It started with a link I saw on my Facebook feed. “Why Women Should Not Run.” This title certainly necessitated my undivided attention! How can anyone ignore such a bold title? However, I read the article and moved on, giving it very little thought afterward, because like most of them, it said some stuff I agreed with as well as a bunch of stuff I didn’t agree with. I read dozens of articles like it every day. No big deal. But then, the link popped up on my feed again and again. Someone tagged me in it. Someone else sent me a link via private message. Several times, I started to comment but then decided against it. After all, I don’t want to be “that person” who disagrees with everything. So I kept my opinion to myself, resolving neither to approve nor disapprove of the opinions stated in the article.
But then, I started receiving concerned messages from clients, friends, and general acquaintances asking me for advice. Can I not run? Should I stop? How much is “too much?” Someone heard five miles or less was ok, but someone else heard anything over two was bad. People wanted to me to give them a number! Oh dear. After putting out several small fires, I began to realize that we now have a much larger fire on our hands. It seems that, in an attempt to clear up some myths and point out some very destructive habits that we see often in women who are trying to lose weight, the message may not have been received as intended. I believe the writer had a good intention, but with full respect for the author I believe it was miscommunicated slightly.
Surely, no one would mean tell women not to run. Surely, no one would mean to suggest that no woman should ever run a marathon, under any condition?
And then the second article came out, I’m sure among many responses to the original. So now my friends are more confused than ever. One says women shouldn’t run, the other says they should. Now what? I feel the need to respond on my own blog, for my own clients and readers, because both of these articles contradict what many of my clients know to be my own belief regarding fitness. And because there should always be a compromise. One-size-fits-all fitness is not my style. I’ll be the Iceland of fitness advice.
Here goes: The problem is not running. The problem, if we should refer to it in the singular, is the combination of calorie restriction, running for the sake of burning calories, and the belief that the simple “calories in/calories out” equation will result in the lean bodies that so many are striving for.
For some, running is entirely counterintuitive to fitness goals, especially if the goals include a lean, muscular physique. As the original article pointed out, excessive cardio is catabolic—meaning, essentially, you burn your own muscle for fuel. And, as the article pointed out, it can lean to imbalances in cortisol and thyroid function. Hello skinnyfat.
For others, running is a release. I know many women who run for the love of running. Guess what? I’m one of them. I love a good run. That’s my mediation time, my release. In fact (and I have no research to back this claim I am about to make…), I find that running really helps me loosen up through my shoulders, which are chronically tight from heavy lifting. I’m no marathoner, nor do I care to necessarily become competitive with it, but I certainly love it.
However, I have many friends who are very healthy marathon runners—and I feel that the original article failed to discuss the ways in which running could be approached healthfully. For instance, my runner friends eat to support their runs, cross train with some pretty heavy lifting to maintain their strength and muscle, and are not even concerned with weight loss. I’m pretty sure they don’t even care if they are skinnyfat, just like many powerlifters don’t care about being perceived as “too big.” As hard as we work to fight articles that claim lifting makes women “bulky,” how could we be so quick to embrace an article that claims the opposite? One size and shape does not fit all.
To summarize, in case you do what I do and skip to the end of the blog to catch the bullet points:
- If you like running, keep doing it. If you don’t like running, don’t force yourself through it just to lose weight—there are more effective methods!
- If you are going to run, your nutrition needs to support it
- Don’t skip the crosstraining days (included in most smart running programs)—it’s critical to your success in terms of physical health and in terms of running!