Running economy is very similar to your car’s fuel economy: better performance using less fuel.
For the sake of this discussion, oxygen is the fuel of running. The less oxygen you use while improving your running performance, the greater your running economy. Using less of a percent of your Vo2max while running faster is an expanded definition of improved running economy.
Vo2Max is a complex physiological measurement that determines the amount of oxygen one can consume in a minute relative to their body weight. The higher the number, the greater one’s ability is to use oxygen during exercise. Great endurance athletes approach 90, while those less fortunate like myself hover around 55. Some of us are born with the potential to have a very high number, and some are not. But we can all develop and improve our Vo2max through regular endurance exercise.
You run a regular couple of races each year. You begin to see that you complete them all in less time. That is an improvement in your running performance. Some of us see our times to run those races take longer, but we don’t stop because the fun of seeing friends and getting exercise is worth it. However, what is the relationship between faster times and the need for less oxygen?
We understand that running faster while using a smaller percentage of your Vo2max improves your running economy. How we do that is the question. The research is clear: we need to add strengthening exercises to our training to improve our running economy. Continue running, but add resistance (strengthening) exercises. These exercises will not bulk up the muscles. They need to imitate the mechanics of running. Even for the distance runner, these exercises need to include explosive jumping exercises called plyometrics. In a review of scientific studies, Balsalobre (1) submitted that a program consisting of low- to high-intensity resistance and plyometric exercises performed two to three times per week, for eight to 12 weeks, improved running economy.
Runner’s Get Ready is an exercise program we designed at DEE PT that targets those muscles key to running economy. They include important hip, hamstring, and calf muscle exercises. They are taught with an emphasis on proper technique and progressed on an individual basis. Check the exercises and our class schedule out at www.deept.com.
As always, send me your questions and comments at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Mike Dee is a physical therapist who has been certified as a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist(CSCS) and a Certified Personal Trainer(CPT) by the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA). He is one of the owners of DEEPT in South Burlington, Shelburne and Hinesburg.
(1) Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, Aug. 2016. Effects of Strength Training on Running Economy. Balsalobre, Santos, Grivas.