Why I Don’t Run*

Okay, time to clarify the banter from the past few months.  For starters, the title. Actually I certainly DO “run”. What is key here is that my definition of what constitutes “running” that is both safe (more on that below…) and efficacious (also below!) is pretty narrow.  Every morning, I guide 3 boot camp style fitness sessions, 30 minutes each that fall in the general realm of high intensity interval training.  The level of intensity varies from session to session and from participant to participant and we expect and desire that to be such and manage it with specific modifications. The goals is always to make a movement safer for the individual yet still maintain the fundamental pattern of movement. Modifications are needed for many reasons and I’ve covered that in earlier posts.  On the way home each day, I see many people out propelling themselves in various ways. I applaud all of them for their work and commitment. Let me be very clear about that.  If you enjoy what you are doing and are deriving the benefits you are seeking, then I am not in any way discouraging you from what you are doing. 

But let’s make a few things very clear.  There is a very gray line between what people call running and what people call jogging.  Contrary to what most would say, speed is not the primary differentiation between the two. Where I draw the line (and keep in mind, I was a semi successful middle distance runner in high school and college and have logged my share of 100+ mile weeks in my day) is not speed but body mechanics.  Short of proper and safe mechanics, you are overwhelmingly better off simply walking.  To keep it simple, I like to think of useful running being one of two things — sprinting or running up a hill. When you ask a runner to sprint, form changes enormously (usually in a very good way).  When you attempt to run up a hill, the terrain forces you into a completely different posture.  At least 9 out of every 10 folks I see out on the roads and sidewalks doing something other than walking are paying a pretty heavy price for the benefits they are getting.  (By the way, if it isn’t obvious already .. I LOVE to see people walking!)

About that price … here’s what I see as the main collection of things that many people don’t seem to understand when they lace up the running shoes.  First, the mechanics matter.  Not everyone is even capable at their current level of fitness to run with safe and effective posture.  Even good posture puts upward of of two and half times your body weight of force onto your joints with each stride .. as the mechanics get worse, that number goes up.

This leads to overuse injuries. When joints take a beating, you feel pain.  If you persist in the activity after you feel pain, something is going to give (pain is a red flag .. if you exercise, you quickly learn to distinguish between simple soreness and real pain … pushing through pain, particularly with the aid of medication tends to just make things worse.

If running is all you’re doing for fitness, it isn’t hard to see that you’re not taking a very balanced approach.  Your body needs to work as a unit.  Running doesn’t tax your upper body in proportion to your lower body.   So if your goal with running is to be able to run 10k races and such, of course you’ll need to log some miles.  If you are doing it as your way of “keeping in shape”, well.. there are better ways that give you much more effect in much shorter time (and unless you really .. really .. really.. just “enjoy” running, are probably more enjoyable.

Effectiveness … here is where you might really be surprised.  Using pace as a measure since it is at the very least a by product of mechanics, if you are out logging miles at something in the 9-11 minutes per mile (or slower), tbeachrunninghe difference in calorie burn over a brisk walk is pretty negligible.  But as significant is the effectiveness of the calorie burn. “Jogging” is not taxing your system in such a way to build muscle.  Without building muscle, you are not impacting your metabolism (never mind your appearance..) so your calorie burn ends up limited to the actual time spent exercising.  You sorta get a visual of this if you just compared body types of elite athletes.. your average elite marathoner looks like the need to be fed. Muscle tone beyond the legs is minimal and body shape doesn’t really look like what we’d consider, well … healthy. Now look at a sprinter or even a quarter or half miler (okay .. 400 or 800 meters for those who never experience the thrill of a “real mile”…). They just plain LOOK fit and healthy. And you can bet they didn’t get that way logging endless 11 minute miles…

The fix?  Get strong – all over.  Build lean muscle and you can’t help but burn fat.  Some of this is exercise and some of it (probably a lot more of it…) is how you are fueling that machine … we’ll circle back to that one again later..

In the meantime … if you are not really running, consider walking.  If you want to up the ante and speed up the process – and do it taking a lot less time than you are logging putting in those miles .. well … we should talk.



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