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Why You Should Not Be Running

Long slow distance exercise has no business being the standard advice for better health.

by
Mark Rippetoe

Bio

April 22, 2014 - 8:00 am
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If you are a competitive distance runner or cyclist who is serious about your sport, this article has not been written for you. This highly informative discussion is intended for those people who have taken seriously the advice of doctors, physical therapists, exercise physiologists, and the popular media’s dutiful reporting on these sources of common misinformation about what kind of physical activity is best for your long-term health and continued ability to participate in the business of living well.

Endurance exercise is the most commonly recommended form of activity for health and “wellness.” Every time you see an exercise recommendation denominated in minutes, you are seeing a recommendation for long slow distance exercise — LSD, or “cardio” in the modern vernacular. Running, bicycling, rowing, or their health-club analogs on machines at the gym are what they mean when they say “exercise.”

Depending on who you listen to, 20 minutes per day, 3 hours (120 minutes) per week, or any permutation thereof as a prescription for fitness/health/wellness is the standard in both the fitness and health care industries, and getting stronger is always of secondary importance.

The endurance exercise approach ignores several basic facts:

1. Strength is the ability to produce force with your muscles against an external resistance, like those with which we interact in our environment as we go through our days, living our lives productively. And endurance exercise is directly antagonistic to strength, because an endurance adaptation occurs at the expense of strength.

The body’s basic response to a stress of any type is to recover from that stress in a way that makes it less likely to be a stress when next exposed to it. In other words, we adapt to stress by becoming better able to withstand it. This means that the adaptation to the stress is specific to the type of stress. An endurance stress is low-intensity and highly repetitive, meaning that each of the individual physical efforts that make up the run is easy — none of them are physically difficult from a strength perspective. If they were, you couldn’t do them over and over again for an hour. This means that the hard part is the cumulative effects of the run, not the strides themselves, which are easy.

Since the individual efforts that compose the run are easy, they do not depend on, nor are they limited by, the runner’s strength. Therefore, running cannot make you stronger, since it does not stress your ability to produce increasing amounts of force. Rather, it only depends on your ability to keep producing small amounts of force for an hour.

But more importantly, since running for an hour requires a different adaptation from the muscles, that adaptation will be favored by the muscles and will actively compete for precedence over a strength adaptation — especially if you’re not doing any strength training, or doing it wrong.

Quite literally, the more you run, the better you are at running and the worse you are at being strong.

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Top Rated Comments   
"Why You Should Not Be Running"

Precisely my advice to Obama in 2008. He didn't listen, and now we're all paying the price.

Try the veal.
21 weeks ago
21 weeks ago Link To Comment
Certainly not. It depends on your goal. If you like running, run. I like to drink, so I drink. I know it's not the best thing there is for me, but I'm an adult.
21 weeks ago
21 weeks ago Link To Comment
They should go to soccer/lacrosse practice. Depending on field position, the game is a series of sprints anyway. Endurance at the end of the game is largely dependent on the halftime food intake that should be happening on the sidelines.

Jogging to prepare for soccer is like reading a children's book to get better at reading.
21 weeks ago
21 weeks ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (101)
All Comments   (101)
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Just a comment that bone density doesn't tell the whole story about a bone's strength - there's also the bone's thickness and also its resistance to bending, both of which are affected by the *direction* of loading, not just the quantity. The study below found that women who weightlift had a lower resistance to bending (which they call "Z" or "section modulus") than from sports like soccer & volleyball. They attribute this to the "dynamic and unusual movement directions" in sports vs. the predictable & consistent movement in weightlifting.

