Want to Improve Your Running? An Easy and Fun Method Provided by Scientists

It's as simple as tying your shoes together.
Fabienne Lang

Remember when you were in primary school, and a prank was to tie someone's shoelaces together? It turns out that this method actually improves your running performance; you just need a little more bandwidth. 

Engineers from the University of California at Santa Barbara led by Elliot Hawkes, a Visiting Assistant Professor from Stanford University, have discovered that attaching a light resistance band between your feet is the answer to better running. 


Improved technique

By the simple act of tying your shoes together, you may improve your running efficiency by 6.4%

"In running, the energy is mostly wasted," said Hawkes, whose paper is published in the Journal of Experimental Biology.

Want to Improve Your Running? An Easy and Fun Method Provided by Scientists
Dr. Elliot Hawkes. Source: Stanford University

What does Hawkes mean by his comment? 

The way most of us run is, in fact, extremely inefficient as far as the human body moves. This is one of the reasons why we burn so many calories while running — up to you if you'd prefer to keep burning those calories, or if you'd like to improve your running technique. 

Essentially, for every 10 calories burned, less than one is actually needed to move our body forward. The remaining nine calories are used to keep you standing upright, and to move your legs.

Hawkes noticed runners on the running track and realized that by adding a spring mechanism to people's legs while they swing them back and forth — the running movement — their running efficiency could improve. 

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Most of the time, when you're told to improve your running style, the focus remains on the strike of the foot, not the swing of the legs. 

What did the research team do?

"We started at the knees, but in the end, we clipped the band onto the shoes," Hawkes said. "It’s easier to get it onto the shoes, and it’s more comfortable — with the knees, the band rubs on you in funny ways."

It might seem strange to attach a band between your feet as you head out for a run, but what the team discovered was that most runners naturally, and almost instantaneously, fell into this new running style. Amazingly, no one tripped. 

What Hawkes and his team saw was that the band created efficiencies with the swinging of the legs, increasing shorter strides, and lowering the amount of energy required for the movement. 

"It actually reduces the effort to ‘bounce’ during stance," Hawkes explained. "Naturally, people run at the 90 steps per minute. If you could take shorter, quicker steps, it would reduce the energy required to bounce, but it takes much more energy to swing your legs that fast, so you don’t naturally do it."

Hawkes continued, "However, the band removes this cost for leg swing, meaning you can easily take 100 steps a minute, reducing the energy required to bounce."

Watch out, though; this experiment focused on long-distance runners on flat surfaces. For you trail runners, sprinters, or hurdlers, don't try this at home.