4 Running Form Changes to Increase Speed and Efficiency


We do a lot of running in the military. But for as many miles as we log, we don’t do much training on how to improve running form to get faster or prevent injury. The common thought is that running form is individual and unchangeable, and some people are just faster than others.

The civilian running community, however, has mountains of research-based advice showing that a few simple running form changes will:

  • Improve your efficiency
  • Increase your speed
  • Extend your endurance
  • Reduce injuries

Here is what I’ve found that works.

Military units run in formation at the start of the fourth Run for the Fallen festivities May 3 at Williams Stadium, Fort Lee, VA. RFTF aims to honor the sacrifices of those lost in uniform and provides reassurance to family members they will never be forgotten.
Photo by: US Army Images

 Shorten Your Stride Length

The first and most important change is to shorten your stride length. You are more efficient if you run with MORE steps rather than with LONGER steps. Long, slow strides have a great energy cost. You should strive to strike your right foot 90 times per minute.  You can easily measure this by counting your steps over a 15 second interval and multiplying by 4. Using this method, you should be striking around 22 times every 15 seconds.

Running Form Tips

Shift to Midfoot Striking

When you reduce your stride length, you automatically begin to land more forward on your foot. This consequence is a great stress reliever for your heels, which are not designed to absorb shock. It is much better to land on the balls of your feet and use your calf muscles to land, rather than your heels and joints. It may feel like you are taking “baby steps”, but you are saving your body unwanted stress.

Reduce Vertical Oscillation

Another positive result of a shorter stride is the reduction of vertical oscillation, or bounce. Bouncing up and down with each step indicates that you are directing your energy upward and not forward. Example:  suppose you were required to jump up and down 3,000 times, but you had the choice of jumping to a height of 3 inches or to a height of 1 inch, which would you choose? 1 inch, of course. It takes less energy and you would have to work less in order to achieve the shorter height. The same is true with running. You will take roughly 3,000 steps during a 4 mile run, so minimizing vertical bounce over that extended period of time will save energy in your stride and stress on your knees.

Minimize Support Time

Finally, you should also try to minimize your “support time” (or, the time your foot spends on the ground) by lifting your feet up quickly. Look at it this way, the longer your foot stays in the support position, the more of your potential energy is dissipated into the ground. Consider this analogy:  if you drop a tennis ball and a golf ball from the same height, which will bounce higher? The golf ball, because it is harder; it compresses less as it contacts the ground. However, the tennis ball flattens slightly when it hits the ground, losing a portion of its stored energy. Essentially, it stays on the ground longer than the golf ball and has less rebound power as a result. The process is the same with your feet. The longer you leave your foot on the ground, the more energy you transfer out of your stride that could be used to propel you forward.

Tip: Changing your running form should be a gradual and deliberate process. Schedule runs that are dedicated to experimenting with your form. Forget about speed and focus on finding the adjusted stride that works for you. You can also visit a specialized running store that will video your stride and provide valuable feedback.

Many of the above notes and examples came from The Triathlete’s Training Bible by Joe Friel. Find it here on Amazon.

Questions for Runners

  • What are some helpful adjustments you’ve made over your running career? Leave a comment below.
  • Do you think military leaders train their formations for longevity? Or just for the moment?
  • Do you have a training plan that will help your unit meet a specific goal?

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