Sept 8, 2022 – There’s an old joke about running:
Q: What is the best way to make the Olympic team?
A: Choose your parents wisely!
It’s funny because it’s laced with scientific truth: no aspiring athlete has ever been held back by good genetics.
Consider a recent study from Spain that examined the relationship between torso size – chest and waist – and the ability to run fast.
Researchers used a 3D surface scanner to measure the trunks of 27 male volunteers running at different speeds on a treadmill. At moderate speeds, there was no difference between men with different torso shapes.
But when they hit 85% exertion (hard work) or what felt like 100% exertion (full race pace), the fastest body type became clear: “a relatively narrow, flat torso.”
So your inherited torso shape can give you an advantage. Or not.
You see a lot of those skinny, flat torsos at the Olympics. This body shape can contribute to what coaches call running efficiency, a big part of fast running — but not the only one. There’s VO2max – how your body uses oxygen. There’s the ratio of “fast-twitch” muscle fibers (sprinting) to “slow-twitch” muscle fibers (distance running). And there are also abstract things like mental strength and motivation.
You don’t need the perfect upper body to have or enhance these traits. This is good news for runners around the world because research shows that running can improve your health and help you live longer.
How Running Helps Your Health
According to a 2014 study led by Duck-Chul Lee, PhD, of Iowa State University, even small amounts of running reduce your risk of dying from a heart attack or stroke.
The researchers followed 55,000 adults for 15 years. Just 5 to 10 minutes of running, multiple times a week, even at moderate speeds (6 mph or a 10-minute mile pace) nudged the needle toward better health. Runners lived an average of 3 years longer than non-runners.
Running reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease, obesity and type 2 diabetes, says Russell Pate, PhD, one of Lee’s fellow researchers.
“And what we’ve learned during the pandemic is that fit people generally have better outcomes against COVID-19,” he says.
Pate is now 76 and a research professor in the Department of Human Movement Sciences at the University of South Carolina. He’s a veteran long-distance runner with three top-10 finishes at the Boston Marathon, so you can get an idea of what his torso looks like.
However, as a researcher, his focus is on promoting lifelong fitness habits for all ages. According to Pate, running is a smart choice because it’s “very accessible, relatively inexpensive, and the US often has ‘community support systems’ such as local running clubs or planned trail systems that recreational runners find inviting.”
The 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, which Pate helped develop, recommend at least 150 minutes of moderate activity per week. That’s about 20 minutes a day, which should be doable if you want to get fit and stay healthy, he says.
For runners, that can mean less than 20 miles a week, while someone training for a half marathon or even a 5K can easily surpass that mileage.
But before you start a running program — or return to one after a break — get clearance from healthcare professionals.
Improve your running regardless of your body type
Running coaches know how important running efficiency is. And that doesn’t start in your legs, but in your “core”.
“A strong core helps a runner maintain their center of gravity late in the race when running form is slipping due to fatigue,” says George Buckheit, a former All-American runner at Bucknell University and founder of the Capital Area Runners Club in the area from Washington, D.C.
Doing basic planks at home is an easy way to strengthen your core.
Aside from getting miles, Buckheit says certain exercises will help you get faster:
form drills such as “high knees” and “butt kicks” reinforce the correct mechanics and increase freedom of movement. High knees are a bouncing motion, while butt kicks bring the foot straight up from the bottom, close to the buttocks. He recommends Lauren Fleshman’s video to see how to do these and other exercises.
run hill also reinforces correct form. Even a moderate ascent requires an active, rhythmic arm swing and a firm knee lift.
Interval Training can increase your VO2max, or the maximum amount of oxygen your body uses, when you exercise as hard as possible. Try a faster workout on a track or flat, measured trail once every 7 to 10 days. Jog for 10 to 15 minutes, do some light stretches or exercises, and then do four 800-meter runs at (or slightly faster than) your actual 5K pace. Between each 800-meter dash, do a 2- or 3-minute “recovery” walk/jog and finish with a 10-15 minute jog to cool off.
Push yourself to build the mental toughness and confidence that comes with tougher or longer workouts. Add a few miles to your longest run and include some rolling hills. If you have a marathon in mind, be sure to compete in a few 5K or 10K races to get used to the physical and mental demands of the race.
speed work can help you overcome any deficiencies in fast twitch and slow twitch muscle, which is just a toss of the genetic die. Finally, short, quick sprints (five or six shots over 40 or 50 yards) can get you faster and more explosive, while building up weekly miles or lengthening your long, steady runs activate those “slow-twitch” endurance muscles.
Running away from drugs
A man in Buckheit’s running club could not have smashed the Spanish “trunk test.” He was in his late 20s, weighed well over 200 pounds, and was on heart medication.
“I was worried that I might need my CPR training for this guy,” says Buckheit.
It’s a well-planned running program – and an athlete who is ready for it do the running – took the story in a different direction. Buckheit’s newcomer ran 4 hours for his first marathon and through diligent training a few years later he ran one in under 3 hours. That’s less than 7 minutes per mile.
“When he did the,“Buckheit said, ‘I was like, ‘Well, he can’t go much faster.'”
But the former rookie with heart problems recently reduced his personal marathon record to 2 hours and 37 minutes (running at 6 minutes per mile for 26 miles).
“I think he really benefited from the responsibility and camaraderie of being in a running club,” says Buckheit. “And one day he walked into the office and he said, ‘My cardiologist wants to know what the hell I did. He got me off my heart meds.’”
But can running help you get off your medication or, even better, avoid it altogether? Yes, according to the results of a study published in London in 2020.
The study put 138 first-time marathon runners – men and women between the ages of 21 and 69 – on a 17-week program of less than 30 miles per week before the London Marathon. Blood pressure and arteries were checked before and after.
Their conclusion: drop in blood pressure and stiffening of the aorta in healthy participants. It was like reducing the age of her blood vessels by 4 years. The benefit was greater in older, slower male runners with higher baseline blood pressure.
Coach Buckheit’s “surprise star” and the results of the London Marathon study are refreshing reminders that this is not the case Everyone Our victories are celebrated on the podium.
Any body can be a runner’s body
The first running boom of the 1970s was dominated by gnarly, wiry men. 44% of marathon finishers are now women. For the last several decades, mid-pack runners (or back-of-pack runners) have been encouraged by the likes of Oprah Winfrey and The world of the runner Columnist John Bingham, also known as “The Penguin” because of his waddling gait.
Neither had torso measurements that would have impressed the Spanish researchers. But Oprah finished a marathon in 4 hours and 29 minutes.
“Oprah convinced a lot of people,” says Amby Burfoot, winner of the 1968 Boston Marathon. “She was once a very unlikely candidate to make it, and when she did, a lot of people thought, ‘Hey, why can’t I Not?'”
And Bingham’s column made him the pied piper of the plodder — which attracts slower runners along with encouragement and humor — toward a life of better physical and mental well-being.
“We wouldn’t have daring Be in a race like this, with all these fast runners, if it wasn’t for your column,” enthused an admirer at a marathon fair.
Bingham grinned and said, “Remember: there’s a lot more of this us than there is she.”
Mark Will-Weber is a former senior editor at The world of the runner Magazine and the editor/author of The quotable runner.