Pounding the pavement is powerful proof of a serious commitment to health. But it's also a drill that some find painful, trying and tedious, leaving them gasping for air and trotting away from the workout altogether.
It doesn't have to be this way. Dean Lurie, a certified kinesiologist in Toronto, says often people don't reach their optimal level of running because they're experiencing discomfort or boredom. Such problems may be a result of stress to the joints, overworking the body or the tedium of their training course - all symptoms that people are susceptible to as a result of the environment they're running in. Since the most important thing about running is getting into a routine that you will stick with, Lurie says it's crucial to find the running environment that suits you.
"People who enjoy running outdoors find that there's a lot of variety because the scenery is changing and this distracts them and keeps them motivated to go and continue on their run," Lurie says.
• The changing scenery is distracting and adventurous, helping the runner to complete her run.
• The terrain is variable. Hills, turns and different ground covers will increase the runner's intensity because it requires more speed and muscles to climb a hill or run on grass.
• Natural resistance from wind forces a runner to run harder and more intensively.
• The runner's range of motion is virtually limitless, allowing her muscles and joints to move around more, helping the body to burn more calories.
• Running on an uneven surface forces the body to naturally attempt to balance itself. This engages more muscles so more calories are burned.
• No membership is required so there is little added expense.
• Running is easily incorporated into a schedule because there are no hours of operation.
Ironically, what's good about running outdoors -- its variability -- is also its downfall.
• Weather is unreliable so if it's raining or snowing a runner can't train.
• Running in extreme weather conditions, such as a very hot or cold day, can cause physical exhaustion and a decreased level of fitness.
• An uneven terrain can cause more shock impact to a runner's ankles and knees, increasing the likelihood of stress injuries, twists and sprains. (Note: Running on softer surfaces (such as grass, gravel or sand) reduces the stress on the knees and lower leg associated with running on concrete.)
• Darkness and traffic can impact personal safety, especially for women.
• Pollution levels and hazy days can affect breathing, especially for those who suffer from asthma and other respiratory diseases.
Such risks have forced many runners to move indoors.
Page 1 of 2 - read about running indoors on page 2!
Lurie says the indoor climate is predictable and this means a runner is more likely to stay on track with her training. A runner will also find motivation with indoor training because she can measure how far she's run, as the track and treadmill accurately measure the distance traveled.
The Indoor Track
• Climate is predictable.
• Many gyms have air circulation systems that regulate the appropriate amounts of oxygen and carbon dioxide for an optimal workout - no car fumes.
• A track's surface is cushioned so there is less stress on the knees and ankles.
• Footing is predictable as the surface is flat.
• A track is well-lit and monitored by staff, creating a safer environment.
• It's not a static exercise - the runner is still moving through space and this may decrease the tedium of a repetitive exercise.
Yet Lurie says an indoor track still doesn't guarantee risk-free running.
"In a gym...you'll be continuously running in the same direction (on the track) and making the same turns and this puts a repetitive stressor on certain parts of your knees and ankles." Lurie says.
• Other people are running at a close proximity and at busy times this can be very disruptive, causing the runner to perform at a decreased level.
• Repeatedly turning the same corners of a track in the same direction can strain the knees and ankles.
• It is a repetitive routine and this may create boredom, causing the runner to quit.
• The surface is flat and consistent so a runner can only increase the intensity of her workout by speeding up and/or running longer.
"On a treadmill there's no turning involved and you're on it yourself," Lurie says. "You also have the option of choosing different settings so you can change the variables of your workout and set the pace, intensity and duration of your workout."
• The surface is uni-directional so there is no risk of joint and muscle strains due to uneven surfaces or turns.
• Treadmills offer a variety of training programs -- such as hill, interval and cross-country -- that allow the runner to control the intensity, pace and duration of her workout.
• The treadmill's degree of incline can also be programmed. By adding an incline of one degree, the lack of wind resistance from an outdoor environment is compensated for and the intensity of the workout is increased without risk to the joints and muscles.
• The surface is cushioned for impact, preventing joint and muscles strains associated to running on hard surfaces.
• A treadmill can be set up in front of the TV and this creates a distraction, enabling the runner to complete her routine.
• Indoor temperatures are consistent and predictable.
• Treadmills can be purchased for home use -- no need to travel to the gym.
• A treadmill offers the runner only a four-foot wide running space and this limits the body's range of motion. Over time the restricted space of a treadmill may cause muscles to tighten, creating back, hip and knee problems.
• It's a static workout in which the runner remains in one spot for an extended amount of time. This may become tedious causing the runner to lose interest.
"People function differently in different environments and sometimes it means a person needs to take a different path to reach their goal," Lurie says. "At the end of the day, whatever a person needs to do to keep running and stay consistent with their routine is what matters most."
Be a conscious and careful runner who listens to their body. If your knees start to ache or you continuously twist an ankle then maybe it's time to change your running niche.Page 2 of 2