European Journal of Applied Physiology

, Volume 119, Issue 1, pp 257–264 | Cite as

Level, uphill and downhill running economy values are strongly inter-correlated

  • Timothy Joseph Breiner
  • Amanda Louise Ryan Ortiz
  • Rodger KramEmail author
Original Article



Exercise economy is not solely an intrinsic physiological trait because economy in one mode of exercise (e.g., running) does not strongly correlate with economy in another mode (e.g. cycling). Economy also reflects the skill of an individual in a particular mode of exercise. Arguably, level, uphill and downhill running constitute biomechanically different modes of exercise. Thus, we tested the hypothesis that level running economy (LRE), uphill running economy (URE) and downhill running economy (DRE) would not be strongly inter-correlated.


We measured the oxygen uptakes of 19 male trained runners during three different treadmill running speed and grade conditions: 238 m/min, 0%; 167 m/min, + 7.5%; 291 m/min, − 5%. Mean oxygen uptakes were 46.8 (SD 3.9), 48.0 (3.4) and 46.9 (3.7) ml/kg/min for level, uphill and downhill running, respectively, indicating that the three conditions were of similar aerobic intensity.


We reject our hypothesis based on the strong correlations of r = 0.909, r = 0.901 and r = 0.830, respectively, between LRE vs. URE, LRE vs. DRE and URE vs. DRE.


Economical runners on level surfaces are also economical on uphill and downhill grades. Inter-individual differences in running economy reflect differences in both intrinsic physiology and skill. Individuals who have experience with level, uphill and downhill running appear to be equally skilled in all three modes.


Locomotion Metabolic cost Oxygen consumption Efficiency Incline Decline 



Analysis of variance


Cost of running per unit distance


Downhill running


Downhill running economy




Level running


Level running economy


Running economy


Uphill running


Uphill running economy

\(\dot {V}\)E

Volumetric flow rate of expired air


Ventilatory equivalent = \(\dot {V}\)E/\(\dot {V}\)O2

\(\dot {V}\)O2

Rate of oxygen uptake


Author contributions

TJB and RK conceived and designed the experiment. TJB conducted the experiments. TJB and ALRO processed the data and performed statistical analysis. TJB, ALRO and RK wrote and edited the manuscript. All authors read and approved the manuscript.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest.

