By: Aileen Kroon, RRCA Run Coach & NASM Personal Trainer
The Average Runner
People run for lots of reasons – to get in shape, to be social, to cross a marathon off their bucket list, to maybe eat or drink a little extra, to clear their mind – and while most of us will never qualify for the Olympic trials, if we’re going to race, we would like to see just how fast we can get.
Most run coaches will tell you that you need to increase your mileage and/or increase your intensity, running workouts specific to the races you’d like to PR. And this is true. You can’t really run your fastest marathon if you only run 3 miles at the same pace 1x each week. However, an often overlooked way of getting faster is what you can do without running.
A Balancing Act
One of the best things you can do to become a faster runner without changing your weekly run routine is to work on your balance.
Running is basically hopping from 1 leg to another. When all of your weight is on 1 leg at a time, your body has to balance all of your weight over that leg. Difficulty keeping that weight balanced can lead to injury at worst or decreased running economy at best.
An injured runner misses out on consistent running. Like anything else in life, you get better when you do something consistently. You start to lose fitness after about 7 days of inactivity, so develop an injury that will take 6 weeks to heal and you may have to pass on that upcoming race or significantly alter your goals.
Running economy is how much energy you use to run. The amount of energy you use is proportional to the amount of oxygen you consume. In general, runners with good economy use less oxygen, and runners with poor economy use more oxygen. If you see two runners running the same pace and runner 1 is breathing heavily while runner 2 is chatting with ease, you could say runner 1 has poorer running economy than runner 2.
There are many factors that contribute to running economy, one being your biomechanics, or how your body moves. In a 2016 review published in Sports Med about modifiable biomechanical factors that affect running economy (meaning factors you can actually change, not just genetics), what happens when your foot hits the ground significantly affected running economy: “Running biomechanics during ground contact appeared to play an important role, specifically those during propulsion. Therefore, this phase has the strongest direct links with RE” (IS;, Is there an economical running technique? A review of modifiable biomechanical factors affecting running economy 2016). Meaning, if when your foot hits the ground your muscles have to work extra hard to keep you balanced (using MORE energy), you’re not going to be as fast as someone who doesn’t need to use as much energy to stay balanced. Not using as much energy = more efficient, or economical.
What You Can Do Right Now
Here are 3 exercises you can do today to get you on your way to that next PR by improving your balance:
- 1-leg balance sweeps
- 3-way toe taps
- Side planks with hip abduction
If you’re looking for a more comprehensive program that works not only on your balance but also on your strength, check out my services page for Get Strong Run Strong packages.
IS;, M. (n.d.). Is there an economical running technique? A review of modifiable biomechanical factors affecting running economy. Sports medicine (Auckland, N.Z.). Retrieved March 21, 2022, from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26816209/