Wednesday, March 18, 2009


This has been brewing for quite sometime. 

Sprinting is good. Running is good. Long distance running might be good… LONG DISTANCE RUNNING?!

In general, I don’t think we run enough; athletes, general population… everyone. We may not be "putting in" enough miles per week, accumulation of sprint reps and/or moderate to long steady runs. This might even be a case for strength and power athletes to get in some longer runs in. Dare I say some endurance training for a power athlete.

In most cases there is a solid division amongst the endurance community and the strength/power community, those who run, bike, swim long distances and those who lift heavy objects, sprint, and jump. From my perspective as a strength and conditioning coach, endurance activities have been called to be death sentences, unless of course you work with long distance runners. This is not an article about "building an aerobic base first" or advocating running miles for football players, but rather something to provoke some thought towards the health of an individual. Sedentary lifestyles and it's consequence of obesity are rising higher than ever and to think that the athletic community is immune to this and it doesn't relate is ignorant. Today's athletes have access to the same technology and foods that the rest of the population does, and many have the same favorite past times of movies, video games, and technological communicating while enjoying big macs.

Running isn't sexy and isn't going to sell for big dollars but here are a few points that we cannot ignore about our evolutionary past…

We need to take a step back and objectively look at who we are, how we’re built, and what we are built for. I am going to lay this out in random points on why we need to run and why some long distance running might be good for all of us. But mostly advocacy for the importance of all forms of running.

1. Ever thing about our bodies are structured for forward bipedalism with the structures set up for energy conservation for running long distances. Sorry we aren’t the speed demons we’d like to think we are. We are extremely slow when we compare ourselves to other mammals, but we can run farther and longer than pretty much every other mammal.

2. Long legs with reduced distal limb mass for energy conservation while running and improved stride length.

3. A foot structure built for storage and release of elastic energy while running, along with a long Achilles tendon.

4. The nuchal ligament which only mammals that are effective runners have. This helps with head stabilization during running. Which allows for effective function of:

5. Vestibular system with enlarged posterior and anterior semicircular canals for effective head stabilization during cursorial functions.

6. Tall narrow body (also for increased efficiency), very little body hair and lots and lots of sweat glands for effective thermoregulation.

7. An extensive cardiovascular system which works closely with a powerful respiratory system. An expanded venous circulation system of the neurocranium, all to effectively assist in oxidative energy reproduction and thermoregulation.

8. Wide shoulders and short forearms, along with narrow trunk all for counter rotation of the trunk versus the hips. Lack of running (lack of enough general movement) could potential be the problem of all this off-setting of the lumbar instability issue everyone keeps seeing; altered joint-by-joint function.

9. Stabilized sacroiliac joint, expanded surface area for erector spinae muscles and gluteus maximus attachments, all for increased trunk stabilization while running.

10. Here’s a BIG one… The gluteus maximus. It has little to no role in static standing and and very little function in walking. It becomes active when we run, with higher EMG readings at increasing speeds. In running the gluteus maximus controls flexion of the trunk on the stance side and decelerates the swing leg. Also helping to control flexion and extension of the thigh.(2) So if it has little function for standing and walking then why do we have an enlarged gluteus maximus? Running! Maybe… just maybe… this is the reason we see so much “glute amnesia” around. We’re all hyped up on activating the glutes during activation sessions prior to a workout, maybe we need to just be running (as in longer sprints, tempo runs... not just short accelerations which many can get through with more of a knee dominant role) a little more, or a lot more.

11. Short toes with permanently adducted hallux: increased running efficiency.

12. Barefoot running: It’s been shown to reduce the energy cost of running (10, 11), decrease mechanical stress with higher preactivation of the triceps surae (11). This ties into some of the past research in which I have done looking at foot and ankle pathology on arthrokinetic/arthrogenic reflexes and it’s effect on hip extension musculature. Basically faulty feet lead to faulty hip function. Message: get out of the shoes and run more… maybe this will also help with point #10.

