Friday, June 25, 2010


No Business Running!: Why Running Is More Advanced Than You Think

The average woman starting a fitness program has no business running. That's right, no business running!

Running is an extremely advanced exercise. Yet most people who decide to start an exercise program start running from day one. Maybe they saw a picture of themselves they didn't like. Or a picture of a figure competitor and decided that's what they want to look like. Whatever it was, something motivated them to get active. And the next morning they're off on a run to jumpstart their fitness quest.

Most people think running is a good starting point for their fitness program. On January 1st you see hundreds of New Year's Resolutioners hitting the streets to start their new year right!

Good luck finding an open treadmill on January 1st.

When did running become the starting point for someone who wants to get in shape? It drives me crazy when I hear, "I want to come to your gym, but first I'm going to start running to lose some weight."

I just want to shake them and say, "Don't you realize, running is hard and very advanced. And it's extremely ineffective as a weight loss modality. You'll end up coming to me three months later weighing the same, but with an injury from your running."

Let's Get Fit

I'm an endurance athlete and I coach endurance athletes. So why would I be so against running for the average woman? There are thousands of women in the gym whose number one goal is to lose weight and get in shape. This includes fitness and figure competitors. Many of these are average women who aren't active, and certainly aren't runners. But they want to look fit.

With this type of clientele, I'd never start them off on the first day with 1,500 reps of a one-legged plyometric exercise. Running for one mile is exactly that; 1,500 reps (steps) of a plyometric exercise. While studying exercise prescriptions, I was always taught that plyometrics are an advanced exercise that shouldn't be used until a client has built up their strength.

Coach Mike Boyle pointed out that, "Running produces forces in the area of two to five times bodyweight per foot contact." So now we're talking 1,500 reps with a load of two to five times your bodyweight. Pretty advanced stuff, don't you think?

Oh, the Injuries!

A typical conversation with a runner goes like this:

Me: "So, you're a runner? Are you currently running? Or are you injured?"
Runner: "Actually I'm just nursing some plantar fasciitis, but I hope to be running by the end of the month."
It's amazing that any runner you ask has either been injured, is injured, or feels an injury coming on. It's so common for them to be injured that when asked, they'll typically answer without thinking twice about why you assume they're in pain.

Female runners have been shown to be six to ten times more likely to get injured running. I pride myself on being one of the few endurance athletes I know who hasn't had a chronic injury (knock on wood). I absolutely attribute this to the fact that I came to endurance training after years of strength training.
I started endurance training as a strong, balanced athlete that was ready for advanced exercise. I've worked hard to get myself fit enough to run. I've also continued to use strength training as part of my program. This, along with flexibility work, regular foam rolling, and proper progression are my secrets to keeping my body strong and injury-free.

Foam rolling is a fantastic recovery tool.

Lessons From the Ironman

This past year I completed an Ironman Triathlon, which finishes with a marathon. Throughout my training I stayed completely injury-free. While training to compete at the Ironman, I was pounding the pavement week after week, logging a ton of miles.

Bill Hartman, an Active Release Therapy (ART) specialist, was visiting once when I'd run fifteen miles that morning. He worked on me after and explained that running that kind of distance causes "trauma to the tissues," so I needed to really pay attention to my recovery.

"Trauma" sounded so scary, like a car accident. But it made sense because that's how my body felt after running for two hours straight -- traumatized. All of those miles were damaging my tissues. Because of this I took the time to stretch, foam roll, and get ART regularly. ART helps to keep the adhesions caused by running from building up.

One of my endurance athletes saw me at my weekly ART appointment and asked, "Why do you go see him? Do you have an injury?" No, I'm just aware that running so much will create one if I don't take care of myself.

Getting Into Running Condition

Running can be very damaging to your body, especially to a beginner. But, if someone has been hitting the weights and can handle the force caused by running, they can add in a couple of running workouts. You've got to earn the right to start.

