Note: This post is dedicated to my bud KK – a great entrepreneur, a role model for thousands of students in India, a social worker and an awesome dude in general – who is insane about running but, for whatever reason, never ever listens to me when I talk about training smart! In the interest of keeping my ass from getting ripped, I’ll not go into his history of running injuries!
Let me start off by saying running is awesome! And I’ll be honest with you – I love running! It is one of the most natural human movements, needs literally no equipment/gear, can be done anytime, can be done anywhere and lends itself to progressive improvement! Whats not to love?
Granted I haven’t run much lately but that’s only because it does line up with my goals. But if you’ve read my story, you know I used run a lot – a lot more than is required for my own good! I called it the best activity ever. I encouraged people to run more and invited people on runs and caught up with friends while running and ran many many races. If I have to explain how I feel about running in one word it would be “Home”! Every time I run I felt at home! So familiar, so comfortable, so liberating and always so very my own!
But since my running days, as I have reduced my mileage, I have increased my knowledge about health and fitness and I’ll share that with you today.
A simple Google search of ‘Benefits of Running’ will take you to websites that say running does everything from building muscles to preventing cancer to increasing sex drive to slowing down the aging process! While such claims exist from pretty much any physical activity from yoga to olympic lifting, we’ll just stick to the legit potential benefits of running as an exercise.
- Weight loss
- Cardiovascular benefits
- Improved lower body strength
- Improved fitness
Another simple Google search of ‘Drawbacks of Running’, will take you to websites that call running the Satan! In this case too, we’ll stick to the legit potential drawbacks of running for the regular running/fitness enthusiast.
- Chronic joint pain due to overuse/abuse
- Muscle wastage
- Enlargement of the heart resulting in arrhythmia (potentially causing heart attacks)
- Over-hydration resulting in hyponatremia (potentially resulting in death)
- Fat storage due to increased cortisol release
- Increased oxidative stress and systemic inflammation
Hmmm! Like every other thing in the nutrition and fitness field, this one too has completely opposing views and evidence supporting each view. How can something that makes you fit make you weak? And how can something that builds strength result in muscle wastage? And, for the love of God, how can something that has cardiovascular benefits potentially cause heart attacks? Read on.
As weird as it seems, both the benefits and the drawbacks are real! How? It all comes down to three things…
- Frequency, volume and intensity of training
- Running Technique
- Nutrition and hydration
Naturally, if all three are spot on, you will reap most of the benefits of running and almost none of the drawbacks. As you screw up each one of these, you will be gifting yourself to more and more of the drawbacks and hence, none of the benefits. Like everything else, running is an awesome activity… but ONLY when done right and when done in the right amounts! And, again like everything else, running is poison when overdone and/or done wrong! Let me give you 2 examples.
- You all know how much I love deadlifts and how much I tout its awesomeness. But what happens if I deadlift 7 days a week, twice a day for 100 reps each session at close to max intensity using bad technique? Well, I get messed up and end up with a broken spine is what happens! In other words, I can hurt myself, acutely and chronically, so bad that I might never ever be train again in my life.
- Everyone knows spinach is awesome and that it has more nutrients than almost any other food item! But what happens if I eat 10 lb of spinach everyday? Two words – Kidney stones!
Similarly, running is an amazing activity with multiple benefits. But what happens if you run multiple times a week for distances longer than you can handle using bad running form at heart rates that are higher than recommended? Well, chronic joint pain, muscle wastage, heart enlargement, fat storage, oxidative stress and weakness! You see what I mean?
Clearly, while the benefits are all super legit, the drawbacks of running are due to a severe case of too-much-of-a-good-thing! So then, running is no different from any other exercise right? Overdoing anything will make it harmful right? So why not warn folks about the perils of eating too much spinach or about the dark possibilities of too many deadlift reps? Why the hatred and warning towards running alone?
Because very rarely does one seems to overdo the deadlift or eat spinach by the kilogram, but too many folks seem to over do the running too often! Why? Because… running is one of the most natural human movements, needs literally no equipment/gear, can be done anytime, can be done anywhere and lends itself to progressive improvement! Its kind of sad but, the reasons that make running awesome are the same reasons that make it conducive to overtraining!
So whats the deal then? Can running be a part of a good workout program? What id your recommendation?
Like my answers to all other questions, the answer to this question also changes drastically based on goals and current physical condition!
If you have no goals but run because you enjoy running…
- use your common sense and train for your goal (which is recreation). modify your mileage such that you don’t have any nagging joint/ligament/tendon/muscle pains. This might be 5 miles/week for some and 45 miles/week for others. Find what works for you. Your goal is to be able to enjoy running for a long time to come. So be smart about it and run enough to make yourself better and don’t run so much that you end up in pain all day everyday!
- invest time in mobility work – I know its boring, but you’ve got to do it!
- on at least one day during the week, do something that is not endurance – this could be resistance training or yoga or HIT or walking.
- on at least two days during the week, rest plenty and stretch.
- eat real food.
If your goal is general health (or longevity)…
- run moderate distances at a low heart rate (65-70% Max Heart Rate) once a week.
- run short distances (40-200 m) at a high heart rate (90-95% Max Heart Rate) once a week.
- do resistance training 1-2 times a week.
- do yoga once a week
- eat real food per appetite/hunger
If your goal is fat loss (or to get ripped/shredded or get toned or to have abs)…
If your goal is strength gain (or muscle gain or to get big or to get strong)…
- drop the distance running
- lift heavy weights
- walk for 30-45 min on rest days
- eat a tonne of real food
If your goal is competitive running…
And lastly, if your definition of a workout is running on the treadmill (or “doing” the elliptical/stepper/stationary bike) for 40+ minutes everyday…
- get off the damn machine
- meet/make some friends, go outside, run and have some fun. Or, in simpler words, get a life!
There you have it – an honest and legit review on running. Though I work with endurance athletes, this is my first post on running and if there is enough interest I’ll be happy to write more about how to train for your first marathon or how to train to beat your previous best or how to recover from running related injuries or how to fuel yourself right and hence improve performance. Let me know in the comments section.
And considering there are more runners than any other athletes today, I’m sure all of you know folks who are into running. Please share this with them. I’m definitely like to hear their take on this.