Sunday, December 17, 2006

Are You Fit or Functionally Unfit?

I’ll probably tick some people off by saying this – so what else is new? – but there are few things that are more destructive than long-distance running. If you can stand the truth, keep reading.

The running/jogging craze was one of the major fitness phenomenons of the 20th Century, and running is still “da bomb” for tons of people as we sit here in the year 2006. The problem, as I see it, is that as the jogging generation has aged, they have become hobbled and hamstrung by overuse/over-training injuries that come from years of pounding.

As a result, running has created a whole bunch of people who are physically one-dimensional and injured.

If you don’t believe me, check out the crew at any local track. Older, healthy joggers are a rare sight. The older joggers usually look older than they really are, and run with an altered, ungainly gait brought about by the ravages of the road. And these folks are the lucky ones, as they at least are still able to run. They also look like they are in the severe need of a meal.

I have extensive experience working with people who have come to me after having done nothing but run. As a result of these experiences I have coined a phrase to describe the hard-core runner; “functionally unfit” or an “FU.”

“FU” is kind of like the term “functional illiterate.” A “functionally unfit” person is someone who has regularly participated in road races and consistently logs weekly mileage, yet has little if any flexibility in their trunk and extremities, and little strength to boot.

An “FU” gets dizzy when forced to actually exert themselves by doing something along the lines of calisthenics, or anything but jogging. When I get my hands on a jogger who, because they can complete a 5 kilometer run in less than 20 minutes, claims to be in great shape but can’t complete ten body weight squats, or labors through a sprint/speed workout I tell them “FU.”

To a runner who suffers from stress fractures, tendonitis, feet problems, back ailments, joint issues and/or shin splints, I say “FU.”

To serve as a contrast to “the runner,” I submit “the swimmer.” If you have the occasion to frequent your local Y, check out the pool. The hardcore swimmer of the same age as the hardcore jogger will look healthier, have less in the way of nagging ailments, and will be able to do what it is they do longer and better.

There are a lot of older swimmers; there are not a lot of older runners.

The swimmers that I have encountered are heartier than most regular citizens, and definitely in better shape than the runners. Swimmers have great muscle tone, posture and endurance. “Water lubbers” are lean, not gaunt and are capable and not frail. The chlorine-drenched are quick to improve when introduced to resistance training since swimmers doesn’t have the litany of nagging ailments to deal with and work around.

With the “blame everyone else” mentality that has been responsible for spate of nonsensical legislation dealing with fast-food providers, will it be long before the anti-running movement picks up steam and we see lawsuits filed against sneaker makers? Will those people who have had joints replaced or have lost cartilage and ligaments because they ran countless miles sue Nike and Brooks and New Balance?

Will these running shoe makers be blamed for promoting an activity that undoubtedly led to countless, painful injuries? How many people have been motivated to run - and run a lot - by the Nike advertising campaigns? You may laugh and think that we are exaggerating, but stranger things have happened.

Don’t agree with me? FU!