Mechanisms for improved running economy in beginner runners

Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2012 Sep;44(9):1756-63. doi: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e318255a727.


Controversy surrounds whether running mechanics make good predictors of running economy (RE) with little known about the development of an economical running gait.

Purpose: The aim of this study was to identify if mechanical or physiological variables changed during 10 wk of running in beginners and whether these changes could account for any change in RE.

Methods: A 10-wk running program (10 wkRP) was completed by 10 female beginner runners. A bilateral three-dimensional kinematic and kinetic analysis, in addition to RE and lower body flexibility measurements, was performed before and after the 10 wkRP. The Balke-Ware graded walking exercise test was performed before and after the 10 wkRP to determine VO2max.

Results: Seven kinematic and kinetic variables significantly changed from before to after training, in addition to a significant decrease in calf flexibility (27.3° ± 6.3° vs 23.9° ± 5.6°, P < 0.05). A significant improvement was seen in RE (224 ± 24 vs 205 ± 27 mL · kg(-1) · km(-1), P < 0.05) and treadmill time to exhaustion (16.4 ± 3.2 vs 17.3 ± 2.8 min, P < 0.05); however, VO2max remained unchanged from before to after training (34.7 ± 5.1 vs 34.3 ± 5.6 mL · kg(-1) · min(-1)). Stepwise regression analysis showed three kinematic variables to explain 94.3% of the variance in change in RE. They were a less extended knee at toe off (P = 0.004), peak dorsiflexion occurring later in stance (P = 0.001), and a slower eversion velocity at touchdown (P = 0.042). The magnitude of change for each variable was 1.5%, 4.7%, and 34.1%, respectively.

Conclusions: These results show that beginner runners naturally developed their running gait as they became more economical runners.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Exercise Test
  • Female
  • Gait / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Oxygen Consumption / physiology
  • Regression Analysis
  • Running / physiology*