Rachel Cosgrove on Boyle’s “Why (most) Women Shouldn’t Run”

This article was included in Rachel Cosgrove’s newsletter today. I thought I’d share it here since I believe she makes some valid points.

Do you agree? Disagree? Why?

(If you missed -Why Women Shouldn’t Run, Part 1 and 2 Click Here)

Response to Mike Boyle’s article, “Why (most) Women Shouldn’t Run”

By Rachel Cosgrove

When I first read Mike Boyle’s article, “Most Women Shouldn’t run,” it immediately made sense to me and I absolutely agree with what he is saying. Now this is coming from someone who is currently training for an Ironman endurance event in which I will run a marathon. I am also a coach for the triathlon team for Team in Training. So, yes I am an endurance athlete and I coach endurance athletes yet I agree 100% with what Mike is saying.

Besides being an endurance athlete and coaching endurance athletes, I have also worked with thousands of women in the gym whose number one goal is to lose weight and get in shape. These were all average women who were not active and were not runners. With this type of clientele, average women, I would never ever start them off workout one, day one with 1500 reps of a one legged plyometric exercise. In all of my education of exercise prescriptions I was always taught that plyometrics are an advanced exercise that shouldn’t be used until a client had a base strength built up. This is Mike’s point- the average woman starting a fitness program has no business running. He is not talking about runners. Running is a very advanced exercise. Yet, most people who decide to start an exercise program start with running on day one. Most people think running is a good starting point. It drives me crazy when I hear someone say, “I want to come to your gym but first I am going to start running to lose some weight on my own.” I just want to shake them and say, “Don’t you realize, running is very hard and very advanced. And running is extremely ineffective as a weight loss modality. You’ll end up coming to me weighing the same but with an injury from your running.”

I pride myself on being one of the few endurance I athletes I know who doesn’t have or hasn’t had a chronic injury throughout my training so far at least. I absolutely attribute this to the fact that I came to endurance training after I had been strength training for years. I started endurance training as a strong, balanced athlete who was ready for an advanced exercise such as running. As Mike said in his article, I got fit so I could run, I didn’t get fit from running. I have also continued to use strength training as part of my program. I believe this along with stretching and foam rolling regularly as part of my schedule and proper progression are my secrets to keeping my body strong and able to handle endurance training without any injuries.

To train my body to do an Ironman I am pounding the pavement week after week running a lot of miles. I am aware that running all of the miles I am is damaging to my tissues and actually causes trauma so I take the time to stretch, foam roll and get ART regularly. Bill Hartman, an ART specialist, was visiting once and I had to run 15 miles that morning. He worked on me after I ran the 15 miles and explained that running that kind of distance causes “trauma to the tissues” and is not healthy for my body so I need to really pay attention to my recovery throughout my training. “Trauma” sounded so scary, like a car accident but it made sense because that was how my body felt after running for 2 hours straight, traumatized. One of the endurance athletes I train saw me at my weekly ART appointment and asked, “Why do you go see him? Do you have an injury?” No, I am just aware that training for an Ironman and running as much as I am running will create an injury if I don?t take care of my body and get ART to keep the adhesions from building up from the “trauma” running causes. I believe that running is damaging and very hard on your body and the only reason I run as much as I do is because I have a goal of completing an Ironman. Otherwise, I would not run for my fitness or health. There are so much more effective exercises to do to lose weight and get in shape.

That brings me to my next point- What is your goal? If your goal is to complete an endurance event in which you have to run then by all means your training needs to include running and you better make sure you have done some strength training and are fit enough to start running. But I think most people who run have a goal of losing weight, or getting that “runner’s body” and running will not give you a “runners body” it will just get you injured so you’ll have to sit on the couch with your injury and get farther away from your runner’s body.

I have been doing my long mileage running days with a group of runners who are all training for the LA Marathon. Over a thousand dedicated people meet at 7am every Saturday morning for 28 weeks committed to training to complete the LA Marathon. In the past 10 weeks the group has run the following mileage on this long mileage day-12,15,16,17,18,19,13,20,15,20. Now this is a lot of mileage and if someone could run this much you’d think they’d look like a runner. Well, let me tell you out of the over a thousand people that show up every Saturday morning the people who looked like runners when we started still look like runners and are in the fast pace groups. And the people who didn’t look like runners, of those who haven’t dropped out from an injury, still don’t look like runners and now they are all wearing knee braces, etc. Nobody’s body has changed at all but many of them have accumulated injuries. I see the same people week after week and they look exactly the same. Running does not work to give you a “runner’s body.”

