The age-old debate about running usually creates a few extremists. There’s not much unbiased information to be found about the subject, and that makes most readers feel they need to “pick a side.” Many members of the strength and conditioning community bash running as nothing more than a way to further your injuries. Before you decide, it’s more important to sit back and consider the facts.
Recognize your Starting Point
Many smart strength coaches will say, “There’s no such thing as a bad exercise” to people who will proudly explain that deadlifts are bad for your back, or upright rows are bad for your shoulders, or that deep squats are bad for your knees. Where running is concerned, there really should be no difference. It’s not that the activity is bad for you; it’s actually great exercise. The problem is, due to its accessibility, many think they’ve got the clean slate of fitness and clean bill of health required to take up running with few to no consequences. That’s just not true. Most people who make the decision to get in better shape, have been sedentary for some time, have 10 or 15 pounds they’d like to lose, and are no longer spring chickens. They haven’t developed prowess through basic movement patterns, and have never worked on muscle imbalances. This creates the perfect storm for injury that lasts the long haul if not careful. There’s one main factor that should determine whether you start to run, and it can be summed up in a single, direct question:
Are you Strength Training?
If you’re not, don’t even think about running. Dealing with the impact of thousands of strides over the course of a half-hour run (for example) can cause damage to joints and connective tissue, while reinforcing very small ranges of motion that do mobility no services. For this not to cost you, it’s imperative that strength training be part of your routine to counter that damage. And 5- or 10-pound weights aren’t going to be what cuts it either. That’s not strength training.
Lifting weights comprising of compound movements like squats, deadlifts, presses, lunges, rows, and pull-ups are good for developing a foundation of strength. But there’s more. It’s also imperative that you prioritize the use of full range of motion. You won’t be putting any joints through that range anywhere else, and running long distances will exacerbate the problem. Supplementing this all with good mobility work will set the stage to allow the body to make the repeated impact of running a non-issue.
Do you Know How to Run?
Just like any exercise in the gym, there’s a technique involved to running. It would do you well to learn that form, ideally from in-person coaching with a professional running coach. Gait, foot strike, and other cues can play a serious role in just how safely and efficiently you move.
Keep it Short and Sweet
Based on the potential for injury that running can have on the body, it’s better to run faster, for shorter distances. Even though I’m partial to full-fledged sprinting, it doesn’t mean that’s the only option available. Fast runs that last 5 to 10 minutes are far superior to moderately paced runs that last four times as long. These will still have a great impact on your cardiorespiratory capacity, and also tap into greater metabolic demands which can be helpful if fat loss is your goal.
Don’t Run to Get in Shape, Get in Shape to Run
If you can’t perform compound movements using full ranges of motion, and don’t have a respectable measure of strength in your upper body, lower body, and core, then you’re doing yourself a disservice by prioritizing running in your routine, until you’ve sorted the above out. It’s a sad reality, but facing it now will be better than facing it later, or never at all.