Exercise/Health/Food
Jogging is a Waste of Time
21st August 2014
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In which I discuss jogging and the sort of thing I do instead of jogging.

Alex, you make exercising less shitty.

I sweat a lot more than on a normal run but come back feeling like I’ve had a great time.

A Lengthy Introduction

Read this if you want more background to what I’m about to say, or if you’ve read the rest of it but disagree with how I’ve phrased something, but skip it if you just want to read a little bit of this point.

Jogging is, by my reckoning, the main form of ‘exercise’ used when people decide they want to ‘get fit’; but in my opinion it isn’t a very effective method. [postscript – thinking again, aerobics exercises classes at the gym are probably quite common for women, like Zumba or just general aerobics, anything with extended periods of cardio. Let’s lump that in with jogging here, though some exercise classes can be very good, I don’t mean all of them.] Now, part of the difficulty in discussing this is that the way society uses the words ‘exercise’ and ‘get fit’ in common parlance are different to what I think they should mean: I think that ‘exercise’ and ‘getting fit’ discuss the way we use in our bodies in a narrow way, as ‘exercise’ and ‘getting fit’ seems to be geared for most people towards losing weight and gaining muscle, which misses out longer-term goals of looking after the body in protecting the spine and our joints,  creativity, flexibility, mental or spiritual aspects, or simply the fact that it can be done for fun for its own sake. These are good aims and cover a lot of the benefits, but I think only cover 70% of it, and for me personally, about half of the time I do “exercise” I’m just playing or moving without any aim of ‘losing weight’ or ‘gaining muscle to look good” (the rest of the time I’m wanting to make myself stronger or faster or more functional or similar, still not trying to ‘lose weight’ or ‘look better’ but with a particular aim of physical improvement).

This would be a topic in itself and not one I want to get into further, but I thought it worth a mention.

To qualify the title: when I say that ‘jogging is a waste of time’, I don’t mean it has no benefits or is even a bad use of time. I just mean that the time could be used better. And I mean ‘better’ both in terms of the goals which I think ‘exercise’ should work towards and in terms of the general goals of people who go jogging – I’ll discuss it in terms of the latter so that this discussion isn’t about what I think is good but on the usual terms of society.

In terms of a ‘waste’, I don’t mean a ‘strong’ definition in that it shouldn’t be done at all, but instead a ‘weak’ definition that the time could be used to better effect. If, in walking to the shop, I take a long route that takes two minutes instead of a short route which would have taken one minute, then I have wasted some time (assuming the journey to the shop is the only purpose – if I’ve taken it because of some other reason like being more enjoyable or pleasant or whatever then that’s different). Or if, I want to move some bricks between my yard and my van and move two hundred in ten minutes, but by another method could have moved four hundred in ten minutes, then I have wasted some time. So what I mean here is that the time used for jogging could be used differently (either less time for the same benefit, or the same time for more benefit), and as such some time has been wasted. So the title could instead be, “Jogging is not a very effective method of looking after your body and having fun”, but that’s less snappy.

People generally go jogging – at least, I presume, I haven’t done a survey – to lose weight and be healthier (the two typically come together), and also (for more experienced runners) to be fitter and faster and do better in races. The latter probably count as ‘runners’ instead of ‘joggers’, and a discussion of that would be the normative one mentioned a couple of paragraphs previously which I would disagree with because I think they’re missing out on certain aspects of ‘fitness’ which I consider more important, as I listed earlier: strength and speed, functionality of being able to do anything but run long distances, balance, looking after the joints, creativity, some mental aspects, flexibility, and a few more. That disagreement is one which, too, would be another topic in itself, so I’ll leave it at that for now: running is insufficient for fitness. I’m not saying never go running, if it’s done as part of a movement regime including other things then it’s probably fine, but if it’s more than a third of what you do then that’s probably too much in my opinion.

