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Do Running Mechanics Explain Running Efficiency?

man running on a track

Can we gauge how efficient a runner is simply by observing their mechanics? What about running coaches? This study sought to answer that question.

As most couches and clinicians do not possess specialized equipment to assess running economy, visual assessment is often relied upon. Endurance coaches from high school to the international level (N = 121) viewed each video and ranked the runners on a scale from 1 (most economical) to 5 (least economical). Coaches also completed a demographic questionnaire and listed running style biomechanical observations they used in determining each ranking.

On average, the coaches had 8 years of coaching (range 1-41) and 12 years of running (range 1-50) experience. The current study evaluated the ability of distance-running coaches to correctly rank distance runners on running efficiency through video observation during treadmill running. Findings from this investigation revealed 35%, 47%, 12%, and 6% of coaches could identify zero, one, two, or three of the runners in the correct order, respectively. Furthermore, none of the analyzed coaching characteristics - coaching level, years of experience, certifications, or competition level as a runner - were significant predictors of RE ranking accuracy. There was little agreement on which running qualities are helpful to determine running economy (e.g. stride length, body mass, forward lean, etc.).

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