Improving Running Economy

[While iRunFar rarely touches on the technical aspects of running fitness, we received an offer we couldn’t refuse from our good friend and exercise physiologist Dr. William Henderson of Endurance Science. In the following article he explains various ways that you can improve your running economy.]

In the previous article, I examined some of the science around footstrike patterns with respect to injury, economy and speed. I think that it is fair to say that proponents of mid/forefoot running have “ a whole lotta ‘splaining to do” before objective observers will believe that it is intrinsically better than the more typical foot strike pattern. There are some useful ideas within the Chi/Pose models – ideas like landing under the center of gravity. I don’t want to give people the impression that I’m a technique nihilist and that I don’t think that there is anything that can be done with respect to technique to improve an athlete’s speed and economy.

For example, in this article I’ll look at the evidence for several areas that I think that a runner can improve technique. Namely, we’ll look at the evidence for: i) foot contact time and cadence and ii) plyometric and strength training – ways to improve speed and economy without necessarily increasing fitness (yea, free speed!). High speed running, another method of improving running economy is not covered in this article

As I’ve said before, none of these ideas are secrets, and you don’t need to buy expensive training courses to learn, utilize or benefit from these strategies. As always, these techniques need to be adopted slowly, preferably under the supervision of an experienced and credentialed coach who can evaluate you as an individual.

Improving Running Economy: Cadence and Contact Time

Do you ever watch other people running? It seems like some of them float along, barely touching the ground, while others seem to labor slowly forward, with excessive movement and heavy footfalls. Think a bit about how the graceful ones look – quick, light steps, no overstriding and no scuffing and scraping noises when their shoes contact the ground. They seem more efficient and it shouldn’t be a surprise that they are. An exercise physiologist might call this “economy.”

Some of these attributes can be developed in an athlete by focusing on one thing – running cadence. Cadence is simply the rate at which leg turnover occurs (i.e., how many steps are taken per minute). If your left foot contacts the ground 70 times per minute, your cadence is 70.

Jack Daniels made the observation that the best athletes in any distance over about 2,000m run with a cadence of about 90. No matter the speed, cadence stayed pretty much the same, only stride length varied. Most beginning runners tend to run with cadences of 80/min or less.

Daniels suggests that quick cadence decreased injury by minimizing vertical oscillation (and, therefore, landing forces) and is more economical because it minimizes “ground contact time” – GCT. GCT is the time that a runner’s foot spends on the ground with each step. As an athlete’s speed increases GCT naturally decreases, but this can still vary between runners. A shorter GCT implies that you are spending less time planted on the ground, but also the force generated by each step occurs over a briefer period of time, which minimizes force absorption and dissipation. Daniels felt that we should all aim to run with a cadence of approximately 90/min, as this was optimally efficient.

I recently came across a great post by Roberto Veneziani on his excellent blog, wherein he charted his cadence versus his Polar “Running Index.” The Polar Running Index is a proprietary measure that attempts to give you a global assessment of your running performance during any workout. Although the exact formula is not public knowledge, it isn’t that difficult to figure out. Basically, it calculates what your heart rate is as a percentage of your max HR (used as a surrogate for VO2max) and measures your running speed at that HR. By normalizing your speed to heart rate, it can compare runs at different speeds. Simply put, it can tell you if you are getting fitter/more economical over time, even if you are running at different speed and HRs. It thus gives a global measure of fitness and running economy.

Cadence vs RunningRoberto compared his cadence to his running index over many runs and found that he got the best running index measures as his cadence approached 90. This would seem to support Daniels’ empiric observation that this is the cadence for optimal performance in longer distance events.

Beyond GTC and decreased vertical oscillation, I wonder whether there might be biochemical reasons why optimal running economy might happen around 90 strides/min. In a study performed in the early 1990s, eight cyclists were asked to pedal on two occasions at 85% of their VO2max for 30 min. The first time, they used a bike gear that required a cadence of 50 rpm, and on the second occasion, a gear that required a cadence of 100 rpm.

With the slower cadence (i.e., higher resistance) pedaling Type II muscle fibers (“fast twitch”) used up glycogen 50% faster than during high cadence (lower resistance) pedaling. Type I fibers (“slow twitch”) used fat and glycogen at about the same rate at either cadence.

