Combined ElliptiGO & Running Workouts

An Article By Idai Makaya (written for the April 2018 ElliptiGO Newsletter): 

I only run occasionally nowadays, but I was a regular runner for about 20 years…

The ElliptiGO is a bike born out of the need to replicate a running workout without any impact. Of course, it has now taken on many roles in various people’s fitness regimes, simply because it is such an engaging bike to ride and also because it provides an aerobic or cardiovascular workout using the human body’s natural posture and methodology of motion.

This natural posture is significant not just because it tends to feel nicer and not just because it’s more convenient to adapt to, but also because your body is ‘designed’ to move in a standing posture (and is actually more durable when used in this way). By this I mean that your legs are designed to carry you around all day. That’s how your body is made to work. So doing this in an impact-free manner is less likely to injure you, less likely to aggravate injuries you may already have, and is more sustainable.

We have become used to many unnatural ways of exercising and while they all work they are much less suited to our physiology. For instance, endurance exercises like rowing (which uses the hands and arms – and also the back) are actually unnatural – although now regarded as being conventional. And such exercises are not greatly ergonomic for the human design.

We can adapt to unnatural exercises – and they can be highly effective for our fitness – but because of their unnatural movements the likelihood of developing joint-related injuries of the hands, wrists, knees and back is disproportionately high (when compared to using an ElliptiGO, which is a more natural movement and does not stress the parts of the body which are not naturally designed for high-stress endurance activities).

Moving onto another popular exercise that’s often described as a ‘natural movement’ – running – we find that many people enjoy running for its simplicity and because the natural posture makes the exercise highly engaging. Running is also very effective for burning calories and helping people to lose weight. But it’s not as natural as many people like to think.

There’s a common strap-line thrown around in running circles that humans were “born to run”. I strongly disagree and nature seems to refute such a claim. Humans actually appear to be adapted and designed to walk a lot, not to run a lot, which is why almost all runners tend to encounter injuries and discomfort of the soft tissues and joints. Studies show that the vast majority of sports runners encounter injuries EVERY YEAR.

This fact has led to the growth of cross-training exercises for runners, which help runners stay fit on non-running days so that they can run less frequently. The ElliptiGO is one such exercise and this article will focus on one of many training methodologies which runners can use to combine their running training with ElliptiGO training in order to become less injury prone, whilst also enhancing their running fitness and allowing them to run ‘better’.

I use the term ‘better’ because different people define their running goals in different ways. Whilst the ‘cultural default’ seems to be focused on running faster, when looked at for the majority of people running faster is not always a meaningful goal. A person who runs 10km in 65 minutes can greatly improve and run 10km in 50 minutes. But in a race of 1,000 runners that improvement tends to be meaningless and also tends to give no additional measured ‘reward’. What that pace improvement can bring, unfortunately, is a considerably higher injury incidence because of the increases in training stress required to achieve it.

What I am pointing out with this example is the need to contextualise your goals and to ask yourself why you run. What are you getting from it? For many people it’s driven by community, fun, fitness, weight loss and mental relaxation. Not beating other people in a race.  So if you are one such person, then does finishing a 10km run 10 minutes faster enhance all those things for you? It might. But it might not.

It helps to think about it with some focus because most people don’t. They blindly follow the mantras in running magazines telling them that they need to get faster and faster so they can finish closer to the front and further from the back of the field. But for the additional stresses this involves it might not always be sensible for you to do this if you are not going to get a prestigious placing or to beat a common landmark or standard that means something to you.

But if the struggle to get a little bit faster could threaten your ability to run enjoyably and trouble-free for the next 30 years (and if it might curtail you to just making it through another 3 or 4 years before injuries make running more of a chore than a joy) then maybe you should focus on the quality of the experience instead of just the speed at which you are running. Don’t get me wrong, having arbitrary pace-related goals can be a huge motivator for many of us and can help us get out there on days when we otherwise might not have. But that may or may not be important.

If it’s snowing and you go for a run you can get home feeling a great sense of achievement. But you could also limp home after falling, when you could have simply enjoyed a run on a gym treadmill – or a spin on an indoor bike – which would both have been safer and more enjoyable than running in the snow and ice. It’s all about focusing on what we are really getting out of the activity and what we most enjoy about it.

Dean Karnazes is a well known American ultra-distance runner who uses ElliptiGO training to add impact-free mileage to his training regime for long-distance running (as are Haile & Meb – who are both pictured in the image backdrop)…

But back to running training – regardless of the nature of your goals. All runners are theoretically facing the possibility of developing running injuries from impact and wear and tear factors. The reliable studies we have on the subject suggest that everyone who runs more than 35-miles every week becomes considerably more injury prone and faces a 70-80% chance of developing some sort of injury every ear.

For many people 35-miles is not a high weekly running mileage. So if you want to enhance your running fitness, but you also want to keep your injury risk low, you will probably need to consider using cross training options (like an ElliptiGO bike) to ‘bulk up’ your training volume around your runs without actually increasing that exposure to impact.

There are many ways to do this, but the most EFFECTIVE ways will involve impact-free options which are closer to the running physiology than those which are less closely related. In other words, an ElliptiGO is more like running than swimming – and will enhance your ability to run much more effectively than swimming can do (even though swimming can enhance your heart and lung fitness it will not affect your overall ability to run to the same extent as an exercise that uses the body in a more similar way to running).

