Like us on Facebook to be eligible for prizes with the next issue of Forward!
Basics of the Economy Training Phase
By Eric D. Bean, MD, MS
In brief, Economy training is comprised of short intervals that are 80-90% of sprint speed with full recoveries between each interval. The goal of Economy (which we typically do for 6-8 weeks), is to drastically improve one’s economy of motion (aka: “efficiency”, “technique”, or whatever you want to call it). With improved technique and efficiency, you will increase your speed and endurance in every subsequent training phase the remainder of the season. In other words, when you become a more efficient runner, your VO2 max velocity and Lactate Threshold velocity increase, even if your VO2max or LT power remain constant. Increased efficiency upgrades your speed at all race distances, lowers your risk of injury, improves your endurance, and allows you recover faster. Interested in learning more?
When is the best time to include the Economy Phase in my training plan?
Economy training should start as early in the season as possible because it improves efficiency, so helps you reduce your injury risk and achieve greater speed for the same effort through the rest of the season. Though the overall training load is surprisingly low, your body and joints must be able to handle the high forces associated with sprint-like training. Thus, the ideal time to schedule the Economy Phase is immediately after Base Training—once your body and joints are strong—and immediately before either a more race specific phase like VO2 or LT.
How long are the intervals and the recoveries?
The great news is that Economy intervals aren’t all out, rather they’re designed to be very fast so they force you to learn to swim, bike, or run fast yet relaxedly, and they come with enough reset between each interval such that each workbout is done as fast and with as perfect technique as the preceding interval. (We’ll use running as an example sport for the remainder of our discussion, because it is the simplest and most familiar sport.) In fact, recovery intervals (RI), defined the rest period between the workbouts, can be exceedingly long. There is no physiological upper limit on the length of the recovery. Rather, that upper limit is imposed by logistics—the workout would simply take way too long if you rested 15-minutes between each rep in an 8 x 400m track workout. And, with recoveries that long, you might no longer be appropriately warmed up to run at the prescribed speed. However, strictly from a nearly-full-recovery-between-workbouts and neuromuscular training perspective, recoveries can—and should!—be extremely long. I’ve found that a 1:4 work:rest ratio is perfect, especially earlier in the season before athletes have completed the endurance-boosting LT and VO2 phases. When training on your own, feel free to adjust this slightly. You can compress the recovery if you are truly short on time and otherwise would fail to meet the workout objectives without shortening the overall duration. For example, you can start with slightly shorter recoveries of 1:2-3, and progress to a 1:3-1:4 work:rest ratio as the main set progresses. However, let me caution you that unless you are an elite endurance athlete, if you feel ready to begin another rep before resting 3-to-4 times the duration of the previous interval, you are likely failing to run the prescribed high speed, a high speed which is necessary to optimize your efficiency. The key is that you must run fast. Not so fast that you lose your fluidity, but fast enough to be at the edge of your technique and comfort zones.
What is the ideal speed for Economy?
The ideal Economy (E) interval speed varies according to the athlete and their target event. A runner training for a 1500m track race obviously has to be able to run faster than a triathlete. For distance runners (10k and above) and triathletes, the nominal pace is between 800m and mile race pace. Another way to think about the speed preseciption is that it is the fastest you can run today for 2-6 minutes (if you are perfectly rested, warmed-up, and the environmental conditions were perfect). As you gain more experience with this training method, you’ll find that mile race pace will probably begin to feel too easy. That’s a great sign, it means you are improving! Start the phase with slightly conservative pace goals, and become more aggressive as you gain experience.
The rule that absolutely cannot be broken in Economy training is that each interval must be great—great form and great speed. It is preferable to sacrifice quantity rather than quality. It is far better to reduce the number of reps while executing each to a T, then it is to practice bad form by doing an excessive number of reps, or reps with insufficient rest, and thus failing to meet the goal pace. Remember that you’re never supposed to leave an Economy session completely dead, instead leave the session knowing that you could still do another rep or two at the same pace if the fate of the free world depended on it.
What is the ideal Economy interval duration?
Think of Economy training as a mix of interval training and form drills. The training load during economy is not very high, despite the high speed of the intervals, because the overall volume of high intensity training is so low. The phase begins with very short intervals, as little as 100m on the track, and progresses to 200m and then 400m durations. Elite athletes can do repeats as long as 600-800m, but even for elites, this distance is extremely challenging and should be used sparingly.
The ideal interval duration (or distance) is one in which form and speed can be maintained for the entire interval and throughout each interval of the workout; hence why we start with 100’s early on. You’ll notice you progress rapidly; the pace of your distance runs improves in a way that seems magical (How am I getting so much faster in all my runs, when I’m not doing any hard long runs or long hard intervals??…Answer: Efficiency!), and running just feels easier as you advance through the Economy phase. Because you’ll improve rapidly, the duration of the intervals can double every 1-2 weeks, until you are ticking off consistently fast 400’s in about a month.
Enjoy your Economy training and the rewards it brings you in all aspects of your training and racing! The more experience I gather as an athlete, and the more athletes I work with, the more I learn that this is one of the most important and often neglected phases of training. Everyone can benefit tremendously from improved economy of motion, and the less experience you have the more you benefit.
Up Next: In the Summer issue of Forward we’ll learn about VO2max training…