Thursday, July 19, 2012

Running: The Honest Truth

"I'm going for a jog" says the typical healthy person. That is what typically healthy people do, they jog. Besides cycling, and yoga training for a 5k that supports cancer research is the only reasonable way to exercise. Right?..................Wrong!

I have been thinking about running for some time. As someone who once ran for health, the mental and physical challenge, and just for the fun of it I now have developed a very different opinion of how important running is.

Proper Form

If someone wants to learn to squat they really need to learn from someone else how to squat correctly. Eventually they are going to put a lot of weight on their backs and you don't want to do that without making sure the mechanics are correct. The options for the prospective squatter to learn proper form include reading books, looking and instructive videos, learning from friends, or actually paying for coaching. I did all of these things and I video myself frequently to check my form. I now know when I screw up because I am much more aware of my body (I have developed a much higher level of "kinesthetic sense" or "propioception"). This critical approach to training is often neglected in the average person that wants to run for improved health. There are plenty of ways to run incorrectly (by incorrectly I mean with poor biomechanics) which is not the way your body is designed to run and therefore highly inefficient.

All you have to do to observe poor running form (bad mechanics) is go to a college town and drive around on an afternoon (there are lots of people running in college towns). You will see people running with legs swinging out to the side, or backs hunched over all the while they pound the pavement. I am not trying to claim to be a running expert just that I have observed many people do it obviously wrong. Sure some folks will subscribe to runners world and might pick up some tips here and there but who actually pays somebody to teach them how to run? I think few are humble enough to do so but those that have most likely got their moneys worth from quality coaching.

Get a freaking coach so you run right!

High volume

Runners may not realize this but they put a lot of repetitions in a short running bout. This is why proper form is so important. If you are doing something wrong one thousand times you will incur more of the deleterious effects had you only done it one hundred times. Lets do a little math to see just how much training volume a runner may accrue in a week.

According to the average human has an average stride of 2.0-2.5 feet (seems about right). We'll go with 2.5 since it paints a less grim picture. If you run a mile (which is really minimal for most runners) you take 2000 steps do that 3-5 times a week and you have 6000-10000 steps per week. Multiply 2000 by 3.2 for a 5k or 13 for a half marathon and 26 for a full marathon. That is a lot of repetitions! Running is essentially a collection of a bunch of single leg quarter squats. It uses the sames joints as squatting just through an extremely abbreviated range of motion. 

Which activity will produce strange wear patterns on the joint surfaces, a full range of motion with low-zero impact exercise that is practiced at low reps, or a partial range of motion high impact exercise practiced at extremely high reps? I am guessing the partial one. The full range of motion one will distribute pressure throughout the entire joint surface and the partial will focus pressure in a limited area of the joint. 

A hamstring pull acquired during running. I especially like the wedgie that the other runner has while avoiding his/her poor injured comrade.

One last Tidbit 

I have noticed that many people are concerned about their cardiovascular or cardiorespiratory health, and rightfully so. Heart attacks and strokes are event that should be avoided. I looked into this a bit and found some exercise recommendations from the American Heart Association (AHA). Along with quitting or just plain not smoking, and eating "right" exercise or "physical activity" was determined to minimize the likelihood of experiencing a negative cardiorespiratory event. According to the AHA:

"It appears that for adults, most health benefits occur with at least 150 minutes a week of at least moderate-intensity physical activity, such as brisk walking." 
Brisk Walking!!!! Wow!!! So if I walk the dog for 30 minutes each day I have reaped most of the health benefits available (with regard to staving off strokes and heart attacks). I have three 2 hour weight training sessions per week, and lifting heavy is clearly much more intense than walking briskly. I have clearly surpassed this "ideal" recommendation of 150 minutes per week without including the little bit of walking I do to park and get to work followed by going home at the end of the day (approximately 30 minutes of "brisk walking" getting to and from my car each day).

The moral of the story is that if you are smart and therefore training with heavy weight a couple times a week you don't need to add running in (which would be detrimental to your joints and lifting progress anyway). Even the AHA will let you get away with that.

I don't hate runners (in a college town most runners are non-offensive to the eyes, if ya know what I mean). I do think there are much better ways to reach your fitness goals (unless running a marathon is your fitness goal). Barbells are really good at getting you to breath hard and pump up your heart rate. Don't go bore yourself on the treadmill or the track. You don't need to. There are plenty of barbells around that won't bore you and will satisfy your heart health needs.

AHA article:

Defining and Setting National Goals for Cardiovascular Health Promotion and Disease Reduction : The American Heart Association's Strategic Impact Goal Through 2020 and Beyond
Circulation 2010; 121: 586–613.

Another humorous yet very colorful look at running/marathons

Marathons are Yawn

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