TRAINING: Running is not jogging

In my mock satirical piece “Future running – Olympic 2064” I allude to the assertion that perhaps jogging and running are not the same sports at all, and that perhaps they are just as different as race walking and running are seen to be today.

This claim is more than a joke, however, it is, to me, a notion we must scrutiny very carefully because it can have profound implications for the future of the sport and our understanding on how to teach it.

What is “running” and what is “jogging”
The entire idea, of course, rests on what definition of running you accept. When I grew up, I was taught that running is motion were “both feet are off the ground simultaneously” (which just makes it a variation of the more basic movement of jumping) as opposed to walking were one foot is always on the ground (which is also a core rule in race walking).

Next you need to define jogging. We have come very far since Arthur Lydiard invented it and Bowerman popularised it further. Beginning just as term for the slow running done by middle-aged and older people who realised that regular low intensity exercise like this proved beneficial to their health and well-being, it morphed into being almost synonymous with the style of running that emerged with Bowerman’s heavily cushioned running shoes, the first featuring such a design. Tony Riddle changed my understanding of the term when he described it jogging as today meaning a strange "hybrid movement of running and jogging".

Race walking and jogging – two sides of the same coin
Barefoot jogging (don’t be fooled, still not running!) and running (finally!)
Jogging – a “style of running”
When I say “style of running” I am being gracious for going back to the first point – the only similarity between running, as it was, and the jogging that appeared is that during both you have both your feet off the ground. But the similarities end here: to begin with during jogging your feet stay on the ground much much longer. Secondly, the cadence of jogging (leg turn-over) is generally 20 or more strides slower, and rather than gently pulling yourself off the ground, you are pushing with each stride.
You are also landing heel-first, often on the side of the foot, and using hefty rotational forces to anchor yourself on the ground before pushing yourself off again, whereas in running none of these rotational forces occur, and the foot lands flat-footed. Running is heavily elastic, mirroring a properly executed jump, whereas jogging is almost devoid of elastic properties and relies almost solely on high levels of muscle action.
Me running with a more natural running form, after 5 months of working with Tony Riddle, as opposed to jogging, not the finished article, but getting closer.

Running experts, or at least the minority of them, have discovered in recent years that jogging is not really a natural movement at all, but rather a hybrid movement combining some of the characteristics of walking and some of running. I will argue, based on my simplistic description above, that it shares more with walking and take a good look at someone jogging slowly and the aesthetics almost confirm it. Except someone walking properly (with good posture) will actually look a good deal more athletic than any jogger. The reason: jogging is caused by poor posture among a number of other key factors, I won’t go into today.

And here is where my notion arose: having filmed multiple runners over the last 6 months and watched scores more* on roads and streets, only one used the running. All others, regardless of competitive level or experience, took over a larger or smaller degree of the characteristics of the jogging motion. So are the majority of so-called “developed world” runners, really jogging (in biomechanical terms) rather than running?
* (one disadvantage of coaching running is that you begin to dissect every style you see, every runner/jogger passing you by).

Specificity is king
If the majority of “Western” athletes are truly “jogging”, as my anecdotal experience suggests to me, then that profoundly changes the way we approach training and long-term strategic planning for coaching.
First of all, jogging does one thing well only – stimulating the cardiovascular system. In our day and age that is a big deal, because of the pathological levels of inactivity that inflict the majority of our population, but it comes at a heavy price – high injury rates, incorrect muscular development and tone and high levels of subconscious stress on the body from incorrect use of the body (it’s like driving a car with flat tyres but celebrating the miles you put on the odometer).

These risks aside, jogging does not do most other things very well – it is inefficient compared to running and it creates the wrong muscle development for optimal running while traumatising the joints in the long-term (or short-term depending on volume). To overcome these deficits, stretching, isolated strengthening exercises and cross-training on bikes and elliptical trainers become almost a necessity at some point.

As a coach my conclusion is that jogging is not worthwhile as training for running. Any benefits to the cardiovascular system are far outstripped by the issues it creates for anyone interested in more than just getting a mild workout for the heart. Once you want to run competitively and consistently, it becomes counterproductive. On the opposite side of the scale, two-legged jumping is more similar to running than jogging, yet you would not rely on it for the majority of your miles to train for running. This slight departure from the very cardiovascular focused approached generally used in athletics is one I think can prove very significant over time and I am indebted to Tony Riddle for directing my thinking this way.

So runners need to run, not jog. Many esteemed old coaches have been heard saying this but only now does the meaning become perfectly clear again – we are really talking about two different sports. Jogging is not running, and running is not jogging, if you define the terms from a biomechanical perspective. This means to become a serious runner, you have to give up jogging, learn to run again and then move forwards. Considering the huge inefficiencies of jogging compared to running, how else can we hope to compete with nations whose majority of runners still use a running gait, rather than a jogging one?

Preferred the satire? Well, either way, I think this is an important message for people to ponder…