Everyone has different experiences and comes to different conclusions from their background, education and experience. I have seen what Mike talks about in this article to be absolutely true in my experience. I think many of the people reading it took it personally and didn’t think about the average woman. Maybe he shouldn’t have said that “elite runners look like men” but instead that they look more athletic. That would have been the only comment I could see taking personally if you are an elite runner you don’t look like a man, you just have an athletic build with smaller hips and less up top.

I do not use any form of endurance training with my weight loss clients. I do not feel it is appropriate for the average female. When I am coaching for team in training, I am faced with a group of average people who want to complete a triathlon. First of all, I chose triathlon because I feel it is safer than training for a marathon because you are not doing the volume of running you do to train for a marathon. The races I coach include 5 miles or 10 miles of running at most. The first thing I did when I started coaching for team in training was put together an injury prevention strength training program for them to all get started on.

I also love Diane Lee’s quote, “You can’t run to get fit, you need to be fit to run.” I absolutely believe this is true. This quote resonates with me as well and I will start to use it as Mike does as a regular part of my coaching and articles.

9 thoughts on “Rachel Cosgrove on Boyle’s “Why (most) Women Shouldn’t Run”

  1. Are you aware that your your security codes are acting wonky? I had to refresh this page 6-7 times before it would appear and half of your smiiles are red X’s, atleast from where I’m sitting they are anyway.

    As a person that is not runner by choice ( I like my knees and have weak ankles), I can agree with what was said in this article until I read ” I do not use any form of endurance training with my weightloss clients. I do not feel it is appropiate for the average female.”

    To say that women as a rule cannot benefit from some type of endurance training is total B.S. I understand that there are risks involved, but why wouldn’t the average woman reap the benefits of having a stronger heart and increased oxygen flow through their arteries?

    Futhermore, who is to say that running and Plyometrics is the only form of endurance training available? What about swimming? It’s not hard on the joints but it certainly can give a person one hell of a workout if they are consistant about it.

    Maybe I’m nit-picking but I get the feeling that this article is shrouded with “Ha! If you’re not like me, you can’t do this!” I got that type of attitude when I worked for a gym years ago and it did nothing but make me want to bounce the persons head off the laminated counter top.

    I remember the very person that said those very words to me all too well. She was blonde and thin ( the unhealthy type of skinny) as a rail, but had a G.I Jane mentality because she spent hours on a stair climber. I had more lean muscle mass in my legs than she did in her entire body but she was somehow was better than I and gave herself the right to look down her nose at me when I asked what she ate on a daily basis which I might add was not much. She was one of these people that took a shower, put on make up and had to be fully decked out in every piece of gold jewelry she owned before she could leave the house to go to the gym.

    “Average women” can be just as remarkable as the “athletic” type even if they don’t use the same approach or walk around with the same mentality. Alot of these athletic women had to start from somewhere so they too were “average” at some point in their lives even if they don’t like to think so. To cut the average woman at the knees is only coming off as biting off one’s nose in spite of their face.

  2. This is timely for me as I am trying, again, to take up running. I tried two years ago, running a few miles at a time, a few times a week, and about crippled myself. My knees weren’t up to the strain. Now I’m taking it waaaaaaay more gradually and so far it’s going really well. I have the build for it (people I’ve just met will ask me if I’m a runner, or just assume that I am) but don’t (yet) have the joints for it. I agree that running is hard! Hard on the knees, hard on the hips, and not something one should just launch herself into.

  3. I think some background on Rachel Cosgrove might be necessary here. She is the wife of Alwyn Cosgrove, author of Afterburn and The New Rules of Lifting and like him, is a strong proponent of high intensity interval style aerobic/cardio training combined with strength training.

    Stacy – I believe that she was not excluding her “average” fat loss clients from ALL forms of cardio training that, as you said, provide benefits to heart health–just the long duration, steady-state variety that typifies the “endurance” forms like distance running. I read her statements more as, “If the goal of the majority of deconditioned female trainees is to simply get into shape and maintain their conditioning in the most efficient and least injurious way possible, there really is no need to take on a high-impact endurance activity for extended periods of time,” versus “if you aren’t already in shape, you have no business trying an endurance sport.”

    Personally, I tend to agree with her assessment and the original articles by Boyle. I have *always* said that I wasn’t built to be a runner, and even at my lightest (128 lbs at 5’6″) I still couldn’t finish a 5k any faster than 27 minutes–mediocre at best, though not the worst time out there, but I was busting my butt to get that time. I have short, heavy, muscular legs, noticeable hips, arms that are getting stronger (and heavier) each year, and a flat torso with truly crappy lung capacity. I have a highly inefficient build from a runner’s standpoint.

