Consider two cars. On one end you have a 1988 Yugo, who’s engine runs well and can get you around at the 30mph speed limit all day without an issue, and on the other you have a 2012 Porsche Boxter, with a gem of an engine that has enough power to go from 0 to 60 in 5.5 seconds. You direct them both to drive 60mph down the highway. Both cars are able to keep up for a while at 60mph at the same pace. The Porsche Boxter is only at a fraction of its potential, but the Yugo is going 90-100% of its maximum speed. Eventually the Yugo starts shaking, becomes overheated, and has to pull off to the side of the road. The Porsche Boxter can go for hundreds more miles without skipping a beat and staying at a relatively easy pace. In essence, this is running economy.
This concept can be flipped and used to relate to speed/power development as a means to improve running economy. Running economy, defined as the steady-state VO2 for a given running velocity1, dictates the amount of oxygen one’s body would have to consume to stay running at a given pace. Running economy is most crucial for athletes, such as triathletes, long-distance runners, or even middle-distance track and field athletes.
Paavolainen, et al. studied this concept: speed and power training = improved running economy (5km running times in this case). With two training groups in the study, Group C and Group E consisted of 32% and 3% of training hours devoted to sport specific explosive-strength training2, respectively, with the rest of the training devoted to endurance and circuit training. With significantly more resistance training in Group C than in Group E, they proved, that the higher resistance trained group, group C, out-did group E in their final 5k times after a 9 week training program.
Speed and power development have a place in every sport, with some being more prevalent than others. Train outside the confines of your sport while keeping specificity in mind. It’s all how you manage your training and progress your athlete through these training cycles and phases that will give you the certain outcome you are looking for.
1. Morgan DW, Martin PE, Krahenbuhl GS. “Factors affecting running economy”. Sports Medicine (Auckland, N.Z.). 7.5 (1989): 310-330. Print
2. Paavolainen et al. “Explosive-strength training improves 5-km running time by improving running economy and muscle power”. Journal of Applied Physiology. 86.5 (1999): 1527-1533. Print