This article is about one specific option you can potentially use to enhance your running endurance and fitness, without  simply running more and more. It involves combining ElliptiGO rides with your runs, in the same sessions. This is by no means the only way to combine ElliptiGO training with running. There are numerous ways you can use. But having a range of options keeps training fresh and allows us to cater for different needs.

One need which is met well by combining ElliptiGO training and runs in the same session is the simulation of longer runs without actually running for longer. The approach is a good way of doing very long training sessions without running for as long as you’d need to in order to achieve the same effect.

My suggested ‘algorithm’ that a runner could use for doing this is one used by a successful US coach called Bob Augello who not only has extensive experience of training competitive runners using the ElliptiGO bike, but has also been an early pioneer of bike cross-training methodologies for runners long before the ElliptiGO was ever invented. Bob’s suggestion is to focus on duration when translating running efforts into ElliptiGO rides.

When I discussed this concept of translating ElliptiGO rides into runs with him Bob had suggested that ElliptiGO rides should be 50% longer than any runs being simulated by those rides (whilst using a similar training heart rate to that of the run being ‘translated’ into a ride). This is because an athlete should take advantage of the impact-free nature of the ElliptiGO exercise and actually aim to train more, if they can.

If all runners could run more, without incurring injury, most runners would improve their performance by simply adding more training volume. In the real world that’s an approach of exponentially diminishing returns, which is where impact-free cross training can really fill a gap. Under the suggested formula that Bob gave me, a 90-minute ride on the ElliptiGO will be a great substitution for 60-minutes of running at that same heart rate intensity.

Once we have an understanding of this ‘translation’ it becomes easy to increase overall training time without increasing injury risk for run training. The most obvious way is to use the impact-free sessions additively. If you normally run for 1 hour a day, on 3 days a week, you can enhance your fitness without increasing injury risk by simply adding on an additional amount of ElliptiGO training to those runs. To simulate doubling that running distance you would then need to run for an hour and immediately get on the ElliptiGO and ride for 90 more minutes at the same intensity as the run being doubled.

The above scenario assumes lots of free time. Not everyone has the time to double their training so most people need to compromise on this approach in order to achieve similar outcomes. One obvious approach is to only do this for your longest runs, on days when you do have more time. So a weekend long run presents an ideal doubling-up opportunity, as does your shortest run of the week (or your recovery run). You can potentially double your weekend long run’s endurance value by adding on an ElliptiGO ride of 50% more duration, at the same heart rate.

Of course this still requires sensibility. You cannot simply launch into it. You need to build up very slowly, starting with just a short ElliptiGO ride and then progressively increasing the duration. Your body then gets the opportunity to adapt slowly to the extra workload. Similarly with recovery runs, but easier to do. Lengthen the recovery run by adding an easy ElliptiGO ride afterwards.

Because it is a recovery session it need not get too long. But you can significantly reduce the exposure to impact on recovery days by using the ElliptiGO. For many runners the complete elimination of recovery runs (by replacing them with longer and still easy ElliptiGO rides) actually makes more sense, but halving the duration of one’s recovery runs (and making up for the reduced running time with an ElliptiGO ride immediately after the run) can work well too.

Garrett Heath is a well known professional runner who relies on ElliptiGO training to enhance his fitness for middle-distance running…

Note that the scenarios I have given all involve using the ElliptiGO after running – and not before. There are good reasons for this. Apart from warming up, an endurance session before running is not a good idea even if the exercise is impact free. This is because running is a coordinated exercise. Think of running as a series of hops. This requires good coordination and many experts believe that impact-conditioning is not a physical or chemical change in the body, it is more a ‘coordinational’ one.

So the better your coordination is for single leg hops the more impact conditioned you will become and the less likely you are to injure yourself. These coordination pathways take thousands of repetitions to embed which is why runners must run to be truly conditioned for the activity. But much of the endurance can be developed without impact if you use your runs tactically. And part of this means you should not interfere with that coordination development.

Tiring the muscles before running is one sure way to interfere with your coordination (at a cellular level, which isn’t always easy to discern). So don’t routinely do a full ElliptiGO session before you run because you are more likely to get injured by doing this regularly. Think of it like running a race in new shoes. Runners need to ‘break in’ their new shoes not just for fit and comfort, but also to get the nervous system attuned to the new coordination required to brace the body from impact which a new show will cause.

It is about coordination, which is why so many people are injured when they get new shoes. The new shoes may not be uncomfortable and the injury simply comes from using a preset coordinational pattern under different conditions. It’s like running on a surface of different hardness. The coordinational requirements become different under such conditions.

So riding before your runs, as a routine thing, is not actually a good way to train with the ElliptiGO (if injury avoidance/reduction is one of your key training priorities). This is because tiring your muscles also reduces their coordination – and that reduction in coordination increases your likelihood of developing running injuries when you regularly (or even occasionally) run tired.

Hopefully the concept of extending your runs with ElliptiGO rides makes sense and it is well worth trying out if you are injury prone but want to run longer distances, or if you are recovering from chronic running injury – and even if you are running perfectly well but want to increase fitness without messing around with your good running health!

If you have any questions or require clarifications on any of the concepts discussed here feel free to contact me. And, until the next time – train smart, train hard, and train safely!

Best Regards,
Idai Makaya.

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