Each week, we'll discuss a cardio exercise. It's benefits, it's drawbacks, ways to utilize it, training modalities, etc.
This week, we'll be discussing running. Why running? Because, frankly, it's one of the simplest forms of cardio. You've been doing it since you were a baby and it's a natural movement (even though sometimes it feels very unnatural!)
Running Benefits - Seems like this should be a no-brainer, right? It's good for you. But specifically, what are some of the benefits? First, your cardiovascular strength and endurance improve. That means your cardiovascular system (heart and lungs) can pump more blood to your muscles more efficiently. When your cardiovascular system is strong, your resting heart rate will be lower because your big ol' strong heart doesn't have to work as hard to pump blood to your body AND your blood pressure will be lower because, you guessed it; your big ol' heart doesn't have to work as hard to pump blood. What else? When you cardiovascular system is strong, your lungs process oxygen more efficiently. Which means they can oxygenate your blood (get oxygen into your blood stream and thus to your muscles) faster and at a higher rate. Which means your muscles get more oxygen! Why do your muscles need oxygen? Oxygen is part of the process where by your muscles convert glycogen into energy. What is that? Glycogen is stored carbs, basically; and act as fuel for your muscles. The more oxygen your muscles have, the better those muscles are at converting glycogen. Which means your muscles get more energy!
What are some other benefits? Muscular strength! When you walk, your muscles are working to move your legs. But, they are not REALLY working to move you. It's a pretty low level energy requirement. But when you run, those muscle are WORKING. You are asking them to move and lift your legs and your body weight rapidly and that takes strength in order to work efficiently. The stronger your legs are, the less strain is on your back, hips, knees and ankle joints. Your strong muscles help support your skeletal system!
Another benefit to running is the endorphin effect. When you do cardio, in this case - running, your brain releases endorphins, the feel good hormones. Some people experience this as a runner's high, others just have an increased feeling of happiness, less stress, better coping abilities and ultimately, better sleep. Endorphins are your friends! You want a lot of these guys!
Running has some GREAT benefits but are some of the downfalls? Good news about these downfalls - most can be overcome with smart exercise choices.
Let me tell you a brief story - I ran (literally) to pick up my son from preschool. It's about an 8 mile round trip. I had been running 2-3 miles a day and running my stairs. I figured the extra mileage would be fine since I'd been doing two-a-days with the stairs. I was WRONG. I ended up with a stress fracture in my foot because I wasn't ready for that large mileage increase.
Running can be great for you but you have to be smart.
One downfall to running is the impact on your body. Your bones and joints can take quite a beating, particularly if your form needs a bit of assistance. To avoid some of the negative effects of impact while running, there are few things you can do. First, make sure your shoes are right for you. Go to a reputable running store and have them analyze your gait. They'll help you choose shoes. Second, consider gait training. I pronated badly but by fixing my stride and gait, I was able to move to minimal running shoes and greatly lessen the impact on my joints. Lastly, if you can improve your gait and achieve a good, neutral strike, consider minimal running shoes. You get significantly more feedback while running and can adjust any gait or postural misalignments. They also help strengthen your feet, ankles and other supporting joints to make your running stronger.
Another downfall to running can be safety. This is such an easy one to overcome. Ladies - consider another hairstyle besides a ponytail. It can be used as a handle! NEVER run with both earbuds in. Always leave one out so you hear your surroundings. Never run in the dark. If you go out for a run after the sun has gone down or before it comes up, choose a very well lit, very populated area. Carry pepper spray or mace if your run will take you through an area with places a person could hide. Always be aware of your surroundings. Look around while you run. Look behind you. If there's someone coming towards you, meet their eye, look them in the face. Never run in the road or where cars can't see you. Stay on the sidewalk and in well lit areas. Never assume a car will stop simply because you have the right of way.
Running can make you sore. You're working out, after all. Any exercise can and will make you sore at some point. While that's not necessarily a bad thing, the degree of soreness can be an issue. Ever had a really hard leg workout and then not be able to get off the toilet? Yeah, like that. Or my personal favorite, having to hold the toothbrush on the counter and wiggle my head back and forth on it because I can't lift my arms. Funny but this is not the goal, people. No one wants to be so sore that they can't do normal activities of daily life. If you are new to running, have taken a break and are coming back or are changing up your routine, please ease into this (reference the above 8 mile story). If you go too fast, too long, too hard, too hilly, too etc, then yeah, you will probably be pretty sore. Add mileage, difficulty and speed judiciously. Train smart.
As I mentioned, running is one of the simplest forms of cardio. Lace up your shoes and go. Or don't lace up your shoes and be a barefoot runner. Even simpler. So, if it's so simple, why are there reams and reams of paper dedicated to people writing about running? Books, articles, blog posts (wink, wink), magazines, special clothes, shoes, gear...the list is endless. As with anything, if it's popular it gets exploited. Let's talk about utilizing running for health and fitness. Basics - get some good shoes that are right for you, comfy running clothes that are appropriate for the weather and climate (side note - where I live, that means I need a support van following me with clothing options. Sigh...), and any gear you may want. Your phone for music, an arm holder for that phone, water bottles. One of my favorite pieces of gear a sweet running friend gave me was a belt that held 2 little bottles of water and had a pocket for keys, chapstick, little sunscreen GU packs, etc. AND it didn't bounce or move around while we ran. Key in my world! Interested? Check it out on Amazon HERE.
Running is a great workout and you can utilize it a few ways. Obviously, there's the basics - head out the door for a standard 3 miler once a day. It'll keep you in shape, be good for your body, heart, mind, etc. Simple and easy peasy. You can also use this as a stress reliever. Kids making you nuts, job driving you crazy? Jog a bit. Even in place or up and down your street. You'll get those endorphins flowing and feel better! Cross training - if you are cyclist, swimmer, tennis player, etc, use running to cross train when you can't get to your regular sport. It's a great way to mix up your fitness routine and bust out of a rut. Do you typically stick to the elliptical or maybe a class for your cardio? Try the treadmill and jog a bit. You'll be surprised at the renewed sense of accomplishment and kick booty feeling of the workout.
I went through a few of the benefits of running previously, so you know it's good for your health. Now, to get out the door and on the running path. If you've never run, take it easy. Start by walk/running. Walk a bit, jog for a bit, walk a bit, jog for a bit. Please don't head out your door and start sprinting. If you are returning to running after a break, you may consider the same starting point. I know your head is ready to go but your body may need a second to get back in the game. If you are currently running and want to mix things up, try sprint work or hill work.
Running is such a great form of cardio. I hope you take advantage of it! Are you a runner? Do you want to be a runner? Let me know what role running plays in your life.