Are You In It For The Long Run?

“When we’re talking healthy food, the conversation seems to always go back to  moderation, but what about when it comes to exercise? Are extreme exercise  regimens like CrossFit and distance running as healthy as they’re touted to  be?

Not too long ago I ran across an article on CrossFit shedding light on what it called a  “dirty little secret.” The gist of the article is that because of the way that  CrossFit trainers push clients to push themselves to the limit and beyond,  people who do CrossFit have ended up seriously injured. The article talks about  the prevalence of a condition called exertional rhabdomyolysis, where extreme  exercise causes long-term and sometimes permanent damage to the muscles and  kidneys.

The whole thing made me wonder about other areas where we push our endurance,  like distance running. I love running, and I love the satisfaction of having run  distances. In fact, I’ve touted the joys of distance running in this space more than once.  This CrossFit article has me questioning any kind of extreme endurance  training: how far is too far?

I’d never had the distance running issues that some folks report during  marathon training, like losing my toenails or losing control of my bowels or  bladder, but as I read this article on CrossFit, I couldn’t help thinking that  some of the things they say are similar to the addages that go along with  distance running, especially the idea that injury is just part of the package.  In fact, there is research suggesting that running long distances can take years off of  your life.

The way the author describes CrossFit culture also reminded me of  Bikram Yoga in some ways. Bikram and other hot yoga methods use a warm room to help  relax muscles. It allows you to stretch further, but it also makes you more prone to injury. I practiced Bikram for years  and definitely overdid it more than once.

CrossFit, Distance Running, and  Yoga: How much is healthy?

Along with doing a lot of reading about these three endurance exercise  routines, I also took an informal poll of about a dozen people who do CrossFit  (special thanks to my friend Shannon Hoffman Hinderberger for connecting me with  her CrossFit friends!).

There was a lot of discussion in this informal poll, but I think a few folks  made some great points about CrossFit that could really extend to distance  running, hot yoga, and other exercise routines with a “push it to the limit”  culture:

  • Yes, there are CrossFit coaches who push their clients too  far. These coaches are irresponsible, and a good coach knows the  difference between pushing yourself to the edge and going too far.
  • When you find a culture of over-exertion, you don’t have to buy into  it. Listen to your body, and back off when it tells you to back  off.
  • Rest when you need to rest. This might sound like the same  advice as above, but backing off on weight, reps, distance, etc is not the same  as taking a whole day (or few days, or a week) off to let your body bounce  back.

I had a yoga teacher once who I think sums up all of the advice above nicely:  “If it hurts, don’t do it.”

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ever push yourself. There’s a difference  between mild discomfort and pain. Pain is your body telling you to back off, and  when you listen to your body, I think it makes a world of difference.

Endurance Training: Finding  Balance

When I am going through distance training, there are many times that I will  skip a run or even a week of runs. If my knee or ankle feels strange or sore –  since I’ve injured both before – I skip my run that day. That is my body telling  me that it needs some time to regroup, and I think that once you tune into that,  it’s not too hard to tell when you’re working hard versus when you’re hurting  yourself.

Just like with food, it comes back to moderation, doesn’t it? Sure, you can  indulge  in a decadent dessert once in a while. You can push your body’s limits in  exercise, too. Just like you might balance a day of junk food with a day  of super healthy eating, it’s important to seek balance in your exercise  routines. Besides – you lose a lot more ground if you injure yourself  and have to stay off of your feet to recover than if you take it easier or even  skip a workout when your body is telling you that it needs rest.”

From “How Much Exercise is Too Much?” By Becky Striepe

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