So why might this affect economy? At slow cadences, as type II fibers run out of glycogen, they are less able to contract, forcing the recruitment of other muscle groups. This leads to: i) deterioration in form and ii) less efficient use of energy and oxygen. Both of these factors can contribute to less effective cycling.

I haven’t seen similar research in runners, but it isn’t difficult to imagine that a similar process might apply. Very slow gaits, with more vertical oscillation, greater ground contact time and so on require more use of type II fibers, and less efficient glycogen/oxygen use with concomitant deterioration of running form. This could lead to poorer economy. Just a theory, but it is biologically plausible. Something I will have to test in the lab someday, I think!

Take home message? Gradually try to increase your cadence to a number close to 90/min. Changes in speed should come more from variations in stride length than changes in cadence.

  • J Kang, J Hoffman, M Wendell, H Walker, and M Hebert. Effect of contraction frequency on energy expenditure and substrate utilisation during upper and lower body exercise. Br J Sports Med. 2004 February; 38(1): 31–35.
  • The Effect of Pedalling Frequency on Glycogen-Depletion Rates in Type I and Type II Quadriceps Muscles during Submaximal Cycling Exercise, European Journal of Applied Physiology, vol. 65, pp. 360-364, 1992.

Improving Running Economy: Strength Training

Above, I outline some of the possible benefits on running economy of increasing cadence. Increases in cadence may improve economy by shortening stride length enough to prevent overstriding (and thus braking), decrease ground contact time (and thus improve energy return) and may decrease injury by lessening impact forces on landing. I wonder whether a lot of the alleged benefits of fore/midfoot running aren’t simply due to the effect that they have on stride length and cadence, rather than the actual part of the foot that is landed on per se.

In this section, I review some of the evidence for strength training as a way to enhance running performance.

The first thing to be clear about is definitions. By strength training, I mean focused strength exercises primarily for the lower body. The objective isn’t to “get bigger” but to enhance muscle unit strength and, more importantly, neuromuscular coordination and muscle unit recruitment.

There is a lot of evidence that focused strength training can improve running performance in both short and long distance events. For example, a group of Norwegian researchers found that a focused plan of “half squats” with heavy weights improved running economy by 5% and time to exhaustion at maximal aerobic speed (i.e., the pace you would run at when at VO2max) by 21%. This occurred after 8 weeks of 3 sessions a week. The most relevant figure from this paper is shown below.

Strength training and running economySimilarly, French scientists found that a 14 week program of heavy lower limb weight training, which occurred concurrently with endurance training improved running economy in 5km trials.

What is interesting about both of these studies (and shown in many similar studies) is that this improvement in running times occurred without an improvement in aerobic fitness as measured by VO2max. We can therefore conclude that the improvements were due to better efficiency in running (i.e., running economy). This was presumably because weight training improved the effectiveness of recruitment of the involved muscles or allowed the recruitment of stabilizing muscles – thereby improving stride efficiency.

During endurance training some runners find that their stride length shortened as compared to when they are focusing on speed training. A group of Spanish researchers demonstrated that weight training prevented runners from developing a “marathon shuffle.”

The trick for most of us is to actually find the time to add this type of work into our training regimen. I think that there are a few general rules that apply: start with small doses of weight training, begin in the off season, and don’t become a weight lifter rather than a runner.

In the next section, I outline a strengthening program that combines the benefits of strength and plyometric training for endurance runners.

  • K Stkren, J Helgerud, E Stka, and J Hoff. Maximal Strength Training Improves Running Economy in Distance Runners. MSSE 2008
  • G Millet, B Jaouen, F Borrani, and R Candau. Effects of concurrent endurance and strength training on running economy and VO2 kinetics. MSSE 2002.
  • J Esteve-Lanao, M Rhea, S Fleck,  and A Lucia.  Running Specific Periodized Strength Training Attenuates Loss of Stride Length during intense Endurance Running.  JSCR 2008.

Improving Running Economy: Jumps!

In the previous section, I outlined some of the evidence for ancillary strength training for runners. I think that there is clear evidence that lower body strength exercises can improve running economy (and, therefore, performance) in well trained runners. I received two interesting emails related to this subject that I thought I would expand upon.

