Physiotherapists regularly prescribe exercise as a fundamental part of the rehabilitation process, following a muscle or joint injury for example. Running is a very common form of exercise to which many patients will want to progress, when enough function has returned, in order to build up their fitness again. But is running the best exercise for improving fitness?
The short answer is no, in my opinion.
However, possibly a more appropriate answer would likely be that it depends on what your fitness goals are and how you want to define fitness.
Let’s take a look at a local event to help describe what I mean. The Great Ireland Run 10km recently passed earlier in April with the winners achieving some impressive results; men’s first place came in under 30 minutes and the women’s first achieved a 33 minutes and 39 seconds. How do we think the top running athletes prepare for such an event? They will do a lot of running training no doubt but I am certain this is not all they do. Athletes performing at this level need to be in peak physical fitness to sustain the demands they are placing on their bodies and to keep their risk of injury as low as possible.
You may be wondering what do top performing athletes have in common with patient rehabilitation and recreational running. Well, my point is that we can learn from the best in their field and adopt some of the principles used in their training. Naturally our training won’t be nearly as intense or demanding as that of elite athletes so what can we learn from them?
Fitness requires a balance of three main components
1. Cardiovascular fitness
This type of fitness relates to the health and strength of our heart, how hard it can work to sustain our exercise and how quickly it can recover. Our choice of sport will determine whether we want to train for more endurance, such as for long distance running, or for more stamina to endure short, intense bouts of exercise such as in the game of Squash.
Here we are talking about the capacity of our muscles to lift heavy weight. Simply maintaining the structure of our skeleton in an upright position and through our day to day movements requires good body-weight strength. A lack of strength often along with a loss of muscle mass, is commonly associated with older age and is major cause for ill health. We do not need to pack on the muscle like a bodybuilder or lift three times our own weight but a good rule of thumb for excellent strength conditioning is to be able to lift, push and pull our own body weight.
Also referred to as flexibility necessary to allow good range of movement and stretch through our muscles. In our daily activities, especially in sport, we need to carry our bodies through fairly large range of movements and rely on our muscles to support our joints to avoid pain and damage to them. If our muscles are not flexible we will eventually hurt ourselves, regardless of how strong they might be.
So if we ask ourselves again whether running is the best exercise for getting fit - we can now understand why I want to say no. However it is not as black and white as this either.
Running, or slower jogging while building up to a faster running pace, is a great way to regain some cardiovascular fitness. However, as outlined above in the three main components which make up good and proper fitness - running alone is not a good and long-term strategy for optimal fitness.
If we don’t maintain a balanced level of conditioning between all there three fitness components we increase our risk of injury. You will also find that weight-loss goals are more easily achieved if you add strength training into your weekly exercise routine.
Does any one exercise fulfil all three fitness components?
We strongly support and recommend the Pilates exercise system - of which we run daily classes for our clients in our downstairs studio. Pilates is the closest form of ‘complete’ body conditioning in a single routine. The dynamic range of body-weight exercises develop through the floor routines to build appropriate strength while at the same time increasing flexibility and mobility.
Pilates, especially at the beginner levels where the pace of the routines are typically slower, may not provide enough of a cardiovascular workout to give your heart a demanding workout. This will depend however on your current state of fitness. As you progress to the higher and more advanced levels of Pilates so does the pace and demands of the routines increase and our clients would say they get a good enough cardio workout from it.
If you would combine a weekly Pilates class with a jogging/ running schedule for additional cardiovascular training then I think you are onto a winning formula. You would be more likely to enjoy your running, run with better technique and be less prone to injury by taking into account the need for strength and flexibility training along with developing cardiovascular fitness.
Some related articles for your interest
- Why Exercise Forms Part of Your Treatment
- Best Exercise vs Individuality & Self-Experimentation
- Common Running Injuries - How to Treat and Avoid
- How To Achieve Your Fitness Goals
Happy and successful training,
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