We all want to run faster – right?
Typically we as a running community often use words like efficient and economical to describe what we perceive to be great running biomechanics, whether the variables in question are technique related, footwear based or other.
From a biomechanical point of view, we can talk theoretically about some movements being more or less mechanically efficient than others. But when it comes to running form, what do we really know in terms of running economy?
The simple answer is: Very little as a conclusive evidence base. It takes little more than searching RunResearchJunkie.com to see what a difficult topic running economy is to research. There are just so many variables which influence running economy. On top of that, different runners thrive in certain conditions, where others are detrimentally impacted by the same conditions.
The Real Performance Benefits of Gait Re-Training
I’m definitely guilty at times of talking about helping athletes to develop a ‘more efficient running style’. I perhaps need to choose my words more carefully at times!
For sure, many runners instantly feel that they have more stride length available, better hip drive, even top-end speed… but perhaps this is simply more effective running, rather than more efficient or economical.
I’m yet to find a piece of research into running economy where the positive effect of any intervention is anything more than marginal, at best! However one area we’re currently seeing more research is in the field of running gait re-education for injury rehabilitation.
For example: Read this recent article from Brad Neal discussing Running Gait Re-Education in the Evidence Based Rehab of Patellofemoral Pain.
I always say that for most runners, their limiting factor to performance is consistency of training, and the ability to put a solid training block together month after month without the interruption of injury. Not their running economy per se!
Coaching & Rehab Implications
From a day-to-day coaching perspective, if I’m working with an injured runner with, let’s say a history of recurring ITB Syndrome, low cadence and poor hip/pelvic control. I’m usually happy to see them working a little harder (gauged by perceived effort) for a given pace in order to maintain improved biomechanics and run pain-free.
The longer term performance benefits to the runner that come from being able to train effectively without pain will far outweigh a percentage here or there in terms of the questionable running economy benefits that come from the cued changes in technique.
- So if an injured runner is now running pain-free, but having to work a little harder on the run to maintain pain-free biomechanics, am I happy?: Absolutely!
- Do I think sometimes we get too hooked up on the “…but will it make me faster…” question?: Definitely! Being able to train effectively is what makes you faster 🙂
Personally I often see runners achieving personal best times as the result of specifically coached changes to running form. We’re just a fair way away from having the research to back this up scientifically. That’s the art of coaching, and the nature of working with individuals with different needs!
Right now, we as a coaching, rehab and clinical community are much closer to being able to stand behind gait re-training as an evidence based mode of running rehab than a performance aid.