I have a love/hate relationship with running. You may already know my history with running, but it’s a long one.
There was a point in time that I was obsessed with it. I was convinced that it was the ultimate form of fitness, and made it my mission to encourage everyone to run. In fact, my very first independent business venture was an e-book about running. (Oh, that thing was terrible, but I suppose it got the entrepreneur ball rolling. I only sold about four of them.)
I have extensively studied running mechanics, energy system development, lactate thresholds and heart rate training strategies. My senior thesis in college was on how dynamic stretching affects running efficiency. I trained for and ran 10k’s, half marathons, full marathons and even dabbled with triathlons.
I was in love with running and was an endurance training junkie.
But now, I can’t even tell you the last time I went for a run.
So what happened?
Kids happened. And knowledge happened. And my experiences with other forms of training broadened.
This is what I know now: instead of beating around the bush with stories, let me be blunt about running...
You can run if you want to and your body is able to, but you don’t have to.
I feel that moms in particular get hung up on this, probably because running is still the most popular form of physical activity...everybody runs, right? We have a deep affinity to running because we somehow feel that we must be doing some form of cardio to get in really good shape.
Have you ever thought “I need to run more”… “I should go for a run” … “If I just ran everyday”… “I need more cardio”…?
Don’t lie, I know you have.
What do you hope to accomplish with all that cardio? Are you hoping to lose body fat and get more toned? Are you hoping to get in better shape and feel more fit? Are you hoping to get rid of nagging injuries and have a healthier body?
If these are your reasons for running and doing cardio, stop. Just stop. And let me tell you three reasons why…
Are you ready for it?
1. Running, or any steady state conditioning like cycling or doing the elliptical trainer, is the least effective way to lose body fat and achieve a toned body, because it simply does not build the muscle mass necessary to accomplish that.
Steady state conditioning actually trains your metabolism to burn fewer calories over time. It doesn’t matter if you’re breathing hard and sweating while you’re doing it. Eventually, that becomes the ONLY thing it’s accomplishing.
2. It is better for your cardiovascular health to push into really high intensities and then drop to lower intensities, and then do it again. Maintaining a constant heart rate, even if it’s high, is not a good way to get in great shape. You need to go up, then down, then up again…like intervals. And better yet, make your heart rate go up and down while pushing loads and building muscle mass. Can anyone say "seriously fit"?!
3. If you have injuries, weak joints or mechanical issues, steady state training will only make it worse. It is extremely repetitive, moving through the same motion again and again and again. Unless your body is already very healthy and strong with no bio-mechanical deficiencies, it is highly likely that you will be injured at some point.
But why do so many people enjoy running? Anyone who loves running will tell you that they enjoy the mental challenge, the time to check out and to simply feel their body move. If you run outside instead of on a treadmill, these glorious feelings are even more exaggerated. It’s like a mini-getaway, which can be so important for moms, especially.
The trick is somehow achieving this mental experience without experiencing all the negative impacts of steady-state conditioning. It can be done. And here’s how (I'm all about the numbered lists today...bear with me):
1. Make strength training your number-one priority. If your body is strong and you have lots of muscle surrounding your joints, then you will be less likely to get injured.
Lifting weights and strength training in general is also the number one way to shed body fat. (Betcha didn’t know that!) So if your goal is to get stronger and lose fat, strength training must be the backbone of your workout program.
2. Sprinkle in some running, but be strategic. To get the most out of your running workouts, make them shorter and more intense. Do intervals. For example, run as hard as you can for a block, then walk the next block, and repeat. It doesn’t have to be perfectly scientific, it just needs to be hard and fast with plenty of recovery time.
And yes, I have done this while pushing a jogging stroller. You’ll get some looks, but who cares?!
3. If you want to simply go for a long run, then go for it. But make sure it’s because you enjoy it, not because you’re hoping it gets you in better shape. I recommend doing this only once or twice per week. These long runs are the ones that can mess with your metabolism and can create the injuries. So be careful, here.
4. Are you training for an event? Be sure to make strength training the foundation of your program. I recommend strength training two to three days per week, doing sprinting intervals one time per week, and then one long run per week. This will ensure that you can still cover the distance, but you will be faster and you won’t get injured. Score!
5. For best results all around with running, begin with a thorough dynamic warm-up to activate your working muscles, and then finish with plenty of foam rolling and stretching to help all those repetitive muscles recover.
Also, watch your technique while you run. Stand up straight, but don’t arch your back. Your chest, hips and knees should be leading, not your head and shoulders. To go faster, pick your knees up and step only on the front half of your foot. Make sure your legs are swinging in a straight line, not flaring out or in. And breathe naturally…forcing a specific breathing pattern may cause a side ache. (Got all that?)
6. And one more word of caution: if you have recently had a baby, please wait at least 3 months to attempt to jog, if not longer. (I recommend a lot longer, actually, like 6-9 months.) Your pelvic floor will take a while to heal, and running may interfere with the healing process.
It's ok to run, just ask yourself why you're doing it and if your body can handle it. I have many friends and clients that run, and I know this blog post will not hurt their feelings. We have talked together about why they run and have made sure their bodies are exceptionally strong to handle the rigors of this type of training. And because of this, they love it even more. With strength training and some sprint training, they’re breaking records and running faster than they ever have. It’s awesome.
But, I know of many moms that are forcing themselves to run and do lots of cardio. They don’t like it, it kind of hurts and they’re doing it for all the wrong reasons…they just don’t realize it.
If this is you, let me tell you now, YOU DON’T HAVE TO DO IT! It’s ok to put your running shoes away...you'll get in better shape if you move some dumbbells around instead. I would bet everything I had that you will be far more thrilled with how fit, lean and healthy you are after just a couple months of strength training.
If you're a mom that runs or does a lot of cardio, ask yourself these questions:
Spend some time honestly answering these questions. No matter what, my goal as a coach is to guide you toward your strongest and fittest self. So, should you be running?
If your body is ready for more than just running...
Do you want a more complete coaching experience?
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-Balance & Moderation: What does this even mean?!
-Too Much Self Love? Taking a hard look at the "body positive" movement
Megan P. Dahlman
Hi friend! I'm a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist, Precision Nutrition Certified Coach, Wife to Scott, and Mom to two crazy boys, Calvin & Peter. I train hard, eat well, rest just enough to keep going, and do my best to maintain a heavenly perspective. I'd love to coach you to do the same. Cheers!
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