of self-care can go a long way to improving our running efficiency! 

A healthier runner is a more efficient runner

Although this one may seem a little obvious, many runner's start making intricate changes in their technique without taking care of some of the 'low hanging fruit'.  Getting a massage, working on mobility at home, strengthening weak areas, catching up on sleep, and cleaning up your diet may not seem like it's going to help your running efficiency.  However, the benefit of working on these things first, is that (a) you have a better infrastructure to work with and (b) you're a more efficient runner either regardless of any specific technique work.

Use cues like cadence and barefoot work

When we run, our feet hit the ground 800 - 1000 x per mile.  As such, it's very difficult to consciously control the way that our bodies are acting each and every step.  That's where small amounts of barefoot and high cadence work come in.  Try setting a metronome (lots of free apps are available) to 170-190 steps/minute and following the beat with your feet.  It's very difficult to over-stride and bounce up and down excessively when you're running with a higher cadence.  

If you have access to a treadmill or a track, try taking your shoes off and running a minute or two barefoot.  The only cue that may be needed is 'to run as quietly as you can'.   When you remove the protection of the shoe, it's up to your body to dissipate shock and we usually see the runner bend their knees more, increase cadence, and drop their foot more below their centre of mass.  For both of these cues (cadence and barefoot), you'd want to start out very conservative (often with a minute or two and then add on a bit of time each week) as even though it's a good change, it's still a big change!

Small amounts of barefoot running can be a great way to ‘force’ a positive change to our running efficiency.  Unlike most other sports/activities, we are born to run and removing protective footwear forces the body to do the job of shock absorption.  However, even though most runners will run more efficiently when barefoot, it is important to start out conservatively as even though it’s a good change, it’s a BIG change for most!

It’s okay not to change

As much as we encourage runners to have a look at their running efficiency to see if there are things that can be improved, it's not always the best time to make changes.  Upcoming races, injuries, periods of high running volume, and a hectic schedule are all reasons to possibly delay making any big changes to your run technique.  We often recommend using the off-season as a great time to work on making changes to running mechanics when the run volume tends to be a bit lower.

As always, we’d love to hear from you if you have any questions/comments.  To keep up with blog posts, health tips, and upcoming events be sure to sign up for our monthly newsletter!

Leave a Comment