Are Endurance Exercises Aging Us Faster?
In the late 1960s, the Cooper Clinic promoted running as an inexpensive way to achieve fitness and good health. Back then, only about 100,000 people in America were runners. Now that number is more than 30 million. The problem is, endurance running - and other aerobic exercise that relies on repetitive motion over a long period of time, such as stationary biking or the step master - results in premature symptoms of aging: slower reflexes, shorter and weaker muscles, less flexibility, worn out joints, broken posture, and inflammation that takes hours to stabilize.
Does that mean running is bad? Not if you sprint. Let's compare sprinting to marathon running.
Sprinters are the fastest of runners and use the widest range of motion in their legs. Marathon runners, at the other extreme, are the slowest of runners and use the narrowest range of motion in their legs. While they are running, sprinters' bodies are as hard as possible during the moment of impact with the ground, and then as soft as possible when they fly through the air between strides. The gap between the hardness and softness of the sprinters' muscles is extreme, as it the speed with which they go from one state to the other. In contrast, marathon runners' bodies are far less hard at impact and far less soft during flight.
These principles carry over to when the runners are not racing. At rest, sprinters have the most flexible bodies of all runners and the softest, most supple of all muscles, whereas marathon runners have the least flexible bodies and the hardest, densest of all muscles.
Similar contrasts could be made between divers and long-distance swimmers, ski jumpers and cross-country skiers, or bicycle sprinters and long-distance road cyclists. All interval or power exercises make us better by increasing our youthfulness--defined as flexibility, strength, speed, and posture--and all endurance exercises make us worse by contributing to our hardening and aging process.
The common misconception, among doctors as well as the general public, is that only endurance exercises have cardiovascular benefits. The truth is that both interval and endurance exercises have cardiovascular benefits, but the former has them without the side effects of exhaustion, inflammation, and musculoskeletal degeneration. In fact, interval exercises are better for the heart than endurance exercises because the range between the highest and the lowest number of heartbeats is far greater, and therefore the muscles of the heart are made stronger.
The whole purpose of our Happy Body program, which helps people regain youthfulness, is to slow down the again process by retaining the body's softness when it is relaxed while simultaneously developing its hardness for action. The bigger the gap between a body's hardness and softness, the better; and the faster that one can go from one to the other, the healthier, more elastic, and more powerful the body. A weak brittle body is like a solid glass ball. Throw it against a wall and it will shatter. A strong, elastic body is like a rubber ball. Throw it against a wall and it will bounce back with force.
A trainer for triathlon athletes at Gold's Gym, where we train Olympic weightlifters, observed his clients were in pain, worn out, and not happy. "I like what you do," said the trainer, "but we need endurance."
"Tell me where you need to endure and I'll train you for that," said Jerzy.
The trainer replied, "In New York I trained firemen who had to climb forty flights carrying equipment."
To this, Jerzy said, "If I send two people up forty flights--a gold medal sprinter or a gold medal marathon runner--who will arrive first?"
Conclusion: People who train for power have endurance without trying to. Power athletes are happy and energetic. Endurance athletes are tired, sore, and in pain. If you love to run, as many people do, then get in the habit of breaking up your run with 45 minutes' worth of frequent, intense wind sprints, instead of slow, steady jogging. Hopefully, you will phase out the jogging altogether.
Written by Aniela and Jerzy Gregorek. They are the founders and head coaches of the UCLA weightlifting team, and own a successful personal coaching and athletic training practice in LA. Aniela is a five-time World Weightlifting Champion who holds six world records, and Jerzy is a four-time World Weightlifting Champion with one world record. They have devoted the last 30 years to researching and designing The Happy Body Program, and now share that program in a new book, The Happy Body (www.thehappybody.com).