Femoral Neck Structure in Adult Female Athletes Subjected to Different Loading Modalities
http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1359/JBMR.041119/full
16 weeks ago
16 weeks ago Link To Comment
This article rings true on so many levels. I regret all the times I've gotten distracted from basic strength training due to the fitness fad du jour, or felt like I've had to prove my "endurance" doing epic bike rides or sprint triathlons. Every time I've done something like that it's ended up in injury, and I'm back in the weight room rehabbing through the basic lifts, getting better and feeling better as my injury heals and my strength and size returns. I know Mark's advice must sound heretical to some, but I remember back in the early 90's reading Mario di Pasquale's Anabolic Diet book, which got me off the low fat/high carb diet I'd been on for about 15 years. All my friends--even the ones who were MD's--more or less insinuated I was going to eat my way to heart disease, but the first physical I had after abandoning high carbs/low fat ended up producing the best blood chemistry results I'd ever had for an annual check-up. It's hard to overcome the "conventional wisdom" that is pummeled into you by the messages like the ones Mark says we are constantly exposed to, but I'm glad the counter arguments are now starting to get exposure here on PJ Media.
20 weeks ago
20 weeks ago Link To Comment
Whatever the advice, it will change every few years.
21 weeks ago
21 weeks ago Link To Comment
Wrong. Rip's program is nothing new. Ever heard of Bill Starr's 5x5? Similar to Rip's program...it came out in 1976.
If you take your "advice" from the Today show, CNN, and checkout aisle mags...of course that advice changes all the time. Ignore the mainstream media BS, and instead read academic journals and books. Be educated not spoon fed.
21 weeks ago
21 weeks ago Link To Comment
Boy, is that a fact! I can remember just a couple of years ago that my 5 cups of coffee a day was considered excessive, but not now. My sister-in-law is a nurse and she said that it's embarrassing to change basic advice from year to year. I'm adult size, so I will eat and drink whatever appeals to me.
21 weeks ago
21 weeks ago Link To Comment
Coach Rip, an Army Afghanistan veteran told me yesterday that she is now running to get back to pre-pregnancy shape. I said "Well do you LIKE running or are you just following the crowd?" Her reply kind of stumped me: "I don't like it but I have to pass my Army 1.5 mile running test." What would you have said to her?
21 weeks ago
21 weeks ago Link To Comment
The Army's test is actually a two-miler, and with good reason. Rippetoe may well be right about strength/versus endurance, but in the Infantry you're literally dead without endurance. You can easily find yourself humping a 70+ pound ruck sack for miles and hours, just to get to the fight. Once you're there, you still have to have the strength and energy to close with, and destroy your enemy. 100% endurance.
19 weeks ago
19 weeks ago Link To Comment
Yeah Good luck humping a pack in 'stan w/o doing both strenght and cardio. A pure gym rat couldn't hack it.
20 weeks ago
20 weeks ago Link To Comment
I can't even tell you how many big, buff gym rats I've seen who fall by the wayside when you strap a ruck on their backs.
19 weeks ago
19 weeks ago Link To Comment
I am confused. You seem to write your articles in absolutes, but then say it's for people with a specific goal. You speak of runners as though any running coach would advocate only running in a training regime when in fact the opposite is true because they acknowledge exactly what you say. And while some people likely do think "some is good so more is better" and wind up running 8 miles daily, I don't know many of them (nor, once again, would a trainer advocate it). The people who are running that far are indeed running for the sake of running.

The vast majority of people, and I would think readers of these articles, are casual exercisers who might get a lot more out of running than strength training. It depends on where they start as much as what they are trying to accomplish. But the recommendation you cite for daily activity is for people who are generally sedentary and seek better general fitness and weight loss. And when I have seen it broken out, the recommendation is for an elevated heart rate for that many minutes and strength training is included as long as the cardio intensity is high enough to maintain the elevated rate for the total time allowance. The reason it isn't recommended is most people take too many breaks to make it effective as a cardio-vascular workout.

I took up running a couple years ago for weight loss and general fitness improvement. I hated it and still do, but I saw results and see value in it. I tried to add very low level strength training with the recommendation and supervision of a trainer and almost immediately had a small injury. I don't blame the exercise itself or the trainer, but the fact that my body wasn't ready for even the low level of impact. I had to start smaller and the lower impact of running was effective to build my stability. But the intensity of running made it impossible for me to move too slow for the benefit (like biking or weight lifting) but still put stress where I needed it (knees and hips) for gross improvement. I am still pretty out of shape, but much better than I was when I started. I believe I am the exact sort of person you are exempting from a lot of your advice, but as I said you seem to go back and forth between absolutes and caveats. I find it a little confusing.
21 weeks ago
21 weeks ago Link To Comment
"The vast majority of people, and I would think readers of these articles, are casual exercisers who might get a lot more out of running than strength training. "

It's as if you did not read the article you are commenting on.
21 weeks ago
21 weeks ago Link To Comment
You're correct that exercise in isolation is fairly worthless: running prepares you to run, bicycling to bicycle. But here's the important point: cross-training - bicycling, skipping rope, running, hiking, playing catch or frisbee, some weights - makes an animal out of you.

People who approach exercise out of some sense of routine - as if they are training - will fail. I once met a tri-athlete on the Inca Trail who couldn't for the life of him figure out why everyone was out-hiking him.

I once out-hiked an Aussie park ranger half my age who's job involved being a trail guide when we walked completely around the base of Batur Volcano, inside the caldera. He became bushed and we had to stop for the night.

