How to Improve Running Economy: Go Fast, Feel Easy

Running faster is more than just training harder and clocking more mileage. Ain introduces principles and exercises to help your running.

BY | UPDATED 1 MONTH AGO

Photos Ain Hassan
Words Ain Hassan

How does one improve his/her running timing? The answer might seem obvious - by running more frequently and faster over time. However, as much as it sounds like a straightforward activity, running is actually much more than that. Running economy is the measure of a runner’s energy utilization, and understanding the principles behind running economy is crucial to improving one’s running performance. While merely increasing the intensity and frequency of runs will probably improve performance, it is as likely to trigger old injuries or even cause new ones. Here, I list 9 principles of long-distance running (1):

  1. Principle of stress and recovery: training results in fatigue, strain and some damage to muscles and cells.
  2. Principle of sufficient intensity and variation: high intensity training improves V02 max.
  3. Principle of moderation and consistency: increasing workload by 5-10% a month is important for the body to adapt to changes.
  4. Principle of diminishing returns: at a certain point, the effects of training will be less evident than before.
  5. Principle of specificity: targeted training is important to develop the different aspects of running (eg. push-off, swing phase).
  6. Principle of periodization: adopt a cyclical training program to prevent over-training and maximise effects training variety.
  7. Principle of reversibility: 1 month of not training can result in 10% performance loss.
  8. Principle of maintenance: good performance can be maintained with limited but regular training.
  9. Principle of individuality and flexibility: embrace your strengths/weaknesses (slow twitch vs fast twitch muscle fibers).

Think about the above-mentioned principles, and identify the ones you have been neglecting or need more work on. Perhaps start a running journal - record the frequency, duration and speed of your runs, and as much as possible try to apply the principles starting from your next run!

Once we understand the effects of training on our body, we can better appreciate the importance of a targeted, specific and varied training program. To add some variation into your regime, I list below some of my favorite exercises. These exercises help improve power, reaction, balance and coordination, and are meant to maximize running potential, boost performance and most importantly prevent injuries (1).

Lunges at Varying Intensities:


Hip Flexion Drills


Core Exercises to Improve Triple Flexion

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Stronger core to improve triple flexion for runners 🔥🔥🔥 Many runners tend to run with reduced hip flexion (think knee lift). With insufficient hip flexion, they end up straightening the knee excessively prior to foot contact. This puts them in an over-stride and heavy heel strike. For an adequate swing recovery position of triple flexion (hip flexion, knee flexion and ankle dorsiflexion), the runner's foot should comfortably land under the flexing knee. Here’s another position to work triple flexion as part of progressive resistance training. 1. 🌞Side wall curtsy squats 2. 🌞Sideplank knee tucks Repeat 10 reps each side, 3 sets. #joggers #jogging #running #painfree #runningmotivation #runningismytherapy #runningcommunity #core #hips #strengthen #workout #exercise #motivation

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Triple Extension Strengthening

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Triple extension strengthening exercises for runners 🔥 Running can be classified into 2 phases - triple flexion and triple extension. The flexion phase involves hip flexion, knee flexion and ankle dorsiflexion while the extension phase involves hip extension, knee extension and ankle plantarflexion. This simultaneous extension of the hip, knee and ankle gives you power and maximizes force production in sprinting and jumping. Here are 4 exercises that focus on triple extension. 1. 🔥Squat heel raise x10 2. 🔥Squat to single leg heel raise x10 each side 3. 🔥Knee-ankle squats heel raise x10 each side 4. 🔥Upright skater squats x10 Repeat 3 sets. Save this workout for your shorter running days 👍🏻 #joggers #jogging #running #painfree #runningmotivation #runningismytherapy #runningcommunity #core #hips #strengthen #workout #exercise #motivation

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Ankle and Foot Strengthening

