Born to run – while avoiding the pitfalls

WildFit Surrey founder Ollie Martin says running can be life-transforming and discusses why all runners should work on overall fitness to avoid injuries and weakness.

Running is an amazing way to get fit and help with weight management. In this blog, which is based on the WildFit Surrey Strength and Conditioning for Running Workshop, I want to show you a few of the pros and cons – and importantly, solutions to those ‘cons’ – enabling you to get the most out of it.

Born to run

Running can be truly life-transforming. I have one client who came to me five years ago, morbidly obese and with a distinct dislike for exercise. But after losing five stones in weight, she now ‘enjoys’ running ultra-marathons all over the world. As the title of Christopher McDougall’s seminal book on running says, we most definitely are Born to Run.

Advantages of running

  • natural movement in-line with evolution (ie what our bodies are designed for)
  • generally takes place outside among nature, offering all the benefits gained from fresh air and sun/daylight
  • weight bearing (good for weight loss and bone density)
  • anyone can do it
  • it’s free
  • time-efficient
  • can be social

Disadvantages of running

  • injury, especially repetitive strain injuries over time
  • law of diminishing returns, especially for weight loss, which leads to over-training, illness & injury
  • limited fitness, as running generally only addresses one fitness area – runners are missing out on over 90% of benefits of overall fitness and when you get better at one area you also get weaker in the other areas
  • susceptible to addiction and over-training
  • boredom: many people give up


Variety & Cross-training

Running is a generally extensive aerobic endurance training which is a sub-set of endurance fitness (the other type of endurance is intensive anaerobic). The eight other areas of fitness are: strength, agility, power, balance, speed, coordination, flexibility and posture. By working on other fitness areas, you keep up motivation, and it helps you stay injury-free.


All runners should work on strength as this is the fitness opposite of running and will benefit your running the most. In particular, work on the muscles that propel you forward – these are the lower back, the glutes and the hamstrings. The deadlift is a fantastic exercise for this. Strength work will be under 10 repetitions, working to failure, with perfect technique, using a repetition reserve. If this is gobbledegook to you, get tuition!

Posture & Alignment

If your body is out of alignment, running will lead to repetitive strain and injury. Maybe it will take years to realise, but I’ve seen many people have to give up what they love for hip and knee replacements. Book a professional biomechanical posture assessment and get (and complete) a corrective exercise (strength and stretch) programme to align your body – I recommend a Chek qualified trainer (

Core Activation, Stability & Strength

If your core is not activated, you will have little control of your periphery (your legs and arms), and so the terrain/running surface will decide your body positions such as knee alignment. Obviously, you want to be in control of your knee position (and hip, arms, feet etc) for maximum performance and repetitive strain injury prevention. Again, a good trainer can assess your core and progress you through the three stages.


You have a choice between supporting the problems and biasses in your feet with top-of-the-range running shoes or correcting the biasses and strengthening your feet by going barefoot or wearing minimalist footwear. There are pros and cons of both. Barefoot can be a difficult and lengthy transition and if you go down the minimalist shoe route it’s not cheap either. Supporting is the easier and quicker option, but you do need to buy expensive trainers and change them often (recommended every 6 months/300 miles). I’m biased, I like the barefoot approach, and this is something we teach at WildFit Surrey, but understand this is not for everyone. It’s worth giving it a go, though, and our barefoot walk is an ideal place to take your first barefoot steps!

Fun vs Addiction

When does a good thing become an addiction? Addiction is basically a once pleasurable or beneficial behaviour that continues to be repeated even though it now causes harm.

Many people think that you get the health and performance benefits of exercise by doing the exercise, when actually exercise is just the stimulus and you get the benefits from the recovery afterwards. Over-training and all its associated problems are when you do not give enough time for recovery. Many runners are left brain dominate thinkers with an emphasis on mileage, performance, Strava gold stars and PB’s, which can lead to addiction. The health solution to avoid this is to integrate the right brain into your running. The right brain is the creative, playful, big picture side of the brain, and by using it to plan your training it will keep you healthy and motivated. This is because it is actually very difficult to overtrain and have fun at the same time.

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