Running seems to be one of the most popular forms of exercise in this country.
It is easy to perform, does not require a whole lot of equipment, and is very cheap. Throw some clothes on, lace up your shoes, and just go run.
Seems simple enough right?
Well here I am to hate on everything that has to do with running. Just kidding, I am only going to hate on the idea that it is the only way for someone to get back in shape.
Running is but just one means of exercise. For those that enjoy running it can become a sport for them. For others, just a causal thing to do when the weather is nice.
The thing that no one really wants to acknowledge is that running has the highest rate of injury out of any sport. We are all concerned about someone getting hurt from lifting weights yet no one wants to throw any negative light at the (un)official method of getting back in shape.
Running must be Trained For
Yes, I am saying that you need to get in shape before you can start to get in shape. But how is this possible?
Well, running can put forces up to 7 times your bodyweight on the limbs. Running a mile is also roughly equivalent to performing 750 small hops on each leg.
Those numbers are astounding.
To best prepare handling that much force, our best defense is strength.
Stronger muscles can absorb more force. A better ability to absorb force will reduce the amount of pounding that the joints take from running.
Plyometrics are a form of training where we rapidly load the muscles and then produce force in the opposite direction. An example of this is a depth jump. We step off of a box, land, and jump straight up in the air in a depth jump. Going off of the box puts requires force to be absorbed and jumping up requires it to be produced.
It is said that someone is to be ready for plyometric training when they can squat their 1-2 times their body weight.
Running is a plyometric activity, but I do not know a lot of everyday runners that have that kind of lower body strength. That could be a contributing reason for the high injury rate.
A Better Strategy
If you enjoy running but haven’t been in the game in a while, start with a little bit at a time. Even as little as 5 minutes. Slowly, build your way up. The key part of that sentence is slowly, hence the bold, italics, and underline. I do not know how else to emphasize that point. If you want to get good at running then it requires time.
Go slow and progressively increase time or speed. Also, you must train for strength. Performing strength exercises will make you a much more durable runner. Being able to handle the beating will improve your performance and keep you healthy.
On the other hand if all you want to do is lose weight, you have other choices. A lot of people would rather cause bodily harm to themselves than go for a run. Luckily, this is America and you do not have to run if you do not want to.
You can lose body fat without running.
This takes a combination of strength training, nutrition, and conditioning. You can substitute the words circuit training, metabolic training, metcon, high intensity interval training, etc. The whole idea is something that gets the heart rate going through small bouts of high intensity work.
A good template is to first and foremost eat like an adult. Lots of proteins, vegetables, and water. Avoid processed foods, boxes, and bags.
Then perform strength training 3-4 times per week. Strength training sessions should be total body to include knee dominant, hip dominant, upper body push, upper body pulls, and core work. Favorites include squats, deadlifts, pushups, chin-ups, rows, lunges, step ups, etc.
2-3 times/ week at the end of a workout or as a separate workout we can add in some stuff that makes us hate life. Sled pushes, KB swings, carries, bear crawls, MB slams, battle ropes, mountain climbers, etc. will all fit the bill. You could also take some of the above strength movements and put them together in a circuit to get the effect.
The rules here are simple. High intensity, short rest periods, lasting anywhere from 5-15 minutes.
A sample workout day might look like this:
B2. DB Rows
C1. Pallof Press
C2. Plate Deadbug
15 KB Swings
40 Mountain climbers
20 Med Ball Slams
40 yard farmer carry
Repeat 3-5 times
Performing workouts like this are going to be great for building lean muscle and losing body fat (and do not forget nutrition!). This is the real goal of most people. It is not to run X distance or get a certain time. Most people want to look better. This is accomplished by building muscle and losing fat.
Those that have actual running goals should follow them. If you just want to get back in shape, you do not have to run at all if you do not want to. The best part is that you get that choice. There are other means of exercise and they can even help you get into running if that aligns with your goals.