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Why Might we Consider Running for a Cross-Training Tool?

For those who have never considered running as a means to enhance their fitness beyond its current state, for those who are bored with their current routine, and for those who would claim both to be true; I offer this apologetic for the sport of running. 

Some years ago, running was reeling from some bad press.  Some well intentioned research asserted claims that high impact movement was in most cases a negative.  Knee injuries as a result of, perhaps, too much running exposure were then and remain now so commonplace that orthopedic practices might ostensibly build a practice on little else than knee surgery alone.

Clearly anything in life can be taken to an extreme, and this is certainly so for running.  How much is too much?  This will vary quite a bit between individuals; but for most, two or three times per week, with mileage between 5 and 10 for the whole week, is typically a good starting point as long as the pace is moderate at first.  For great approaches on a 2 or 3 times per week running program, consult Run Less Run Faster by B. Pierce, S. Murr, and R. Moss.

For those of us who are involved in Spinning® classes and/or outdoor cycling three times per week; why would we consider adding a short to medium distance run as a fourth cardiovascular bout, or perhaps substituting it for one of the rides?  The answers are actually very similar to those one might give to someone who is trying to choose a primary cardiovascular modality.  Let us begin with three. 

We affirm that raising one's lactate threshold is elemental to increased fitness.  A higher lactate threshold will not only enhance performance for those interested; but it actually enables one to hold a moderate to moderately hard intensity, somewhat less than 80-85% MHR, for a longer period of time.  Consider this: in those who ride and run, lactate threshold is typically 7-10 heartbeats higher while running than it is on a bike.  For example: the highest maximal lactate steady state I ever held was about 170 on a bike, as compared to runs during which I was able to hold 180-85.  Evident here is that 7-10 points variance between riding and running is merely an average.  The main benefits, however, to exposing one's systems to the higher running lactate threshold are, to name a few: strength of the heart as a muscle for blood and oxygen delivery; glycogen storage and blood glucose mobilization for energy; expansion of the aerobic window (heart rates at which the energy expenditure balance will be in favor of fat); and again, endurance.  This endurance increase specifically plays out in the sense that if someone can manage a tempo run at 180-85, the idea of a time trial at 170 on a Spinner® bike becomes much more manageable (as long as cycling training is maintained) -- often culminating in an elevation in the cycling-specific lactate threshold at a later date.

Mentioned above was the idea of improved glycogen storage and blood glucose mobilization.  The second of our three benefits builds on this notion.  Our bodies will adapt to that to which they are exposed.  As heart rate goes up, caloric expenditure increases as well.  Given that 7-10 point average increase between cycling and running thresholds, it is no wonder that energy expenditure for Spinning® classes reaches 800 kcal per hour, or slightly beyond, for rides in the Strength, Interval, or Race Day Energy Zones; while tempo or interval runs may reach 1000 or beyond.  Why do these heart rate and energy expenditure numbers post higher for running?  There are two primary reasons: (1.) as compared with cycling, running is performed in a more vertical posture; (2.) there are impact forces, deceleration and acceleration to consider; (3.) both of these together create a higher demand for blood, oxygen, and fuel substrates, which cause the heart and energy pathways to work harder to meet the demand.  To reiterate, greater caloric expenditure will lead to the adaption of more efficient mobilization and storage of blood glucose and glycogen, respectively; this is of benefit whether improved fitness and/or weight loss is in focus.

Previously, the idea of impact exercise has been mentioned.  In past decades, running had acquired a somewhat negative reputation in some medical circles, with some experts recommending that speed walking is far superior.  Let us be clear: the medical community may not be in perfect agreement; however, the consensus seems to be that weight bearing exercise currently enjoys a level of support that is unequaled in past years.  See and for starters.  Of course, there are some individuals who cannot tolerate any amount of running; however, we can ill afford to assume that what is unfavorable or risky for some is the same for all!  What these articles indicate very clearly is that, whether or not one is at risk for osteoporosis or osteopenia, bone density is the cornerstone of our bodies' structural integrity.  Running manifestly addresses this due to the impact involved, and not only that, but it strengthens tendons and ligaments as well. 

We have highlighted three areas of mere physiology that running will enhance.  Hopefully you have found this blog informative, especially if you are considering the  implementation of running in your own or clients' programs.  Perhaps beyond  that, we have succeeded raising awareness of the benefits of running as a discipline.




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