The Fastest Way to Improve Running Economy: 10 Science-Backed Strategies for Peak Performance

What Is Running Economy?

what is running economy?

Whether you're a seasoned marathoner or a novice jogger, one of the most crucial factors in your performance is running economy. Running economy, often referred to as RE, is the measure of how efficiently your body uses oxygen while running at a given pace.

In simple terms, it's about getting the most mileage out of every breath. Improving your running economy can lead to faster race times, less fatigue, and enhanced overall performance.

In this article, we'll dive into some tried-and-true strategies to help you quickly and effectively improve your running efficiency. These tips are backed by science and can make a real difference in your running game.

Don't have time to read the whole article on running economy? Watch the video below:

The Four Factors That Affect Running Economy

Several factors can influence running economy, but the four main factors are:

  1. Biomechanics: The way a runner's body moves plays a crucial role in running economy. Factors such as stride length, stride frequency, foot strike pattern, and running form can impact how efficiently energy is used during running. Proper biomechanics can help reduce excessive energy expenditure and improve running economy.

  2. Aerobic Fitness: A well-developed aerobic system, including a strong cardiovascular system and efficient oxygen utilization by muscles, is essential for good running economy. Regular aerobic training, such as long-distance running or interval workouts, can improve aerobic fitness and, consequently, running economy.

  3. Muscle Strength and Endurance: Muscular strength and endurance, particularly in the lower body, play a significant role in running economy. Strong leg muscles can generate more force with each stride, while muscular endurance helps maintain running form and efficiency over longer distances. Strength training and plyometric exercises can help improve these aspects.

  4. Running Shoes: The choice of running shoes can also affect running economy. Properly fitted and cushioned shoes that provide good support and shock absorption can reduce the risk of injury and contribute to better running economy. The choice of footwear should match a runner's biomechanics and preferences.

How To Improve Running Economy

Here are 10 science based tips to help you improve your running economy.

1. Keep Up The Regular Training

The foundation of improving your running economy is consistent training. Running is a sport that rewards perseverance and dedication. To build a strong running economy, you need to consistently log miles and gradually increase your weekly mileage.

Start by setting achievable goals based on your current fitness level. If you're new to running, begin with a manageable schedule of 3-4 runs per week, gradually increasing the distance or duration of your runs.

For more experienced runners, consistency may involve adding variety to your training, such as incorporating interval workouts, tempo runs, and long runs.

2. Get Your Form Right

how to improve running form

Efficient running begins with proper form. Pay close attention to your running posture, arm movement, and stride. The key elements of good running form include:

  • Maintaining an upright posture with your chest open.
  • A relaxed arm swing that moves forward and backward (not side-to-side).
  • A cadence (steps per minute) of around 180, which is often associated with efficient running.
  • A mid-foot strike to minimize the impact on joints and maximize energy transfer.

Consider working with a running coach or analyzing your running form through video footage to identify areas for improvement.

Small adjustments to your form can make a significant difference in your running economy.

3. Build Strength

Strength training is a valuable tool for improving running economy. A stronger body can generate more force with each stride and withstand the repetitive impact of running, leading to increased efficiency. Focus on exercises that target the major muscle groups involved in running:

  • Squats
  • Lunges
  • Deadlifts
  • Plyometrics
  • Core exercises

Incorporate strength training into your weekly routine, aiming for 2-3 sessions per week. Remember to prioritize proper technique and gradually increase the resistance to avoid overtraining or injury.

4. Power Up With Plyometric Training

plyometric training for runners

Plyometric exercises, also known as "plyos," are high-intensity movements that can help improve your running economy by increasing muscle power and explosiveness. Plyometric drills include exercises like box jumps, burpees, and bounding.

When done correctly, plyometrics can enhance your ability to generate force with each stride and improve your overall running efficiency.

However, it's essential to approach plyometric training with caution, especially if you're new to these exercises. Start with a moderate volume and intensity and gradually progress over time.

5. Interval Training For Speed

Interval training involves alternating between periods of high-intensity effort and recovery. This type of training can significantly boost your running economy by increasing your cardiovascular fitness and ability to sustain faster paces.

A popular form of interval training is the "Fartlek" run, which combines various paces and terrains during a single workout. Structured interval sessions, such as 400-meter repeats on a track or hill sprints, can also be highly effective for improving running economy.

6. Conquer Hills

Running uphill requires more effort and recruits additional muscle groups, making it an excellent tool for improving running economy. Incorporate hill training sessions into your routine to build strength, power, and endurance.

Hill sprints, where you run up a steep incline at maximum effort for a short duration, can be particularly beneficial. The resistance provided by the hill forces your body to adapt and become more efficient in its energy usage.

7. Fuel Your Body Right

Your diet plays a crucial role in your running economy. Proper nutrition and hydration ensure that your body has the energy and nutrients it needs to perform at its best.

Fuel your runs with a balanced diet rich in carbohydrates, proteins, healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals.

Hydrate adequately before, during, and after your runs to prevent dehydration, which can impair your running economy and overall performance.

Additionally, consider timing your meals and snacks strategically. Eating a small, easily digestible meal or snack about 1-2 hours before a run can provide the necessary energy without causing discomfort.

8. Don't Forget Recovery

Recovery is often an overlooked aspect of training, yet it is essential for improving running economy. Adequate rest and recovery allow your body to repair and adapt to the stress of running, reducing the risk of overuse injuries and optimizing performance.

Incorporate the following recovery strategies into your routine:

  • Rest days: Schedule regular rest days to allow your muscles and joints to recover fully.
  • Sleep: Aim for 7-9 hours of quality sleep per night to support recovery and muscle repair.
  • Active recovery: Gentle activities like yoga or swimming can help reduce muscle soreness and improve flexibility.
  • Foam rolling: Self-myofascial release techniques can alleviate muscle tightness and improve circulation.

9. Train Your Mind

mental training to improve running

Running economy isn't solely about physical conditioning; it also involves mental strength. Develop mental toughness by practicing techniques such as visualization, positive self-talk, and mindfulness. A strong mental game can help you push through tough moments during races and maintain efficient form.

10. Seek Expert Guidance

Consider seeking professional guidance to fine-tune your training and optimize your running economy. A running coach or sports scientist can provide personalized advice, analyze your form, and design a training plan tailored to your specific goals and abilities.

Wrapping Up Running Economy

Improving your running economy is a gradual process that requires dedication and consistency. By following the science-backed strategies outlined in this blog post, you can enhance your running efficiency, reduce fatigue, and achieve your running goals more efficiently.

About The Author:

Matt Mosman (MS, CISSN, CSCS) is a research scientist, endurance athlete, and the founder and Chief Science Officer at EndurElite. Matt holds his B.S. in Exercise Science from Creighton University and his M.S. in Exercise Physiology from the University of California. Matt and his family reside in Spearfish South Dakota, where they enjoy running, mountain biking, camping, and all the outdoor adventures Spearfish has to offer.


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