Ethical approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


  1. Abe D, Fukuoka Y, Muraki S, Yasukouchi A, Sakaguchi Y, Niihata S (2011) Effects of load and gradient on energy cost of running. J Physiol Anthropol 30:153–160CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Balducci P, Clemencon M, Morel B, Quiniou G, Saboul D, Hautier CA (2016) Comparison of level and graded treadmill tests to evaluate endurance mountain runners. J Sports Sci Med 15:239–246Google Scholar
  3. Balducci P, Clemencon M, Trama R, Hautier CA (2017) The calculation of the uphill energy cost of running from the level energy cost of running in a heterogeneous group of mountain ultra endurance runners. Asian J Sports Med 8:e42091. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Barnes KR, Kilding AE (2015) Running economy: measurement, norms and determining factors. Sports Med Open 1:8. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Barnes KR, Hopkins WG, McGuigan MR, Kilding AE (2013) Effects of different uphill interval-training programs on running economy and performance. Int J Sports Physiol Perform 8:639–647CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Beck ON, Kipp S, Byrnes WC, Kram R (2018) Use aerobic energy expenditure instead of oxygen uptake to quantify exercise intensity and predict endurance performance. J Appl Physiol 125:672–674CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Boileau RA, Mayhew JL, Reiner WF, Lussier L (1982) Physiological characteristics of elite middle and long distance runners. Can J Appl Sports Sci 7:167–172Google Scholar
  8. Bransford DR, Howley ET (1977) Oxygen cost of running in trained and untrained men and women. Med Sci Sports Exerc 9:41–44CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Cai ZY, Hsu CC, Su CP, Lin CF, Lin YA, Lin CL, Hsu MC (2010) Comparison of lower limb muscle activation during downhill, level and uphill running. Isokinet Exerc Sci 18:163–168CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Cavanagh PR, Kram R (1985) The efficiency of human movement—a statement of the problem. Med Sci Sports Exerc 17:304–308Google Scholar
  11. Cohen J (1988) Statistical power analysis for the behavioral sciences. L. Erlbaum Associates, HillsdaleGoogle Scholar
  12. Conley DL, Krahenbuhl GS (1980) Running economy and distance running performance of highly trained athletes. Med Sci Sports Exerc 12:357–360CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Cureton KJ, Sparling PB (1980) Distance running performance and metabolic responses to running in men and women with excess weight experimentally equated. Med Sci Sports Exerc 12:288–294CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Daley MA, Bramble DM, Carrier DR (2013) Impact loading and locomotor-respiratory coordination significantly influences breathing dynamics in running humans. PLoS One 8(8):e70752. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Daniels J, Krahenbuhl G, Foster C, Gilbert J, Daniels S (1977) Aerobic responses of female distance runners to submaximal and maximal exercise. Ann N Y Acad Sci 301:726–733CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Daniels JT, Scardina NJ, Foley P (1984) VO2 submax during five modes of exercise. In: Bachl N, Prokop L, Sucket R (eds) Proceedings of the world congress on sports medicine. Urban and Schwartzenberg, Vienna, pp 604–615Google Scholar
  17. Davies CTM, Thompson HW (1979) Aerobic performance of female marathon and male ultramarathon athletes. Eur J Appl Physiol 41:233–245CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Eston RG, Mickleborough J, Baltzopoulos V (1995) Eccentric activation and muscle damage: biomechanical and physiological considerations during downhill running. Br J Sports Med 29:89–94CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Farrell PA, Wilmore JH, Coyle EF (1979) Plasma lactate accumulation and distance running performance. Med Sci Sports Exerc 11:338–344CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Fletcher JR, Esau SP, MacIntosh BR (2009) Economy of running: beyond the measurement of oxygen uptake. J Appl Physiol 107:1918–1922CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Frederick EC, Howley ET, Hamill CL, Cooper LB (1984) Ventilatory contributions to shock attenuation. Med Sci Sports Exerc 16:185–186CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Giovanelli N, Taboga P, Rejc E, Simunic B, Antonutto G, Lazzer S (2016) Effects of an uphill marathon on running mechanics and lower-limb muscle fatigue. Int J Sports Physiol Perform 11:522–529CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Gottschall JS, Kram R (2005) Ground reaction forces during downhill and uphill running. J Biomech 38:445–452CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Gregor RJ, Costill DL (1973) A comparison of the energy expenditure during positive and negative grade running. J Sports Med Phys Fit 13:248–252Google Scholar
  25. Hamill CL, Clarke TE, Frederick EC, Goodyear LJ, Howley ET (1984) Effects of grade running on kinematics and impact force. Med Sci Sports Exerc 16:184CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Jensen K, Hohansen L, Karkkainen O-P (1999) Economy in track runners and orienteers during path and terrain running. J Sports Sci 17:945–950CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Joyner MJ, Coyle EF (2008) Endurance exercise performance: the physiology of champions. J Physiol (Lond) 586:35–44CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Kipp S, Byrnes WC, Kram R (2018) Calculating metabolic energy expenditure across a wide range of exercise intensities: the equation matters. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab 43:639–642CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Lacour JR, Bourdin M (2015) Factors affecting the energy cost of level running at submaximal speed. Eur J Appl Physiol 115:651–673CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Lauenstein S, Wehrlin JP, Marti B (2013) Difference in horizontal vs. uphill running performance n male and female Swiss world-class orienteers. J Strength Cond Res 27:2952–2958CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Margaria R, Ceretelli P, Aghemo P, Sassi G (1963) Energy cost of running. J Appl Physiol 18:367–370CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Millet GY, Tomazin K, Verges S, Vincent C, Bonnefoy R, Boisson R, Gergele L, Feasson L, Martin V (2011) Neuromuscular consequences of an extreme mountain ultra-marathon. PLoS One. Google Scholar
  33. Mizrahi J, Verbitsky O, Isakov E (2001) Fatigue-induced changes in decline running. Clin Biomech 16:207–212CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Moore IS (2016) Is there an economical running technique? A review of modifiable biomechanical factors affecting running economy. Sports Med 46:793–807CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Morgan DW, Martin PE, Krahenbuhl GS (1989) Factors affecting running economy. Sports Med 7:310–330CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Snyder KL, Kram R, Gottschall J (2012) The role of elastic energy storage and recovery in downhill and uphill running. J Exp Biol 215:2283–2287CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Swinnen W, Kipp S, Kram R (2018) Comparison of running and cycling economy in runners, cyclists and triathletes. Eur J Appl Physiol. Google Scholar
  38. Vernillo G, Giandolini M, Edwards WB, Morin JB, Samozino P, Horvais N, Millet GY (2017a) Biomechanics and physiology of uphill and downhill running. Sports Med 47:615–629CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Vernillo G, Millet GP, Millet GY (2017b) Does the running economy really increase after ultra-marathons? Front Physiol 8:783. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Williams KR, Cavanagh PR (1987) Relationships between distance running mechanics, running economy, and performance. J Appl Physiol 63:1236–1245CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Yokozawa T, Fujii N, Ae M (2007) Muscle activities of the lower limb during level and uphill running. J Biomech 40:3467–3475CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Laboratory for Human Performance ResearchPennsylvania State UniversityUniversity ParkUSA
  2. 2.Department of Integrative PhysiologyUniversity of ColoradoBoulderUSA
  3. 3.WoosterUSA

Personalised recommendations