Elite Runners do Less Work

With 2016 being an Olympic year, runners all over the world begin to get excited about seeing the best of the best doing their thing. The elite runners you will see on the TV who look graceful and like they’re hardly putting in any effort have trained for many years to achieve just that – the ability to do less work while running FAST.

Distance running is all about efficiency relative to outright power. For competitive runners, doing 5% less work than your opponent at the same speed will mean you have more in the tank when it comes down to the final kick at the end of the race. Producing and utilising energy is very important. Things such as VO2max, Threshold, Maximal Aerobic Speed… many markers can predict how well any runner may go over a distance race.

Neuromuscular components are one of the bigger areas of study in the past few years: muscle timing and muscle function in exercise (as the other physiological components have been thoroughly put through the research mill). Musculotendinous stiffness (the stiffness of the entire muscle-tendon unit), is one variable assessed to help determine the body’s capacity to absorb and utilise energy from impacts – a very useful effect for runners who hit the ground around 180 times per minute. Biomechanists used to simplify running into a “mass-spring model”, try to imagine a bowling ball on a tight spring bouncing down the road. An important concept to grasp here, is to know that stiffer springs return more of their energy after distortion.

Plyometric exercises train up the muscles in the body to produce force quickly, generally by absorbing load (usually ground impacts) as the muscle lengthens out and rebounds with a forceful muscle contraction that utilises a percentage of the energy stored in the musculotendinous unit during the shock absorption. This “stretch-shortening cycle” means not all the energy produced was created by the muscle itself (or on a macro scale YOU didn’t have to produce it). In effect you are getting almost “free” force, “free” energy to put into your movement.

An example can be seen HERE

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A good way to view this rebound is imagining trying to dribble a ¾ pumped up basketball… it doesn’t bounce very much. If you pump it up to normal pressure the ball returns a lot more of the force after hitting the ground. Stiffening the ball helps it return more of the invested energy.

Beginner and recreational runners often don’t have this ability, as they will run with a much more compliant running technique, sinking into their joints and having a large vertical amplitude to their running pattern. Stronger, more advanced runners will often possess “stiffer springs” in their legs. These will not collapse as much, resulting in the runner staying tall, staying stiff and floating over the ground as they use the stored energy of one landing in the next push off phase, reducing the force they have to create themselves.

The summary’s from two great articles that highlight these points can be found below. They justify why we try to get our clients running taller, stronger through the hips and strong through the calves/ankles. They also reinforce why our Physiotherapy team will take their clients all the way to this high level of function when re-habilitating from an injury.


If you are currently suffering from any running injuries or what to improve your running, please get in touch with our expert team who are ready to assist you towards your next running goal! Please email physio@frontrunnersports.com.au or see our website: www.frontrunnersports.com.au

Running Regards,

Team Front Runner


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