“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 running: After playing many years of soccer even at the collegiate level, I never felt strong and fit when I was just running without weight training. I even decided to run a marathon years back to push the envelope of my “fitness”. The result: I ended up less fit, a little more pudgy, injured and grumpy from poor sleep.
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 I followed) are good for health and fitness.
Instead, running should be just be 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. He 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 in the CrossFit Journal from a couple months ago about Hinshaw’s methods for more information: (http://journal.crossfit.com/2016/07/aerobic.tpl).
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 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. I discovered my body was good up until the half-marathon distance, but as soon as my runs eclipsed 13 miles, my knee started blowing up (due to the classic runners IT band injury) and I was left unable walk, let alone run, 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…
Admittedly this was my personal experience, but I discovered spending less time than normal in the gym working on skill development, strength training, and interval-based conditioning, made me 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.
After three months of running, my body just felt generally softer. I then started looking at the runners I knew, 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.
I’m not alone in my theory. 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!
My personal experience with my 6-month running adventure gone bad was an obvious deterioration in the quality of my 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.
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.