It's just like wearing a half top. You've got to earn the right to wear it. Certain people haven't put the effort into training and dieting to wear one. Hint: If you've got a muffin top (that roll that hangs over your pants), you aren't allowed to wear it.

It's the same idea here. If you're not fit enough, you aren't allowed to run. No half tops and no running. Get in the gym and earn both!

And unless your goal is to complete an endurance event, these sessions shouldn't be longer than three to four miles at a time. The only reason I ran as much as I did was because my goal was to complete the Ironman.

Train for Your Goal

What is your goal? If you want to complete an endurance event, then by all means your training needs to include running. But you better make sure you've done some strength training and are willing to devote time to recovery. Completing a 5K, a half marathon, or even a marathon are excellent goals, but first make sure you're fit enough to run.

Do you have some ugly fat to lose? Do you want to look like a figure competitor? Running isn't necessary for either. Most people who run have a goal of losing weight, or getting that "runner's body." Running will not give you a "runner's body." In fact, if you're not fit enough to run, you'll end up injured and stuck on the couch, watching your "runner's body" slip away.

On the couch and injured is a one-way ticket to insanity.

To quote Mike Boyle, "Women who run successfully for long periods of time were made to run. They look just like men runners. Good female runners generally don't look like plus-size models. It's not a question of cause and effect; it's a question of natural selection. You can't run to get that cute little runner's body. It's actually reversed. You have to have that cute little runner's body to survive running."

Don't Sweat the Fat Burning Zone

But what about being in the "fat burning zone?" Isn't steady-state, long distance cardio the best for fat loss? Wrong! I don't use any form of steady-state, "fat burning zone" training with weight loss clients. It's better to use a full body resistance training program with shorter rest periods. Combine that with two or three interval training sessions a week, and you've got the most effective fat loss plan.

The goal for weight loss is to get the metabolism revved up. Your body adapts extremely fast to steady-state cardio and you'll burn fewer and fewer calories the more you do. With interval training, your metabolism will be elevated for the next 24 to 48 hours, giving you an afterburn effect.

When working with figure competitors, I don't add steady-state cardio in until the last four to six weeks. Going for a run won't necessarily get you closer to your goal of looking like Gina Aliotti.

Gina Aliotti hitting the weights hard.

Just check out the finish line of any endurance event and you won't see anybody who looks like a figure competitor.

You Either Have It or You Don't

While building up my running mileage for my Ironman, I ran with a group who was training for the LA Marathon. Over a thousand dedicated people met at 7 AM every Saturday for 28 weeks.

Over ten weeks the group had run between 12 and 20 miles on their long distance days. Now this is a lot of mileage and you'd think someone doing this much would look like a runner. Well, let me tell you that out of the thousand-plus people that showed up every Saturday, the people who looked like runners when we started still looked like runners.

And the people who didn't resemble runners at all, still didn't. But they're now sporting fancy new knee braces. Nobody's body had changed, but many of them had accumulated injuries.

I hate to break it to you, but running doesn't work to give you a "runner's body." The elite runners had those bodies to start with, which is what makes them great.

Still Have The Urge to Run?

So, are you still determined to run or have I talked you out of it? I don't necessarily want to convince you not to, but I want to make women aware that it's an advanced exercise. It isn't for beginning, out of shape people trying to get fit. For those individuals, there are better choices.

If you're a woman who simply wants to be leaner, lose weight, and look more like a figure competitor, running doesn't have to be a part of your routine. On the other hand, if you have a goal of completing an endurance event or just enjoy running, you'll need to include an injury prevention strength training program.

What does a runner's strength training program look like? It includes, but isn't limited to: bodyweight exercises, single-leg movements, exercises to address the imbalances running creates, functional flexibility, and core strengthening.

About the Author
Rachel Cosgrove is a trainer who specializes in getting women of all ages into the best shape of their lives. She earned her CSCS from the National Strength and Conditioning Association and has competed in fitness competitions and triathlons. For more info about Rachel, visit her website.

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