Factors of Success
The running economy of an athlete refers to the relationship between oxygen intake and power output. A runner with better economy will be able to produce more power (in the context of running, longer endurance or higher speed) with the same amount of oxygen input as someone with bad economy. This idea is often simplified to the concept of VO2Max, the maximum amount of oxygen that an athlete can take in and use in 1 minute. However, economy takes into account many other factors, such as biomechanics, lactate threshold, genetics, environmental characteristics, training history, and equipment. The 3 most impactful
While economy is largely based around invisible factors, biomechanics, or form, is something that can be tweaked on a macro scale. For distance runners, longevity is the focus and so being able to hold good form will be very beneficial. Over a long period of exercise, small form issues will become larger and larger drains on energy, and so it is important to be able to recognize issues and correct them should you see your form deteriorating. Ideal distance form varies slightly from person to person, but can be broken down into 3 main groups: stride, posture, and arm swing.
The first of these is the stride, or leg movements. With each step, you should drive your knee forward, pushing off of your back foot. As your front leg comes back down, it should land directly under you, with your opposite leg pulling forward. Driving the knee will start to pull your body forward, leaving your first foot slightly behind you. From here, you can push off again and the cycle continues. A full stride cycle can be seen in stages here.
The next major form group to pay attention to is posture. This includes the positioning of a runner’s core, back, and neck. Keeping a straight, tall back is important to open your chest, wallowing for easier breathing. Additionally, looking ahead or just slightly up puts your neck in line with the rest of your body, reducing risk of back fatigue on each impact. Finally, pointing your core and hips forward and not rotating too far will aid in lengthening your stride. Ideally, each step you take should create a straight line up your body, beginning in your leg and ending at your head, as seen here.
The final main group are the arms and shoulders. Shoulders should be relaxed and down, which will make each arm swing easier. A common issue for runners is tensing their shoulders and letting them ride up, which limits the range of motion in your arms and prevents a runner from taking full advantage of their stride. With each step forward, your opposite arm should come up to mid-chest height at a 90-degree angle. However, your arms should stay at your sides, as more power can be gained than when swinging them across your body. As they swing back, your arm should stay in the 90-degree angle, and your elbow should again reach mid-chest height. Hands can be open or closed, but avoid tight fists, as it increases stress in your arms and can lead to stiffer overall form.
By adhering to the basic guidelines of good form, a runner’s efficiency can be significantly increased.