Tying this in with running, especially running barefoot, which has shown to increase forefoot mechanics, it seems to make a lot of sense with our continuing contention with flat feet. Running barefoot usually creates forefoot strike rather than heel strike (neural reflex adjustment? Not sure but I am not going to heel strike while running barefoot… would you?). As shown in the video here, the pre-activation that must occur to create foot stiffness has to have an effect on all lower leg musculature, but one that I want to bring focus to is the posterior tibialus. This small muscle inserts onto inserts on to the tuberosity of the navicular, the first and third cuneiforms, the cuboid and the second, third and fourth metatarsals. That’s a lot of insertions for one muscle, and it’s role in supporting the longitudinal arch is pretty huge. I will leave this point at that to think about…

13. And forefoot running usually creates better performance (12). Barefoot running helps with this, but this could be a top-down issue too with our life and love of sitting…

14. New research shows that running may provide more bone health benefits than resistance training. This does make some sense if we evolved to run.

15. The Central Pattern Generators. Since the day we learned to crawl, we have been ingraining this pattern. It’s a large part of how we function. We probably don’t even need our head for it (… sick, I know). It’s important for babies to work this cross-crawl pattern through crawling, and it probably means it’s important for us as adults too. Lots of connections are fired-up through the corpus collosum, by this patterning, which connects the right and left sides of the brain. It just may help us improve functions in a number of different arenas.

These CPG's follow the very distinct force distribution path and if everything structurally is set-up to follow this pattern, we may gets some very theraputic benefits from performing central pattern activities. Maybe enough qulaity reps and good progression following this pattern can clean up the "joint-by-joint" disfunction...

Plus, with reduction in outdoor activities, less physical education, and just less play time in general, I would argue these Central Patterns don't get developed as strongly as they could, leaving a person with a weakened movement system. Maybe more play and running strengthens a lot of the proprioceptive deficits that seem to lead to injury after injury as children, especially females, get older and participate in high school athletics. (read: females, ACL injury)

16. Running, especially sprinting has been shown to in some instances increase EMG activity of specific muscles over 100% than that of maximum voluntary contractions (1). The stretch-reflex obviously plays a large role here, but I think there is lots of carryover into other activities from sprinting, especially when it relates to power.

17. Genetically. An abstract: Endurance running and digit ratio (2DAD): Implications for fetal testosterone effects on running speed and vascular health.
There is anatomical and physiological evidence that endurance running (ER), i.e., running one or more kilometers using aerobic metabolism, originated early in the evolution of Homo, and the consequences of early selection for ER may be important in modern Homo. Here we examine ER performance in competitive ER. ER is sex dependent such that men tend to run faster than women, and the influence of sex on ER suggests that it may be modified by testosterone M. It is shown that a putative proxy for prenatal T, the ratio of the length of the 2nd and 4th digits (2DAD), is correlated with ER. Thus performance in training for ER was associated with high prenatal T, as measured by low 2DAD, in both men and women. In cross-country races from 1 to 4 miles, 2DAD explained about 25% of the variance in both male and female ER. Therefore, speed in ER was dependent on a proxy for prenatal T. 2DAD correlates 'with performance in sport and exercises, which test a mix of strength and fitness, but the associations are in general quite weak with 2DAD accounting for less than 10% of the variance in performance. Our finding that 2DAD explains about 25% of the variance in ER suggests that prenatal T is important in determining efficiency in aerobic exercise. Early populations of Homo may have been strongly selected for ER and high prenatal T. The implications of this for patterns of predisposition to cardiovascular disease in modern Homo are discussed.

It also cannot be overstated that the importance of cardiovascular health and it’s role in regulation of the autonomic nervous system. Yes, long, slow steady-state cardio has been given a bad rap for effectiveness with our issues with fat loss in this country but I can’t help but stress the importance of autonomic regulation through the long, slow, steady-state means. Longer, easy runs may promote an increased parasympathetic tone, which will not only enhance recovery, but put a person in a better psychological state and create an internal physiological environment better suited towards burning unwanted calories, and all the other good things that come from the "rest and digest" state, namely recovery.

Now, before anybody gets in a tizzy over this stuff, I am not advocating marathons next week or that everyone should give it all up for running. I am just stating that I think it (running) is important and overlooked (from my perspective in the strength and power community). We still need lots of variation in our movement, but we should for sure not neglect running.

Another area of potential attack is that running creates so many overuse injuries. Sure it does! But so does anything else that is not slowly progressed. I haven’t squatted heavy in a long time, so I am not going to the gym tomorrow and throwing 4 bills on the bar. Same thing with most folks, they probably haven’t run at all in 2, 3 decades, so maybe running 100 yards for tomorrow is enough. Progressive overload is the principle.

