I was once told by a successful physical therapist, that there is no longer or slower death than that produced by running. I stopped for a minute and thought about it. Yet his comment made sense; here I was, 27-years old, peak physical condition, yet I had stabbing pains in my lower back when I bent over to tie my shoe. The lack of flexibility in my hips was comparable to an elderly arthritic patient. I had a weakness and pain in my right knee that sprung up randomly.
From outward appearances, I was a model of good health; strong, lean, and great endurance. But below the surface my body was crumbling. I was beyond tight, in frequent pain, and often hampered by one issue or another. At this time of my life, I was doing a lot of triathlon training and would frequently incorporate long runs into my training plan – something I’d been doing for years.
But, as I came to find it, and later investigate further on my own, these years of running for distance was catching up to me. Like so many others, the strains of running are often subtle, but over time can have a major impact. Today, I’m going to show you what you can do to avoid some of these issues and the best replacement exercise for those consistently long runs you’ve been going on.
The Perils of Running
The act of running is stressful, there’s no doubt about it. Each step pounds your joints with enough shock to cause minor disturbances in your frame work. Compounded over many years, this shock wears away joints. It also tightens tendons, throws muscles into irregular compensatory patterns, and creates a tight and immobile body.
At first it’s easy to ignore the effects running has on our body. We focus on the good; weight loss, improved endurance, better heart health. There’s no denying the positive effects elevating our heart rate through running produces. But over time, that lingering pain in your knee becomes more than you can bear. You know somethings wrong, but you refuse to blame your exercise go-to.
Eventually what happens is you end up so dysfunctional that you’ve got to step back and take a complete break from all formats of exercise while you heal. This is what happened to me. All that progress I had put it was quickly wiped away when I found myself out of the gym for an entire season.
In retrospect, there was no need for any of this had I been a bit more aware and better informed.
Replace the Running
For cardiovascular training (and the benefits it provides), the goal is to elevate the heart rate. Long distance runs is but one way to elevate one’s heart rate.
If running is your thing, I’m not suggesting you forsake it completely. Just tone it down a bit. Recent research shows shorter, more intense interval runs improve cardiometabolic health better than moderate intensity continuous runs. Not to mention, you’re going to save loads time by cutting down those long-distance runs.
Personally, I switched from distance running to 20-minute sessions/3x week. I’d sprint at my maximum speed for 30-45 seconds, then jog it out for another 1:30. Of course, you can vary these numbers and your speeds to keep things diverse. After adopting this training style, I somewhat expected my endurance levels to drop – but it never happened. I actually increased my times using this regimen AND ended up putting less stress on my joints.
Using lower impact forms of cardio is also a great idea. Cycling, biking, rowing are but three formats of cardio that are great for boosting the heart rate and saving your joints from shock. Use these just as you would your long runs and expect to see big results. Not only that, swimming and rowing recruit major muscle groups which is going to give you the added bonus of a strength workout as well.
Circuit style workouts or interval sessions using high-intensity body weight work is another great replacement for those long runs. String together a few exercises and you’ll be well on your way to bumping that heart rate and making positive changes in your body.
A sample body weight cardio workout would look something like this:
- 30 seconds Twist Jumps/10 Super Climbers/20 seconds rest
- 40 seconds Jump Rope/8 180 Planks/20 seconds rest
- 50 seconds Weighted Speed Skaters/6 Box Jumps/20 seconds rest
- 60 seconds High Knees/4 Burpees/20 seconds rest
Repeat the entire circuit 5x for a complete workout.