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Running Economy

2nd July 2020

Running Economy

Runners with good running economy use less energy and therefore less oxygen. Townsville Podiatrist and Running Coach Chris Weber shares some tips below on how to improve your running economy - however it is important to note that when attempting to modify your running technique there will be an initial increase in the amount of energy consumed (reduced running economy).  Therefore, the more you practice the technique modification, the more efficient you will become.

  1. Reduce your ground contact time.  This is the amount of time your foot is in contact with the ground.  Some strategies to reduce ground contact time include:
    1. Taking quieter steps – a quiet foot strike typically spends less time in contact with the ground than a loud foot strike (and there’s much less stress through the lower limb too)
    2. Take quicker steps – the more steps you take per minute (cadence) the less time your foot spends in contact with the ground. As cadence increases, ground contact time usually decreases
  1. Reduce vertical oscillation – don’t waste energy moving vertically. During running our aim is to move forward, not upwards.  The more energy spent on vertical movement the more inefficient we are.  Reducing vertical oscillation can be achieved by:
    1. Taking smaller steps,
    2. Taking more frequent steps (increase your cadence)
    3. Leaning forward from the ankles (not the hips)
    4. Focusing on reducing the amount of time your foot is in contact with the ground
    5. Becoming a more experienced runner! The more experienced (number of years running) the more economical you become.
  1. Keep running (grow your running history)

Evidence suggests that runners with a longer running history (years of running) have better running economy.  As we run more, our bodies learn how to use oxygen more efficiently and therefore our running economy improves.  Unfortunately this one isn’t a quick fix but rather a consistent commitment to running on a regular basis over many years.  And an added bonus to running for a longer period of time is a reduced risk of running related injuries. 


  1. Run longer – add in some long endurance runs to your training schedule

Long slow runs at an easy pace (this is a pace where you could hold a conversation talking in full sentences) improves your body’s capacity to use oxygen more efficiently.  Building endurance fitness by doing more long, easy runs is a training strategy used by many elite and recreational runners throughout the world.  One of the popular training strategies for improved running performance and economy is known as polarised training.  Where 70-80% of running is at an easy pace and 20-30% at a moderate to high intensity.


  1. Add in some short interval and tempo runs.

Aim to include some “deliberate practice” running which includes short fast intervals and tempo running.  This type of running places more demand on the cardiovascular system (amount of oxygen consumed and delivered to the working muscles) thereby increasing the efficiency of oxygen consumption over time.  Improvements in the efficiency of oxygen consumption lead to improvements in running economy. 

Warning……short intervals and tempo running should be combined with plenty of easy running!