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Post-injury ankle strengthening drills . An ankle sprain is one of the most common musculoskeletal injuries in people of all ages, athletes and couch potatoes alike. Many people try to tough out the injuries and return to their activities or sports before full recovery. This puts the ankle at a higher risk of re-injury. It is important to first ensure adequate strength and control. Here are 5 progressive exercises to try: 1. 🌞Step up heel raise x10 each 2. 🌞Towel (on floor) heel raise x10 3. 🌞Tandem heel raise x10 each 4. 🌞Heel raise hip hinge x10 5. 🌞3 legged dog heel raise x10 each Repeat 3 sets. #ankle #injuryprevention #anklesprain #strengthening #mobilityexercises

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Lower Limb Stretches

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Groin tightness and stretches to relieve it 🙌🏻 The groin muscles, also known as the hip adductors, are located in the inner thigh and are attached to the pubic bone. Kicking, running and turning quickly during sprints are usually the cause of groin muscle strains and tendon injuries. When there’s an injury to it, sudden movements like getting up from bed or brisk walking will be painful. Here are 6 easy hip and groin stretches to help reduce muscle tension. You can also try out these positions to test if your adductors are equally flexible on both sides. 1. ⭐️Frog pose 2. ⭐️Supine lizard 3. ⭐️Lizard pose 4. ⭐️Leg up on the wall 5. ⭐️Side lunge kneeling forward fold 6. ⭐️Gate pose Hold 10-15 seconds in each position. #mobility #strengthandconditioning #workout #stretch #painfreemovement #physiotherapy #rehab #pilates #functionaltraining #noequipmentworkout #stayhome #adductors #adductorstrength #adductorstretch #gatepose #inversion #muscle #strain #groinstretch #yoga #yogaeverydamnday #yogainspiration

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Feeling tight in the foot/ankle? With any chronic injury to the foot or ankle, there will always be an altered walking pattern. This is adopted due to pain when stepping on the affected leg. Overtime, the muscles surrounding the joints becomes really tight and may even pull onto the injured structures. Stretching of the calf, soleus and plantar fascia will allow more room for the foot and ankle to move. . . Swipe left to check out how: 1. Elevated calf + arch stretch x 20s - make sure knees are straight 2. Soleus stretch on a step x 20s - drive the knee over the toes and make sure foot is firm on the step. 3. Plantar fascia / arch stretch x 20s. 4. Toes + arch stretch x 20s - use your hands to push the heels down firmly. 5. Front of ankle stretch x 20s - alternative is to do at the edge of your chair/bed. Try this before getting out of bed or after sitting down for a long time. #mobility #strengthandconditioning #workout #stretch #painfreemovement #physiotherapy #rehab #pilates #functionaltraining #noequipmentworkout #stayhome #yoga #yogaeverydamnday #yogainspiration #yogapants #flexibility #flexibilitytraining #pain #ankle #anklerehab #anklesprain #anklemobility #anklebreakers #calfs

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Hip+back stretches after lifting 💪🏻💪🏻💪🏻 One of the common causes of injury to the lower back is lifting. Many factors contribute to this and one of it can be very tight muscles in the trunk and hips. Repetitive lifting can result in over-active muscles which can cause spasms, joint locking and eventually muscle dysfunction. Stretching these muscles on a regular basis will allow your muscles to contract better when you lift, and with proper body ergonomics, you might even be stronger with repetitive lifting! Here are 5 important muscles to stretch: 1. 🌚Lats 2. 🌚Quadratus lumborum 3. 🌚Glutes 4. 🌚Hip flexors + quads 5. 🌚Adductors + hamstrings Hold for 20 seconds each side, repeat 2-3x. You can even do these stretches as part of your workout cool down. #mobility #strengthandconditioning #workout #stretch #painfreemovement #physiotherapy #rehab #pilates #functionaltraining #noequipmentworkout #flexibility #glutes #hips #stretch #painfree #injuryfree

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Note: The exercises listed above might not be suitable for those with existing injuries or mobility issues. Please check with your physiotherapist/trainer if you are unsure.

References:

  1. Daniels, Jack. Daniels’ Running Formula. New York: Human Kinetics, 2004

About the writer:

Ain Hassan is a physiotherapist who is interested in the prevention and treatment of sports injuries. She enjoys working out and runs an online channel on instagram providing tips on injury management, various exercises for  different body parts and also stretches to relieve pain and aches.

IG: @ainstaagraam.physio



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