You love your running, that feeling of freedom, your body in the flow; fitter, faster and stronger than your lazy buddies slouching on their couches… You do it because you love it and you know it is making you healthier right?
Current western thinking agrees with you – most of your couchy friends think you are a god/dess of well-being… but think on this… Is it possible that the running you do has all the health benefits of scoffing a mars bar?
A Mars Bar like most junk-food has a high energy value and is a form of food that would keep us alive if it was all we had but we know its missing the full complement of nutrients you need for optimal health; the micro nutrients and balance of carbohydrates, proteins and fats. If we apply the same logic to running the benefits are that it is a form of movement and we know some movement is better than none, it can get you fit and parts of your body will get stronger - but what is it missing for us to operate at optimal health?
Running, like many sports we seem to love, is a repetitive movement of one pattern – in this case the running gait forwards. It uses the same muscles and joints in the same way over and over. When it comes to the movement your body needs to function at optimal health we need a full range of movement nutrients that utilise all the joints of our body on a regular basis, we need variety and variability. Running predominantly uses your lower body but depending on how you run you may be using a very limited range of movement even here. It almost completely misses any movement in your upper body and certainly not of the strengthening variety!
The repetitive nature of running means that certain joints can get aggravated especially if you, like many others, spend the rest of your non running time sitting at a desk, in a car or on the couch at home – and therefore you take the geometry of sitting (tight hip flexors, hamys and calves and weak glutes) into your running. Your sitting body will be loading your joints forwards – creating a huge strain on your hips and knees.
So is running all bad?? NO in fact running is one of the most natural movements you can do – along with walking, crawling and climbing. There are a number of easy ways you can make your running waay more nutritious for your health, your body and your life!
1. Vary your terrain - Always running on flat smooth surfaces like tar-seal or concrete footpaths means your foot has limited stabilising requirements, that means your body also does not need to stabilise = less musculature used in your body, your body only learns to be stable and strong in one environment and in one direction – forward. If you are a road runner and avoid trails because you are scared of tripping – that’s the very reason you should get into trail running! The same goes for walking – varying your terrain plays a massive part in helping you stay on your feet as you age improving your balance and giving you a way better workout at the same time.
Tip for city dwellers run on the grass verges, balance on the curbs, choose the rougher pathways and gravelly areas where you can.
2. Embrace hills! Uphill and down – from slight gradients to sharp - hills give you a far greater range of muscle and joint movement = more muscles working for you and more full body strengthening
3. Try a ‘Snooker Run’ – Take any town park and imagine there are no paths – start at one point and run in a straight line until you hit a boundary then veer off at another angle to the opposite boundary (like a snooker ball) and onwards until you are exhausted! The key here is to run, walk and scramble through anything you come across. That will mean a hugely varied terrain, trees, bushes, rocks, streams, uphill, across hills, mud and grass. Its heaps of fun and possibly the most nutritious sort of running you can do!
4. AVOID like the plague running on a treadmill – possibly the junkiest of all running movements. As the treadmill belt moves under you it effectively negates the need for you to push forward, meaning you don’t need to use your glutes and hamstrings for forward momentum. If you absolutely have to use one set it on the steepest gradient and walk on it only. That way you will at least get some butt action happening.
5. Cross Train – swap out one or two runs per week with some other form of training that uses different areas of your body – eg more upper body, more full body weight training. Look for functional movement or body weight training styles like Pilates, Yoga, CrossFit, MovNat. Search for programs that give you the level of training you want – whether that is more restorative or higher intensity.
6. Finally stop thinking that just because you ran for an hour today its ok to sit for 10 hours – that is like drinking a green smoothie then scoffing only mars bars for the rest of the day! Try adding restorative exercises into your working day – it’s easy to stretch your calves while on the phone… for more ideas on how to move more every day take a look here.
Movement of all and every kind matters not just for healthy pain free joints and muscles but for your overall health and well-being.