Jogging is a Waste of Time

Moving forward by transferring weight from one foot to the other in a forward motion (most of the time) for an extended period of time (5 minutes plus), aka jogging. A large number of people use this as their method to get fit, be healthier, and lose some weight (but to be clear, I’m not saying this is the majority), whether it’s a middle-aged person who didn’t have exercise as part of their busy weekly routine in the office and looking after the family or a teenager who has been put off exercise by PE lessons. The idea is that by moving faster than usual and making the body work harder we burn some calories and make the heart, lungs and legs work harder (hopefully this isn’t an oversimplification).

Instead of this one-dimensional method of exercise, how about a plurality of exercise modes? A mixture of different movements, some variety. Both in terms of what is being worked (arms, legs, core) and how it’s being worked (endurance, strength, speed). Or going further, adding some mental challenge, concentration, coordination, fear, and games?

Having a variety in the exercise done has many benefits. Firstly, I think it’s generally more enjoyable; this depends on what you do, but even if you’re just swapping between two exercises I think it’s likely to be an improvement. Secondly, as different areas of the body are used there is a wider benefit. Instead of it just being your legs getting better at a very specific movement (putting one foot in front of the other) you can make other muscles do work or make the same muscles work in different ways. You could work them in different ways to improve coordination or balance or something else too.

Thirdly, you can get more done: you can burn more calories because when one muscle group gets tired, you can swap to a different one (say, arms) while your legs recover. The heart and lungs still get worked – and it’s easier to make them work harder. Instead of having to run more quickly you could swap between a few different intensities of other exercises to increase the intensity. This means that you could burn the same amount of calories without having as much pain (by being able to continually exercise but spreading the work done over different muscles each one hurts less). It also means that you can make the exercise more intense over the same amount of time with the same amount of pain on average, by working each muscle group harder but for less time. It also makes it easier to do interval training (I think this is currently called HIIT – High Intensity Interval Training – in the fitness industry and scientific discourse at the moment). The idea behind this (google it for more information and scientific studies) is that there’s a greater benefit in doing short bursts of intense exercise with rest breaks inbetween: for example, instead of jogging for thirty minutes, doing a forty-second fast run followed by two minutes and twenty seconds ten times over. It’s more beneficial as the body has to work harder (and gets stressed more) in each period of work, and there have been a number of scientific studies on its benefits. I won’t talk about that more as that wasn’t the topic here, but now you know it exists for if you want to check out the benefits.

Instead, …

So having talked about this in the abstract, now I’ll list some different exercises that can be used for a similar effect to jogging (ie don’t include equipment or a gym and aren’t for building strength or muscle).

– Playing tag. Like jogging, but includes short burts of speed and is more fun.
– Quadrupedal Movement (or crawling but hands and feet, not knees). This isn’t too hard so most people should be able to do it for thirty seconds at least, and is easy enough continual movement. It works the whole body at once by using arms, core and legs, and also strengthens the joints in stabilising the body. It is also very scalable, ie can be adapted for people who want it easier or harder. Crawling up stairs is the easiest, crawling up stairs backwards is harder, but there are many many variations of going sideways or including press-ups or loads of things.
– Press-ups
– Squats
– Pull-ups
– Hopping
– Balancing on something
– Core work (any of a number of different versions of sit-ups or back exercises)
– Faster periods of running (be it sprinting or just running faster; probably add in a rest period after this)
– Traversing or swinging using your hands
– Jumping
– Dancing, fighting, picking up or throwing something, or anything else you can think of.

And some examples of ways you could exercise without just jogging:

– Jog, but every so often add in something different. Jog a minute, do some press-ups, jog two minutes, balance along a rail, jog a minute, crawl for a bit. You could either do this like ‘circuit training’ (though I don’t like the phrase as it has negative connotations, it doesn’t have to be intense or difficult!) or by running a route and doing things differently as you go round it. Maybe you go past a patch of grass you could do some sit-ups on, or a low wall you could balance along, or some scaffolding you could so some pull-ups on, or there’s a hill you could sprint up or fence-posts you can weave around.

– Just pick a few exercises and swap between them. Easily changeable to be more intense (by doing something you can’t do many of) or less intense (by choosing something easier) and by changing the gaps inbetween (do you go straight into it or have two minutes walking break etc).

