Running economy is defined as the energy demand for a given velocity of sub maximal running, and is measured via steady-state oxygen uptake. There are a multitude of factors which make up running economy, such as: biomechanical, metabolic, neuromuscular, and cardiorespiratory.
One major determinant of running economy that has been discovered over the years is leg stiffness. Essentially, more stiffness during the propulsion phase of running may lead to better energy storage and release. Therefore, improvements in running economy may create a reduced energy cost at submaximal intensities and thus lead to better running performance.
Active warm-up is a commonly used strategy to prepare the body for running. This helps to create specific cardiovascular and metabolic changes that are helpful to endurance athletes.
Since plyometrics utilize the stretch-shortening cycle, it has been thought that an active warm-up which consists of several plyometric drills would best prepare the body while also potentially improving running economy in the process. In fact, previous research has found that short-term plyometric training of only one set of six repetitions of the depth jump produced a 3.7% improvement in running economy. Such a minimal investment with a huge reward!
In a study called ‘A Plyometric Warm-Up Protocol Improves Running Economy in Recreational Endurance Athletes’ by Wei et al, they studied resistance training and plyometric training on running economy and performance. What they found was a plyometric warm-up can improve running economy by the following degree at specific velocities…
- 6.2% improvement at 7km per hour
- 9.1% improvement at 8km per hour
- 4.5% improvement at 9km per hour
- 4.4% improvement at 10km per hour
Plyometric training was the only strategy to improve running economy compared to the control group and resistance training group. In fact, leg stiffness increased by 20% following the plyometric warm-up.
Why do we believe plyometrics has this big impact on running economy?
Post-Activation Potentiation (PAP) is a term that refers to pre-activation of skeletal muscles through specific exercises to elicit positive changes in subsequent performance. It has been shown to create changes within the muscle to increase the rate of force development and peak tension through an increased number of cross-bridges formed. In addition, incorporating plyometrics before running might allow runners to better recruit type 1 fibers and, thereby postpone the activation of less efficient type 2 fibers. These changes will allow you to maintain a constant running velocity while reducing energy consumption.
Within the study, there were threes specific plyometric exercises which created these improvements in running economy. They include:
- Squat Jumps (2 sets of 8 repetitions)
- Scissor Jumps (2 sets of 8 repetitions)
- Double Leg Bounds (2 sets of 8 repetitions)
All three of these were completed after a 10-minute jog, so make sure you are actively warming up to prepare the body for the plyometrics instead of going into them cold.
Let me share a video demonstration of each so you understand form and technique to see the most success possible…
Double Leg Bounds
When incorporating any type of plyometrics, the transition between landing and jump, called the amortization phase, is the most important to emphasize. For these to be effective, you’ll want to reduce the time you are on the ground and focus on a landing with quick transition into an explosive jump. The longer you remain on the ground between jumps, the less effective they will become in increasing leg stiffness and running economy. Of course, keep this principle in mind as you improve form and technique on each exercise in the coming weeks and months.
If you have any questions about this article on using plyometrics to improve running economy and performance, please comment below or message me directly here. If your are interested in more individualized programming to recover from injury and/or improve performance, click here to learn more about the Healthy Running Program.
By: Garrett McLaughlin, MS, ATC, CSCS, ART