Are You Wasting Energy in Your Run?

Molly Hurford
by Molly Hurford
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Are You Wasting Energy in Your Run?

The irony about running is it seems like such a simple, natural movement, however it turns out there is a lot of room to boost your efficiency so every step truly counts. There are plenty of things even the most seasoned runners do that ultimately slow them down.

However, the secret to speed might be simpler than you think as you might be unconsciously wasting energy every time you lace up.


A 2014 study showed swinging your arms when you run saves a whopping 13% of your energy compared to running with your hands on your head. Focus on swinging your arms properly: If your left leg is coming forward, your left arm should be heading back behind you while your right arm is driving forward. Let your arm actually go back behind you, as this can add efficiency to the movement.


Overstriding or running at a cadence that isn’t natural to you can make you less efficient at running, even if, in your mind, you look more ‘like a real runner,’ says Dalton Laino, a physiotherapist at The Movement in Dundas, Ontario. New runners tend to suffer from this more than longtime runners since new runners are still trying to find a stride that feels right for them, and basing their running around what they think runners look like. That smooth, speedy, leaping style that’s so prevalent on the cover of running books and magazines is rarely the most efficient way to run, and luckily, a good running coach or even a smart pair of shoes that connect with MapMyRun can diagnose inefficiencies in your gait.


When you’re hanging onto a phone or car keys while you run, you’re likely holding on tightly to make sure you don’t drop them. This might not feel like a drain on your energy, but it adds up, especially over a long run or when you need to focus on a particular interval. Ideally, your hands should be balled into fists but should feel loose enough you could hold a potato chip without crushing it.


Doing hill repeats makes you a better runner, but you might be wasting energy on steep uphills, especially on trails, by continuing to ‘run’ at a pace that’s actually slower than a power-hike would be. Rather than expending huge amounts of energy to stay moving at a slow run, switch over to walking quickly, using your hands to press down on your thighs to give your leg muscles a break. You won’t lose much speed, if any, and you will save energy.



If you find yourself suddenly changing your technique in a big way to work around an injury, blister or sore muscle, you’re likely not going to be a very effective, happy or efficient runner, explains Laino. Making a shift in your running style to accommodate a problem is almost certainly going to work against you in the long run — you’re better to rest for a few days and seek professional help, rather than limping your way through your weekly mileage.


The more you’re sweating, dripping, chafing, dealing with loose, flapping fabric or just feeling uncomfortable thanks to a poorly placed seam in your shorts, the worse your run will go. Dress for success in run clothing that fits your body properly, aiming for a close fit to avoid wind drag from loose fabric. Opt for fast-drying and sweat-wicking fabrics and steer clear of cotton to avoid that feeling of being soaked after a few minutes of hot weather running.


The environment has a huge impact on run energy, so set yourself up for success rather than making your run harder than it needs to be. Running on the road takes less energy than running on a soft surface like grass or dirt. Opting to run in the morning on hotter days lets you take advantage of cooler temperatures so you don’t waste as much energy on cooling. And If you’re simply trying to speed up, consider wind direction and take advantage of it when possible. Do intervals with a tailwind (the wind at your back) if you’re hoping to improve your speed, and find a way home that has more shelter to avoid the headwind. Lastly, if you’re running with a friend, take advantage of their draft by tucking in behind them on flat sections to minimize your air resistance and decrease your energy expenditure.

Whether you want to run your first mile or set a PR, having a plan gets you there faster. Go to the MapMyRun app, tap “Training Plans” and set your next goal — you’ll get a schedule and coaching tips to help you crush it.

About the Author

Molly Hurford
Molly Hurford

Molly is an outdoor adventurer and professional nomad obsessed with all things running, nutrition, cycling and movement-related. When not outside, she’s writing and podcasting about being outside, training and health. You can follow along with her adventures on Instagram at @mollyjhurford.


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