– Do ‘route work’. Saving the best until last as this is my favourite. Find an area with some stuff in it (doesn’t have to be much, could just be a bench and a picnic table) and come up with a route to do around it, like building an obstacle course but you’ve turned everyday objects into obstacles. Again, this could be fairly simple (I’m going to run from this wall to that wall, and as I go I have to jump over that rock and vault over that fence) or more complex, with ten different parts to it, altered to what you want.

This sort of route work is what I usually do for fitness – and I’ve made a video for this post to show an example! I was on holiday in Prague and, while my friends (who had stayed out later than I had) slept, I exercised on the street just outside my house.

A Video

To give a bit of explanation too:

I spent the first ten minutes playing with different ideas and how
they fit together, then started filming from different angles, and
while doing so, ran the route at least five times. Once I’d finished
filming I went back and did five laps (roughly seven minutes) without
stopping – this route had been designed to be one I could do
continuously, instead of a go-crazy-for-thirty-seconds route.

It included the quadrupedie backwards up the stairs to work on my
arms/wrists and the hopping down the stairs to work on the
stabilising muscles and joints for the ankle and knee. The balancing
and jumping-over-the-wall were to test how well I could focus in
something technical (and often scary) in concentrating while tired,
as well as to see how well I can still do the techniques while tired
(instead of just while fresh). The bit where I squeezed under and
through the fence was to come up with a strange movement that made me
think a lot more about what I was doing and how smoothly I could move
(a la Naim). The balancing also worked as a less-intense rest period
while I could catch my breath back before getting back to the faster
pace of movement.

Conclusion

It’s only as you difficult as you make it. I made the route for me,
and you can make a route for you by having movements or exercises
that you can do and by not doing it with a two-and-a-half metre drop
if it goes wrong. You can make it intense or relaxed, you can make it
more like jogging if you enjoy the fact that you move from one place
to another, or you can keep it in a small location if you don’t like
people seeing you while you exercise.

To be clear: I’m not against jogging or running. I chose a slightly
overstated title because of sensationalism and because making a point
more extremely might make people change more (if they only half
agree) than a moderately stated version. Jogging is just a basic form
of exercise in our culture and I think it could be done to better
effect. I’m not saying don’t do it, just wanting to make you more
informed about what you might be doing and why. Jogging can be
social, which is nice. For example, the recent ParkRun movement
(organising weekly runs in local parks run by volunteers which the
community can get behind) is great, and anything which makes people
more healthy is good. In our current culture, it’s also an easy thing
to do (though it would be better if P.E. lessons were better such
that we had more knowledge about our body and exercise and if we had
better facilities locally). But imagine if the local parks had
something more interesting than just a pull-up bar, or if instead of
ParkRun we had ParkObstacleCourse, or organised community games like
Capture the Flag where everybody can have fun together, whatever
their ability.

One final point I’d like to make, which doesn’t follow on from this
thread of thought but is related to it, is about the technique used.
Jogging is conceptually easy – you put one foot in front of the
other over and over again – and everyone can understand how it
works, but it is not technically easy. There is good technique on how
you should run, and there is bad technique on how you shouldn’t run.
Most people have bad technique, having assumed that they can just buy
a pair of shoes and go out running. And this is why so many people
end up having knee, hip, back or ankle problems. Running for long
distances is something that humans are designed for evolutionarily
(or so some theories which I am persuaded by suggest), and there are
some tribes which still run in fifty mile stints on a regular basis
or hunt by chasing animals for hours until the animal is too tired,
and our bodies can cope with it too – if it’s done correctly. This
is the same for most exercises, like press-ups: there is bad press-up
technique which is likely to damage your lower back, and there is
good press-up technique that protects it. At the very least, look up
something like ‘prose running’ and learn that, but I would strongly
recommend getting a good running coach (not a personal trainer, they
don’t always know good running technique, they just have the ideas
and are there to motivate you). It’s effort and it costs, but it’s
almost certainly worth it instead of risking damaging your body.

Feel free to comment or let me know any thoughts, or if you want
ideas on what you could do instead or you want to learn how to do
some exercises then feel free to ask me. Almost all the things I
listed are scalable and there are easier versions (for example, for
press-ups and pull-ups) which exist.