An important determinant of the mechanics of running is the effective vertical stiffness of the body. This stiffness increases with running speed. At any one speed, the stiffness may be reduced in a controlled fashion by running with the knees bent more than usual. In a series of experiments, subjects ran in both normal and flexed postures on a treadmill. In other experiments, they ran down a runway and over a force platform. Results show that running with the knees bent reduces the effective vertical stiffness and diminishes the transmission of mechanical shock from the foot to the skull but requires an increase of as much as 50% in the rate of O2 consumption. A new dimensionless parameter (u omega 0/g) is introduced to distinguish between hard and soft running modes. Here, omega 0 is the natural frequency of a mass-spring system representing the body, g is gravity, and u is the vertical landing velocity. In normal running, this parameter is near unity, but in deep-flexed running, where the aerial phase of the stride cycle almost disappears, u omega 0/g approaches zero.