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Running Speed Conserves Energy

Study shows why it’s difficult for runners to increase speed.

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Runners increasing running speed

Effort and training are required to change what comes naturally to runners. These are words of wisdom that fit pros can share with clients who can’t seem to increase their running speed. In fact, it’s normal to default to an energy-efficient pace.

Researchers from Stanford University in California and Queens University in Toronto, analyzed wearable-tracker data to determine factors that impact natural running speed. “We intuitively assume that people run faster for shorter distances and then slow their pace for longer distances,” said lead study author Jessica Sellinger, PhD, an assistant professor of kinesiology and health studies at Queens University.

Data analysis from the activity trackers of over 37,000 runners, as well as runners in a lab, showed otherwise. People naturally tend to run at a pace that’s most energy efficient—regardless of distance. Researchers note the significance of being able to gather “free-living” data, instead of only lab-based measures. This real-life data enables new insights into how environment and lifestyle affect physical activity behaviors.

The study is reported in Current Biology (2022; 23 [1], 2309–15).

See also: Recurring Running Injuries

Shirley Archer-Eichenberger, JD, MA

Shirley Archer, JD, MA, is an internationally acknowledged integrative health and mindfulness specialist, best-selling author of 16 fitness and wellness books translated into multiple languages and sold worldwide, award-winning health journalist, contributing editor to Fitness Journal, media spokesperson, and IDEA's 2008 Fitness Instructor of the Year. She's a 25-year industry veteran and former health and fitness educator at the Stanford Prevention Research Center, who has served on multiple industry committees and co-authored trade books and manuals for ACE, ACSM and YMCA of the USA. She has appeared on TV worldwide and was a featured trainer on America's Next Top Model.

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