Why Everyone Should Run (Like Bruce Lee)

By on March 2, 2021

Running is beneficial no matter your training goals or who you are. This is something that we, as humans, are born to do. The fact that so many of us stop running, is one of the main reasons we see our physical and mental performance decline as we get older.

Here’s all you need to know: both Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee ran every single day at some point in their careers. Case closed, right?

Bruce Lee Running

But just for fun…

In this post, I will make the case for running. Whether you are a bodybuilder, powerlifter, a Mum or Dad, or a functional training advocate. I will also explain why the best way to run is in minimal footwear, and off-road.

See also: Jackie Chan’s Training, Workouts, and Life-Lessons

Cardio and Fitness vs HIIT

First and foremost, running for long periods (5km and above) is one of the best forms of aerobic training and a crucial way to strengthen your aerobic capacity.

Running has fallen out of vogue somewhat in the wake of high intensity interval training. HIIT involves sprinting or performing resistant cardio for short, all-out bouts, separated by periods of rest or active recovery. For example, you might perform 1-minute sprints, with 30-second intervals of light jogging.

See also: Rethinking Endurance – Specific Peripheral Adaptations

This form of training has become popular owing to its ability to shorten the amount of time it takes to burn calories and see improvements to endurance. 40 minutes of HIIT can potentially replace 70 minutes of running at a comfortable pace. With everyone so busy these days, this makes HIIT a compelling option.

Because HIIT trains the ATP and lactic acid systems, it depletes available glucose and thus forces the body to make up the short fall after training. This in turn results in an “afterburn” effect, that sees increased calorie burn for a time after the workout. This is essentially EPOC: Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption.

Moreover, HIIT and other forms of high intensity training are superior when it comes to training the mitochondria (study). The mitochondria are the “power plants” of the cell and are crucial for generating energy quickly. More efficient mitochondria means more energy throughout the day and may even combat the effects of aging.

Then there’s the fast nature of HIIT, which makes it less likely to create the weaker, smaller Type I muscle fibers. In other words, a HIIT finisher won’t canablize your muscle in the same way that a 60 minute jog might.

But Don’t Rule Out LISS

I’m not here to tell you that high-intensity training is bad. But you should be doing BOTH.

Long bouts of running are better able to improve heart size and stroke volume

That’s because LISS appears to be more effective when it comes to training the heart. Long bouts of running are better able to improve heart size and stroke volume, meaning you get more blood around your body more easily. In short, you develop your Qmax or “quantified maximal cardiac output.” High intensity training is too fast to train the heart in this way because the contractions are more like twitches (study).

everyone should run

This results in even more energy, not to mention better anabolism, better sleep, and a feeling of calm. You’ll lower your resting heart rate, and lower your chance of cardiovascular disease – the leading cause of death in the US.

See also: The Sled Push (Car Push) for Athletic Performance

The SAID principle (specific adaptations to imposed demands) is an inarguable law that says the best way to get better at something, is to do that thing more. If you want to get better at exerting yourself for a longer period of time, there are no shortcuts.

Guess what? Fights aren’t broken into 1 minute bursts of exertion. Neither are football matches. And if you’re running away from a tiger, they usually aren’t willing to give you a minute to catch your breath! Extended exertion is a crucial skill that everyone should possess.

Calorie Burn

In terms of calorie burn, I personally feel that you can’t beat LISS. Run for 60 minutes and you can easily burn 800 calories. That’s nearly half of the average total AMR. That makes a HUGE dent in your calories out.

Run for 60 minutes and you can easily burn 800 calories.

Getting to this point more quickly with HIIT is achievable, but it’s not the easy shortcut you think it is. Running at full pelt or slamming battle ropes with the same intensity is intense. That’s why it’s called high intensity training! Noobs and those with health conditions should avoid this type of training. For everyone else, the toll it takes on the nervous system should not be underestimated. If you’re lifting your 1RM this week, a HIIT session is going to be seriously piling it on.

Why everyone should jog

We shouldn’t overestimate the value of the “afterburn effect.” This can increase calorie burn for around 2-3 hours after exercise (study). This doesn’t have a huge impact on your overall calorie burn. One study found little difference between HIIT and LISS (study).

Why Running Makes You Feel Better

Both HIIT and LISS improve VO2 max (the amount of oxygen you can utilize in a given time). LISS will also improve your cardiovascular fitness, circulation, and blood pressure.

