Doing Nothing Can Makes You Stronger:

Sometimes its what you don’t do that makes you stronger.

One off the problems with running is that we tend to believe that more is better. Put any two runners or walkers together to discuss training and the questions quickly become focused on how much training is being undertaken. This is either based on the amount of time the runner spends on the road each day or week, or the total distance achieved in the precious seven day period.

Because the South African road running heritage has been build around the Comrades Marathon and the Two Oceans 56km, which itself commenced life in 1970 as a Western Cape training run in preparation for Comrades, runners here tend to target a higher weekly total goal than in most other countries around the world.

The desire to see a large figure at the end of a week together with the hypnotic mind-freeing post run glow, incites runners to go out seven days a week to tour their neighbourhood.  A five kilometre here, a seven kilometre with friends mid week and longer sessions at the weekend soon sees the enthusiastic runner knocking up 40 to 50 kilometres in a week.

To put this into perspective, internationally many of the runners wanting to complete the big city marathons such as London, New York or Berlin will spend most of their year training less than this and will only add a further 20 or 30km for their peak weeks.

Running and walking 30 minutes  three or four times a week that is touted worldwide as healthy training.  For many people this would amount to around 15 to 20 kilometres a week, which is 50% less than the 50km mark which for many South African runners is considered the minimum to offset a guilt complex.

A great many committed club runners in South Africa have become caught up in the distance debacle to the point where their performances are being damaged not because they don’t train enough, but because they don’t rest enough. They have become obsessed with the weekly distance instead of focusing on the principles of training. Ironically they would produce better results by training harder in fewer sessions per week, and having more rest days. 

Many runners who train seven days a week achieve less for their investment than those running four or five days simply because their muscles just do not get the time to benefit from the effort being put in.

Training can be considered to be a two stage process the first of which breaks the muscle down. The effort of pushing your muscles to do just slightly more than they are normally capable of inflicts a series of micro-tears. This is the stimulus to your body to initiate the various recuperative systems.

When the body repairs the muscles they become stronger than they were originally and so there is a gain in strength. Gardeners will recognize a similar rational used in pruning roses to get a stronger bush with a larger bloom.

 The same principle applies with body builders who go to the gym to do arms on a Monday and then will not train these muscles for another two or more days in order to give the arm muscles the required rest to be repaired and become stronger.

When you consistently train the same muscle you begin damaging already damaged muscles and so instead of gaining strength, it deteriorates.

You can easily test this for yourself.  Do 15 or 20 push-ups each morning for 7 to 10 days. What was relatively easy on Monday and maybe even slightly easier on Tuesday soon becomes harder by Thursday and Friday. Depending on your fitness at the outset you will possibly even find it impossible to complete the same session after the ten day period.

So what has rose pruning and body building to do with training for the Spar ladies race (or any road running for that matter)?   

One of the challenges with running is that it uses the same muscles every time you run, there is no way to run and to rest these muscles at the same time. The best that can be achieved is to reduce the speed, distance and stride in order to reduce the intensity or load put on the muscles. The other alternative is to do a different sport, such as swimming, or take a full days rest.

You get maximum benefit from your training if you mix the difficulty and intensity of the quality sessions, with the recovery of the rest days.  It is the harder more challenging days that extend your muscles and aerobic systems into new territory, and in doing so cause a minimal but important level of break-down. However it is the rest days and very easy days that allow the muscles to recover. Recovery is not just about returning to normal, but an enhanced level of strength, stamina, speed, or suppleness that provides the increased fitness you were looking for.

So remember when you train on a quality day be sure that you push yourself just that little bit more than you did the previous session, BUT observe all the easy or rest days as it is your ability to do nothing that ensures the improvement and fitness gain you are after.

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