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Running economy is one of the key physiological predictors of distance running performance1 and articles about running economy are abundant in the scientific and lay communities. Clinicians regularly encounter coaches and athletes aiming to improve performance and may also recommend injury-related interventions which influence running economy, and therefore should have a firm understanding of running economy. However, running economy is often misunderstood and measured in an inconsistent or unjustified manner. As such, it can be difficult to make sense of the literature regarding how demographics, biomechanics (eg, stride rate, footstrike) and interventions (eg, footwear, orthoses, biomechanical alterations, training programmes) influence running economy, thus performance. Here, I address five critical questions about running economy so that existing research can be interpreted appropriately and clinicians can accurately advise athletes. Additionally, the online supplementary appendix provides further relevant concepts and examples to demonstrate these points.
What is running economy and how is it measured?
Running economy is defined as the aerobic demands of running, or the relationship between oxygen consumption (VO2: expressed in units of L O2/min or mL O2/kg/min) and running speed.2 In trained runners with similar maximal aerobic capacity (VO2max), those with superior running economy (lower VO2 per unit distance: mL O2/kg/km) achieve faster racing times2 due to reduced metabolic demand at submaximal intensities. Likewise, excellent running economy may compensate for VO2max limitations, even at the elite level1 where athletes may have reached their individual physiological boundaries.
Running economy is typically measured using a motorised treadmill, using a protocol that allows individuals to run at progressively faster speeds, while steady-state VO2 is measured using a metabolic cart. Running economy may also be measured on a running track …