What does ‘economy’ mean when triathlon training?

Andy Blow explains what coaches mean when they talk about economy, and why it is important.


When talking triathlon, the word ‘economy’ is used to describe your efficiency of movement when you’re swimming, cycling or running. It’s typically quantified by measuring the amount of oxygen that’s consumed when moving at a given pace or power output.

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With swimming, however, sometimes stroke rate and speed are used to calculate economy, as a direct measurement of oxygen uptake is difficult to achieve. Improvements in economy are evident when oxygen consumption at a given pace/power is reduced after a period of training. 

The clearest non-sporting analogy is illustrated when looking at the MPG (miles per gallon) of your car. Economical cars use less fuel per mile, just as an economical athlete uses less fuel (in terms of oxygen) to swim, cycle or run at a given rate. 

There are various ways to improve economy but the important thing to note is that they are all highly sports specific. For example, improving your running economy is unlikely to significantly impact your cycling economy and vice versa. But the main points to focus on are:

1. Regular training in each sport, practising good technique to embed efficient movement patterns into your neuromuscular system. 

2. Weight. Too much weight can hamper economy, just as a heavier car uses more fuel to go the same speed as a lighter car.

3. Putting the hours in. Economy results from hours of practice. There are no shortcuts. 

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4. Training at a steady-state pace similar to race pace. This is because the body tends to become more economical at the pace(s) you train at most often. Therefore if you want to be more economical at race pace, spending lots of time simulating it is important