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Improving Running Economy: Insights from Sports Science


Female runner performing a VO2 max test in honolulu Hawaii

Improving Running Economy: Insights from Sports Science

Empower Run Lab | Honolulu, Oahu, Hawaii


Running economy (RE) is a multifaceted concept that encapsulates the oxygen consumption at a given submaximal running velocity. It is influenced by a spectrum of factors, including biomechanical efficiencies, neuromuscular coordination, and metabolic adaptability. In this blog, we will explore the science-backed evidence for improving running economy, drawing from a rich tapestry of peer-reviewed literature.


Resistance Training and Running Economy

Recent literature underscores the potential of resistance training (RT) in augmenting running economy. A systematic review highlighted the complexity of the relationship between RT and RE, suggesting that while RT has the capacity to enhance neuromuscular characteristics critical for running efficiency, the evidence remains inconclusive regarding its direct impact on running performance (Bottrill, 2023). However, incorporating strength training, particularly heavy resistance and plyometric exercises, has been shown to potentially improve RE by 2%-8%, suggesting a promising avenue for runners seeking performance enhancements (Alexander, Barton, & Willy, 2019).


The Role of Stretching

The impact of stretching on RE presents a nuanced picture. A scoping review by Konrad et al. (2021) reveals that while a single session of static stretching may slightly improve RE, its effects on overall running performance are mixed, with dynamic stretching showing more promise in terms of performance enhancement. This suggests that the type and duration of stretching play critical roles in determining their efficacy on running economy and performance (Konrad et al., 2021).


Biomechanical and Physiological Factors

The unique biomechanical attributes of elite Kenyan distance runners offer valuable insights into the biomechanical underpinnings of RE. Characteristics such as longer gastrocnemius-Achilles tendons and specific running kinematics have been associated with superior RE, though the evidence remains mixed (Tawa & Louw, 2018). Furthermore, the efficacy of foot-strike patterns on RE has been explored, with mixed results indicating that no single foot-strike pattern universally enhances running economy, highlighting the individual variability in response to biomechanical adaptations (Nichols et al., 2016).


Ergogenic Aids

The use of ergogenic aids, including carbohydrate supplementation and caffeine, has been examined for their potential to improve running economy and performance. A systematic review by Schubert and Astorino (2013) suggests that certain ergogenic aids, such as sodium bicarbonate and caffeine, can offer modest improvements in running performance, though the evidence is more compelling for longer-distance events. This underscores the importance of considering the specific context and demands of the event when evaluating the effectiveness of ergogenic aids (Schubert & Astorino, 2013).


Conclusion

The quest to enhance running economy encompasses a broad spectrum of strategies, from resistance training and stretching regimes to the judicious use of ergogenic aids. While the evidence base is expanding, it is clear that individual variability plays a significant role in determining the efficacy of these interventions. Future research should aim to elucidate the mechanistic pathways through which these interventions influence running economy, with an emphasis on personalized approaches to training and performance optimization.

Enhancing running economy is a multifaceted endeavor, requiring a tailored approach that considers the unique physiological, biomechanical, and psychological characteristics of the runner. By integrating evidence-based practices in resistance training, stretching, and the use of ergogenic aids, runners and coaches can devise more effective training strategies to improve performance and achieve their running goals.





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