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New Study Reveals 8% Efficiency Boost – This Surprising Running Form Adjustment Could Shave Minutes Off Your Time

 Written by 

Julien Raby

 Last updated on 

Runners often practice form drills to perfect their forward lean, believing it helps them work with gravity to hit their ideal pace. 

However, a new study published in the journal PLOS ONE suggests a different approach might be more effective. 

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Researchers at Cal Poly Humboldt and the University of Southern California have found that maintaining an upright posture or a very moderate lean can improve running efficiency. 

This finding challenges the common belief that a pronounced forward lean enhances performance by reducing the energy required from leg muscles.

The Study Overview

The study, conducted by researchers at Cal Poly Humboldt and the University of Southern California, was recently published in PLOS ONE. 

It focused on understanding how different forward lean angles affect running efficiency. The participants were recreational runners aged 18-35 who ran for at least 30 minutes a day, three times a week. 

They were asked to adjust their forward lean from almost upright to a maximum of eight degrees while running on a treadmill at eight miles per hour. 

The primary aim was to measure how these different postures impacted their running efficiency.

Efficiency and Forward Lean

The study’s results revealed that runners who adopted a moderate forward lean—approximately halfway to their maximum lean—were the most efficient. Specifically, these runners were 8% more efficient than those who leaned forward the most.

Contrary to the popular belief that leaning forward significantly reduces the energy required from leg muscles, the study found that an excessive forward lean actually increases the metabolic cost of running. 

This is comparable to the effect of adding weights to the lower legs, making the exercise more strenuous and less efficient.

Muscle Activation Insights

While the precise reasons behind the increased efficiency with a moderate lean remain unclear, the researchers have some hypotheses. 

Data on muscle activation suggest that the gluteus maximus, the primary muscle responsible for hip extension, is more engaged with a significant forward lean. 

This increased engagement likely raises the energy demand.

Nina Carson, a physical therapist and doctoral student at the University of Colorado, Denver, and lead author of the study, explains: “The bottom line is that the technique of running with a moderate forward lean is better than trying to run with a large forward lean, at least in terms of efficiency.”

Implications for Runners

The study’s findings provide clear guidance for runners looking to improve their efficiency. 

Instead of striving for a pronounced forward lean, maintaining an upright posture or a slight forward lean is recommended. 

This adjustment can make running less strenuous by reducing the metabolic cost, allowing runners to conserve energy and potentially improve their performance.

Justus Ortega, a kinesiology professor at Cal Poly Humboldt, emphasizes that “runners are often told to lean forward to improve efficiency, with the idea that gravity will help propel them forward. However, our study shows that excessive forward lean increases the metabolic cost of running.”

Improving Running Performance Based on Forward Postural Lean Findings

Understanding the Impact of Forward Postural Lean

Key Insights

  • Metabolic Cost: Increased forward postural lean worsens running economy by increasing the metabolic cost.
  • Kinematics: Greater forward lean angles significantly alter hip and knee flexion, impacting running mechanics.
  • Muscle Activation: Increased forward lean leads to higher activation of the gluteus maximus and biceps femoris, reducing efficiency.

Practical Steps for Runners

Optimize Your Posture

Maintain a Moderate Forward Lean

  • Why: A slight forward lean can be beneficial, but excessive lean increases metabolic cost and muscle activation.
  • How: Aim for a moderate lean of around 4-5 degrees from the vertical. This can be achieved by slightly tilting forward from the ankles rather than bending at the waist.

Stay Upright

  • Why: An upright posture has been shown to be more energetically efficient.
  • How: Focus on keeping your torso straight with a slight forward tilt from the ankles. Visualize a straight line from your head to your ankles.

Focus on Hip and Knee Mechanics

Hip Flexion Control

  • Why: Excessive hip flexion increases the demand on hip extensors, leading to higher energy expenditure.
  • How: Practice running drills that promote controlled hip flexion. Focus on driving your knees forward without over-extending.

Knee Flexion Management

  • Why: Slight knee flexion is natural, but over-flexion can decrease running economy.
  • How: Work on exercises that strengthen the quadriceps and improve knee stability. Incorporate squats and lunges into your training routine.

Enhance Muscle Activation Efficiency

Strengthen Posterior Chain Muscles

  • Why: Strong gluteus maximus and biceps femoris can handle increased activation without excessive fatigue.
  • How: Include exercises like deadlifts, hip thrusts, and hamstring curls in your strength training regimen.

Focus on Lower Limb Stability

  • Why: Stability reduces unnecessary muscle activation, conserving energy.
  • How: Perform balance exercises, such as single-leg stands and stability ball work, to improve lower limb stability.

Running Drills and Exercises

Drills for Posture and Lean Optimization

Ankle Lean Drill

  • Purpose: Train your body to lean from the ankles rather than the waist.
  • Execution: Stand upright, then gradually lean forward from the ankles while keeping your body straight. Run short distances maintaining this lean.

Torso Upright Drill

  • Purpose: Reinforce an upright running posture.
  • Execution: Practice running with a straight torso, using a mirror or video feedback to ensure minimal forward lean.

Strengthening and Flexibility Exercises


  • Target: Gluteus maximus, hamstrings.
  • Execution: Perform with proper form to avoid injury. Focus on engaging the glutes and hamstrings during the lift.

Hip Thrusts

  • Target: Gluteus maximus.
  • Execution: Use a bench for support, pushing through your heels to lift your hips until your thighs and torso are in line.

Hamstring Curls

  • Target: Hamstrings.
  • Execution: Can be performed with a machine or stability ball. Ensure full range of motion for maximum benefit.


  • Target: Quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings.
  • Execution: Perform forward and reverse lunges, maintaining an upright torso throughout the movement.

Monitoring and Adjustments

Using Technology for Feedback

Wearable Devices

  • Purpose: Monitor running posture and angles in real-time.
  • Execution: Invest in wearables that provide feedback on your running form, such as lean angle and muscle activation.

Video Analysis

  • Purpose: Visual feedback on running mechanics.
  • Execution: Record your runs and analyze posture, lean angle, and hip/knee flexion. Compare with optimal form guidelines.

Training Plan Integration

Weekly Training Structure

Strength Training Sessions

  • Frequency: 2-3 times per week.
  • Focus: Lower body strength, emphasizing exercises that target the glutes, hamstrings, and quadriceps.

Running Drills

  • Frequency: 1-2 times per week.
  • Focus: Incorporate drills for posture and lean optimization into your regular running routine.

Flexibility and Stability Work

  • Frequency: Daily or as part of your warm-up/cool-down routine.
  • Focus: Dynamic stretches before running, static stretches after. Balance exercises integrated into strength training days.

Future Research Directions

Future research aims to explore how varying levels of forward lean affect running efficiency and performance on inclined and declined slopes. Understanding how posture impacts efficiency in different running conditions could further refine training techniques for runners.

For now, the message is clear: to run more efficiently, an upright posture or a slight forward lean is your best bet. As runners continue to seek ways to enhance their performance, adjusting their forward lean could be a simple yet effective strategy.


The latest research from Cal Poly Humboldt and the University of Southern California challenges the traditional advice of leaning forward while running. Their findings show that a moderate forward lean, rather than a pronounced one, improves running efficiency by reducing the metabolic cost. 

Runners who maintain an upright or slightly forward posture can conserve energy and potentially enhance their performance. As the running community continues to explore ways to optimize techniques, these insights offer a valuable, evidence-based approach to improving efficiency.

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