The Value Of Running
I’m not a natural runner. I’m one of those guys who seems to be going alright for a kilometre or two, then starts to fizzle out and look for reasons to stop running. At one point in my life I committed myself to improving distance and time, but never managed to get beyond seven kilometres, and always stuck at around the same time with little to no variation. In the beginning, I wondered how marathon runners did it, then, as I thought more about it and reached a greater level of clarity, I began to wonder WHY marathon runners did it.
For as long as I can remember, I have been told from all angles how great running is for weight loss. In the beginning, back when I was fat and ill-informed, it was part of the reason I did it. My weight loss quickly stalled though. As it happened when I got into it, despite the fact I had no particular adeptness for it, I did find running to be a great way to clear my head. For this reason and this reason alone you will never hear me say that running has no value at all. You just have to look at your reasons for doing it.
Running is a very task-specific sort of training. What I mean by this is that you really need a good reason to be doing it. It can potentially wreak havoc on your knees, and there’s a high probability that your changes in body composition will quickly stall if that’s what you’re trying to achieve with it. If you need to be able to run further and/or faster (perhaps you are a soccer player, or you have entered a marathon), then running is probably going to be an important part of your training. The thing running is mostly good for though is training to run more, faster, further.
Or if you run purely for recreational reasons, with no performance or composition goals attached to the endeavour, I suppose that’s up to you.
However, you’ll notice a couple of paragraphs back I described myself as “fat and ill-informed” when I was running. The common wisdom that running might be good for weight loss is based mostly on short term studies using limited ranges of measurements.
If a participant in a study ran every day for six weeks and had their BMI measured at the beginning and the end, they may well see a noticeable change. This leads the people conducting the study to believe that running equals weight loss. Technically, for the duration of the study this would be correct, but the limitations in range mask some larger truths.
BMI is your weight divided by your height squared (in metres). It is two figures (one unchanging) that do not account for any kind of composition. A very muscular man, not just a bodybuilder, even a casual but committed gym-goer, is likely to measure obese on the BMI scale because it doesn’t allow for the possibility that the weight comes from muscle instead of body fat.
So, over the course of six weeks, participants in the study I described above might see a reduction in their BMI, but the steady-state cardiovascular exercise will have caused their body to burn fuel indiscriminately, and they will have burned both fat and muscle tissue. This will result in a lower metabolism. A lower metabolism means less calories burned at rest. Less calories burned at rest means greater levels of fat storage. After the six weeks, our study participants are not only going to find that their weight loss stalls, but that their body will begin to store fat upon their newly skinny person. This look is called skinny-fat, and it’s not especially desirable from a health perspective or from an aesthetic perspective.
You could attempt to combat this reduction in muscle tissue by running only three days each week and lifting weights on your other days, the only problem with this method is that you’re not really training optimally in either session, you are just undoing some of what you did in each session with the content of the next. For an effective alteration of your body composition you need to be sure that every training session compliments the last and the next. Resistance exercise to build muscle and metabolism combined with high intensity intervals and/or circuit work to quickly torch body-fat.
Perhaps ironically, this type of training will also help with your cardiorespiratory fitness, which will also help you run further.
So, unless your goal is to run further or faster to the exclusion of all other goals, I wouldn’t be programming much running into your upcoming training sessions.
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