Monday, May 30, 2011

A Case for Running

What's the obvious reason that anyone might get into running?  Weight loss!  That was the reason I got into running when I did.  I needed to lose a few, but I also wanted muscles.  With all the different forms of exercise out there, one could pick almost anything and it's going to help them lose weight and tone muscles.  So why should someone pick running? 
Running is one of the top activities for burning fat. In fact, with the exception of cross country skiing, running burns more calories per minute than any other form of cardiovascular exercise.
So there is one from of exercise that beats running, so I guess you could be asking yourself, "Why would I choose running over something like cross-country skiing?  My gut wants to say, "Well, don't ask stupid questions," but I'll just say this:
Cross Country skiing is A)less fun in my opinion, B)you need actual equipment (lame!) and C)you can't just decide to go Cross Country Skiing one day and just run out your front door, bust out the skiis and start skiing down your street.  That'll screw up that wax job in a hurry.

Seriously though, as for as getting the most bang for your buck goes, running is the best option.  So you get the calorie burning effect, that's obvious from how much your heart is pounding as you run, but what can you expect from those muscles of yours.  In my own experience, you can expect a good deal of toning to take place in some key areas. 

First and foremost is your calves.  That's where most of use start to feel the burn as we run, right?  And it makes sense since we are using our legs to run.  Expect even better tone if you choose to run hills as well.

Next are your quadriceps (front of the thigh) and your hamstrings.  As you pull up your legs while you run and then land on them, these muscles get quite the workout. 

Next, the hips.  That's right, you have hip muscles called adductors and abductors.  They surround your hips, as far as I understand, to stabilize you as you run.  I remember, when I first got into running, that the first thing I noticed as far as body improvement, was how stellar my hips started to looked. 

Then we have your core.  Your core is made up of all those stomach muscles that keep your spine straight as you run.  Your core can get a more effective workout if you happen to run on uneven surfaces as well.  Be careful with that though because I can see that being a good way to hurt your ankles or cause you to fall. 

Then there's your shoulders.  Remember my post a while back called The Beginning ?  I mentioned how my shoulders hurt while I ran, meaning that they were getting a workout too.  The motion your arms take as you run work the shoulders, front and back.  However, this toning may by only slight since your arms are clearly not doing most of the work.  But I remember seeing more definition in my shoulders as I got further along in running.  Sprinting will work the shoulders more, if you really wants some wicked shoulder muscles. 

Lastly, we have the butt.  What awesome exercise would really be awesome if it didn't work the area that most of us complain about?  Actually, for most of my teenage years, I never really worried about my posterior.  I come from a long line of small and insignifcant butts.   But after a few kids, all of the sudden I realized that the dreaded "mom butt" had crept up on me.  You know, the kind of butt that couldn't fill out a good pair of pants to safe its life because it's gotten so flat?  Yeah, I had that.  Running solved that one for me.  Recently I've started running on hills to help train for my upcoming 5K and one of the first muscles to become sore thereafter was indeed my butt.

To make sure you're getting the most out of running, I found a few things on how to run so that you're burning the most calories you can and doing the most toning you can.

  • Run tall. Gravity and weak core muscles cause many runners to “fold” in the middle when their feet land. This sitting-down movement wastes energy. Imagine that wires are attached to your shoulders, pulling you up slightly. Thrust your hips forward a bit and think “stability” when your foot hits. It’s easier to run tall if you’ve worked your core properly.

  • Relax. Tension in your arms, shoulders, neck, and face reduces efficiency. Arms and fingers should be loose. Unclench your hands and let your jaw jiggle.

  • Breathe right. Your breathing should be rhythmic and deep, and you should feel your diaphragm, not your chest, doing the work. Exhale with controlled force. When you pick up the pace, don’t let your breathing get shallow.

  • Land on the midfoot. A heel-first landing is a brake. It means you’re extending your leg out too far in front of your center of gravity, so it takes more energy to move forward. And it’s shaky, so your muscles are working on stabilization instead of forward motion. Shorten your stride. It’ll feel odd at first, like shuffling, but once you get used to it, focus on thrusting backward with force.

  • Run softly. The louder your footfalls, the less efficiently you’re running. Try running more quietly; you’ll be unconsciously switching to a midfoot strike and a shorter, quicker stride.

  • Swing symmetrically. Check your form on a treadmill in front of a mirror. If one arm is bent more than the other or swings more, you have a musculo-skeletal imbalance that can slow you down. Target the weaker side with strength and flexibility exercises.

  • As far as weight loss and toning go, my biggest piece of advice is once you start running, don't look at the scale or take a magnifying glass to your body for a least a month or two.  The reason?  First off, you don't need to be analyzing your body everyday just to get frustrated that you can't see the muscles yet.  And lastly, some of us might actually gain weight in the beginning because we're building muscle.  But don't worry, that muscle will burn the fat away, just give it some time.  And I guess one more piece of advice that just came to me would be to not binge when you get home from running.  You'll notice that after a run, that you feel like you're starving.  That's because you just burned an insane amount of calories.  What to do then?  Have something waiting for you when you get home, something healthy like fruit.  I always make a strawberry protein shake (protein within 60 minutes of a workout will help those developing muscles) after I run and then maybe follow it with whole wheat toast or a bagel or something.  If you come home after a run and then clean out the fridge, you've kind of wasted a good run.   

    So if you're contemplating an entry into the world of running, here is my second reason(first reason was the runner's high): the runner's body. 

    Sources: 10 Benefits of Running, Live Strong

    Comment time!  What weight loss have you had due to running?  How has your body image improved since running began? 


    Robyn said...

    I am very new to the running scene, but I have taken many nutrition classes and got my degree in Culinary so I think maybe that is why I haven't had experiences of cramping or feeling sick while running or feeling sore afterward. Granted I've never ran further than 3.7 miles, but I can run that far very consistently with no sore muscles or really anything to complain about. I have always had a higher carb day the day before I run and drink a Gatorade right after I run and after about 15 minutes of stretching I drink a protein shake. It really seems to get the muscles back.

    Anna said...

    That's awesome, Robyn! The only time I get sore muscles nowadays is when I run hills or increase my distance, but then my body gets used to it and sore muscles become a thing of the past. Feel free to share any good food tips for running that you've found. Comment or email me directly at