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Running Economy and Improving Runners' Efficiency

If you're a professional athlete, chances are you've come across the term running economy when referring to pacing and speed required for a race. Especially for long-distance runners and other endurance athletes, running economy is considered to be an important measure of their physiology.


What is running economy? 

In short,  running economy measures the oxygen levels required for your body to run at a particular pace.[1] The physiology of each individual is different. Each runner has their own volume of oxygen or VO2 that's flowing through their body. Ultimately it comes down to how economical each runner is with the usage of the oxygen in their systems.[2]

For instance, if two runners are maintaining the same speed, there is a likelihood that one will be using less or more oxygen than the other. Those that use lesser oxygen are considered to have a better running economy. In order to achieve optimal running cadence, athletes have to improve their overall running economy.

How to improve running economy?

To improve your running economy, you have to be able to run with less effort. Your speed, power and technique are all involved in determining your running economy. By getting stronger with the use of strength training exercises and working on your running form to improve your running technique, you can hope to increase your running mileage.

The stronger your muscles are, they would require less energy to provide you with the needed force, and they can sustain that pace for a lot longer.

You can find out more information on improving your muscle strength for efficient running here.

Similar to strength training, long-distance runners need to work on their running technique. The smoother you run, the less oxygen you use up, and the less oxygen you use, you can improve your running efficiency.

Find out more about how to improve your running technique here.

What are the factors affecting running economy in trained distance runners?[3]

  1. Flexibility of their joints

While being flexible is considered an important factor in reducing the risk of injury, for long-distance runners, it is suggested that a moderate level of flexibility is preferred as opposed to high flexibility. This is so because stiffer joints require less muscle force to stabilize them, leading to better foot strike and push-off that increases their running economy.

  1. Shape of the body

Runners with a smaller body frame are expected to use less oxygen. This may suggest why most elite athletes with a small frame are considered as some of the most economical runners.

  1. Muscle fiber composition

The composition of an individual's muscle fibers is genetically determined as 'slow-twitch' or 'fast-twitch' fibers. It is suggested that those with slow-twitch fibers use less oxygen to sustain prolonged output, and as such, your muscle fiber composition may determine your running economy.

  1. Resistance on the run

Your running economy may also vary based on your running conditions. For instance, an uphill slope or a surface with a lot of friction, such as muddy gravel, would require you to expend more energy to maintain that pace. Hence, it's essential for runners to assess their running conditions to determine how to increase their running efficiency. 

All these factors affect your running economy, and they determine how fast you run and whether you can maintain that pace for a long distance.

Importance of leg recovery for runners

All distance runners undergo strenuous training to achieve their optimal performance. While factors such as running economy and VO2 max require due consideration when undergoing training, serious runners must pay attention to their leg recovery after a long run.

In addition to reducing running-related muscle soreness, symptoms of DOMs, and leg pain caused by the accumulation of lactic acids in your muscles, incorporating proper leg recovery measures can ensure you get the best out of your training.

Here are some of the best ways to recover from a run:

  • Warm down stretches - Ensure to thoroughly stretch out all your muscles after a running session in order to reduce muscle cramps and speed up your recovery process.
  • Use a muscle recovery tool - While you may use a foam roller to stretch out your muscles, SPRYNG compression wraps are some of the best tools for muscle recovery for runners. The portable and easy to use device helps increase oxygenated blood flow to your calves and legs, thereby relieving leg pain and soreness.
  • Draw a cold water bath after running - This is perfect for reducing sore muscles and speeding up leg recovery for runners as it helps to reduce muscle inflammation and flush out the built-up lactic acids. 


[1] https://sportsmedicine-open.springeropen.com/articles/10.1186/s40798-015-0007-y

[2] https://link.springer.com/article/10.2165/00007256-200434070-00005

[3] https://www.runnersworld.com/uk/training/a773975/what-is-running-economy/

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