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WHAT IS RUNNING ECONOMY?

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The big question many runners want answered is how can I race faster and easier with less injury risk.

Most runners think it is just about training more and training faster. However, the missing ingredient in many runners’ programs is a focus on improving  running economy. There are many techniques like running drills that will help you run faster by becoming a more efficient runner.

Consistency of running training is the most significant factor in improving your running performance. How you structure your training with the progression of quantity, intensity, frequency and recovery are the main variables in maintaining consistency and avoiding injury.

Many runners are seeking the magic bullet that will boost performance like a new shoe, nutrition product or training theory. While all of these things can be significant, in the end, consistent training is the best way to improve in the long term.

For you to improve, training must be at a level greater than you are accustomed to (the principle of training overload). It should be simulating the demands of your goal race but at a lower stress level (the principle of specificity). You must also have adequate rest after hard efforts to adapt (the principle of recovery).

One of the best ways to run faster and easier is to focus on improving your running economy.

WHAT IS RUNNING ECONOMY?

With better running economy you will consume less oxygen (V02) at a given running pace. Running economy is determined by many variables both genetic and trainable.

 

Elite runners have a high V02Max (the maximum rate of oxygen they can utilise), high fractional utilisation (the ability to sustain a high percentage of VO2max for an extended period) and running economy (lower VO2 at a submaximal running velocity).

 

Your physical structure, running style and even the function of your cells impact your running economy. The running economy can change for different runners at different speeds. It will improve naturally as you gain experience through your running journey.

Here are a few goals to improve economy:​

1. OPTIMISE INDIVIDUAL BIOMECHANICS:

There is no one best way of running, but rather each runner has an ideal running technique that suits their individual physical attributes and goals. This includes things like footstrike, arm carriage, forward lean and being calf or glute dominant in propulsion.

Your function (the way you move) must follow your structure. If you try and change your running technique without understanding your ideal technique you will increase your injury risk and reduce your performance.

Here are some general goals of running biomechanics:

    • Reduce wasted motion. When running with high running economy all movement should be directed towards running in one direction. If your arms are excessively crossing your body and you are swinging your feet in a sideways motion then you may be putting energy into making these movements rather than running faster. Running on a treadmill in front of a mirror can give you direct feedback on these inefficiencies. One thing you must consider is that some running form asymmetries are compensation for structural asymmetry. If you correct them you may remove the compensation causing a new injury
    • Reduce vertical oscillation and lateral sway. Many sports watches now can track vertical oscillation. Your centre of mass should follow a fairly straight line in the direction of motion. You maintain this by bending your knees when your foot is on the ground and by dropping your hip as your leg swings through. A high vertical oscillation or lateral sway uses extra energy to shift the centre of mass back towards your direction of motion.
    • Reduce impact forces at strike. If you make a lot of noise at footstrike (pounding) or when your forefoot contacts the ground (slapping) then you are putting energy into making that noise. Quieter running is generally more efficient but less powerful. It may also be causing an excessive breaking force that will slow your forward momentum.
    • Understand vector forces. The force you can generate against the ground in propulsion needs to be in the opposite direction of gravity and your direction of motion. If you create an oblique force in propulsion then it will reduce the force that moves you in the direction you want to run.
    • Improve Coordination and recruitment. You might think running is simply putting one foot in front of the other. However, efficient running requires excellent coordination balance and control. The timing of each movement needs to be in sync with the previous motion and the next motion. Otherwise you are losing the summation of forces through the gait cycle. There are agonist and antagonist muscles with each joint movement. The agonist muscles move the joint and the opposing antagonist muscles help to direct and control the joint movement. If the recruitment of the power of each muscle is not ideal then you will create too much internal resistance leading to a significant drop in efficiency.

2. INCREASE STIFFNESS

The mass-spring model of running efficiency is a mathematical calculation that shows that running efficiency increases as stiffness increases. Increased stiffness increases power and reduces ground contact time. Less energy will be lost with increased stiffness. Excessive stiffness may increase performance at the cost of increasing injury risk. Stiffness is increased by strengthening connective tissue like tendons and facia. It may also be increased by the running surface, footwear and orthotics.

3. OPTIMISE CADENCE/STRIDE LENGTH RATIO

Running speed is a function of your stride length and cadence (steps per minute). At each speed, there is an ideal ratio of cadence and stride length individual to each runner. When runners get tired at the end of long races they tend to prioritise stride length over cadence. However as you are fatigued and slow you are better off reducing stride length and maintaining efficiency to maintain your best potential running economy.

4. CAPILLARY and MITOCHONDRIA DEVELOPMENT

Training does not just result in bigger, stronger muscles. There are changes in the mitrochondria in each cell that increase the output of energy produced. Long distance running also increases the oxygen transport system by developing better and more extensive capillary networks. Together these changes may be more significant to running economy than any other intervention. The result is more oxygen and energy faster, when and where you need it. It may also benefit thermoregulation because increased core temperature is one of the key limiting factors in endurance performance.

RUNNING FORM WORKSHOP

Saturday 2nd March,  2024

Come along to learn how to improve your running economy, gain strength as a runner, and learn how to improve your running form.