What Is Running Economy & How Can You Improve It

September 22, 2023 4 min read

What Is Running Economy & How Can You Improve It

What is running economy?

Running economy refers to the efficiency with which a runner uses oxygen while running at a specific pace. It is a measure of how much energy is required to maintain a certain running speed. Runners with good running economy are able to cover more distance with less effort, allowing them to run faster and longer.

Aerobic capacity is impacted by three core elements: maximal oxygen usage (VO2max), lactate threshold (LT), and running efficiency (RE).

Running economy assesses energy utilization while running aerobically. A direct method of evaluation is oxygen consumption (VO₂), as respiratory activity directly reflects metabolic energy. While inherited traits are important, training and physical attributes (metabolic, cardiovascular, biomechanical, and neuromuscular) also have significant impact.

Why is running economy important?

Improving running economy is crucial for runners who want to enhance their performance. When you have good running economy, you can maintain a faster pace for longer periods of time without feeling fatigued. This is especially important for endurance runners, as it allows them to conserve energy and delay the onset of fatigue during long-distance races.

How can I improve my running economy?

There are several strategies you can implement to improve your running economy:

1. Improved running techniqueRunning mechanics are complex, and some of us are more efficient striders than others. Stride rate (steps per minute) has a huge influence on ground contact time, horizontal braking forces, and vertical oscillation--all major factors in running economy. Over-striding is widespread, creating braking forces that increase the cost of running and the risk of injury. Correct hip, foot, and muscle function minimizes the risk of injury, and provides effective propulsion.

2. Training - previously, it was widely assumed that only speed exercises (anaerobic conditioning) could build velocity. But a better approach is to focus on developing the aerobic system before delving into more taxing and anaerobic activity. With repeated use, the body will become more adept at burning fat for energy instead, improving speed with only minor additional effort. Additionally, this sharpens the body's ability to burn fat and decreases the strain and injury risk connected to anaerobic training. After the base has been established, faster tempo tasks can be put into action.

3. Metabolic – Substrate utilisation, muscle fiber type & more contribute to efficiency. Fueled by carbs & fats, aerobic system performance depends on fat levels. Muscle fiber type often depends on prior training & genetics. Steady-state training increases fat burning & slow-twitch fibers, improving economy. Excess weight increases HR & O2 uptake, thus raising activity demand & economy.

4. Gradual mileage increase - Gradually increase your weekly mileage to build endurance and improve your running economy. This allows your body to adapt to the demands of running and become more efficient.

5. Strength and plyometric training - can enhance absorption and rate of force development (RFD). When running, bodyweight is subjected to up to 3x the impact force. Reports suggest that strength training improves intramuscular coordination, muscle-tendon stiffness, and tendon elasticity exploitation. The nervous system helps regulate muscle stiffness and usage of stored energy during running and other stretch-shortening cycle exercises for which fast contractions are necessary. Enhancing the body's ability to tolerate such force and exploit elastic energy is an important factor in successful and economical running.

6. Hill training - Add hill workouts to your training regimen. Running uphill strengthens your leg muscles and forces your body to work harder, which can enhance your running economy on flat terrain.

7. Consistency and recovery - Be consistent with your training and allow for proper recovery. Consistency helps your body adapt and improve, while adequate rest allows for muscle repair and growth.


Noble Pro Treadmill useful for running economy

Running on a treadmill - can help

 Although the experience of running on a treadmill is different than that of the track, it can be used to measure a runner's efficiency and observe changes in RE over a period.

In 1996, Jones and Doust showed that the difference between running on a treadmill and outdoors is due to the extra effort required to move through the air, rather than mechanical factors. To account for this, they suggested a treadmills gradient be set to 1%, thus increasing energy costs. Possible other explanations for the difference between the two conditions include.

  • The runner may gain energy from the motor-driven treadmill belt
  • Possibly biomechanical changes in running technique due to different surfaces or to the instability caused by visual cues from static rather than moving surroundings,

If your considering for winter training or to compliment your outdoor work look through our Treadmill Range and specifically look at the Noble Pro Treadmills, deemed to be the "runners" treadmill.


Achieving running economy requires a multi-faceted strategy. Start gradually and progress steadily. Introduce speed once a solid aerobic base has been developed. Include strength training and incorporate plyometrics. As with most aspects of training, an overload is necessary to build an economy. Increase the frequency and total distance by 10% each week, and most vitally, stay consistent.




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