Running economy is a term used to describe the efficiency with which your body uses oxygen while running. Similar to an efficient car, a runner with good running economy is able to maintain the same pace while using less energy than someone with poor running economy. This can lead to improved running performance and the ability to run for longer periods of time without getting tired. In this blog, we’ll be sharing tips on how you can enhance your running economy for success. We call it, running smarter- not harder!
Running requires a significant amount of energy to perform. Carbohydrates, fats, and proteins are the main energy sources for our bodies, but the body requires oxygen to break these nutrients down into usable energy. The efficiency with which the body uses oxygen is known as running economy.
Several factors can influence running economy, including genetics, training history, and biomechanics. However, there are several strategies that can help improve running economy based on high-level evidence.
Strength training involves exercises that target the muscles used during running. A systematic review and meta-analysis conducted in 2020 found that strength training improved running economy by an average of 2.9%. Strength training increases the strength and power of your leg muscles, which helps you produce more force with each stride. This means you use less energy to maintain a given pace, resulting in improved running economy.
Strength training exercises can include squats, lunges, deadlifts, and plyometrics such as box jumps and bounding. These exercises can be done with weights ideally and should be performed 1-2 times per week.
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Plyometric and Power Training
Plyometric and power training involves explosive, jumping movements that improve the stiffness and efficiency of your leg muscles and tendons. A 2019 systematic review and meta-analysis found that plyometric training improved running economy by an average of 3.0%. Plyometric training can also improve your neuromuscular control and coordination, which can further enhance your running economy.
Plyometric exercises can include depth jumps and double, and single-leg hops. Power exercises might include box jumps, squat jumps, or Olympic lifts like cleans and snatches. These exercises should be progressed gradually, ideally under the supervision of a PT or strength coach to ensure optimal performance.
Interval training involves alternating periods of high-intensity effort with periods of rest or low-intensity effort. A 2020 systematic review and meta-analysis found that interval training improved running economy by an average of 3.1%. Interval training improves your cardiovascular fitness, which allows you to maintain a faster pace for longer periods without feeling as tired. Interval training can also improve your running form and efficiency.
Interval training can be done on a treadmill, track, or outdoor terrain. Intervals can be timed or based on distance and can range from short sprints to longer efforts. A qualified professional can help design an interval training program that is appropriate for your fitness level and goals.
Low Intensity Running
Low-intensity running is equally important as any other component of a training program. A 2021 Systematic Review from the International Journal of Sports Medicine demonstrates that runners with the best performance often incorporate low-intensity training as >70% of their training volume. This intensity is usually considered a near conversational pace that can be sustained for long periods. This helps to improve running economy through improved aerobic capacity, cardiac and metabolic efficiency.
These runs can often be geared as long-runs or recovery runs as part of a training program and can be a good way to acclimate to longer running distances without over-reaching. Working with a running coach is a great way to lock-in the right training distribution for your needs and goals.
Proper Nutrition and Hydration
Proper nutrition and hydration are essential for maintaining optimal running economy. Staying hydrated ensures that your body can transport oxygen and nutrients to your muscles efficiently. Eating a balanced diet that includes carbohydrates, protein, and healthy fats can provide your body with the energy it needs to maintain a given pace without feeling as tired. Particularly eating enough to support the demands of your training can keep you happy and healthy.
Hydration recommendations vary based on individual needs and can be influenced by factors such as temperature, humidity, and exercise intensity. A general guideline is to drink at least 8 cups of water per day, include electrolytes when training, and consume 30-90 grams of carbohydrate per hour of aerobic exercise training.
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Improving running economy can lead to better performance and endurance while reducing the risk of fatigue. Incorporating strategies such as strength training, plyometric and power training, interval training, low-intensity running, and proper nutrition and hydration can all contribute to better running economy. By focusing on these key tips and working with a qualified professional, runners can optimize their training and achieve their running goals.
Remember, just like an efficient car, a runner with good running economy can go the distance with less energy expenditure, leading to improved running performance and overall enjoyment of the sport. So lace up your shoes, implement these strategies, and get ready to elevate your running game!
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References & Continued Reading Suggestions:
- “Effects of Strength Training on Running Economy in Highly Trained Runners: A Systematic Review with Meta-Analysis of Controlled Trials” by Ardigò et al. (2020)
- “Plyometric Training Improves Running Economy: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis” by Malliaropoulos et al. (2019)
- “Effects of Interval Training on Running Economy: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis” by Higgins et al. (2020)
- Sousa, A., Ribeiro, J., Sousa, M., Vilas-Boas, J. P., & Fernandes, R. J. (2017). Training-intensity distribution on middle- and long-distance runners: a systematic review. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 31(6), 1813-1839. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000001615
- “Nutrition and Athletic Performance” by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Dietitians of Canada, and the American College of Sports Medicine (2016)