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The Science of Running Economy: An In-depth Analysis

Female runner performing a VO2 max test in honolulu Hawaii

The Science of Running Economy: An In-depth Analysis

Empower Run Lab | Honolulu, Oahu, Hawaii

In the realm of sports science, exercise physiology, and biomechanics, the concept of running economy (RE) occupies a central role in understanding and improving athletic performance. Defined as the oxygen uptake required at a given submaximal running speed, running economy is a crucial determinant of endurance running performance, alongside maximal oxygen uptake (VO2 max) and lactate threshold. This blog delves into the intricacies of running economy, drawing on a plethora of peer-reviewed research to shed light on the factors influencing RE and strategies to enhance it.

Understanding Running Economy

Running economy is influenced by a complex interplay of biomechanical, physiological, and neuromuscular factors. Efficient runners require less energy and oxygen to maintain a given pace, which is particularly advantageous during long-distance events. Factors such as biomechanical efficiency, muscle fiber composition, and metabolic adaptations contribute to variations in RE among runners.

The Impact of Resistance Training on Running Economy

A literature review by Bottrill (2023) underscores the potential of resistance training (RT) to improve RE through neuromuscular adaptations. Despite the promising link, evidence remains inconclusive, highlighting the need for further research with standardized protocols to ascertain the effects of RT on RE. Conversely, systematic reviews and empirical studies have shown that incorporating strength training, especially heavy resistance and plyometric exercises, can enhance RE by 2%-8%, suggesting a beneficial addition to endurance training programs (Blagrove, Howatson, & Hayes, 2017).

Biomechanical and Physiological Determinants

The biomechanical attributes of elite Kenyan distance runners provide insightful perspectives on the determinants of RE. Studies have identified longer gastroc-Achilles tendons and specific kinematic features among these athletes, which are associated with superior RE (Tawa & Louw, 2018). These findings suggest that certain hereditary and trainable biomechanical factors significantly contribute to running efficiency.

The Role of Footwear and Foot Strike Patterns

Recent literature explores the influence of footwear features and foot strike patterns on RE. A review highlighted that shoe characteristics, such as mass, cushioning, and bending stiffness, can affect oxygen consumption and, by extension, RE. However, the relationship between specific footwear features and running economy necessitates further exploration to draw definitive conclusions (Melero-Lozano et al., 2022). Moreover, the effect of foot strike patterns on RE appears to be individualized, with no single pattern emerging as universally superior in terms of efficiency (Nichols et al., 2016).


Running economy encapsulates the multifaceted nature of endurance running performance, influenced by biomechanical efficiency, strength, neuromuscular coordination, and technological advancements in footwear. While significant strides have been made in understanding the components of RE, the field continues to evolve with ongoing research. Future investigations should aim to further elucidate the complex interrelations among the determinants of RE, offering refined strategies for athletes to optimize their running efficiency and performance.

In essence, enhancing running economy is akin to fine-tuning a complex machine, where every small adjustment can lead to significant improvements in performance. By continuing to explore and integrate the multifaceted aspects of RE, sports scientists, coaches, and athletes can push the boundaries of what is possible in endurance running.

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