That's a lesson. Run, jump and play.
21 weeks ago
21 weeks ago Link To Comment
Precisely the opposite of the point I'm making. You have apparently never met any "animals." Strength is the basis of physical ability. If play was such wonderful training, 10-year-old boys would be in the Special Forces. The best athletes are the strongest athletes. That's why they train for strength instead of just playing their sport. If what you say is true, modern strength trained football players wouldn't be any better than their 1950s counterparts.
21 weeks ago
21 weeks ago Link To Comment
I made a clear distinction between "training" - which would be for something like special forces or sports - and exercise that allows us to do a wide variety of things that are not task or goal oriented. I at no time suggested casual cross training is like boot camp or prepares one for the NFL. I'm saying cross training leaves you prepared to do things normal humans might encounter, like swimming, playing softball, hiking, etc.

The vast majority of people are not "training."

As for being an animal, I had the highest bone density of any recorded at the clinic I was at. I once ran down Sibayak Volcano in Sumatra with a full pack, at times leaping from slippery bamboo pole to pole, with mud in between - alone. I am an effing animal. And no one made me do it - I just did.

And the best athletes are not simply the strongest athletes, but ones who've trained to execute skill sets while extremely tired. Being stronger in 2014 doesn't make one a more skillful football player but only a stronger one. It's an advantage players press, just as they press every little advantage. Strength in and of itself is not the dealbreaker if your technique is shoddy. Strength is part of your tool kit.

And play is wonderful training. I never "trained" to climb volcanoes but skipping rope, bicycling and running prepared me just fine. When you ride a bike - I mean really ride a bike - your shoulders and upper back become like iron, and your legs really strong. Again, coming down a long slope of the Inca Trail once with friends, I got to the bottom long before they did, though I never did any downhill walking. My legs were like pistons.
21 weeks ago
21 weeks ago Link To Comment
Mark, Do you have any evidence showing the "best athletes are the strongest athletes"?
Looking at the NFL combine data, this is clearly NOT the case. Plenty of super strong guys wash out (whether you look at the BP test or reported max bench/squat), while not-as-strong guys go into the Hall of fame.

And by the way, I worked for the Army and met a lot of SF guys. Rarely were they the strongest guys. The were the best because they were strong enough and they could ENDURE...
21 weeks ago
21 weeks ago Link To Comment
just remember their is a difference in training for performance and training to be fit and healthy. I can train in unhealthy way to be a top performer. Also the training that is best for me for soccer training will be different than the training that I would do for performance in fencing. It's called specificity of training Mark. You can also discern difference between training for strength vs endurance versus a combo of the two vs training for optimal health and what that may mean to the individual.
21 weeks ago
21 weeks ago Link To Comment
No, the strength training for soccer and fencing should be the same. The practice sessions should be specific to the sport.
21 weeks ago
21 weeks ago Link To Comment
But Mark: many animals have prodigious endurance. Humans are one of those animals. We are designed for endurance. We have the potential for great aerobic fitness because we evolved as a hunting animal, and running down wounded prey was one function of survival.

As a lifelong lifter (50 years now), with the bone density of a 25-year-old, I love the benefits of strength training, but recognize the naturalness of being able to run long distances.

I would say that your primary point is that modern man, especially as he ages, is better off skewing his workouts towards strength training. After all, we don't need to chase down wounded elk anymore.

As to running? My opinion is that the best kind of "running" is interval training and wind sprints, as well as fast-paced free weight workouts. Interval training in a pool is great too. But that's me.

Love your articles, BTW.
21 weeks ago
21 weeks ago Link To Comment
The ability to do LSD running is a particular expression of endurance, but it is neither the one seen in nature (both animals are either walking long distances or sprinting short ones. There is no real LSD running going on) and LSD running is the worst way to improve endurance...it is generally only used as recovery runs for real runners.
21 weeks ago
21 weeks ago Link To Comment
"We have the potential for great aerobic fitness because we evolved as a hunting animal, and running down wounded prey was one function of survival."

I served in the reserves with a guy who lived in the mountains of southern California. To keep in shape, he hunted deer. With a knife.

Oh, he was pretty strong, too.


Balance does not seem to be one of Mr. Rippetoe's strong points.

21 weeks ago
21 weeks ago Link To Comment
from pictures and videos I looked up, he clearly does not mind muscular imbalance and poor posture.
21 weeks ago
21 weeks ago Link To Comment
Come man...he either used a trap, ambushed it at VERY short range, or had help from many other runner-hunters. Still---I'm sure he's more of a man than me---the last deer I ate was one the lady in front of me hit with her car. Coach Rip's DVD taught me to power clean, so I could throw it in the truck bed and drive it home.
21 weeks ago
21 weeks ago Link To Comment

No, he didn't use a trap. He ran them down. By himself. He didn't catch them on a dead run, he just outlasted them. When they were too exhausted to continue, he killed them.


