Run if you want to run, don’t if you don’t; either way, do something else for strength too

Image description: three blue rectangles stacked on top of each other each with one word in it in white sans serif font. Starting at the top it says "It's your choice."
Image description: three blue rectangles stacked on top of each other each with one word in it in white sans serif font. Starting at the top it says “It’s your choice.”

Yesterday I read another one of those annoying articles that tell people they shouldn’t be running. This one was titled, “Why You Should Not Be Running.” In a nutshell, unless “you’re a competitive runner or cyclist who is serious about your sport,” you should be strength training instead of running.”

Before I outline the reasons, let me say up front: I disagree. In fact, I’m going to jump straight to my punchline: if you want to run, run. If you don’t want to run, don’t run. Whether you do or don’t, include strength training as part of your overall fitness routine.

Why does running get this bad rap all the time? According to the author, running is at odds with gaining strength. Actually, not all running is at odds with gaining strength. When we get to the nitty gritty, it’s “excessive amounts of endurance activity” that compromise muscle mass.

Yes, elite marathoners are wispy humans who carry little extra weight. But what if you’re not an elite marathon or ultra-marathon runner (since most of us are not)? By definition “excessive” training is, well, “excessive.” So maybe there is a more moderate approach that could work? I’m sure there are millions of us, myself included, who have running as a part of our overall workout routine and have managed to gain muscle and strength along the way.

Also, the author laments the high volume, low intensity workout of many endurance athletes. Well okay fine. But most endurance coaches, even of non-elite athletes, will recommend a mix of high intensity interval training, short distance tempo runs, and slower endurance runs. My new running coach (more on that in a future post) takes a strong stance against being a “one pace wonder.”

The balance of the article applauds strength training and outlines its benefits. Yes. It’s great. Especially as we age, strength training is an important component of a well-rounded routine.

“Well-rounded” is the operative word here. Strength training is important. It builds strength. It trains the muscles to work and it makes them grow.

One thing totally absent from this and most articles recommending that we give up running, is the joy factor. Do you like running? Does it make you feel good? If so, then why would you not just think about doing it smarter instead of not doing it at all.

Any article that says “you shouldn’t be doing X” where X is a popular activity that millions enjoy as part of their healthy lifestyle is just plain irresponsible. I’m not saying it’s not important to dispel some of the myths about high volume low intensity training. I agree it’s not the be-all and end-all of a good approach to fitness. But that doesn’t mean running is bad for you. It doesn’t even mean it can’t be combined with strength training in meaningful ways. And it certainly doesn’t mean that for some people, running is a source of joy and well-being that adds a wonderful dimension to their lives.


6 thoughts on “Run if you want to run, don’t if you don’t; either way, do something else for strength too

  1. Great post. I ran for a few years, then stopped when I didn’t enjoy it anymore. Lots of people do, though – and it’s cheap and easy.

  2. Your point about joy is great. Articles like that miss the fact that abandoning my running would probably decrease my overall fitness because I don’t have the same drive to strength train. It all has to do with mindset–if a previously sedentary person is now running for activity, they’re better off than they were! If they’re running and think that covers all their health needs, well, then, they’re uninformed and need a reality check. But like you said, telling them to throw out an activity they enjoy isn’t helpful.

  3. What I’ve learned is that you should do 5 types of activity for the greatest health benefits: flexibility, core stabilization, balance, strength, power, and cardiorespiratory endurance (in whatever form you like). Most people only think about one or two. Depending on my activity goals (like hiking) I’m finding that I really need all 5!

  4. I’m a distance runner who had to stop because of a back injury I gave myself strength training!!! I still run short distances but have lost that elusive “runner’s high” that, for me, always kicked in around 15 km. I have never once gone out for a run and not come back feeling better than when I left. Can’t say the same for going to a gym. Running turned me from a couch potato to someone who got fit – even if I didn’t lose weight in the process. I wish people would stop being so judgmental and holier-than-thou about the latest fitness dogma and just encourage movement!

    1. Irene I had no idea you were a distance runner! Sorry you got sidelined by a strength training injury! Thanks for your comment.

Comments are closed.