Is running good for you? Surely it is right?! Well not so fast …

Now of course, exercise is good for you. For an inactive person to take up any form of activity, that is a good thing yes. But, is running good for you and should it be part of your exercise plan?

I train two categories of people.  The first are busy people, who have typically fallen into bad habits and their bodies are now paying the price. They are keen to return themselves to fitness and improve their health and long-term prospects. Often, this category will also be motivated by some degree by their body and how it looks.  The second category are sports people, recreational or serious. They are looking to be the best that they can be, for their sport whatever that is.

Many of my clients are surprised that I will never get them to long distance run.  Why do I take that view?

The first few points apply to both groups –

Firstly, injury risk.  Running, particularly on roads and pavements puts a lot of stress on the joints, particularly the knees. Many studies have confirmed that the injury risk of running is high. Check out this study:  It looked at 300 runners that had no previous injuries prior to starting running.  They were classed as runners because they ran upwards of 5k per week for the study with no issues prior.  Of the 300, 66% got injured! Furthermore, the study identified that knee stiffness was a huge risk factor.  If you have it, and you start running, there is little doubt that you will get injured and guess what – many people starting a programme will often have anatomical issues.  I rarely train anyone without some issue, even in the athlete category – ankle and hip mobility is typically poor in todays world, as is glute strength (or lack of)  - all risk factors for stiff knees!

Secondly, practical considerations.  Is running for lengthy periods best for your schedule? When time is limited, isn’t shorter, more intense workouts better and more realistic when you consider your commitments?

Thirdly, is running the most beneficial exercise for you? For both groups I would argue, no. For the general population, looking to improve health markers and physique, you can burn many more calories through high intensity interval training; and lifting weights offers greater benefits in terms of body composition and health improvements. For the athlete population, is running specific to your sport? In most sports, there is not a need to run steadily, at a slow pace throughout a match or game. Sports like tennis, football, squash, and rugby will involve a series of stop start, multiple sprints. Training at a low intensity, developing slow twitch muscle fibres will not give an athlete the sport specific training they need – the focus should be on strength and as a result speed and power, complimented by drills related to the sport.

Fourth, do you want to get slow? If you want to get slow, train slow! Your body will specifically adapt to imposed demands (the SAID principle). I don’t know of any sports players who will want to get slower and I don’t think that many general exercisers will either …. It’s a surprise to some, but run a long distance at a slow pace regularly, and yes you will get good at that, but trust me you will slow down!

Finally, how do you want to look? Muscles and physique will respond differently to the type of exercise you undertake.  Your aspirations in this regard should be considered if they are important to you. Sprinters for example get muscular because they work hard and fast.

But what about the positives of running – there are some!

First of all, running does offer a good cardiovascular workout. 

It is of course also enjoyable – many runners talk of runner’s rush and for sure, endorphins flow a plenty when you are outside, running.   

Also, I do believe that planned and ‘managed’ running can have its place. If you are sedentary in your work, then slow runs or fast walks can have a useful place in replacing the lost ‘steps’ or LISS (low intensity steady state) general movement that we as humans are intended to do frequently in our normal day. Furthermore, I do think it is a good thing for the general population to have an aim of a good 5k run time (provided the risk factors of injury have been removed).  Afterall in a true fast 5k, you are moving fast! And it’s a great distance to test mental strength!

What do I mean by ‘managed’? Well, I do programme runs for my first category of client, IF and ONLY IF I know they are sedentary in their jobs, and I know they enjoy running. However, I always make sure that this is only done, if there is appropriate strength and conditioning work happening in the rest of the programme. Through the right strength and mobility work, you can minimize the risk of running injury (by ensuring ankle and hip mobility and developing glute strength for example). With good, structured, progressive overload in weight training and functional intensity training in the rest of the programme, I can ensure that the most beneficial exercise is happening and my clients are getting the results they deserve.

For my athlete clients – no, we don’t run long distance – for the reasons above! (However, clearly, if your sport is long distance running – then yes you must train long distance running - that SAID Principle again !)

In summary, whilst running has its place, it’s unlikely to deliver you the results you are seeking and likely to cause injury, particularly for beginners or those starting a new programme.  If you’re on a mission to get in shape, or if your determined to be the best you can be for your sport, get in touch – I can help.