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



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.

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Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3



Analysis of variance

C r :

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


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Author information




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.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Rodger Kram.

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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.

Additional information

Communicated by Jean-René Lacour.

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Breiner, T.J., Ortiz, A.L.R. & Kram, R. Level, uphill and downhill running economy values are strongly inter-correlated. Eur J Appl Physiol 119, 257–264 (2019).

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  • Locomotion
  • Metabolic cost
  • Oxygen consumption
  • Efficiency
  • Incline
  • Decline