The Science of Running Economy and Improvement Strategies

The Science of Running Economy and Improvement Strategies

Table of Contents

Discover how to improve your running economy with the science of biomechanics, muscle strength, plyometrics, and dietary strategies.

Running economy is a term used to describe how efficiently a runner uses oxygen to maintain a certain speed. It is the amount of oxygen consumed per kilogram of body weight per minute while running at a given pace. The more efficiently a runner’s body uses influencing oxygen, the less energy it must expend to maintain that pace.

Running economy can be an essential factor in determining overall performance. Improving the running economy can help runners perform better without increasing their workload.

Running economy can be an essential factor in determining overall performance.

As they become more efficient, they use less energy at the same pace, allowing them to run farther or faster with the same effort level. Studies have shown that runners with a better running economy can run faster for longer periods.

The science behind running economy can be divided into two main categories: physiological and biomechanical factors. Physiological factors include muscle strength, endurance, and cardiovascular fitness levels that impact how efficiently the body uses oxygen while running.

Biomechanical factors refer to stride length, foot strike pattern, and posture or alignment during running, influencing how much energy is expended with each step. These two categories determine a runner’s overall running efficiency level.

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Factors Affecting Running Economy

Kinetic parametersResearch has shown that kinetic running parameters influence running economy¹
Spatio-temporal parametersResearch has shown that kinetic running parameters influence the running economy¹
Kinematic parametersResearch has shown that kinematic running parameters influence running economy¹
Running techniquePoor running technique, such as unusually high braking and mediolateral forces, may lower performances in running economy³


Biomechanics and Running Form

Improving the running economy is essential for runners to enhance their performance

Improving the running economy is essential for runners to enhance their performance. Proper running form and technique are critical aspects that impact the running economy.

Poor running form affects one’s ability to run efficiently and increases the risk of injuries. Therefore, runners must work on their biomechanics, which involves analyzing proper form and technique.

One of the most important aspects of proper running form is foot strike. There are three types of foot strikes – heel, midfoot, and forefoot strike.

The midfoot or forefoot strike is considered more efficient than the heel strike as it reduces the impact on joints and muscles, reducing energy expenditure during each stride. Another crucial element of the proper running technique is stride length and cadence.

Stride length refers to the distance between two successive foot strikes, while cadence refers to how many steps a runner takes per minute. Lower stride length with higher cadence results in more efficient running as it reduces braking forces that occur with longer strides.

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Muscle Strength and Endurance

Muscle Strength and Endurance in the science of running economy

The role of muscle fibers in energy production during runs cannot be underestimated. Muscle fibers have different energy systems used for fuel during exercise; therefore, developing strength and endurance in specific muscle groups can significantly improve running economy.

Strength training programs should focus on strengthening muscles that play a critical role in running, like quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, calves, and core muscles. Training these muscles will improve power production during each stride resulting in better efficiency.

In addition to strength training, muscular endurance can improve one’s ability to run efficiently over long distances. Marathon runners require high levels of muscular endurance as their bodies need to maintain a steady pace for long periods without fatigue.

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Importance of Strength Training for Runners

Strength training is an essential component of any runner’s training plan and has several benefits. Firstly, it improves running economy by developing muscle strength to maintain proper form and technique.

Secondly, strength training helps prevent injuries caused by muscular imbalances or weakness. Thirdly, strength training can improve bone density, which is especially important for runners as they are susceptible to stress fractures.

Strength training can increase power production during each stride resulting in faster race times. Improving running economy requires a multi-faceted approach involving biomechanics and running form while developing muscle strength and endurance.

Strength training is a crucial component of any runner’s training plan as it can lead to improved performance and injury prevention. By incorporating these strategies into their routine, runners can enhance their running ability and achieve their goals!

