When you improve running economy, you need less energy for the same running speed. It’s one of the most important factors in running performance, yet it is often overlooked. This article is about a very effective and time efficient way to improve running economy: Flywheel Training.
What is running economy
Running economy is defined as the amount of energy required for a given submaximal running velocity. You can compare it with the gas mileage (fuel consumption rate) of a car.
Running economy is seemed to be a better predictor of endurance performance than VO2max (sometimes referred to as the size of the engine).
Knowing the importance of it, the question arises: how can you improve running economy? And: what is the most effective and time efficient way to improve it?
High intensity training (HIT) vs Flywheel Training
I assume most of you fall into one of the following two categories:
- Besides running, you also have other priorities in life. Improving running economy sounds interesting, but you don’t have the time to spent an extra hour of training per week.
- Running is what you love to do and you do it a lot. Improving running economy sounds interesting, but you don’t want to exchange an hour of running for another kind of training.
In other words, I assume you’d like your running economy training to be effective and time efficient. How about significant improvements in less than 15 minutes per week? Let’s look at a scientific study that compares 3 strategies to improve running economy:
29 recreational athletes with at least 3 years of endurance training experience, joined an 8-week training program. They were separated into 3 groups:
- Low intensity endurance training, running only (LIT)
- Low intensity endurance training + Flywheel strength training (FST)
- High intensity training, running only (HIT)
The flywheel strength training was conducted only once a week. It was performed before the endurance training. As part of the warm-up, you could say. They did 4 sets of 7 repetitions (maximal velocity) on a flywheel leg press. Between sets, they took 3,5 minutes of rest. Here’s an example of a flywheel training leg press:
Did adding 15 minutes of flywheel training per week, result into significant improvements in an 8-week training program? Or would you be better off with HIT training? Here are the results.
The FST group also showed a significant increase (12,9%) in their 1RM (maximum strength), whereas the HIT and LIT group – again – showed no improvements.
The researchers conclude: “flywheel training increases the capacity to store and reuse elastic muscle energy, and this seems to have a protective effect against muscle damage”.
Traditional strength training does not always improve specific sport performances. As seen before in other sports like tennis and swimming, flywheel strength training often does contribute to a sport performance.
Since the biggest difference between traditional strength training and flywheel training is that flywheel training causes a bigger eccentric load, this eccentric load is probably why flywheel training is so effective.
Because running itself requires a high eccentric muscle contraction, it makes perfect sense that eccentric flywheel training improves running performance.