The first email asked if it was better to add weight training or more running volume to improve performance. This is an excellent question, as it gets to the heart of many “cross-training” myths. Many people feel that they can cross train their way to better running. I think that cross training in other sports is very beneficial, particularly in that it can allow development of stabilizing muscles, avoids developing the not 100% attractive “runner’s physique,” prevents burnout and is, well, …fun! However, there is no doubt that the strongest predictor of distance running improvement is volume of running. So if you can increase your volume further (without injury or burnout), this is probably the way to go. But… if you have hit the point where more volume leads to injury, excessive recovery time, or if performance has plateaued, then adding non-running training seems prudent.

The second question asked about plyometric training. Plyometrics is a system of exercises that uses rapid, explosive movements to improve power. Examples include hopping, bounding, box jumps and so on. The mechanism by which plyometric training increases power is interesting. Rather than increasing muscle strength/mass, plyo exercises improve musculotendinous stiffness – thereby improving the “energy storage” and energy return during resisted movements. For example, plyo box jumps will, over time, improve the efficiency with which the energy stored in the tendon/muscle during landing is released. In a sense, it improves the “spring action” of the muscles and tendons. If you think back to my explanation about ground contact time, you can see that a more powerful push off during running is beneficial. So what’s the evidence?

There are several studies that show a link between plyometric training and improved running performance. The one I like best (because the scientific method was the most rigorous) was published in 2003 in the European Journal of Applied Physiology. In this study the authors found that a 4 month plyometric program improved running economy and 3km race time by 2.7%.

While 2.7% isn’t a trivial improvement, I do have some concerns about most runners adopting plyo training. Essentially, I think that this is a high risk tool. The rate of injuries doing plyo training is relatively high, and I think that the most extreme drills – box jumps, cone jumps, etc, are probably best done only by experienced athletes with coaching supervision. More traditional drills such as on-track hopping and bounding are probably reasonable if done carefully. However, I think that the large majority of the improvements in economy seen with these drills can probably be achieved more safety with strength training…

  • RW Spurrs, ML Watsford, AJ Murphy. The effect of plyometric training on distance running performance. Eur J Appl Physiol (2003) 89: 1–7.

Call for Comments
Do you incorporate any activities in your training specifically to enhance your running economy? If so, what?

There are 31 comments

  1. Dave

    I am a marathon runner, a part-time barefoot runner, and an engineer. I have experimented with running form over the last 2 years, and have migrated to a higher cadence, shorter stride, midfoot strike pattern. The engineer in me thinks about this whole topic as a conservation of energy problem. My running form is thus an emergent result of reducing wasted sound energy (run quieter) and eliminating unneeded body movements. I.e. reduce vertical movements to minimize chemical (muscle) energy wasted to stop my downward momentum, and to accelerate upwards.

    Your article is excellent, appropriately skeptical (in the scientific sense of the term), and I believe correctly identifies that cadence, and not foot strike, is the key to efficiency. I especially am fascinated about the 'magic' cadence of 90, and have long felt that there is an biochemical reason for this number. Perhaps this cadence allows the optimal refraction time for a muscle fiber to reload and fire again? If so, it would make sense that humans would evolve mechanically in a way to best take advantage of this biochemical efficiency, assuming you subscribe to Lieberman's persistence hunting theories.

  2. Aaron Harrell

    Great article that seems to summarize a great deal of what I have been reading over the last few months. As a runner who is recovering from calf pain and is interested in injury prevention, I have been looking at ways to create balance in my running form and strength. I have been running with minimalist shoes (five fingers, huaraches) and more traditional running shoes for the last few years, so I have been interested in the information and conversations about how we prevent injuries and become more efficient. What I have noticed is how there was much attention paid to foot strike at first, and then more recently this focus has moved to cadence. What I like is that there seems to be some really great information that indicates that all of these things are merely ways of indicating that a runner is maybe not running as efficiently as they could be.

    All that to say, thank you for taking the time to compile a number of ideas and making that information usable to people like me. I am interested in running injury free, that's really all I want. The more tools I have to do that, the better off I will be.

  3. Brett

    Disclaimer – I took statistics a looooooooong time ago. But doesn't an R^2 = 1 mean a perfect correlation, and the lower the value the worse the correlation? The reason I ask is that in that first chart, the data seems to be all over the map and the R squared value is almost 0.

    1. MikeC

      Brett, I was thinking the same thing, I remember .1 as being a very low correlation.

      Running light on your feet and a high cadence seem to go together to me. One begats another.