All this can help you to feel more energetic as you are better able to utilize and produce energy at a slow pace. Not only that, but you will deliver more oxygen to the brain and the rest of the body via improved circulation.

All this can help you to feel more energetic as you are better able to utilize and produce energy at a slow pace.

So many people are eager to improve their energy levels. They say they feel sluggish and lethargic and so they turn to any number of “hacks” and supplements. Why is it that so few people consider the most obvious solution: improving aerobic fitness!

If you really want to wake up with more energy, practice running!

Recovery

Whereas , LISS actually serves as a form of recovery – if you’re doing it right.

The mistake a lot of people make, is thinking that running has no benefit for them unless they smash their PRs every time. Thus we see people running somewhat close to their lactate threshold at all times – what Ben Greenfield refers to as “blackhole training.”

jogging for recovery

This is highly taxing on the nervous system, it trains one type of energy system over all others, and it isn’t necessary to get many of the benefits of running.

Whereas a tough run will break you down, a gentle run that’s just faster than a power-walk will build you up. This process aids the rapid circulation of blood around the body and thereby actually helps to replenish muscles after they’ve been broken down at the gym. Better yet, this may lead to vascularization – increasing the blood vessels that actually transport blood and oxygen to the body.

In short, you’ll recover quicker from workouts by going on gentle runs or even walks. And thanks to an improved aerobic capacity, you’ll be able to train harder for longer at the gym too (this is called work capacity).

A gentle run is also extremely relaxing for the mind and can work like a form of meditation, as we will see in a moment.

Muscle and Form

Running tones muscle and improves biomechanics, when trained properly. And only LISS has the potential to do this in a truly transformational way.

As I’ve explained before, your body is designed to adapt to its environment. That means the world around it but also the habits and expectations placed on it. For most of us, the environment consists primarily of sitting at a desk typing, or sitting on the sofa. This is why we feel best sitting down and it’s why we struggle to squat. It’s also why we have developed short, tight hip extensors, and rounded backs.

Spending an hour in the gym three times a week won’t fix that. You have done maybe 30 repetitions of the squatting movement, versus over 100 hours of sitting. What is the bigger stimulus?

Running, however, is effectively a form of high-repetition exercise. You’re repeating a movement enough to rival the stimulus that is sitting with tens of thousands of steps – hours of repetitive movements.

Hip Stabilization

In doing this, you are strengthening the stabilizers of the hips so that you can balance better on one leg and combat issues like valgus knees. You are strengthening all the muscles in the legs. At the same time, you are reinforcing proper gait patterns (as long as you are mindful of your movement and ensure that you are moving correctly). And you are improving properties such as ankle stiffness.

You are strengthening the stabilizers of the hips so that you can balance better on one leg.

After a few months of running, your feet will feel stronger and more stable. You’ll be able to spring into the air more easily and they’ll feel lighter.

Stronger Core

Likewise, you are practicing keeping your torso tight for long periods. This is something missing for many of us who work sitting down and it’s one of the leading causes of back issues. The core muscles are intended to be highly endurant: their job is to keep us upright via an equal pull and push throughout the entire day. Strength endurance is what really matters here.

If your core muscles are undertrained, however, and you go to pick up something heavy after a long day of sitting, then you will be far more likely to pull a muscle and hurt yourself. This is why so many people can benefit from core exercises that focus on strength endurance, such as the plank. But running is even better, as it uses the core precisely how it’s meant to be used.

Tired Sprinting Breath Training

Again, it’s important to be mindful of your running form. That means keeping a straight back and relaxing the shoulders/neck. There is debate as to whether you should “run tall” or lean forward. The correct answer depends a lot on your form, your footwear, and more. Running tall is not always good advice for those wearing thick heels on their shoes but is better for wearing minimal footwear.

Don’t fret to much about this, just know that being upright when fatigued is very good for your overall resilience against injury. You just have to be mindful not to slouch or lean back.

Dodging and Weaving

I know what you might be thinking at this point: if running is so good for you, where does runners’ knee come from? Why do some many people struggle with tight IT bands?

The answer is that running, for many people, means running in straight lines on tarmac. Big, unnatural heels only worsen this issue.

Running for stronger knees

As I’ve discussed in the past, running barefoot or wearing minimal footwear, allows the feet to work as intended. Now your toes will be able to splay and contour to the shape of the ground, preventing a twisted ankle. You will be landing on the forefoot and absorbing the impact through the stacked joints right under your center of gravity, compressing like a spring. And you will be pushing off from the ground with your toes.