    While I integrate running in my workouts at least once a week, it has never been fun nor easy for me because of my structural disadvantages :jester: . It is important to note, however, that I have NEVER suffered any chronic pain or overuse injuries from doing it. I credit this to the fact that I rarely run for more than 20-30 minutes at a time, and most of these sessions are HIIT style versus steady-state. I do not like this activity enough to keep on doing it past a reasonable level of *temporary* discomfort. I certainly am not blindly stubborn enough to keep on pushing past the point of injury as so many men and women alike do when they get a hankering to become marathon runners after a lifetime of marathon couch sitting. Five, injury-free, medium-pace kilometers is as far and as fast as I will ever run, and I am perfectly content with this.

    Clearly I am not someone who would hold another person back from going for their fitness goals, but I believe people need to take an honest inventory of their physical strengths and weaknesses and really ask themselves if being a runner is really in the cards for them from a health and physiology standpoint. As you and Rachel both said, there are alternative forms of cardiovascular training that are just flat out better and safer for most people.

    Western society has put running on such a high pedestal that in many peoples’ minds the ability to run long distances has become synonymous with being in shape. Those of us who have been mucking around in the gym for a while (and not just in the cardio machine area :dbell: ) know that the fit look and condition can be achieved through many other avenues, but the mythical ideal of the lean, swift runner still pervades the collective subconscious of our sedentary nation.

    Until that ideal changes, I think we will continue to see slews of shinsplints, ankle issues, knee pain, and other running-related injuries among those who are doggedly determined to defy genetics, years of inactivity, and the desperate cease and desist messages from their own bodies in their pursuit of running nirvana.


    P.S. Thanks for pointing out the issue with the smileys. I forgot to copy over all the graphics files from my old installation when I upgraded!

  4. I never thought of running as a form of getting fit or being fit. Yes long distance runners are in shape, but dancers, swimmers and pro cyclists also have that long, lean look that I’ll never accomplish because I don’t have the build for it either.

    My lightest weight as an adult was 126 pounds and I was still bulky. My biceps didn’t fit into shirt sleeves anymore and finding a pair of pants that actually fit right was a joke.

    I let that scare me for many years because I thought there must have been something wrong with me. How could a person work out 6 days a week, eat well and walk countless miles and still have a bulky build. I know better now, but I’m still critical of my own genetic make up. While my “tree trunk” legs carry me far and remain good to me, but I still feel cheated somehow sometimes. The only difference is that I have not bothered to convince myself that running would take care of the problem as it won’t. I’m always going to be 5’5″ with short legs and a short trunk.

    Hubby on the other hand was 6 foot by the time he was in 6th grade. It wasn’t until he went into the Army that he actually put on some mass which visually took away from his height, but he still never looked bulky, he looked healthy. He has no problem with leaning out when he wants to but he’s gotten lazy in that department and it shows.

    For those that can run and get some distance out of it, good for them. For those that torture themselves with running even though they shouldn’t, what can a person do other than hope that they’ll eventually get the message before the hurt themselves beyond repair.

    There are always going to be those kinds of people in every aspect of fitness. Just think of all the goons out there that talk about how many days they lift weights and how hard they work only to find they are sporting a fine pair of chicken legs. 😆

    I don’t consider myself one up on those people, but I’ll take my tree trunks over chicken legs any day as legs are in proportion to the rest of my body instead of looking like I’m going to fall over with the first breeze that comes by.

  5. Alas, I don’t have a runners body either, but I am a runner. I began running for fitness and weight loss, but now run because I LOVE RUNNING. Amazing, yes. Something that I really hated to do, I now have a love affair with it. Luckily I have never had an injury either. Knock on wood.

  6. Glad I’m not most women 😉 I have to say that she is probably right though. Seems most the women runners I know end up can’t run for long without some kind of injury. I also believe long distance running is in no way a way to loose weight. Most women I know who run long distance still struggle with weight.

  7. Think about we now have the medical specialty “sports medicine”?

    Because people overdo exercise severely. Half of the people, that is. The other half is still sitting on their couch.

    How about we pursue a more reasonable approach to sports? The centenarian study I discuss in my “Healthy to 100 – Aging with Vigor and Grace” shows that long-lived people don’t do anything special – no cardio-vascular this, strength that, long-distance what-not – just simple living, moving around, doing things, enjoying company, loving life.

    Alexa Fleckenstein M.D., physician, author.

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