      I've always thought Jesse Owens had the most effortless stride. He claims his secret was "I let my feet spend as little time on the ground as possible. From the air, fast down, and from the ground, fast up"

    2. Andy

      I also took stats a looong time ago (and I'm a psychologist, not an exercise physiologist), but I believe that an R-squared of .1139 is the amount of variance accounted for by the covariation of the two variables, which equals an "R" (the actual correlation coefficient) of about .34. While this may still not seem extremely high, it fits with the pattern of data shown, and suggests a moderate relationship between cadence and running "performance." And it certainly fits with efficiency and wattage output data in cycling, and with the experience of most of us running light and fast.

      Great stuff. Now let's go put the science in action!

  4. Tyro

    I thought the digs at Pose/Chi were a bit much in your last post but they're becoming wilder and harder to ignore.

    I think that it is fair to say that proponents of mid/forefoot running have “ a whole lotta ‘splaining to do” before objective observers will believe that it is intrinsically better than the more typical foot strike pattern.

    We know that adopting a forefoot strike lets us run comfortably with no cushioning (ie: barefoot or minimalist) where a heel strike would have us crippled or crying in no time. I think that's pretty uncontroversial so I am still flabbergasted that you should imagine that it's the mid/forefoot group which needs 'splaining and not the heel strike group! It's also a bitter irony that you should hold the forefoot strikers up to the fire when you yourself are content to make claims that are untested and unsupported but "biologically plausible" and consider this good enough.

    Do you seriously believe that it is not biologically plausible that by adding cushioning (ie: shoes), the biomechanical shock absorption and injury prevention of a forefoot strike which works so well in barefeet will continue to provide more, not less, shock absorption and injury protection over a heel strike?

    After the last article, these posts are really feeling like a hatchet job and not the careful, unbiased look at the evidence that they purport to be.

    Here's what I'm seeing:

    Pose/Chi: runners can improve their running (speed, efficiency, safety) by improving their technique. This involves posture, foot strike, cadence, dorsiflexion, arm swing, reduced bounce, centre of gravity, leaning at the ankle and strength training. Here are some drills you can follow to make the transition. Depending on your time and money, here are some books, DVDs, clinics, and even private coaches.

    William Henderson: studies show that after 2 months, PC runners have sore calves so you're wrong, PC doesn't improve injuries

    PC: we stress the need to develop slowly as modern shoes immobilize the foot and result in atrophied calves and tendons. The benefits accrue over time, after your body has adapted. That's hardly a fair comparison.

    WH: adjusting the centre of gravity led me to a faster cadence and become more efficient. That just shows what a load of hooey PC is.

    PC: good posture and leaning forward to adjust the centre of gravity are core parts of what we teach. How can you keep confirming our teachings only to say we're wrong?

    WH: with fast cadence and adjusted centre of gravity, I run fine. In fact, I don't have a clue about where my foot lands. Based on this N=1 study with no supporting evidence, I'm even more convinced that PC is bunk.

    PC: Oh, if we're letting in anecdotal evidence, here's a list of thousands of people who say their running has improved. Or we can go back to proper studies.

    WH: here's a study which shows cadence improves running efficiency, so PC has a lot of 'splaining to do!

    PC: Again, cadence is a part of what we teach. Why do you keep presenting evidence which supports PC only to declare it wrong, are you really looking at the evidence or going on the attack?

    WH: running is simple, selling all these products is a scam.

    PC: running *is* simple but if you wish to improve your technique we offer a range of products to suit your budget, including free materials on the web.

    WH: running is too complex to learn from DVDs, you need a private coach! PC is still a scam.

    PC: But didn't you just say…? Sigh, okay yes, we also offer private coaches.

    Let me say that I do like to see what the studies have to say and it's always interesting to hear how much of an effect various changes really can have. However these attacks against the Pose/Chi or forefoot crowd are really spoiling things. They show a dogmatic side that makes me think that you aren't following the evidence but rather trying to beat down some views you disagree with for reasons that aren't clear to me.

    As I’ve said before, none of these ideas are secrets, and you don’t need to buy expensive training courses to learn, utilize or benefit from these strategies. As always, these techniques need to be adopted slowly, preferably under the supervision of an experienced and credentialed coach who can evaluate you as an individual.