Understanding the Science of Running Economy

FactorEffect on Running Economy
AnthropometryStride length, stride frequency, ground contact time, vertical oscillation, joint angles, and muscle activation patterns influence the mechanical efficiency of running. Optimal biomechanics vary among individuals and depend on running speed, terrain and fatigue level.
PhysiologyHeight, limb length, body mass distribution, and fat percentage influence running energy costs. Generally, taller runners with longer limbs and lower body fat have a better economy.
TrainingEndurance, strength, plyometric, and altitude training can improve running economy by enhancing physiological and biomechanical adaptations. The training type, intensity, duration, and frequency should be individualized and periodized.
BiomechanicsAir resistance, wind resistance, temperature, humidity, and altitude alter the physiological and biomechanical demands of running. Running economy is worse in high air resistance, headwind, heat, humidity, and altitude conditions than in moderate conditions.
ShoesStride length, stride frequency, ground contact time, vertical oscillation, joint angles, and muscle activation patterns influence the mechanical efficiency of running. Optimal biomechanics vary among individuals and depend on running speed, terrain, and fatigue level.
Environmental conditionsShoe weight, cushioning, stiffness, and shape affect the energy expenditure of running. Lighter shoes with moderate cushioning, optimal stiffness, and natural shape are generally more economical than heavier shoes with excessive cushioning, low stiffness, and unnatural shape.


Running economy, a critical factor in endurance performance, refers to the amount of oxygen consumed while running at a specific speed. A well-developed running economy allows athletes to run faster and longer using less energy. Muscle mass, stride frequency, and body mass influence running economy. In sports medicine, experts continually explore ways to optimize these elements to help elite runners and recreational athletes improve their distance running performance.

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Plyometric Training and Resistance Exercises for Improved Running Economy

Implementing plyometric training and resistance exercises can significantly enhance the running economy.

  • Plyometric training involves explosive movements like jumping, strengthening fast-twitch muscle fibers, and boosting running speed.
  • Resistance training, on the other hand, focuses on building muscle mass and strength through exercises such as squats, lunges, and push-ups.
  • Combining these two training methods with endurance training increases VO2 max (maximal oxygen uptake) and contributes to a more efficient running stride, ultimately leading to improved running economy.

The Importance of Proper Running Shoes and Technique

The Importance of Proper Running Shoes and Technique

Selecting the right running shoes and maintaining proper technique is crucial in optimizing running economy. Shoes with adequate cushioning and support reduce the impact on the body and minimize fatigue during running sessions. Furthermore, attention to running efficiency, including stride frequency and perceived effort, can help athletes fine-tune their technique.

By adjusting these factors, runners can store more elastic energy in their muscles and tendons, translating to a more effective and energy-conserving running motion. Understanding and implementing these strategies can significantly enhance one’s running economy and overall performance, from novice to seasoned athletes.

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Dietary strategies like nutrient timing and hydration are critical to improving the running economy. Proper fueling with carbohydrates before exercise and regular intake of carbohydrates during sustained exercise help maintain optimal muscle glycogen levels, leading to better performance.

Also, proper hydration techniques help prevent dehydration, negatively affecting the running economy. By incorporating these dietary strategies into your training plan, runners can optimize their performance and reach their full potential on race day.


Strategies to improve running economy – PubMed

Running economy (RE) represents a complex interplay of physiological and biomechanical factors that are typically defined as the energy demand for a given velocity of submaximal running

Effects of Strength Training on Running Economy – LWW

Introduction. Sustained running performance relies on a complex interaction of factors that lead to efficient muscular work and should result in a fast and effective running gait ().Among the …

Running economy: measurement, norms, and determining factors

Running economy (RE) is an important physiological measure for endurance athletes, especially distance runners. This review considers 1) how RE is defined and measured and 2) physiological …

Running Technique is an Important Component of Running Economy and …

These methodological improvements may further illuminate the relationships of kinematics with RE and, significantly, kinematics and performance. This study aimed to determine the relations …

Is There Evidence that Runners Can Benefit from Wearing … – PubMed

Our present findings suggest that by wearing compression clothing, runners may slightly improve variables related to endurance performance (i.e., time to exhaustion) due to improvements in running, etc…