This question came through Instagram: Why does running suck?
My buddy Big Neil and I touched on it in our podcast The Big Freakin’ Health Coach Podcast, and I thought it deserved more consideration and explanation.
Before diving into the scientific reasoning behind running difficulty, we have to make a few assumptions. I’m not approaching the answer to this question to include interval running or sprints.
In the context of this question I am assuming that the type of running in question is long duration running - AKA jogging. Jogging is often understood to be a low intensity steady state (LISS) form of cardio, lasting 20-60 minutes for the average person.
As someone who does NOT run for fun, here are my thoughts on running, and why so many people think it sucks.
The biggest reason for having difficulty running has to do with the individual application of heart rate training.
The answer is straightforward: running is too intense for you.
Here’s what that means from a practical training application.
HEART RATE BASED TRAINING
There are 5 heart rate training zones.
Jogging, as we’ve defined it, is intended to be a Zone 1 or Zone 2 activity. However, depending on your level of cardiovascular conditioning, a light jog may be in a much more intense zone.
If you are just getting into running and are deconditioned, your Zone 1 activity is walking.
Walking is fantastic for you and super underrated. Don’t think for one second that walking is too lame. Everyone should walk. A lot.
The folks who regularly jog for an hour several times per week are also in Zone 1 or 2. This is the magic of conditioning. It takes more work to push their heart rate into a higher zone.
IMPROVEMENT IN CARDIOVASCULAR CONDITIONING
Don’t be discouraged if you’re starting from scratch. Cardiorespiratory health improves faster than any other physical aspect of health.
With cardio, you don’t have to generate new muscle tissue. You don’t have to streamline neuromuscular firing to maximize power over thousands of reps. You don’t have to painstakingly stay in a calorie deficit for weeks or months.
You can improve your cardio nearly every workout.
I’ve seen cardio work capacity improve considerably - I’m talking night and day differences - in as little as 2 weeks.
The key is consistency and frequency.
3-4 cardio workouts per work with small, incremental increases in workout duration can take you from couch to cruising in no time.
Schedule a 15 minute walk in your evening on M/W/F. Every week, add 5 minutes. In 9 weeks you’ll be walking for an hour 3 times per week.
NOW WILL JOGGING SUCK LESS?
The other part of jogging that sucks is pain. This can take the form of aching joints and/or acute pains.
These various pains pop up when you aren’t ready to absorb the impact of running, but run long distances anyway.
Your joints have to absorb 3 times your bodyweight with every single step as you jog. If you aren’t conditioned to handle that impact, you will get joint pain and muscle soreness.
Build up your ability to handle the impact by starting with walking, and slowly adding short jogging intervals during your walk. If you experience pain, do fewer and shorter intervals of jogging.
In no time you’ll be jogging steadily - pain free.
FINDING YOUR STARTING LINE
The key to starting a sustainable jogging habit is simple: take it slow and embrace walking.
Chances are, if you haven’t been running in a long time you need to start at a walk. Once walking is easy, add intervals of running.
This is very important. Folks like to jump from a brisk walk to a sustained jog and then wonder why everything hurts. Walking doesn’t prepare you for the impact of a running step. Build up intervals of running to avoid common pains like shin splints.
Adding in jogging intervals of 30 to 60 seconds is a great place to start. If you feel discomfort in the foot, ankle, knee, hip, or lower back - go back to a walk, even if your intended running interval isn’t over.
We want to avoid injury and acute discomfort at all costs. You will not sustain a habit that actively hurts you.
Gradually build those jogging intervals over time. Once you have intervals of 5+ minutes, you can start short sustained jogs.
Once you are running for your entire session, you can gradually increase the duration of each run.
No matter how long your jogs get, you can always return to a walk if you experience pain or discomfort. Jogging is the #1 cause of injury to everyday exercisers and they are almost always overuse injuries. You don’t have to “push through the pain” when jogging for your health. In fact, that’s the fastest way to make your running an unhealthy practice.
Jogging should be complimented by a resistance training program.
Typically, jogging places far more strain on the anterior (front) musculature of the lower body such as the quads, hip flexors, and the adductor complex. The muscles that stabilize your hips and knees are typically the posterior (back) muscles of the lower body, namely the glutes and hamstrings.
Without building adequate strength in these posterior muscles you run the risk of muscle imbalances that lead to discomfort, altered joint movement, and eventually injury.
If you’re not sure how best to add resistance training, please reach out to a coach. Strength coaches will be able to program to your specific needs based on how much and how far you’re running. They will also be able to do a movement screen to determine if you are at risk of any injuries while running or strength training.
A final warning about programming for yourself: Google can teach you everything EXCEPT context. Knowing all the exercises you COULD do to improve your performance will not help you decide which of them you SHOULD do to address your individual needs.
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