    I touched on this above but those two sentences seem contradictory. If these techniques are difficult enough that we need an experienced and credentialed coach (which costs money) but we don't have the money or no one is available, wouldn't a video course be effective and less expensive? I've watched the Pose and Chi videos and they are really a series of drills and exercises that we can do to first ease the transition and secondly to perform some self-coaching which virtually all runners will have to do anyway as we don't have private coaches.

    Again, this comes across as another wild attack on Pose/Chi: heads I win, tails you lose. If it's something we can do on our own then you say their books and DVDs are a scam; if it's something we need a coach for then even their in person seminars aren't enough.

    Why don't we just drop the attacks on Pose/Chi lest we start digging up the billions of dollars spend on insane shoe technology: pumps, aerogels, springs, coils, motion control, pronation control, memory foam, not to mention the billions spend on advertising shiny disposable shoes to consumers.

    1. Matt Smith

      I think the point being made in both of Mr Henderson's articles is that the dogmatic assumption that Pose/Chi/Forefoot/Midfoot/Barefoot/Minimal is better in all cases is not supported by the data.

      Unfortunately, your vehement defense of the P/C dogma only makes the movement seem more like a cult than a revolution.

      Minimal shoe proponents like Krupicka put a good face on the issue by using grass-roots engineering and fast running to back up their assumptions (and Anton is not without a history of injuries, most recently calf-related — draw your own conclusions…) And then there are the barefoot wingnuts and POSE instructors who turn the situation into a question of lifestyle and ethics (and commerce.)

      Running is a big tent – there's room for all types. And room for healthy skepticism of fad techniques and corporate shoe manufacturers, alike.

      1. Mark

        I’m not sure if Krupicka’s case is a good example to support or criticize POSE/Chi standpoint. But, it brings up a good point. AK’s technique/running posture might be good for him (?). On the other hand, his numerous injuries, which are somehow correlated with huge mileage and minimalist shoes, make the final answer more complex. It might be that the benefits of good technique are undermined by mileage/shoes factor. Obviously, mileage is one of the key factors in running economy discussion, and deeply affects posture and strength issues. Something makes me think there is no one, correct, universal posture, but many due to: 1. Different physiologies, 2. Shoes, and, last but not least: 3. Distance. And more factors…

      2. Tyro


        (I'm gonna assume you aren't THE Matt Smith or I'd be too giddy to type!)

        I think the point being made in both of Mr Henderson's articles is that the dogmatic assumption that Pose/Chi/Forefoot/Midfoot/Barefoot/Minimal is better in all cases is not supported by the data.

        Why do you call them "dogmatic"? There's plenty of evidence and, as William says, biological plausibility for their claims so why do you call them assumptions? I've asked William for specifics and he refuses, so would you please provide some examples?

        If this is just some inflamed rhetoric meant to jab at me, well okay but it seems strange to go over the top while complaining about how others go over the top.

        Unfortunately, your vehement defense of the P/C dogma only makes the movement seem more like a cult than a revolution.

        I am using evidence and reason to try do learn what's true and to defend evidence-based ideas that were attacked using innuendo and double-speak. If you look, William both attacked P/C for simultaneously providing too many materials to help runners and not providing enough.

        As for being vehement, I think I have a reason. Let's not forget you're calling your opponents dogmatic cultists which some might consider to be vehement :) Maybe we can stick to specifics and leave the jabs on the side.

        And then there are the barefoot wingnuts and POSE instructors who turn the situation into a question of lifestyle and ethics (and commerce.)

        Certainly I think that barefoot running is too extreme – I see little advantage in going barefoot over having the right shoes and lots of disadvantages. I am also bothered by the way that some barefoot proponents will try to bury the costs or make them seem like features (eg: acting like the likelihood of bruises or gashes when stepping on rocks is a *good* thing because it forces you to be more aware of your surroundings).

        But I don't see how some weirdos in the POSE groups should undermine the POSE system as a whole or undermine their claims. It's like judging a blog based on the commenters.

    2. Tyro


      I don't have any investment into Chi or Pose but I do get irked by double standards and fallacious attacks. Call it SIWOTI syndrome if you like. You say you'd like to do without the personal attack which is fine since that's what I was protesting in the first place. Good for the goose & what not.

      You say "the claims made are well in advance of the evidence". Which claims? I went through your two posts and found all the references to Chi/Pose that I could and I couldn't find a single case where they said anything deserving of the scorn you heap upon them and in many cases your own evidence vindicates them (yet you still dump on them). Where is this anger coming from? Specifically which claims are you addressing?

