Science of Running

By: Charlotte Miller

My go-to workout for the majority of my life – from middle school to senior year of college – has been running. If I am stressed, I go on a run. If I want a hard workout, I go on a faster run. If I want to spend time outside and be active, I go on a run. After years of running competitively on my high school’s track and cross country team, I know I’ll always have running as my default exercise to fall back on.  It’s ironic that I love running so much, while many people can’t stand the idea of running for fun, as it is seen and used in many sports as a ‘punishment’. Other people are skeptical about running and believe it to be too strenuous on the body. So, how good of a workout is running? How does it affect your body? Let’s discuss this strictly cardio workout and what is occurring within your body while performing the exercise.

Aerobic and Anaerobic

There are two types of exercise: aerobic and anaerobic. Aerobic exercise is less strenuous (unlike a high interval training workout, for instance) and can be sustained over a long period of time, such as running. Aerobic exercise requires more oxygen to complete; but through practice and repetition, stamina, and endurance are built. Anaerobic exercise refers to short and fast intervals of physical exertion. An example of this would be weight lifting or interval sprinting. Anaerobic and aerobic exercise have a symbiotic relationship; incorporating both forms of exercise into your workout can benefit your physical health and athletic abilities. 

In a systematic review in the journal Sports Medicine, it’s noted that strength training with bodyweight, free weights, or machines improves the time and speed of a runner. Ultimately, running in combination with other workout methods (e.g. weight lifting and body exercises) will result in a better overall running performance (Blagrove, Howatson, & Hayes, 2017).

What is ‘Running Economy’?

Running economy is defined as the production and conversion of energy to run a distance at a submaximal velocity (Folland, et al., 2017). This is a fundamental part of distance running. Running economy is influenced by “both a high cardiac output and a high rate of oxygen delivery to working muscle” (Barnes, & Kilding, 2014). The amount of energy, or oxygen, needed when running can be decreased with consistent training. In order to enhance your running economy, you can implement the following into your exercises: running long-distance frequently to improve endurance, running up-hill and on level ground, doing bodyweight exercises with jumps, resistance training, and running short sprints (Barnes, & Kilding, 2014). Additionally, you can improve your running economy by adding nitrates to your diet. Nitric oxide is produced when exercising to increase blood flow to the working muscles and control muscle contraction. Consuming more dietary nitrates (green leafy vegetables, lettuce, celery, beetroot, spinach, e.g.) may be an effective method for increasing exercise performance, and possibly running  economy, depending on your body. (Barnes, & Kilding, 2014).

“A range of training and passive interventions such as endurance training, high-intensity interval training, resistance training, training at altitude, stretching and nutritional interventions may improve running economy” (Barnes, & Kilding, 2014).

I hope this quick overview of the science of running has left you more knowledgeable about the mechanics of running and how to improve your own running performance. I personally like running, but remember, running is not for everyone. Try different cardio workouts and find what works best for you! If you are experiencing pain when you run- STOP! Talk to your doctor. It could be your sneakers, the ground you run on, or a sign of injury.

 If you decide to go on a run, check out the hol3health running playlist on Spotify below! 


  • Aerobic exercise: less strenuous and can be sustained over a long period of time
    • Example: running, swimming, walking, cycling
  • Anaerobic exercise: short and fast intervals of physical exertion
    • Example: sprinting, resistance training, jumping exercises 
  • Running economy: energy use when running a distance at high speed 

Running Playlist from #Hol3Health team

Reference List: 

Barnes, K., & Kilding, A. (2014). Strategies to Improve Running Economy. Sports Medicine (Auckland), 45(1), 37–56., R., Howatson, G., & Hayes, P. (2017). Effects of Strength Training on the 

Physiological Determinants of Middle- and Long-Distance Running Performance: A Systematic Review. Sports Medicine (Auckland), 48(5), 1117–1149.

FOLLAND, J., ALLEN, S., BLACK, M., HANDSAKER, J., & FORRESTER, S. (2017). Running Technique is an Important Component of Running Economy andPerformance. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 49(7), 1412–1423.

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