Thursday, September 1, 2011

***VERY Important to Know! Foundations of Fitness

One of the best things that I did when I started learning how to run again was to be a little obsessed with reading as much as I could about the sport. I was 'super patron' at the London Public Library. :)

One of the BEST things I read about at the time was knowing your body systems. It was an 'aha' for me and I want to share here because I think this information is very important to know. I even highlighted the crucial information, in case you just want to scan this longer post first to see what it's about.

This is key information to know about your body and more importantly, how to prevent injury to your body.

from "Running for Mortals; A Commonsense Plan for Changing Your Life Through Running," by John "The Penguin" Bingham, and Coach Jenny Hadfield, page 53-59.


First and foremost, an athlete has to come to terms with what his or her body can and cannot do, and then learn to work within those limitations.

For many new athletes, the tired old adage, "No pain, no gain" still seems to be stuck in their heads. When we start introducing new runners to our our training programs, they often worry that the training seems too easy. They wonder how anything that feels so comfortable can be doing them any good.

In most cases, the misunderstanding comes from a lack of knowledge about how the body - your body, my body, every body - really works. It's not nearly the mystery that you think it is. In fact, once you understand some of the basics, it's pretty simple.

It's all about the systems in the body and they way they react to increased stress. The systems are related to one another but are not identical. They can work in harmony, but only if each is given time to adjust to the new demands being placed on them.

Our bodies, at least the parts that we're going to focus on, consist of three main systems:
  • the aerobic system (heart and lungs)
  • the muscular system (the muscles); and
  • the skeletal system (bones, joints, tendons, etc.)
As runners, we are asking each of these systems to adapt to new stresses. The key to success is knowing how, when, and why the systems change.

We tend to take our aerobic systems for granted because it is there working away all the time. Very few of us spend any time at all thinking about our heart and lungs. We count on them to be there for us., and we only pay attention to them if something goes wrong. It's a good thing that they do work without any input from us; if we had to remember to breathe or pump blood, most of us wouldn't last a week .....

As you begin to move more - as you begin to walk or run (or cycle pr perform any kind of activity that places a demand on your heart for more oxygen) - your heart reacts almost immediately to that new demand. It has to. It has to in order to keep you alive.

If, like many people, you take off on your first run and bolt down the street as fast as you can, your heart goes into panic mode. Your lungs are demanding oxygen, and your heart just can't keep up. So your heart does the only thing it knows how to do in that situation: It shuts your body down.

If, as we are suggesting, you start to move a little more, a little at a time, your heart can meet those incremental demands and won't shut down.

The most amazing part is how quickly your aerobic system adapts to new demands. By asking for small increases in bloodflow, by walking or running at a comfortable pace for a small amount of time, you can begin to see measurable improvement in your aerobic system in as little as three weeks.

Three weeks - because your aerobic system is so highly developed, it can make those adaptations almost immediately. This explains why after just a few weeks of being active, almost everybody starts to feel better. Their hearts beat better, their lungs work better, and life is good.

That's when the problems begin.

Your muscular system is not as efficient as your aerobic system. It does not make the adaptation to the new stress caused by activity in the same way and in the same amount of time. as your aerobic system.

Our muscles are structured in layers. The layer that we use most of the time, what we call our Monday muscles, is in relatively good shape. So, when we go out for that first run or walk, most of the effort is eaten up by the Monday muscles.

On Tuesday, our Monday muscles are still tired, so they send out a call for the next layer of muscle tissue. The problem is, this layer of muscle hasn't been used much recently and isn't in the kind of shape that the Monday muscles are in. So the Tuesday muscles tire out more quickly than the Monday muscles do, and the run is much more difficult.

Come Wednesday, the Monday and Tuesday muscles are wasted, so the call goes out for the next layer of muscle. But this layer of muscle hasn't been called on since you were 12 years old! This layer is in terrible condition and has no stamina or endurance at all. With no muscle strength left, the joints don't have any support., and the stress on them begins to make them ache.

By Thursday, there are no muscles left at all, except those that you haven't used since you were crawling across the floor as a baby. These muscles are nearly worthless to you. The joints are totally unprotected from the stress and begin to break down.

Friday: You're done.

Make sense?

The only way - the only way - to get the muscles adaptation you need is by giving those muscles time to rest and recover. For the typical adult, that means about 48 hours of rest in between runs. During that period, your Monday muscles put out a call to the heart and lungs and explain that they need more oxygen in order to heal themselves. The veins and arteries get involved in the action and start building additional capillaries to carry that extra blood into the muscles.

The Monday muscles also start talking to the Tuesday muscles and tell them to get off their dead butts and get involved in this process. The Tuesday muscles are not all that excited, but they answer the call.

With a little rest, your Monday muscles can carry you nearly as far as they did the first time, and the call to the Tuesday muscles is only for a little support, not to completely take over. In the meantime, your joints are protected by the stronger muscles you available and are not as likely to ache!

As your running time and distance increase, you'll begin to engage more and more muscle fibres, until you reach a point where all the muscles are engaged in helping you become a better runner.

One small problem: While your aerobic system can achieve on cycle of measurable improvement in 3 to 4 weeks, your muscular system achieves one cycle of measurable improvement in 6 to 12 weeks. What this means is that for some new runners, the aerobic system can progress 2 to 4 times faster than their muscular system.

The time difference in cycles of improvement, or more precisely, the lack of understanding about this difference is why so many people find themselves with muscles soreness 3 to 4 weeks into an exercise or running program. What happens is that their heart and lungs start feeling better right away. In just a few weeks, these new runners decide they should be able to run farther or faster just because they feel so much better aerobically.

But the body doesn't work that way. You have to be patient. You have to be smart. You have to know that your muscles are getting fitter at a much more gradual pace than your heart and lungs are. And you have to pace yourself.

And as if that wasn't enough to worry about, you've got to consider your skeletal system. Your skeletal system goes through one complete cycle of measurable improvement in 6 to 12 months.

Six to 12 months.

That means your aerobic system is changing every 3 to 4 weeks, and your muscles are changing every 6 to 12 weeks, but your joints and tendons won't - and can't - change except every 6 to 12 months. Your aerobic system can experience 12 improvement cycles, and you muscles could experience 4 or 5 , for every one improvement cycle of your skeletal system.

This is why people so often begin to experience joint pain after just a few months of running. It's not hard to understand now, is it? Their hearts and their lungs are feeling better than ever and their muscles are starting to feel great, so they push themselves to go farther and faster before their joints and tendons are ready.

The simplest way to understand this is to think of the amount of blood going to each of these systems: Lots of blood in the heart and lungs - fast improvement. Less blood in the muscles - slower improvement. Nearly no blood in the joints and tendons - very slow improvement.

Just knowing and understanding these three systems and how they work, both independently and cooperatively, can make the difference between becoming a lifelong athlete and being injured.''

And take it from us, being active is better than being injured.


  1. I loved this post! I learnt a bit :)
    Thanks for sharing :D

  2. Thank you for saying this, Suza. For me, I just reached the 6 month mark for running consecutively after a ten week hiatus. I like to think that there is significant improvement ahead now that my skeletal system is adjusting - LOL! :)