Trail Running for Greater Benefits

More to the point, though, running in straight lines on flat surfaces is also fairly unnatural. What we should be doing instead, is running through woods, running across grass, and running up hills.

See also: Hill Sprint Benefits for Athletic Performance (Sprinting, Jumping, Kicking)

This has a number of benefits. Firstly, it means you’ll need to change direction, dodge, weave, and sidestep. You’ll be jumping over obstacles and balancing on slippery surfaces. All this means that, while repetitive, the running is much more varied. You’re using more muscles and you’re more engaged with what you are doing, which in turn reduces the likelihood of imbalances and pain. In particular, those sideways movements in the frontal plane are what will prevent IT band pain or knee issues. By strengthening the hips and ankles, your legs will function the way they were intended.

Trail running for knees

This is another argument I have against being a specialist (unless you’re a professional athlete). The body isn’t designed to do just one thing over and over with minimal variation – this is what leads to stagnation and injury. Introduce the chaotic elements that come from running off the beaten track, and you gain amazing new benefits.

So, I not only recommend that everyone run, but that everyone trail run in minimal footwear.

Cognitive Benefits

Then there are the cognitive benefits of running.

In particular, this type of trail running is a sensory rich process that requires you to listen to proprioceptive feedback from your feet and legs, and to marry that with information from your other senses and the rest of your body. This involves a huge amount of processing and the constant variety will keep the brain in a learning state.

Moreover, running or walking can help to put you in a relaxed state of mind that is conducive to ideation and creativity. We’ve heard countless stories of great thinkers who had amazing ideas and breakthroughs while walking. Turns out this is no coincidence!

See also: Ideation: How History’s Greatest Thinkers Had Their Best Ideas

One reason walking or running is conducive to creativity is that it places us in a calming natural scenes. Evolutionary psychology dictates that we still relax when we see green plants and trees, or running water. This is further enhanced when we walk anywhere new: now the “rich novel environment” puts us in a more plastic state as our brains respond to the novelty (study). This is another reason to run off-road and to loop around and explore.

Optic Flow

Finally, the very act of running places the brain in a calm state. Running is usually a rhythmic process, which puts us in a calm state of mind. On top of this, we also experience something called “optic flow.” This is the experience of objects moving past the retina at a range of speeds. A certain process occurs in the brain that helps us understand that it is us and not the objects moving, and that lets us intuit just how fast this movement is.

This is not only good for the brain but is also highly relaxing and a similar process may even be useful for helping PTSD sufferers to overcome traumatic experiences. Andrew Huberman talks about this a lot.

Health Benefits

And of course, there are countless health benefits that come simply from being outdoors. There’s the vitamin D, the fresh air, the natural light that helps to set our biological clock… Simply spending time outdoors is incredibly good for our health and general well-being, and again its something that a lot of us are severely lacking.

See also: The Many Benefits of Training Outdoors

Well, What Are You Waiting For?

I think one of the major reasons a lot of people are reluctant to run, is that they don’t realize they can do it on top of other types of training. The advice online is that running once a week is insufficient for improving your running times. But these articles are written by runners who see that as their primary goal.

Running outdoors

If you’re not necessarily driven by completing 10Ks in under 40 minutes, then you can still get a TON of amazing benefits from running once a week. Improved cardio, tougher legs, improved hip stability, better core stability, greater calorie burn, accelerated recovery, and a mental recharge all in one. And you will see improvements to your cardiovascular health, too. You can train your biceps once a week and see them grow, and the same logic applies here! Except you get even more benefits if you’re piling this on top of resistance training, HIIT, or metcon.

An no, running for 40 minutes a week isn’t going to instantly melt away all your hard-earned muscle!

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About Adam Sinicki

Adam Sinicki, AKA The Bioneer, is a writer, personal trainer, author, entrepreneur, and web developer. I've been writing about health, psychology, and fitness for the past 10+ years and have a fascination with the limits of human performance. When I'm not running my online businesses or training, I love sandwiches, computer games, comics, and hanging out with my family.

3 Comments

  1. Glen says:

    Would running once a week for 60 mins effect strength gains ? Considering other training would be a mixture of heavy bag work (to be replaced with Thai boxing and Krav Maga classes once lockdown ends) and heavy strength twice a week weight training?

  2. A says:

    60 minutes is very little running! Should not matter.

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