      However I am skeptical that one style will work for everyone (as repeatedly stated)

      Really? Why bother studying questions of technique and form if you don't think that there were answers which are broadly applicable?

      For instance, do you really imagine that having a cadence of 180bpm will be just as effective as, say, 30bpm? I doubt it, not after this long discussion of the evidence and advantages. Clearly you act as if one style will work for everyone which is a good thing.

      1. Tyro


        I would say that the Pose site makes more claims than this and they have a pace that's dedicated to running in particular but okay. Again I have to ask: which of these claims do you dispute?

        Faster? You've presented evidence that cadence (a key factor of Pose and Chi) will make you more efficient and faster so let's consider this claim to be supported.

        Better results? See faster.

        Reduce injury? Again, you've agreed that the emphasis on better posture, striking closer to centre of gravity, and faster cadence will reduce impact force and this is likely to reduce injury. I think we both agree that Pose/Chi can be run barefoot comfortably which should be another big confirmation.

        Learn from injuries? I think you (or your sources, I forget) said that P/C shifts stresses away from you knees and hip which are the common sources of injury to many runners.

        The claims that seem unsupported would be the "Chi" in Chi Running and the "natural potential" of Pose – the claims I think we both agree are the most nebulous to begin with.

        Again, I've asked for which claims you dispute and instead you just dump all their claims without saying which you have a problem with. Well, which is it?

        If you opened a commercial site, charged $$$ and used the veneer of science to gull the credulous I would say "data please".

        It sounds like you've decided they're peddling bunk and that there's no reason to buy anything they offer. Why? I think they are offering things of value and their claims appear reasonable. As you've said before, this technique of running has a high degree of plausibility and you've presented studies which support elements of their teaching, yet you're acting like they're selling pure hokum. All of this is a bit rich since you then go on to say that you don't doubt this will help some people!

        What would make you happy? You talk about running coaches so you're happy with people charging and spending money to improve techniques. Pose and Chi offer a lot of free materials and they offer inexpensive books to suit your budget. The aren't selling Power Band magic bracelets which have no plausibility and a wildly inflated costs, they're selling a service at a reasonable, market rate. Why are you hating on them so much?

        1. Tyro


          Thank you for the detailed reply.

          The one study they reference is the one about lowered forces through the knee. There was no evidence in that study that it actually decreased knee injuries (sure it might, who knows). They neglect to mention the same study showed increased forces in the ankle (which the actual research subjects say was associated with injury).

          Reducing knee injury would be a significant benefit for many people as it is a common, serious running-related injury. In my limited experience, knee pains has been the single common issue raised whenever I hear someone explain why they gave up running and while anecdotal, it is still a long-lasting, damaging injury. So if we're being fair and they can reduce knee stresses and injury, I think we should chalk this up as a huge win in their favour.

          You're right that if we're swapping one serious injury for another, we may not have gained much but is this what's happening? I don't have the study in front of me but based on what you've presented, they were very short term and were reporting injuries which could be expected to improve with time and strength. Was this one of those or do you think ankle injury is inherent in their running style?

          Again, I'd like to set aside their advertising hype and look at what the methods actually do.

          This study showed worse economy, so infact contradicts

          their claim that POSE makes you run faster, or at least faster at the same energy cost.

          That would be very interesting and I agree, it would undermine many of their claims. Can you share more details? I've seen a couple which measure the heart rate shortly after transitioning and it is higher for runs at the same speed. One argument is that the runner is adapting to the higher cadence and the heart rate will adapt over a few months time so I didn't think this was a very appropriate measurement. That was in part why I mentioned that I'd like to see studies with a longer time frame.

  5. solarweasel

    I always find these studies fascinating, but I feel that observing a performance improvement at particularly short distance due to some training technique and applying the result to endurance athletes collectively is misleading. I don't think I need to illustrate the difference between running a mile, a marathon, and a hundred.

    Although I wish more studies of ultramarathon runners existed, I guess still comprise such a small number that it would be hard for any researcher to justify

  6. jacob rydman

    great stuff bryon. i don't do specific plyo workouts anymore, but what i mainly do throughout the week are repeats on k2 (which is a mile long and climbs 1000'). i feel like a climb at this gradient (it averages 19%, with three or four pitches at 25% or above) – with the demands it puts on the ankle lever, calf, and achilles – is like doing an informal plyo workout and i have seen the benefits in terms of strength building and power. the wilderness is a great "gym" to get weight-room-like benefits. thanks for the great article bryon.

