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Running Economy – 4 Important Things Every Runner Should Know

Good running economy is the prized asset for any distance runners.

Let alone the VO2 max and lactate threshold. Running economy (RE) is arguably the most critical determinant of performance in long-distance running.

If you have an average VO2 max but a very high running economy, you'll win races.

So what’s unique about RE?

RE is the amount of energy you spend while running at a steady speed. Determining RE involves measuring oxygen consumption per unit time (VO2) and then dividing by your speed.

Low RE values (higher running economy) denote a better running economy than a higher value.

The best way to obtain these values is via a treadmill test like we can do at Box.

Your running economy depends on:

  • Training

  • Biomechanics

  • Physiology

  • Environmental conditions

  • Shoes

  • Measurements of human individual - Anthropometry

4 Mind-Blowing Facts about Running Economy

#1 You Can Improve Some RE through Training

The hallmark of RE is spending less energy but covering greater distances or running faster. That implies that your body is efficiently converting energy into running motion.

Strength training and altitude training are among the best ways to boost your RE. Nevertheless, it is good to try different training types, such as:

  • Increase running cadence, i.e., increasing the number of steps per minute. For the recreational runner, it averages at 150–165 steps per minute. Consider increasing.

  • Drive your elbows back with each step – it gives more energy to move forward.

  • Try Pilates to strengthen core muscles and improve postural alignment.

  • Strength training - it improves musculo-tendon stiffness and neuromuscular efficiency, which are for better RE. Programs consisting of low- to high-intensity resistance training and plyometric exercises consistently for 12 weeks, can boost RE.

  • Increase mileage – higher mileage translates to better RE

#2 Running Economy is a Better Predictor of Performance than Vo2 Max

For long, trainers and researchers believed that a high VO2 max could separate the best runner from average runners. Sadly, even homogenous runners' VO2 max doesn’t correlate with performance.

One study on running economy states otherwise: RE is a better predictor of race performance. It is a stronger correlate of performance than VO2 max in runners with similar values.

Daniels JT reports that running economy can vary up to 30% in trained runners with similar VO2max values.

RE profiles of two runners with equal VO 2 max (source)

#3 Good vs Poor Running Economy

How much energy (oxygen) do you use while running at an submaximal intensity? This is your RE, and it varies from one person to the other.

Runners with good RE consume less energy (and hence less oxygen) when running faster than those with poor RE.

Simply put, if you have a better running economy, you can run faster without intensifying energy expenditure. However, you can only get the best RE results in longer races than shorter ones.

#4 Physiological and Biomechanical Factors Influence RE

With training, your body undergoes both biomechanical and physiological changes, which impact on RE.

Changes include:

  • A marked increase in mitochondria and oxidative enzymes – increases food oxidation to generate energy.

  • An increase in the muscles' ability to store and release elastic energy via increasing stiffness – improves RE.

  • Better mechanics leading minimal energy wastage on braking excessive vertical oscillation – improves RE.

To Sum Up

You can be a faster runner, but you need to understand your RE fast! After that, dwell on workouts that improve your RE, threshold and VO2max. However, unlike VO2max, RE is not limited by genetics, so focusing on RE is more helpful.

If you're interested in improving your running then check out our metabolic testing and VO2Max test packages available.


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