Running and jogging have become popular fitness activities within the last decade among the general population.
And for good reason. It’s easy to start. It’s inexpensive. You can do it indoors or outside in the fresh air and with minimal equipment. You can do it with a friend or in a running group. And of course, there is that coveted “Runner’s high” that you get after a nice jog.
Running clearly overcomes many of the barriers that stand in the way for anyone wanting to start any kind of physical activity program.
However, the verdict is still out with health and fitness professionals on whether or not running is the smartest form of physical activity.
Ask a fitness trainer, physiotherapist, chiropractor, etc. about running and you are bound to get conflicting opinions.
And to clarify, when we say “run” we mean jogging over a long period of time at an intensity that is moderate to high.
The major downside of running are the injuries associated with the activity itself.
If you are a runner there is a good chance you have experienced knee pain, hip pain or hip impingement, stress fractures, shin splits, plantar fasciutus, etc.
So it really poses the question, is running a smart activity or should you do something else to improve your cardiovascular ability and overall health?
As with most things, there is no straightforward answer. It really depends on many things.
In my opinion, running can be a great activity ONLY if certain precautions are taken:
What are your goals?
For the most part, your goals should always dictate what type of activity you do.
If you want to lose body fat, tone, and gain strength, running would not be the best recommendation.
You are better off doing weight training, short burst interval style cardio like sprints or something similar to this, and enhancing your nutrition and eating habits. Running is a form of aerobic cardio, where weight training and HIIT is anaerobic. Your body actually becomes more efficient at burning calories and fat with aerobic cardio, which means over time you burn less calories from the activity itself. So from a fat loss standpoint, this isn’t the best use of time and won’t yield the best result. Running or jogging for long periods of time, under moderate to high intensities can lead to muscle loss, which slows down your metabolic rate, and higher levels of cortisol which is linked increased belly fat.
This is one of the reasons sprinters have a leaner and more muscular body type compared to runners. It is mainly due to their different styles of training, and the hormonal and metabolic affects that they produce.
Another benefit of interval style cardio, is you actually burn more overall calories from the activity, as you experience EPOC
( excess post-exercise oxygen consumption), also know as the “after burn” effect.
However, if you only care about enhancing general cardiovascular ability and health, running can be a great option.
Exercise experience and injury history
The main cause of injury usually stems from going too hard too soon. Rather than building the fundamentals of proper movement and technique, learning how to activate muscles correctly, and developing core strength and mobility, too many people bypass these areas.
And on top of all of this, they ramp up their activity and load too soon, without any time for adaptation.
So for those of you who haven’t ran before, start slow.
Build a solid foundation before loading your body. Your body needs time to adapt to the stress you will experience from running.
Overloading your tissue too soon is one of the main reasons injuries like shin splits and plantar fasciitis occur, and all too common among runners.
If you have been out of the exercise game for a while, increase intensity slowly and intelligently.
Start with light running for short periods of time…. maybe 10-20 minutes.
Or if you have never been involved with physical activity, do a walk/run combination. Run for 1-2 min at a light pace, and then follow that up with walking for 1-2 minutes.
Follow this routine for at least 4-8 weeks before you consider increasing your intensity. Some people may need longer than 8 weeks, depending on how conditioned they are.
This may be the thing that prevents running injuries from occurring in the first place.
Lastly, if you have a history of chronic knee, ankle, or hip injuries and these tend to become aggravated from running or higher impact activity, then running is definitely not for you.
Stick to lower impact cardiovascular activities like cycling/biking, weight training, walking, battle ropes, elliptical, etc.
Body weight is another factor when looking at physical activity. For those people who are overweight, running may not be the best activity to start with.
And if you are very inactive, and really overweight, then be extremely cautious around any form of running. Consider a different type of activity with less impact like cycling, elliptical, weight training, battle ropes, etc. As you lose extra pounds you may be ready to take on running, while minimizing joint stress and excess tissue overload.
Someone who is sedentary and overweight automatically increases their risk of injury especially with running. Not only are you de-conditioned to general tissue stress from training, you are also dealing with added stress acting on your joints from carrying extra weight.
Utilizing these guidelines will go a long way in helping you prevent things like general hip and knee pain, shin splits and stress fractures down the road.
Mobility and Muscle Imbalances
Another reason runners experience pain and injury is due to a lack of mobility, and muscle imbalances that develop from running itself.
Mobility and flexibility are different from one another, even though the words are often used together.
Mobility is your ability to move within a joint, where flexibility is the ability to move around the joint itself.
Two joints in particular, your ankle and hip joints, require great mobility to be able to move well and prevent injury.
These are also two joints can get beat up from a lot of running.
So stretching and foam rolling the glutes, periformis, calves, hip flexors, and tibialus anterior muscles will go a long way in preventing lower limb injuries.
Also consider stretching and rolling the quads, IT bands, and hamstrings.
Regarding muscle imbalances, most runners tend to have overdeveloped quads, and weak, inactive hamstrings and glutes.
Muscle imbalances in the upper thigh have been linked to knee pain and knee injuries for many runners. In the simplest of terms, if your hamstrings and gluten are weak, your body will compensate for this imbalance by overloading the quadricep muscles as you run. Fast forward a few years, and your quads are working much harder than they should be and are tighter than what your body can handle. This will invariably lead to increased stress on your knee joint, chronic knee pain, and where the beginning of knee injuries start; all because of simple compensation. Strengthening the weak links can make a huge difference in keeping you injury free, and ensuring the musculature of the upper thigh works evenly throughout a run.
Incorporate deadlifts, 1 leg deadlifts, gluten bridges, lateral band walks, and clamshells to strengthen and activate these muscles and offset this imbalance.
One of the overlooked aspects of fitness and activity is recovery. Giving your body proper rest and relaxation, and time off from exercise is extremely important in creating adaptation and preventing injury.
Exercising without sufficient recovery creates compensation, poor running mechanics and form, and when injuries tend to happen.
Recovery and time off is dependent on the individual and their overall lifestyle.
So it is hard to give a straight recommendation to everyone.
At the very least, take 1 full day off a week from any type of training including running. If you are new to exercise or running, then take 3-4 days off a week as a guide.
Also, pay attention to your body. And pay attention to the feedback you are getting.
Here are some signs are you may be lacking adequate recovery from running or anything training for that matter:
- Your overall motivation to work out is lower than normal on a week to week basis, when it was really high before.
- Your energy level is consistently low every day, despite getting lots of sleep, eating well, and staying active.
- Your body feels sluggish and heavy all of the time.
- You are getting frequent and multiple injuries, especially when injuries rarely happened before.
- You are getting sick on a consistent basis.
- You have either stalled in making progress for months, or progress has regressed over the span of months and weeks.
In you are feeling a combination of these things, you are lacking recovery, and some time off from training.
As you can see, running can be a great activity if certain factors are considered. But it isn’t for everyone, nor should everyone do it.
We hope you have gained some insight on running and whether it works for you!
Until next time,
Always here to inspire and motivate you,
David Macdonald and the Vitality Fitness Team