Every morning, shortly after we get up, we take our dog out for an hour walk. It’s our daily morning ritual. Fortunately, we live close to a trail head, so we get to walk in the woods everyday. And where we live, the two most popular activities outside of walking/hiking is running and cycling.
Although, personally I don’t love running, I know many people that do. I think it’s partly the endorphin rush you get when you run and it’s also one of the easiest forms of exercise you can do. That being said, easy isn’t always the best. Just because it’s convenient, doesn’t mean it’s right for you.
The biggest problem I see with people running, is that majority of them aren’t physically strong enough to run properly.
If you slowed down the motion and saw the biomechanics of running, you would quickly see that running is a plyometric exercise. When you run, you actually put all of your weight on one foot and then push off with enough force to lift your entire body off the ground, while you switch legs and land on your other foot. Running forces you to bear all of your weight on one foot at a time and then it’s repeated thousands of times or more depending on how far you run.
That’s a lot of force being applied to the joints on your legs. It’s no wonder so many people that run suffer from foot, ankle, knees and hip injuries. Their joints aren’t capable of handling that kind of forceful repetitive stress.
When you think about it, running requires a lot of muscle, tendon and ligament support. So really, it should only be performed by people that are in good shape and strong enough to handle the repetitive force running places on your body.
Unfortunately most of the people I see running are nowhere near in the kind of shape they should be in. It’s completely backwards…the people I see most often running are exactly the kind of people that shouldn’t be running. It’s painful to see so many of these people trying to get into shape by “literally” pounding their poor joints into the ground.
The truth is when you begin running you will burn more calories, so in the beginning you will lose some weight. However, what you’re not realizing is that you’re setting yourself up for eventual halt in progression.
Because your body has an innate ability to adapt and make things more proficient, so your body doesn’t have to expend as much energy. What this means, is that as you get better at running, your body ends up burning less calories when you run! A double edge sword…right? You want to get fit and be able to run better, but you also want to keep burning calories so you can lose weight. So if your body keeps getting more efficient at conserving energy when you run, you have to either increase the distance you run OR increase the pace of your runs.
And for most part, people tend to increase the distance, because it’s easier to do. Increasing your pace for a long distance run is difficult, challenging and it’s too hard to keep the pace up without stopping or resting, so if your running continuously your pace automatically slows down to a pace that you can keep running for long periods of time. And this usually ends up in one of two scenarios:
- The first scenario: You end up running the same distances at the same steady pace, day in and day out and your weight loss progress complete comes to a halt.
- The second scenario: You get injured. Your body and joints can’t handle the constant pounding and the repetitive stress and eventually causes one or more of your joints to break down.
Either way, neither scenario is good.
Not to mention that running long distances causes you to lose lean muscle mass. Less lean muscle mass means less calories burned as well as decreased strength, which makes you more susceptible to injuries. It’s a vicious cycle.
So what’s a runner to do?
There are far better and more effective ways to get into great shape then just hitting the pavement and going for a long run. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t run, but only after you’ve gotten strong enough to be able to sustain the kind of force running generates. Even then, I think long runs should only be done sparingly…unless you’re training for an endurance event that requires you to do so.
I’d stick to doing short bursts of sprints or fast paced running followed by plenty of rest and recovery. This way you’re only putting pressure on your joints for a short period of time followed by rest, so your muscles, tendons and ligaments can recover…hopefully enough for you to be able to sustain the force for multiple rounds of short runs. You can repeat this process as many times as you want (or as many as your body lets you)...although I see no need to do anymore than 20 - 30 minutes worth.
I would also recommend running on grass, sand or any surface that has some give instead of concrete…to reduce the amount of stress put on your joints.
Even then, these short bursts of running may still be too strenuous for some of you that are just starting out and need more time to develop proper conditioning and strength before tackling the runs. Which is why it’s vital that you include strength training as part of your regular fitness regimen. Here’s a great posterior chain exercise (great for runner and cyclists) that you can try.
Now, this is just one of many different exercises you can do to help build a stronger body so you can protect your joints from running. Don’t bother with ineffective isolated exercises like bicep curls or tricep kick backs, it’s just not going to cut it. You need to be doing exercises that build functional strength. Functional strength enables you to carry the benefits over to activities like running and cycling.
And let’s not forget that exercises which help you develop functional strength, also helps you build lean muscle mass, which increases your ability to burn more calories…especially from fat…getting you leaner and more fit than just running.
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