Improving Running Economy | Fitness Science Fitness Science

Improving Running Economy

Running Improving Running Economyis a very popular and effective method to increase endurance and improve health. An increasing number of people participate in large running events such as a Marathon, Half-Marathon or other distances. Aside from oxygen uptake (VO2max) running economy is one of the most important variables that influences how well you perform at running events. This article will tell you why and how you should be improving your running economy.

Why is running economy important?

Performance in long(er) distance running events is largely dependent on the amount of oxygen the body can take in, otherwise known as the oxygen uptake or VO2Max. Increasing your VO2Max by training will increase running performance in these events. However, when you have been running for quite some time, increases in VO2Max will be quite small. The fitter you get the harder it is to increase it further. However, VO2Max is not the only variable that you can improve to increase your performance.

The efficiency with which you can run is very important as well. Your VO2Max determines the amount of power you can generate for longer periods of time. Running economy determines how much of that power is translated into running forward. It can even determine the outcome of races. Take for example two athletes with an equal VO2max but one has a high running economy and the other has a lower running economy. The one with a higher running economy will run faster while using the same amount of oxygen or he will be able to run just as fast and need less oxygen than his less efficient colleague. Improving running economy is therefore very important.

Methods to improve running economy

Practice running

This one is easy for most to think of and completely logical. The more your run, the better you will become at running. The body does not like to waste energy by running inefficiently and when you practice a lot for a longer period of time, you will automatically learn to run more efficiently.

Strength training

Although not practiced by many runners, strength training is able to increase running efficiency. Strength training improves the strength of leg muscles which has a few advantages. The relative intensity of accelerating your body forward decreases, so the muscles are working less hard and can therefore maintain an efficient running technique for longer. Every step you make with stronger legs is slightly longer so you need less steps to cover the same distance and lose less energy moving your legs.

Plyometric training

Plyometric training is a form of strength training that can be advantageous as well. In addition to the increased strength, plyometric training also causes the tendons to be stiffer allowing them to store more energy.  This stored energy can be re-used for running forward, decreasing total energy expenditure and improving running economy.

How can you improve your running economy by strength training? Below is a sample strength training program.

Improving Running Economy Strength Training Program

From: Karp 2010

Methods that are unproven, ineffective or decrease running economy

Core Stability Training on instable surfaces

Although Core Stability Training on an unstable surface can be used to decrease risk of injury or help treat low back pain, until now, no evidence points towards that it helps improve running economy.

Stretching

Stretching makes the muscles allow more range of motion and can make the tendons less stiff. If range of motion is impaired, stretching can help increasing performance in any movement. However, when range of motion is not impaired and stretching is done, tendons cannot store as much energy during landing than if they would be stiff and running economy suffers. In addition the muscles are then less stable and can work beyond their most effective movement range and therefore cannot produce the same amount of force and power as normal (See also force length-relationship)

See also:

-Core Stability Training on Unstable Devices 

-The Pro’s and Cons of different stretching methods

References:

-Barnes, K.R., Kilding, A.E. Strategies to Improve Running Economy. Sports Medicine 2015, 45, 37-56.

-Karp, J.R. Strength Training For Distance Running: A Scientific Perspective. Strength and Conditioning Journal 2010, 32, 3, 83-86.

-Wilmore, J.H., Costill, D.L., Kenney, W.L. (2008). Adaptations to Resistance Training. Physiology of Sport and Exercise Fourth Edition. USA Human Kinetics.