Are We Running Enough?
By Derek Hansen
At first glance, it sounds like an unnecessary question: “Are we running enough?” If we looked at the unprecedented growth in obesity in North America, the obvious answer would be “no”. However, taking that angle would be considered “easy pickins” as societal obesity is a much more complex problem of lack of education, depression, over-consumption and lack of movement of any kind. Would more running solve the problem? Possibly, but it would be a tough sell and would have to be bundled with a comprehensive program of lifestyle modification.
The main thrust of this article is to examine current training methodology and determine if athletes, particularly athletes who run in their sport, are running enough in their training to prepare them for both training and competition. And, are these athletes doing the correct type of running to prepare them optimally? In both cases, I would argue that there is not enough attention paid to the optimal prescription of running for modern athletes. This issue also pertains to rehabilitation. In the fields of training and rehabilitation, the proliferation of individual exercises, complex protocols, irrelevant testing batteries and fancy terminology have inundated the professions to the point of suffocating progress. In many ways we have interfered with proven methods of training, preparation and rehabilitation.
Provided below are some of the primary examples of how running, in many different forms, could be better integrated into a training, rehabilitation and injury prevention model to enhance the abilities of all athletes.
SPRINTING AND SPEED DEVELOPMENT. I often use the line, “In order to get faster, you need to run fast.” There are very few statements in the field of training that hold more truth. Others may argue that athletes must first get stronger, achieve more endurance or must be towed behind a car to imprint faster running onto their nervous system. While you must have adequate levels of strength and work capacity to improve speed, primary improvements are going to come from the high quality sprinting that you undertake in your training program. If someone is towing you faster than you can run, you are both idiots and deserve the road rash on your chest when the experiment goes terribly wrong.
HOW MUCH HIGH-QUALITY SPRINTING IS ENOUGH? You will often see high-level sprint coaches document a minimum of 400 to 600m of high quality sprinting per workout, with three training sessions prescribed per week. That is approximately 1200 to 1800m per week. For those competing at distances of 100, 200 and 400m and running multiple races in a day, this type of volume makes sense. For team sport athletes such as football, baseball and soccer players, I would argue that a smaller overall volume is required to address their speed requirements, as well as strengthen their muscles and connective tissue for the demands of numerous repeat accelerations in a game. The total workout volume can be cut in half, yielding workout totals of 200 to 300 meters per session, or a total weekly volume of 400 to 900 meters, depending on how much high intensity running is being performed in an athlete’s sport practices.
Consideration of the total sprinting volume in a sport practice is important when calculating overall stress and the requirements for adaptation in an athlete. In cases where sporting practices and competitions yield a significant volume of acceleration and fast running, sprint-training volumes can be reduced and a greater emphasis can be placed on other elements such as maximal strength, recovery and regeneration. However, some sport practices may involve a good deal of standing around and rehearsal at sub-maximal speeds. In these cases, sprint volumes in training must be increased significantly to compensate for the lack of quality running taking place. Assuming that simply playing your sport will satisfy your sprint training requirements is naïve and may result in a de-training effect and diminished speed abilities. Additionally, inadequate high intensity sprinting work in training can lead to a higher probability of injury once you are actually required to run fast in competition.
WORK CAPACITY AND MUSCULAR ENDURANCE. For sports that involve a significant amount of running, high to moderate volumes of low intensity running can satisfy the general endurance requirements. It is very common for athletes to undertake other forms of cardiovascular exercise such as using a stationary bicycle or elliptical trainer to replace running. The primary reason for replacing running workouts with these alternative methods is to reduce the impact stress on the lower body. While this may be a legitimate excuse in some instances, nothing replaces the actual act of running.
People do not consider running a complex training activity. In many ways, it is considered one of the lowest forms of exercise. However, the specific act of running prepares the muscles in a way that is only specific to running. The ground contact phase engages a wide range of muscles eccentrically, while the push-off phase requires a powerful concentric effort from numerous large muscle groups. All of this occurs in a cyclical manner that turns muscles on and off in a fraction of a second over hundreds upon hundreds of repetitions. In the game of soccer, for example, athletes will typically run a distance of 10 kilometers at varying speeds. Those who can’t handle this volume of running – with all of the stops, starts, direction changes and skill-specific footwork – will not be able to perform at a high level over the duration of the game and may be at greater risk of injury.
RUNNING PROVIDES SPECIAL ENDURANCE TRAINING FOR THE MUSCLES INVOLVED IN LOCOMOTION FOR MOST SPORTS. Swimming, riding a stationary bike or using an elliptical trainer cannot provide the same level of specific muscular endurance. While these forms of endurance training can provide general improvements in conditioning, they are lacking the biomechanical specificity provided by running and, hence, are incomplete for preparing athletes for most sports. Running must be part of the preparation. It would be like a boxer relying on rowing or exhaustive push-ups for his upper body endurance, without incorporating punching skills and drills in his training program. There would be limited transfer and the results could be disastrous.
AEROBIC TRAINING. A quick look at a MET (Metabolic Equivalent Task) table will show that running is easily one of the most effective ways to train the aerobic energy system. While the intensity of exercise will always have a significant bearing on the impact of the exercise, the following list provides a relative sense of the demands of various activities.
Measurement in MET’s Per Hour
2-3 Slow walking, Playing musical instrument, Slow Dancing, Bowling, Fishing
4-5 Brisk walking , Climbing stairs , Moderate cycling, Slow swimming
6-8 Rowing, canoeing, kayaking vigorously, Dancing vigorously
7-12 Singles tennis, squash, racquetball
8 Jogging (1 mile every 12 min), Skiing downhill or cross-country
10 Running 6 mph (10-minute mile)
13.5 Running 8 mph (7.5-minute mile)
16 Running 10 mph (6-minute mile)
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