It’s also important to vary speeds and terrain (pavement is obviously bad). Barefoot is better than shoes.

Get away from treadmills if possible. This throws entire confusion into the entire nervous system. Proprioception or kinesthesia (whatever floats your…) sends signals that you are moving, while the vestibular system and vision reply back: “Ah… we’re not moving anywhere…” Complete neurologic confusion. Just watch somebody who has spent a good 30-40 minutes on a treadmill get off and walk. My philosophy on this is that if we are performing cursorial movement, we want to be covering ground, not hovering ground. Don't F with your nervous system more than you have to. Mike T Nelson gives a nice overview of this on his recent interview on Super Human Radio.

In my situation, I make it a point to get some running in at the end of every workout. Try to restore good Central Patterns. One thing I’ve noticed is that weightroom rarely transfers (acutely) to running, while running almost always transfers to the weightroom. Example: warm-up with some light running and short sprints, then go right into some light squatting, usually not much of a problem. Finish a hard weightroom workout, and now attempt to go out and run. A little awkward… we are built more for running than lifting. Man… I probably really hurt my strength coach credibility there.

I just think so much emphasis is put into what goes on into a strength workout, when most of our activities are centered around running in some form. It's like a baseball pitcher not pitching in the off-season or a basketball player not shooting from May to September. Expertise takes reps.
Regardless, I think it is imperative to get in as much running as possible after a workout (no sprinting, just good, fast running) to restore normal patterns. This could lead into a deeper conversation about strength work and transfer to sport, but I am probably going to leave that for my death bed out of fear for repercussions from colleagues and myself included…

I need to make it aware that in my situation in working with athletes, I can’t and shouldn’t be doing lots of long distance running. It is speed and sport-specific conditioning we’re after, but that doesn’t mean it is bad to take one or two days per week to perform a longer run on the correct surface (grass, field turf). Because like it or not we cannot escape our evolutionary past. It’s important to respect our physiology and take care of health first.

1. Kyröläinen, H., Avela, J., & Komi, P. (2005, October). Changes in muscle activity with increasing running speed. Journal of Sports Sciences, 23(10), 1101-1109.

2. Lieberman, D., Raichlen, D., Pontzer, H., Bramble, D., & Cutright-Smith, E. (2006, June). The human gluteus maximus and its role in running. Journal of Experimental Biology, 209(11), 2143-2155.

3. Liebenberg, L. (2008, December). The relevance of persistence hunting to human evolution. Journal of Human Evolution, 55(6).

4. Campbell, R. (2009, March). Walking, running and the evolution of short toes in humans. The Journal of Experimental Biolog,. 212(5) 713-721.

5. Lupski, J. (2007, December). An evolution revolution provides further revelation.;. BioEssays, 29(12), 1182-1184.

6. Lieberman, D., & Bramble, D. (2007, February 15). The Evolution of Marathon Running. Sports Medicine, 37(4/5), 288-290.

7. Manning, J., Morris, L., & Caswell, N. (2007, May). Endurance running and digit ratio (2DAD): Implications for fetal testosterone effects on running speed and vascular health. American Journal of Human Biology, 19(3), 416-421.

8. Bramble, D., & Lieberman, D. (2004, November 18). Endurance running and the evolution of Homo. Nature, 432(7015), 345-352.

9. University of Missouri (2009, March 9). Building Strong Bones: Running May Provide More Benefits Than Resistance Training, Study Finds. ScienceDaily.

10. Divert, C., Mornieux, G., Freychat, P., Baly, L., Mayer, F., & Belli, A. (2008, June). Barefoot-Shod Running Differences: Shoe or Mass Effect?. International Journal of Sports Medicine, 29(6), 512-518.

11. Divert, C. (2005, September). Mechanical Comparison of Barefoot and Shod Running*. International Journal of Sports Medicine, 26(7), 593-598.

12. Hasegawa, H., Yamauchi, T., & Kraemer, W. (2007, August). Foot strike patterns of runners at the 15-km point during an elite-level half marathon. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 21(3), 888-893.


Tuesday, March 10, 2009


When I stop and think about some of the stupid things we do, shoes tend to rank towards the top.