Monday, April 11, 2011

Best Shoes for Running and Walking

One of the benefits of walking and running for fitness is that the equipment cost is low. In fact it might be quite a bit lower than you expect. I used to say that all you need is comfortable clothes and some quality running shoes. The next question for most people is then which shoe is best for them.

Surprisingly, this is a question for which there is very little evidence. What evidence I have seen seems to indicate that most shoes out there provide little protective benefit and that some may actual be harmful. What seems to be increasingly clear is that nearly everything that you read in running magazines and books and hear in running stores about how to select shoes based on arch type, pronation, and other criteria is complete hogwash. Perhaps the bests thing is to find a shoe that is comfortable when you walk and run. It should slide up and down on your heel. It shouldn't rub anywhere. You shouldn't really notice it. If you do then it probably isn't a good choice.

Of course, this might suggest another option. Why not just take of your shoes and socks? Crazy? You ancestors did it for thousands and thousands of years. In fact scientists such as Harvard professor Daniel Liebermann believe humans uniquely evolved to be able to efficiently run long distances. This gave them the ability to hunt by following faster prey for hours on end until it fell down overheated and exhausted. And they did this barefoot.

In this post I'm not going to try to explain the science. I'm simply going to state the simple argument that modern running shoes are a modern invention that have been heavily marketed to the public and widely adopted because of their comfort, but which have not been scientifically studied for their effectiveness in reducing running injuries. However, it can be clearly shown that modern running shoes dramatically alter the way that runners run compared to how they run when they do not have shoes. Until science can prove that modern running shoes are better than what nature evolved, you should stick as close to the original as possible.

So, my default recommendation is that you start out walking or running barefoot.

If going barefoot is not an option for you then the next best option is a minimalist shoew with a very thin sole, no padding, no arch support, and no raised heel. Good examples that I have used are the Merrel Barefoot line of shoes or the Vibram Five Fingers line.

If those choices are too radical then find a traditional running shoe that fits you well. I would recommend a neutral cushioned shoe such as the Asics Nimbus and avoid any motion control shoe like the plague.

I'll talk more about barefoot running and minimalist shoes later this week.

In the meantime you can browse The Barefoot Running University.

Friday, April 8, 2011

The Best Workout - Out Your Front Door

Have you noticed? Everyone is running. We're in a golden age of running. Marathons all over the U.S.A. are full of runners young and old, male and female celebrating the fruits of a fitness lifestyle that allows them to run for hours with grace and ease. Most of them are normal, average people accomplishing an extraordinary athletic feat. I suspect that many of them started out like me with no intention of ever running that far. So why are so many people out there doing it? If you aren't a runner it must be difficult to imagine why anyone would do that. It's a little difficult to explain. So have some faith in me and join me on a journey. I promise it will be worth it. It will cost very little and will pay you back huge dividends.

If you're out of shape, unfit, you may not believe me. But you were born to run. But you were also born to be fit. So the first step is to walk out the door and...


Before you can run, you need to be able to walk. Obviously, it depends on what your fitness level is, but for many people simply going for a walk is going to be taxing. So here's a test. Walk for a minute and then take your heart rate. If it is more than 70% of your maximum heart rate then no running for you because walking is enough of a work out. If it's below 70% then keep walking for a total of 5 minutes and take your heart rate again. If it's still below 70% then you're in good enough shape that you're going to have to do some running to get your heart rate up.

But let's save that for another post. For now let's stick with those that are walkers. Nothing wrong with that. I got injured last year and am working my way back into shape. I'm a big heavy guy and even though I've been a runner before and even though I've completed 6 marathons I have to start out from scratch with walking. I'll do a little running, but I initially have to walk up all of the hills. When my heart is beating too fast I stop running and walk. Remember that the biggest mistake is to do too much too soon. Same things applies here. Running before walking is a version of too much too soon.

Keeping your heart rate below 70% of your max is a way of keeping things from feeling too difficult. This is technically classified as vigorous exercise. But it should feel pretty comfortable. I'll dare to say that it should feel pretty easy. If it doesn't you're doing too much too soon.

For duration I'd recommend starting out short. 5 minutes isn't too short. If you are very overweight then 1 minute isn't too short. Remember, the biggest mistake is too much too soon. Use your common sense but don't do much more than what you would normally do in your everyday life.

For the walkers, I'm going to recommend that you get out and do this every day until you have worked up to 30 minutes of walking per day.

How to take your heart rate: Find your pulse on your neck next to your wind pipe using your middle two fingers. Count your pulse for 6 seconds. Multiply by 10. That's your heart rate.

