What Is Running Power? + How To Improve Yours For Better Running

For years, running power was simply not a metric that everyday athletes had a means of measuring, and even elite runners were unlikely to have a running power test or technology to assess power.

While sports like cycling and rowing use power and many cardio machines like exercise bikes, ellipticals, and stair climbers present power production during your workout, measuring running power through wearable technology is certainly in its nascent years.

The good news is that some of the premium running watches can now measure running power.

Keep reading to learn all about running power, how to use it, if this data is important for your training, and how to increase yours to become a better runner.

Let’s get started!

A person looking at running power on their watch.

What Does Power In Running Mean?

Although we think about power in the context of electrical power, from a physics standpoint, power is simply defined as the rate at which work can be done.

The greater your running power, or the power generated during any type of exercise, the faster you can create force.

In this way, power in running—or any form of physical activity such as cycling, weightlifting, or using a rowing machine—is strength multiplied by speed. 

We can think of running power as a measure of how quickly a runner can push off on the ground and propel their body forward.

Running power decreases if ground contact time (how long your foot is on the ground) is high because the equation for power is power = force x speed.

A high running power means that you can do a lot of muscular “work“ in a short amount of time.

People sprinting on a track.

Improving or increasing power means that you are able to generate and sustain a higher level of muscular force for more explosive movements that result in a faster stride turnover. 

This allows you to take longer strides and faster strides simultaneously, ultimately helping you cover more ground as you run more quickly.

Thus, in short, better running power means faster running and better race times (improving running power = improving running performance).

How Does Garmin Measure Running Power?

Among the various metrics you might receive from your Garmin Running watch, Apple Watch, or some other GPS running watch, running power is a newer stat that some of these premium fitness watches may provide.

The Garmin running power feature uses metrics such as your pace, vertical oscillation, cadence (steps per minute), grade/incline, and even local wind conditions to calculate the propulsive force you are applying into the ground relative to your ground contact time and running speed to provide the Garmin Watch running power calculation.

A person looking at their running watch.

Garmin running power is then calculated by considering different components of running power, such as kinetic power, potential power, vertical oscillation power, horizontal oscillation power, and wind power while running.

Equations are used to then figure out your overall power on Garmin watches using data from the watch along with the running power equations and algorithms that have been meticulously designed to synthesize these various aspects of running power and the Garman data gathered during your running workout.

For example, kinetic power, which is the power required to change your running pace, is gathered from speed data from your Garmin watch.

Potential power refers to the power required to run up or down a hill, and this data is taken from the barometer that measures elevation on your Garmin GPS watch.

The more complicated features of how Garmin calculates running power are by using the Garmin vertical oscillation power data and horizontal oscillation metrics.

These metrics are pulled from the different running dynamics provided by the watch and the technology and algorithms that have been put in place to function by measuring your vertical and horizontal displacement, heart rate, cadence, ground reaction time, force applied to the ground and ground contact time, etc. as you run.

A person looking at their running watch.

Garmin running power and Apple Watch power can be useful to monitor and keep track of because power is generally consistent in the long term, yet it is immediately responsive in a training session or given running workout based on your effort, speed, etc. 

Additionally, unlike running metrics like pace, running power is responsive to factors like wind and hills, so you can use running power to compare different running workouts where you ran different routes or the environmental conditions were not the same.

For example, if your speed remains the same, running power increases when you run uphill, and it decreases when you run down a hill.

This allows you to use power to gauge progress in the short term and long term and conduct a more apples-to-apples comparison between running workouts where multiple variables are changing.

Most of the premium Garmin running watches measure power, or you can download the Running Power app from the Connect IQ™ Store if your Garmin doesn’t calculate running power automatically.

A person looking at their running watch.

What Are the Benefits of Power Training for Runners?

While we hear a lot about the benefits of strength training and speed training for runners, the benefits of power training for runners are only just becoming a larger part of the general discourse due to the advancements in technology that can measure running power.

Ultimately, strength training workouts and speed workouts for runners each individually address one of the two arms of the equation for running power, respectively, as power equals force (strength) divided by speed.

Therefore, one of the benefits of strength training for runners is that you will generate more force, and of course, the benefit of speed training for runners is that you can become faster from a neuromuscular perspective.

However, you can potentially improve power more efficiently by specifically training with running power-targeted exercises and drills.

A person looking at their running watch.

Because running power is a measure of the muscular force you can exert as quickly as possible, power training for runners does involve a combination of strength and speed training, generally using explosive movements such as plyometrics.

By nature, plyometrics replicate the concept of power because plyometric exercises are all about generating force as quickly as possible (building explosive speed/strength), which, by definition, is power.

Here are some of the benefits of power training exercises for runners:

#1: Increasing your maximum running speed

Power training exercises for runners help you apply more force into the ground quickly while you are running, which helps propel your body forward faster.

#2: Improving your ability to accelerate

Increasing power helps you accelerate faster, climb hills more easily, and explode through turns in a race.

A person looking at their running watch.

#3: Improving your running mechanics and stride efficiency

One of the primary benefits is that it helps you improve your running mechanics by giving you a more propulsive force to enter the flight phase of running while minimizing ground contact time.

The flight phase is really where you will gain a lot of speed as a runner and make your efficiency and economy as a runner significantly greater.

#4: Reducing the risk of running injuries

This type of training can decrease the risk of running injuries.

What Are the Best Power Exercises for Runners?

As mentioned, power training workouts for runners center around plyometric exercises.

Running plyometrics can be considered jumping or bounding drills.

A person doing a box jump.

Plyometrics help your body increase the rate of force development so that you can have more of that explosive force production or the ability to generate force rapidly.

For running power workouts, focus on using heavy weights and performing power-based strength training activities such as plyometrics (burpees, box jumps) and use heavier weights for fewer reps with resistance training exercises to maximize gains in muscle strength.

Examples of some of the best running power exercises include bounding drills, single-leg box jumps, very short hill sprints, and weighted box jumps.

You can learn more about the best plyometric exercises for runners to build power and strength here.

A person running fast.
Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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