Why You Don’t Have to Run to Get in Shape

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“Baby we were born to run” was uttered by Bruce Springsteen many years ago. Who would have known that Springsteen was making an indirect reference to America’s favorite training pastime? Upon making the decision to lose weight, the first thing people do is lace up their running shoes. Running is cheap and convenient – you can do it at anytime and just about anywhere. Unlike weightlifting, there isn’t much of an intimidation factor to it either.

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There are only two types of clients I prescribe running programs to: those who run to compete and those who love to run. Many people forget that running is actually a sport, but the convenience and ease in which we can do it makes it the number one activity for weight loss. But that doesn’t mean that it has to be the only way to lose weight. As I stated, I only give running programs to those who actually enjoy running as an activity. For those who despise running, you don’t ever have to run a mile, and you can still get in great shape.

The Human Movement System

With all due respect to Bruce Springsteen, the Boss must not have studied human physiology. We actually weren’t born to run per se, but to do other things. Our bodies are designed to scoop, pull, push, carry, squat, and sprint (1). The more you can replicate those movements on the training floor, the better off you’ll be. This means improved metabolic rate, strength, power, and posture. It also suggests that you’ll be the go-to guy (or girl!) on moving day.

Running doesn’t replicate those movements and thus there is no carry over. As humans we either sprinted toward a meal that was about to run away on four legs or we ran away from a predator. A conversation between hunter and gathers didn’t go like this:

“Hey guys. I know we have all these berries and vegetables right here, but let’s go run 26.2 miles to see if there is food elsewhere.”

Getting good at running means you’re good at running…that’s about all you’re good at.

Luke – Use the Force

Remember Sir Isaac Newton? He stated that force is equal to mass times acceleration (F=ma). Since we’re not concerned about acceleration here, we can focus on force. Being able to produce force is key to getting in shape. You need to be able to challenge your muscles enough to make some sort of disturbance with your metabolism. This is why doing conditioning circuits with barbells, medicine balls, and bodyweight are far more superior to simply going for a jog.

In a study done with female clients it was found that those who worked without a supervised trainer selected weights that were far too light in order to make a change in their body (2). Furthermore, it’s been found that runners who strength train improve their running economy and stride length more than runners that rely solely on just running (3). As you can see, being able to produce force is the fundamental key to getting fit.

What about the Heart?

Heart health is all about a total holistic approach. That means exercise, quality food, good sleep, and a stress management system. It doesn’t mean that you need to run an hour a day to have a strong heart. We can thank Dr. Kenneth Cooper for that one.

A stress on a heart is a stress – plain and simple. A heart rate of 150 is the same running on a treadmill or performing a circuit training program – the body itself doesn’t recognize the difference. A research study done with subjects with high blood pressure found that circuit training was able to lower their high blood pressure (4).


Met-Con stands for metabolic conditioning. As we stated, running will make you good at running, but you can run into problems when you have to chase after kids, carry groceries up the stairs, or play your favorite sport. Metabolic conditioning is all about a mixture of exercises so that your body can perform over time. Sports scientists define this as the body’s ability to maintain power output and sprint performance after repeated efforts (5).

For example, a tennis player isn’t going to rely on a 5K time to deal with the effort to cut back and forth across a tennis court, let alone the strength needed to swing the racket over and over again. Metabolic conditioning is all about getting you in shape and preparing you for the unexpected life events that all of us have to deal with. In a world where everything has been made easy for us and manual labor is nearly non-existent, metabolic conditioning makes those rare occurrences of helping a friend move – or playing with a toddler – all that much easier.

Variety is the Spice of Life

One thing my clients love about this approach is the variety that it provides. All of us are human and no matter how motivated we are, we all can suffer from a little bit of boredom. It’s hard to stay on a weight loss program based around running when you hate running. It’s easy to fall off the wagon when the motivation gets sucked out of you. However, metabolic conditioning can be the cure for a limited attention span. Plus the workouts are fun and can make you feel like a super-hero (or super heroine).

This by all means is not a complete list of all the possibilities with metabolic conditioning. Here are just some of the things that I do with my clients:

  • Plyometrics
  • Medicine Balls
  • Battle ropes
  • Rower
  • Sprints
  • Shuttle runs
  • Sled work
  • Kettlebells

Some may even perform these exercises in a circuit, but all of it depends on the conditioning level of the client. As they continue to work out, the program incorporates more variety and even added challenges.

Think you need to run to get in shape? Think again. The human body was designed to accomplish a lot of work and not just plod away on the treadmill. Getting out of your comfort zone will shed a new light on your workouts as well as allow you to achieve things you’ve never done before!


[toggle title=”References“]

1. Chek, Paul. How to Eat, Move, and Be Healthy. San Diego: Chek Institute Publication. 2004,pp 129-130

2. Ratamess, N. et al. “Self-Selected Resistance Training Intensity in Healthy Women: The Influence of a Personal Trainer.” (2008) Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 22;1, 103-111

3. Turner, Anthony Nicholas. “Training the Aerobic Capacity of Distance Runners: A Break from Tradition.” (2011) Strength and Conditioning Journal 33;2, 39-42

4. Carter, J.R., Ray, C.A., Downs, E.M., Cooke, W.H. “Strength Training Reduces Arterial Blood Pressure but Not Sympathetic Neural Activity in Young Normotensive Subjects.” Journal of Applied Physiology. 94 (2003): 2212-2216.

5. Gamble, Paul. “Challenges and Game Related Solutions to Metabolic Conditioning for Team Sports” (2007) Strength and Conditioning Journal 29;4, 60-65 [/toggle]


Originally written: September 2, 2014


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