  7. Alex from New Haven

    One thing I wanted to address was the myth of the 180 cadence:

    Please read this article that addresses what different athletes do at different speeds. When athletes change speed, some change cadence, others stride length, others both.

    There is NOTHING magic about 180. WR holder Bekele cruises at 190 and then, during a last lap acceleration cranks it up to 215 at the end of a 5 or 10k.

    180 is an easy to number keep track of: 30 right steps in 20 seconds. But our ideal biomechanics don't "know" or care about our idiosyncratic base-60 way of keeping time. Maybe one person is most efficient at 187 at marathon pace while another is best at 193 at 5k pace.

    If you've ever seen (and heard) a "non-runner" clomp and smash away on the treadmill at 150 strides/min you know instinctively that it is BAD and that their joints would be happier at a higher cadence.

    Sorry for the rant, but the myth of 180 needs to end. It's an easy number to keep track of and is a good cruise pace rule of thumb. It's not religion.


    1. Alex from New Haven

      You point about last lap possibly being lower efficiency is totally fair. For example: Elite sprinters (100/200) have cadences up towards 300, but they could care less what their efficiency is since they're totally anaerobic and only care about power output and efficient transfer of power to the ground.

      My chip is about the "180 meme" that gets repeated and cited as if it were the gravitational constant or the conversion from feet to meters. I just feel that our society struggles so much with scientific literacy and are so overwhelmed with information that when someone in authority says "This is the answer" they don't know if it's a fact, theory, estimate or rule of thumb.

      sorry again for excess zeal. I enjoyed your post and think it's great that it's getting people to think about form and other things to improve their running. Cheers, Alx

      1. Stuart Wong

        I actually think the 180 cadence is a function of gravity on earth of 9.8 m/s2. I have not done the math but its seems to be a reasonable hypothesis that this optimal cadance would change if one where to run on the Mars or Jupiter. On a planet with a stronger gravitational pull, theoretically one would need to increase this cadance to minimise the rise and fall of one's body during one's gait cycle. Since one would be falling faster, he would need to "catch" his fall more frequently.

        On the lighter side, who else thinks that Pepe Le Pew was a pioneer in efficent running form. ;-)

  8. Andy

    Gurus and salesman? I agree. As for academics, get us on the trail for a few hours and you'd be surprised how loose we can get.

    PS — William, check the comment on correlations in the thread above. (Hmmm, maybe Anonymous is right after all …)

  9. Brett

    I looked it up, and R^2 = 1 is a perfect correlation. R^2 = -1 is a perfect inverse correlation. R^2 = 0 is no correlation. So looking at the data on the plot visually and the R^2 both show there is no correlation.

    I don't at all disagree with the thesis, but whatever data set that is, is worthless.

  10. Roope

    Good discussions on here, nice change of pace considering its on the internet :D

    What intrests me is that.. If strength training increases economy by way of muscle recruitment and neurological adaptations, wouldn´t flat out,40-60m sprints uphill kindof go for the same thing? just maybe more specific?

    Also what are the more common injuries related to doing plyos?

  11. Freddie

    Here's something interesting. Go look at videos of Abebe Bikila winning his Olympic marathons. In the first, he's barefoot. In the second, he's wearing "Pumas." In both, he lands on his heels (yes, farther back when wearing shoes).

  12. Tim

    Fascinating post Will, I don't think I've seen such an in depth look at Pose and Chi running. After reading all the comments in reply to this post, research or not. I am an Elite Runner who runs Pose and mid-foot strikes. A firm believer who coaches and teaches such technique, and yes changing to Pose/mid-foot striking from heel striking, virtually all of my injuries have vanished. Injury free for the past 3 years.

    Note that when I initially made the transition 3-4 years ago. I did find plantar fasciitis in my Right foot. I soon realized this happened due to weak ankles and under developed muscles. In time I grew into it, the first year was tough.

    Though I will not advocate barefoot running, because its a little extreme, but an occasion barefoot run in sand or beach is a great recovery. Know that I do race minimally. Newton NV2 and New Balance RC5000.

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