21 weeks ago
21 weeks ago Link To Comment
I researched "persistence hunting," found this, and I believe you now. This blew my mind. http://youtu.be/826HMLoiE_o
Refreshing how the guy actually respects the animal.
21 weeks ago
21 weeks ago Link To Comment
The guy was pretty impressive. It was an SF unit (Green Beret), and most of the members were SF in Viet Nam. These guys were hard to impress! This particular guy had been a Bush Marine (Force Recon) in Nam. He impressed everybody. :)

To be clear - I am NOT claiming to have been a Green Beret myself. I was regular Army, but joined this reserve unit after I got out. Had I stayed with the unit, I would have gone to airborne and then Special Warfare (Green Beret) school, but my plans changed and I dropped out. With so many phonies around, I feel like I need to make that clear whenever I talk about my reserve outfit. I respect them too much to claim to have earned that Beret when I didn't.
21 weeks ago
21 weeks ago Link To Comment
I bet he was impressive. I can partly imagine the level those guys were on---but only partly---it's just too damn far above anything I've ever done/been. I hear occasional stories about current SF guys (Delta Force) from my friends who know them, and it makes me realize I can't come close to imagining the amount of skill and mental strength they have. Your humility is respectable too, Mark, as you're right: plenty of guys are the opposite. Thank you for your service.
21 weeks ago
21 weeks ago Link To Comment
Great article Mark. I focused primarily cycling and running for most of my adult life to keep "in-shape". I'm also an avid archer and after completing my first marathon last year it got to the point where I was becoming so weak it was getting difficult to easily shoot a bow with a fairly low draw weight. Something needed to change. Now, after discovering Starting Strength last June my 50lb recurve feels like a toy and I'll probably crank the draw weight on my compound up to 70lbs because it's becoming so easy to handle a heavier bow. Shooting a bow has never felt easier and my form has improved a great deal due to increased upper back strength.

Strength training is an overlooked component of physical fitness by too many people these days but it is a very important part of maintaining quality of life, especially as one ages. I really regret piddling away my 20s only doing LISS cardio.
21 weeks ago
21 weeks ago Link To Comment
Your lumping of rowers with cyclists and runners is a mistake. Elite-level rowers do not look anything like elite-level cyclists or runners. A typical male elite-level rower is 6'4" and weighs 210-230 lbs. A typical elite-level female rower is about 6 feet tall and weighs 180. Rowing is very much about strength as well as endurance. If you want proof that, spend 15 minutes on a good rowing ergometer, like the Concept II. Rowers weight-train. I agree that training with free weights (not machines) is far too neglected as a fitness regimen and I'm sure its better at maintaining bone mass than any of these aerobic exercises, including rowing. But the reason for that is that same reason that few people actually row: you can't just step in the gym and start lifting. You have to spend some time learning how to do it correctly.
21 weeks ago
21 weeks ago Link To Comment
Strength endurance. In fairness to Mark, he probably has some articles in the wings about the benefits of that. You are correct that rowing should not be lumped in with running. But both running and rowing have been natural components of human life since before the dawn of history.

One thing about our ancestors and running, though? Much of the endurance that made sustained running possible was probably not derived from running per se, but the high volume of overall physical activity, including a lot more walking than running. Also, cutting down and dragging trees, skinning hides, farmwork (neolithic) hauling water, etc. Humans ran, using their built up aerobic capacity, only when they absolutely had to, and not, usually, for the sheer joy of it, except in a prehistoric childhood.

I built the foundation for my ability to run long distances at a good pace by doing high-rep squats (20-plus reps with serious weight. 315 lbs. in my case).
21 weeks ago
21 weeks ago Link To Comment
I used to run about a 10 minute mile, normally doing 3, 4 or 5 miles, did some crunches and weight trained in my mid 30s. I was in the best shape of my life with that routine. Not drinking booze, ever, was really the key to that success.
21 weeks ago
21 weeks ago Link To Comment
Really? I know some very good lifters who drink.
21 weeks ago
21 weeks ago Link To Comment
Mark, maybe look up the catabolic affect that alcohol can have on hypertrophy process. I know from your bio that you don't really have an appropriate academic background to be commenting on such things, so that's why i suggest you look it up. Sorry to sound harsh, but I can't express how disturbing it is to see someone speaking as an expert and in absolutes just because they've endured in an industry.
21 weeks ago
21 weeks ago Link To Comment
So you are saying these lifters that drink do not exist? Are you going to look up my bio to determine whether or not I am qualified to have an informed opinion? Which part of "Really? I know some very good lifters who drink." Is the absolute that you are taking issue with? The only absolute in this thread that I see is the "no booze, ever...." part.
21 weeks ago
21 weeks ago Link To Comment
And I know of many (non-American in particular) Olympic lifters who smoked, as well as drank. :-)
21 weeks ago
21 weeks ago Link To Comment
Damn! Great article! I was completely unaware of the antithetical nature of endurance vs. muscle-building!
21 weeks ago
21 weeks ago Link To Comment
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