Although it has always been a popular tool for coaches and athletes alike, going for a distance run seems to be more popular than ever.
And in our current environment you can see why.
It requires no equipment, you're almost certainly going to maintain social distance guidelines, and you'll get the positive feeling of taking charge of your fitness when you're done.
Distance runs will help you improve your cardiovascular fitness, but it definitely comes at a cost.
If you've read our emails over the years you've heard this from me before. Distance running creates a heel strike pattern that carries over to your sprint mechanics, leaving you slower and more prone to injury.
Now of course if your sport is cross country, running triathlons, or anything else where you need to perform like this, by all means continue doing what you're doing.
But if you're an athlete in a speed based sport (which is almost every one), or are an adult trying to stay fit, it might be time to replace the long runs.
And if you're someone who does distance runs AND has been plagued by nagging injuries, this goes double for you.
So what to do instead?
Fortunately, there's plenty of ways you can develop your cardiovascular fitness without taking a sledgehammer to your heels and lower body joints.
Here are 4 other ways to train that are more sport-specific, and lower your risk of developing overuse injuries:
The easiest replacement is to simply do sprint work, with progressively shorter rest between sets as the weeks go by.
Sprinting creates a better running pattern that allows for the natural shock-absorbing structure of your legs to build muscle strength while lessening joint strain.
Taking a 2 mile run and replacing it with ten to twenty sprints at 30-50 yards, with a slow walk back in between each rep, is just one of many simple ways to transfer your fitness training over to a safer & more effective method.
The reps, distance, and rest periods can be adjusted to fit your fitness level and sport needs.
BODYWEIGHT CARDIO CIRCUITS
There are many fitness exercises you can do to elevate your heart rate without equipment. Squatting, lunging, pushups, jumping jacks....its a pretty long list.
Simply mix up the drills and do each for a set amount of time (30 seconds, 60, etc). To maintain the aerobic effect you'd get from jogging, keep the intensity lower and the rest minimal (or nonexistent) for 30 minutes or more.
If you want some variety you can add bands or weight training exercises too, but they are not necessary to achieve an aerobic effect.
PRACTICE YOUR SPORT SKILLS AT A CONTINUOUS PACE
What if there was a way where going for a run also made you better at your sport skills?
There is! If you're willing to let go of the distance run, of course.
Just go out and practice your sport skills at a continuous pace, without rest, for 30 minutes at minimum.
You'd get essentially the same level of cardio work, but you'd also get tons of repetition with your skills.
And if that wasn't enough, you'd put yourself in position to execute a sport skill while fatigued, forcing you to focus on maintaining your mechanics while in the worn down state you'll likely experience at the end of games.
One of our most fit baseball athletes right now told me when he takes ground balls for an hour the sweat literally comes pouring off of him. Do you think his aerobic energy system was being challenged? Absolutely it was.
Shooting balls or pucks, kicking a soccer ball, dribbling....each sport has its own skills you can work on. The trick is in how long you practice and how briskly you work. You should be breathing heavier for at least a 30 minute period to achieve an aerobic benefit.
TAKE A BRISK WALK
Perhaps your playing days are over, and practicing your sport would seem strange to your family and neighbors.
How about just taking a long, fast paced walk?
If you tend to get lots of nagging aches and pains from jogging, a walking stride puts far less strain on your joints. The vertical component of a walking stride, the part where gravity conspires with your passion for exercise to destroy your joints, is minimized.
I'm not saying you need to walk at a pace that makes others think you desperately need a bathroom, just keep it moving at a solid pace for 20 minutes or more. Because it is such a low impact task, you can take a brisk walk practically every day.
Distance runs are easy to prescribe for coaches, they take up time in practice, and they require nothing more than a little motivation for individuals. It's a seductive tool.
But it is causing problems in your health and athletic development while providing no unique benefits.
There are many other ways to stay fit.