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Should Humans Run?

Running is perhaps one of the most popular types of physical activity today. One distance running event—the marathon—has steadily increased in popularity over the past several years. The 2005 USA Marathon Report states that in 2000 there were 299,000 marathon finishers. That number had increased by 83,000 in 5 years. As the popularity of running increases, reports of running injuries follow suit. Scientific studies indicate that 60%–65% of all runners experience some form of injury each year. This raises the question: Are we meant to run? A New York Times
article (October 27, 2009) asked
that same question and concluded that we are. The article cited a report published in a 2007 issue of Sports Medicine (2007; 37 [4–5], 288–90)
as evidence for its claim. The authors of this report suggested that unique and efficient cooling and energy systems and favorable biomechanics helped early humans cover long distances. These authors also claimed that a highly efficient human could outlast most mammals: “In short, for marathon-length distances, humans can outrun almost all other mammals and can sometimes outrun even horses, especially when it’s hot.”

Jason Karp, PhD, exercise physiologist and IDEA speaker and author, agrees with the article. “The evolution of our physiology was inherently dependent on efficient oxygen delivery and on the development of aerobic metabolic pathways,” states Karp. However, Eric Beard, fitness director and master trainer for the Longfellow Sports Club in Natick, Massachusetts, has concerns that current biomechanics preclude running capacity. “It doesn’t matter if our ancestors could or did run long distances as part of their regular
activities,” states Beard. “The average person who is taking up running
resembles more of a giant human cashew than some mythical distance warrior.” Beard blames seated desk work and corresponding alignment issues for the prevalence of running- and fitness-related injuries. But if
a client insists on participating in a running program, Beard advises that the trainer first perform a thorough structural assessment to identify
imbalances and joint restrictions. Karp urges new runners to start gradually and progress slowly. “Increase mileage very slowly, and never increase volume and intensity at the same time,” he adds.

What are your thoughts on this subject? E-mail your opinion to [email protected].

Ryan Halvorson

Ryan Halvorson is an award-winning writer and editor, and IDEA's director of event programming.

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