Once again I must apologize for the big gap between my posting of Part 1 and today’s Part 2. This is my busy time of year with lots of travel for clinics and camps so time is quite precious. It seems there is always more to do than there is time available to do it. I’m sure you understand.
In my previous post on this topic I mentioned that economy is critical to performance in very long events, such as an Ironman triathlon. I also explained that there are some things that affect economy over which you have little or no control. But there are also others over which you do have some control. In other words, you may be able to do certain things in your training to boost your economy. They will vary a bit by sport so I’m going to describe a few them using economy research done on runners.
Here are five training methods shown in some research to improve running economy along with one study that supported it. I should point out that for almost any topic below I can also find research showing that there is no benefit for a given method. So it often comes down to the preponderance of the studies indicating a trend—or even what seems reasonable to you (we’re then in the realm of “belief,” which is often necessary in the application of science to training). If you click on the research study listed for each method you can read more of the details from the abstract for yourself and even “chase” down the related research to see what others have found. This latter may be done by selecting other research in the “Related Citations” in the upper right corner of the PubMed page.
Intervals. Eight runners did one weekly session of 3-minute intervals at the velocity of their VO2max (vVO2max). vVO2max is what I call peak pace for 6 minutes—“P6”. This is your fastest average pace for a 6-minute, all-out test run. Their economy improved by 6% on average while there was no significant change in VO2max.
Heavy weight lifting. A group of triathletes improved their running economy by combining their normal endurance run training with heavy weight lifting twice a week for 14 weeks. (I should point out here that there is also a lot of research showing no benefit from heavy weight lifting, so we’re back to “belief.”)
Hills. For some reason there's not much available on this topic, but almost all runners agree on it's benefit. In this unpublished study, hill training twice per week for 12 weeks improved the running economy of 11 marathon runners by 3%. They ran up a 400-meter hill with exaggerated vertical oscillation—“bouncing.” This is closely related to plyometrics.
Plyometrics. Plyometrics for 9 weeks produced an 8% average gain in economy at 5k pace in 10 runners. There was no change in VO2max.
There’s a lot of research on plyometrics which seems quite beneficial for running. So here’s another study. Seventeen male runners improved their 3km times by 2.7% over 6 weeks by doing plyometric training which resulted in improved economy. There were no changes in VO2max or lactate threshold.
Tapering. A 7-day reduction in volume with high-intensity included improved economy by 6% and 5km times by 3% in 8 runners. This is yet another good reason to go through the taper and peak process before a race (as described in my Training Bible books).