Run more efficiently

Dom Cadden

You might be busting a gut working on your fitness and endurance, but there’s an easier way to pick up the pace with less energy – become a more efficient runner. Running efficiently comes down to several key areas of technique. Here’s how to work on some of the efficiency issues that might be holding you back from your true running potential at any distance.


Holding tension in your upper body wastes energy and slows you down. Unclench that jaw and relax the shoulders and arms, while still holding an angle of around 90 degrees at the elbows.


If your heel always hits the ground first, it might be a sign that your hips are behind your feet, this is called overstriding. When you overstride, it’s like you’re riding the brakes while your foot is on the accelerator, because it takes more effort to pull your hips over your feet so you can push off again properly. You may not land on the toes or balls of the feet, but at least make sure your foot lands under your hips. One way to train yourself to correct this is to run short distances (and sessions) barefoot on a soft surface.


Your stride rate is the number of steps you take in a minute. The often-quoted goal stride rate for runners is around 180 strikes per minute (or 90 per foot). When stride is slow, it can mean you’re wasting energy on what is called oscillation – which means you’re going upwards to much instead of forwards – or your feet are spending too much time in contact with the ground. A slow stride rate can also mean you’re ‘braking’ with every step instead of rolling quickly over the ground. Running in deep water can help increase your stride rate. Another drill is hopping in one place. Extend one leg behind you, raise up that foot to rest on a step, then hop as fast as you can on your lead leg.


Swing through opposite arm to opposite leg, letting the arms help propel your hips. The arms should be relaxed with about a 90-degree bend, with your fist swinging right back behind your hip.


This doesn’t mean you have to be perpendicular to the ground, there are many advocates for a good ‘forward lean’ when running (especially Chi running). What it means is that you a solid through your trunk, without collapsing at the belly or chest.


Many people breathe too often and too shallow, especially when they’re new to running, which can mean they don’t get the oxygen they need or process carbon dioxide properly. Efficient runners tend to breathe in a 3:3 ratio at more relaxed paces and often 2:2 when they get serious (two breaths for every two steps with the same leg, assuming 90 steps per minute each leg).

Get the most out of your breathing by forcing your breath right down into your belly (you can see your abdomen expanding as you breathe in, i.e. you’re using your diaphragm). For interval training, or pushing it at the end of a race or training run, you can switch to a 1:2 (one step breathing in, two steps breathing out) or 2:1 (two steps breathing in and one step breathing out) breathing rhythm. Don’t worry too much about whether you use your nose or mouth or a combination, just remember that your mouth will suck in and expel more air more quickly.


It’s better to have your knee bent at a more acute angle when your back leg comes through to the front (the ‘swing phase’). This assists rotational torque and force production to bring the back leg through to the front. However, your leg will be straighter at slower speeds than faster speeds.