Thursday 25 July 2013

Should YOU be Jogging?

When most people think exercise they think cardio and when they think cardio they immediately think jogging. Since everyone knows that exercise is good for you, see people everywhere pounding the pavement  to be healthy and get into shape. But is this an effective way to "get into shape?" If you are an athlete or you want to look and feel like one, will jogging get you there or get you hurt? Here are some important things you need to consider in making your decision...

Recently, I did a post entitled What is the Best Type of Cardio for You? In it, I explained that there are many different types of cardio and they all have their advantages and disadvantages. My goal was to help make people aware of this and help them personalize their training. If you have not read it yet, please click HERE as it will give you a better knowledge foundation for understanding this post. 

Note: before you read this, please note that I'm not trying to bash jogging. Rather, I simply want to help you determine if it is a good fit for you.

Questions to ask before you hit the pavement

Do I really, truly honestly enjoy jogging?
As mentioned in the introduction, many people think exercise = jogging. If you hate jogging, then do not do it. If the thought of getting out and pounding the pavement sounds about as appealing as a root canal, then find something else to do! Do not feel guilty when you see a jogger go by. You do not need to jog to be healthy, get in shape or lose fat. There, now you have been liberated! 

Do I have a jogging structure? 
Good jogging structure
As with sports, different body types will be more or less suited to certain forms of exercise. What body type is best-suited to jogging? You guessed it - long and lean. If you study the physical traits of elite runners, you find they have the following characteristics:
  • Moderate height
  • Small bone structure
  • Narrow hips and shoulders
  • Low levels of body fat
  • Very low levels of lean muscle

Is this you? The farther your body is from this list, the greater your risk of injury when you jog. The sad thing is that many people who have the complete opposite list of physical characteristics mistakenly think that jogging will give them that long, lean runners body. I shake my head every time I see someone with the exact opposite structure to that list pounding away on the pavement trying to look like a runner. Strength Coach Mike Boyle wisely points out that jogging does not give you a runner's body, but rather the sport naturally selects that body type. In other words, good runners are long and lean not because of all the jogging, but rather because they have the only body type than can survive high amounts of jogging. They were long and lean to begin with. Many physical traits (e.g. skeletal structure) are genetically predetermined and have a huge influence in how you look. Trying to use jogging to get a long and lean body is like a short person trying to play basketball in to get taller. 

Am I trying to improve athletic performance and if so, for what type of sport?
Obviously if your chosen sport is distance running or triathlons, then you definitely should be jogging! However if you are a strength/power athlete, then you should not be jogging. This type of aerobic training will create an unfavorable testosterone:cortisol ratio and can lead to a loss of lean muscle. It also forces your fast-twitch fiber to take on the characteristics of slow-twitch fibers. In short, lots of jogging will decrease performance for the strength/speed/power athlete. 

But what about the team-sport athlete? What do you do if your sport requires speed, power and high levels of conditioning (e.g. soccer). The answer is interval training. It is more sport-specific for team sport athletes and far less detrimental to speed and power. See my previous post on types of cardio for more details.

Am I trying to build muscle?
I know most of you know this - if you are trying to build muscle, you should not be jogging. Focus mostly on resistance training (with big exercises - think things like squats and deadlifts), eating and sleeping. You should limit the amount of "cardio" you do and stay on either extreme of the intensity continuum. Do brisk walking for health and recovery reasons. Then, throw in a small amount of short-distance sprints. If we have learned anything from the steroid era, it is that hormones matter in making body composition changes. The above recommendations will help you naturally maximize testosterone and growth hormone while minimizing cortisol. 

Am I trying to get athletic lean?
Athletic Lean, toned, and defined
First of all, let me clarify that by "athletic lean" I mean abs on guys and some muscle definition on ladies. Many things that work to get someone from overweight to less-overweight (e.g. doing just cardio, low-calorie diets) usually fail at getting someone lean. As with muscle building, getting lean involves not just looking at calories in and calories out, but also at creating a muscle-building, fat burning hormonal environment. By most standards, joggers are lean. However if you want a hard, toned, defined athletic body, jogging will not get you there. 

How is my health?
Are you healthy enough to engage in hard, continuous aerobic exercise? If you go from being sedentary to moderately active, you can improve your immune system's strength. However the high-volumes of hard aerobic work that most runners can weaken your immune system. Sure this can happen with high levels of strength training, but it is more difficult. If you take a stop-watch with you to the gym you find that the actual time you are training (i.e. straining under the barbell) you find that even in an hour's training session, the actual lifting time is quite short and a lot of the time is spent recovering. 

Also, how are your feet, shins, knees, hips and low back? Are they healthy enough to take the impact? Jogging can place approximately 3-4 times body weight of compression with each foot strike.  

Reducing your risk
If you love to jog and can do so without without hurting yourself or compromising your goals, here are some guidelines to help you reduce your risk. (Note: for the exercises and stretches, click on the links to see a YouTube video of the exercise).

The Bottom Line
Jogging is not necessary and is not for everyone. If you hate it or it is not appropriate for you or your goals, leave it! Do what is appropriate for you. If however, you love jogging and it fits with your goals, please do not think that I am trying to get you to stop. Rather, take my advice for reducing your risk and you will have a greater chance of enjoying your beloved activity for years to come. 

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