“Running is the worst way to get fit,” wrote Nick English in an article that went semi-viral last week. (https://tonic.vice.com/en_us/article/running-is-the-worst-way-to-get-fit). “If you want to be in shape, skip the 10K training and sprint—but don't jog—to the nearest weight room,” he continued.
My heart warmed as I continued to read English’s article, as I have my own personal beef with long distance-high volume with my hockey player legs.
As my friend and fellow MadLab coach Emily Beers expressed, “After competing in 5 Regional competitions and the Games in 2014, running has always been my weakness, so last year, feeling burnt out, I took a year off competing and trained for a marathon: The result: I ended up less fit, a little more pudgy, injured and grumpy from poor sleep.”
That’s not exactly the result one might hope for with a training program seemingly targeted to improve your fitness.
Let me disclaim for a moment here: I’m not saying running is all bad. I simply don’t think a fitness plan that focuses primarily on running is good for overall health or fitness. Nor do I think the more commonly-followed traditional marathon training programs so many people follow (what Emily followed) are good for health and fitness.
Instead, running should be just one small piece part of a broader fitness training program, and you should use it strategically, and with a purpose.
Aerobic capacity guru Chris Hinshaw is the perfect coach to learn from if you want to know how to run smart. I have personally trained with his programming and it is nothing like you would ever expect. He also works with a ton of high-level CrossFit athletes, as well as lifestyle athletes. His goal isn’t to make people better runners per se, but to use running as a tool to improve overall aerobic capacity to drive greater fitness adaptations.
Hinshaw doesn’t run his athletes into the ground by getting them to aimlessly log miles (normally they’re running only twice a week). Instead, he prescribes various running workouts with specific intensities and paces to drive whatever specific goal the athlete is after—adaptions such as improved speed, volume or endurance. Check out this article I wrote in the CrossFit Journal a couple months ago about Hinshaw’s methods for more information: (http://journal.crossfit.com/2016/07/aerobic.tpl).
I have taken my experience with a personalized running accessory program and knowledge of training and energy systems to start programming running for my clients. Amanda Argan is the first to experience this program and in less than three months she has shaved approximately 80 seconds, yes 1 minute and 20 seconds, off her 1-Mile (1600m) personal record which now sits at 6:39.
The reality, though, is most people’s idea of running is simply to head outside and run, so they log miles upon miles week after week without any kind of purpose or intention (apart from walking, running is the most common form of fitness in the world).
3 reasons why going for long runs 3 to 5 days a week isn’t the answer to greater fitness or a leaner body
3. Repetition leads to injuries
Logging miles upon miles, often at a slow speed, means you’re likely to develop an overuse injury and end up having to full stop rest to heal (Especially if you’re like me and not exactly built like a runner).
It only makes sense that the repetitive nature of foot strike after foot strike isn’t what’s best for keeping you injury-free. Previously I discovered my body was good up until approximately 10km, but as soon as my runs eclipsed 10km, my knees and ankles would start blowing up (due to the classic runners IT band injury) and I would be left unable run or jump, for a couple days.
According to this article, an overwhelmingly large percentage of purely long distance runners develop lower extremity injuries, most commonly in the knee (http://bjsm.bmj.com/content/41/8/469.full.pdf).
2. Pudgier Body Composition
If getting lean is your goal, running isn’t the solution—unless you choose to starve yourself after long runs…
As experienced by Emily Beers during her marathon training she discovered spending less time than normal in the gym working on skill development, strength training, and interval-based conditioning, made her less lean. “Running made me hungry, especially once my runs started taking 2 hours or more, so I would eat a big meal afterward and found myself generally useless for the rest of the day,” Beers said.
After three months of running, her body just felt generally softer. She started looking at the runners around her, and examining runners’ bodies at running race events, and grew ever more suspicious that running doesn’t make you lean. Skinny yet soft? Maybe. But muscular and lean? No.
So if you’re looking to be lean and muscular, running may not be your thing. There's plenty of science out there that says there are better ways to lose weight than running—namely doing multi-joint movements, such as squatting, deadlifting, pressing, as well as gymnastics movements like chin-ups, pull-ups, and push-ups (not to mention diet likely being the biggest influence on weight loss and gain)
This peer-reviewed article (among many others) “Effect of exercise training intensity on abdominal visceral fat and body composition” ”(https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18845966) provides some more information why running doesn’t help you lose weight.
1. Poor Sleep!
Sharing Emily’s personal experience with her 6-month running adventure gone badly lead to an obvious deterioration in the quality of sleep. “The night after a long run, I always found myself awake in the middle of the night tossing and turning, and eventually in the spare bedroom hoping a different bed might help me get back to sleep,” says Beers.
I have no idea why that was the case, but here is some more evidence on the topic.
Caron Adderly used to be a big-time runner. Her weeks were dedicated to long, slow runs. A couple years ago, she joined MadLab School of Fitness in Vancouver and started training for more broad fitness, all the while continuing to run some evenings.
Curious about her body’s stress and recovery, she tired to Vita 71 lifestyle assessment (http://vita71.com). In short, she was hooked up to a machine for three days, which provided her with a scientific evaluation of her lifestyle and the balance between three primary factors: stress, activity and recovery.
“It was pretty cool what it showed with work versus recovery and sleep,” she said. More specifically, what it showed was that her sleep sucked and her recovery, too, whenever she went for a long run.
Today, Caron continues to run, but she limits it to mostly track sessions for speed work, she added. Running with an intended purpose.
But what if you love running?
Though I cannot relate to a love of running, I have heard that some people actually like it! (Crazy folks).
If you love running, then run. The point is only to say, if you’re interested in become more fit and healthier, take a look at your current running plan and ask yourself if you’re running smart. If you look at the running you do and there is no plan, progression or prescription other than to run, you may want to rethink why you're doing it and if you could be something more with your time.