Running – Maximizing Efficiency

Running has been a popular sport for a long time. Although most people use the terms interchangeably, running differs from walking in many ways. In walking, you generally land on your heel and continue on with your motion. Running is an unassisted, non-motorized form of locomotion in which humans and many other animals can move quite quickly on foot.

There are two major ways that the feet strike the surface while running. The first way in which the feet strike is the natural running way, or more accurately the way that the feet naturally land on the ground. This way of running is called natural running. With natural running, runners do not apply any forces to the foot in moving their feet forward. Forceful steps such as jogging and running uphill are examples of unnatural running. Forceful steps, or even jogging downhill while holding onto the handgrip are examples of an unnatural running pattern.

Unnatural foot strikes occur when the body applies too much force to one side of the foot or if a runner applies excessive force to a single foot. When a foot is hit with an unnatural force, runners will commonly hear a muffled thump on the outer side of the foot, known as a “pop”. A more forceful thump will often result in a banging sound and the runner may feel pain and discomfort in the area from the impact of the foot against the ground.

Force applied to the foot while running can be caused by the body weight pushing down on the runner, the feet dragging along behind, or the entire body weight being drawn into the motion. When the body pushes down on the leg or foot that is being lifted, runners will feel a similar sensation in that area. A push from the body can cause the foot that is lifted to be pushed off the floor. The runner will feel the impact of the foot and legs against the surface as the body moves forward, causing the popping sounds and the muffled sensation described above.

Conversely, the feet dragging along behind can cause a runner to apply too much force to one foot, causing a popping sensation and a muffled sound. A runner may feel pain or discomfort in the area where the foot is dragged along after it has passed the joint. If the feet drag along behind, runners may also feel pain or discomfort in their shins, calves, or buttocks. This is because the force that the body applies while going forward causes the foot that is dragging to be jarred forward by the momentum of the foot and the forward motion of the body.

It is important for runners to know how much force they should apply when running. A general rule of thumb is to apply the force in accordance with the force of gravity. The force that the body applies to move the foot forward and the force that the body applies to stop once it is past the joint are both considered when determining how much force is necessary. The slower the speed at which the runner is moving, the less force is necessary to keep from experiencing popping, muffling, and pain.

The location of the foot when running is critical as well. Many runners focus primarily on the motion of the foot without considering where the foot is placed when striking the surface. If the foot is off center, the runner runs the risk of being pushed off balance as the body transitions from one foot strike to the next. Also, if the foot is out in front of the body, it can cause a faster cadence as the foot loses stability and the movement begins to quicken. Lastly, if the foot is pointed in the opposite direction as the runner is running, it can cause an uneven shin swing, causing the runner to use more force and resulting in a faster cadence. These factors can all contribute to a faster, but less efficient, running motion.

Running form plays a vital role in efficiency. Proper running form means that runners avoid taking short or quick steps. Instead, they take longer, slower strides, and maintain proper angles between feet and legs as they move forward. Similarly, runners should not run in an overly narrow stance nor stand with their feet directly under their hips. This allows for greater mobility and greater body awareness.