How to calculate your maximum heart rate: Subtract half your age from 205. If you are 40 your max heart rate would be 205 minus 20 or 185.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

How to Start - Very Slowly

I'm going to start out by telling you the number one mistake people make when trying to increase their fitness whether they are completely out of shape or a seasoned athlete:

#1 Fitness Mistake: Too much too soon

The biggest mistake people make is that they go out and do too much of whatever it is they are doing before letting their body adapt and they either have a bad experience or they get injured or both. For example, they go to the gym, hit the weights, and wake up the next morning so sore that they can barely get out of bed the next morning. In fact, the soreness is so bad that it doesn't go away all week. Discouraged they never make it back to the gym. I hate going to the gym the first couple week of January because it is so packed full of people excited by their New Year's resolutions. But by the end of the month the throngs have thinned out. The most likely culprit: too much too soon.

Another example is that a person decides to start running. So they start running every day. They run 3 miles every day. They feel a little sore but they figure it is just because they are starting out. But some of the aches and pains never go away. In fact some get worse and worse until running becomes difficult. Eventually it goes so bad that running becomes impossible and a trip to the doctor becomes necessary. The diagnosis: too much too soon.

When it comes to fitness slow and steady wins the race. No one ever gives up their fitness plan because they started out slow, made steady progress, and felt great. But beyond that, the body needs time to adapt to changes. When you start doing something new the body needs a chance to build strength. It can do it. It will do it. But it takes time. You just have to give it a chance.

Another example. Years of office work and fast food lunches were taking their toll on my friend. I kept bugging him to take advantage of the exercise room at work. Finally I took him down one day after lunch to show him how the elliptical trainer worked. It had a heart rate monitor on it so I started him going and set the effort so his heart was going about 130 beats a minute. "This is ridiculously easy," he said. That was the point. After 5 minutes I turned it off. "That's it?" That was it. No gym clothes. No sweat. No shower. Just a gentle 5 minutes and back to work.

The next day he was surprised that he was actually a little sore from just that short 5 minutes. Imagine if we had gone longer or gone harder. It had felt ridiculously easy, but he hadn't done any kind of physical activity beyond walking back and forth from his car in who knows how long. If that describes you, then you should limit yourself to a very short walk initially. You really can't do too little. If you feel good the next day you can always do more. The problem is that if you feel terrible the next day you can't go back in time and do less. So don't make the mistake. You simply cannot err on the side of doing too little. That's not a mistake. That's the right thing to do when you're starting out.

By starting out easy my friend felt good enough to do 5 minutes the next day. Guess what. It was easier. And it felt good! He started adding 1 minute a day. After a month he was doing 30 minutes a day. He started to listen to audio books on his iphone while he did it. He enjoyed it, he felt better and had more energy. That's all the time he had time for. But 30 minutes of vigorous exercise a day is plenty to reap tons of positive health benefits.  Guess what. That's a great way to get fit. Does it sound like something you could do?

The plan: take a break in the company exercise room on the treadmill, exercise bike, or elliptical trainer. Start with 5 minutes a day and gradually increase to 30 minutes a day. Keep heart rate below 70% of your max.

max heart rates is about 220 minus your half your age. Example:

Age 40: 205 - 20 = 185. 70% of 185 = 130

Monday, April 4, 2011

The Obesity Crisis!

America has an obesity crisis! Follow the link to do a Google search that will return tons of articles on the topic. But obesity is just the tip of the iceberg, the symptom of the much larger, much more dangerous crisis: the fitness crisis. America didn't get fat by doing regular strenuous exercise. It got there by living a sedentary lifestyle and neglecting to take care of its basic physical fitness needs. The problem isn't the fat. The problem is the lack of fitness. In fact, it is possible to be overweight and not have many of the medical problems often associated with being overweight. The reason is that the root cause of the illnesses is not primarily the weight. It is the lack of fitness. If you go to a local 10k or half marathon the chances are good that a lot of the mid pack runners are not skinny. But they are in good shape. Chances are very high that they have healthy blood pressure, healthy blood vessels, healthy cholesterol levels, good blood sugar levels, better than average mental health, and many other measures of health. Good cardiovascular fitness simply provides tremendous health benefits. Carrying a few extra pounds simply doesn't hurt much in an otherwise fit person. The problem isn't the fat. It's the fitness, or rather the lack of it.

So, while this country has a very visible obesity crisis, it is obtusely focused on a symptom instead of the root cause and this is preventing us from finding the cure which is right outside our front door. The root cause is that we are not fit. The solution is to walk out the front door and start getting fit. Does that sound simplistic? It's not. It's only simple. And it works.

This blog is going to focus on solutions to our country's number one health care crisis: the fitness crisis. If we can solve it we'll reduce not only obesity, but also the country's number one killer: cardiovascular disease.