I ran a 5K on Saturday. As I am wont to do when in the company of a lot of people using their bodies (or, truth be told, anywhere people are standing, sitting, or moving in the slightest) I studied people’s bodies.
(No, not like that.)
I watched how their bodies were working.
Before I continue, I need to say that this post might make some of you uncomfortable. Or upset. If the 2005 version of me had read this, I would have had a strong reaction.
Do me a favor? Read it, and instead of getting bound up in how you feel, ask yourself why you might be feeling that way. Observe your reactions because they might be telling you something.
Anyway – back to the race.
When I am out driving around in my car, I pay careful attention to folks I see running. (See above – I watch bodies.) I perform a mental census and keep track of how many people I see running who are actually strong enough to be out there running.
I did the same on Saturday.
The number I usually reach is around 33%.
That’s right. By my judgment, only about a third of the people I see out running are really strong enough to be running.
Before I continue, I want to review two key principles of exercise science – progression and adaptation. (Remember, we already talked about specificity in this post?)
Quoting exercise physiologist Elizabeth Quinn:
The principle of progression implies that there is an optimal level of overload that should be achieved, and an optimal time frame for this overload to occur. A gradual and systematic increase of the workload over a period of time will result in improvements in fitness without risk of injury. If overload occurs too slowly, improvement is unlikely, but overload that is increased too rapidly may result in injury or muscle damage. For example, the weekend athlete who exercises vigorously only on weekends violates the principle of progression and most likely will not see obvious fitness gains.
And, again quoting Quinn:
Adaptation refers to the body’s ability to adjust to increased or decreased physical demands.
As I like to tell my classes, when you train you can’t just go from A to Z. You have to go through B, C, D, … you get the drill. If you try to skip from A to Z, you either end up not accomplishing your goal (best case scenario), injured (worst case), or both (worst, worst case.)
I would argue that a lot of people out running have skipped from A to Z. What are all those missing letters?
Here’s my argument:
We sit at desks all day long. We drive in cars. We sit at dinner. We sit in front of the television. We park close to the store . We drive our kids to school.
We think of these activities as benign, but actually, they change the way our body is put together. Our pelvic musculature, our glutes, our abs and our backs – they are not being subjected to the demands that they were naturally designed to do. So they’ve waved the white flag. They’ve become flaccid, or flat, or whatever – anything but robust, vibrant and functional.
As a result, our overall health suffers. So what do we do?
Why, we run, of course! Isn’t that the best way to “get in shape?”
Trouble is, that whole progression thing gets in the way. You can’t take your weak, flat glutes that have forgotten how to walk all day, enter them in a 5K, and expect to a) improve your overall health or b) avoid injury.
The results are visually staggering. Watch a mass of people running and here’s what you’ll see:
- the shuffler, whose feet hardly come off the ground
- the wrap-arounder, who kicks one of her feet up and around
- the double wrap-arounder, who kicks both of his feet up and around
- the chin-jutter, whose head comes so far out over her body I want to cry in pain for her
- the sloucher, whose shoulders are rolled inward
- the twinkle toes, with feet beautifully pointed outward, in first position
So what do we do to counter our unnatural and weak gaits?
Well, we go buy expensive running shoes. Of course!
We go to one of the high-end running stores, have our stride analyzed, and shell out $100+ for a pair of shoes to “correct” our imbalance. Or our pronation. Or our supination.
Anything to make the knee pain go away. (Or back pain. Or hip pain.)
What we don’t do, is honor the principle of progression. We don’t dial back the running and begin to walk everywhere. We don’t analyze our whole body alignment to see where we might be weak or out of sorts. We don’t ensure that our glutes and cores are strong enough to walk before we start running.
I am as guilty as the next person and speak from experience. So the next time I address this, I’ll talk a little about my own injuries (and stubbornness) and how rehab plus a walking regimen rescued me from years of chronic pain.