How Catabolic and Anabolic Effects Impact Running
We want to balance out your run training, which in the simplest terms is a catabolic activity, with some physical work that is anabolic in nature. To do this, I give my runners General Strength and Mobility (GSM) exercises to complete. General strength is exactly what it sounds like: it's the practice of using your body weight to complete exercises like body squats and lunges. It also includes rotational work with a medicine ball, and completing weight-bearing exercises like a series of kettlebell swings.
All of these activities have a different hormonal effect on the body when compared to a long run. GSM regulates testosterone and human growth hormone, which in turn builds muscle and strengthens bones. My goal as a coach is to give my runners GSM work so they develop different hormonal profiles compared to runners who just run.
While the law of specificity states that if you want to become good at a task, you need to complete that specific task—so you need to run if you want to become a better, faster runner—the catabolic nature of running means that you can, over time, break down and be more prone to injury.
How Masters Runners Can Train Injury-Free
Creating a balance between aerobic running, which improves fitness, and GSM, which keeps your muscles strong and bones healthy, is especially important for masters athletes. My good friend Phil Wharton is in his 40s and still completes very good mileage while remaining injury-free. While much of this is no doubt due to his devotion to the Active Isolated Flexibility work that he and his father, Jim, teach to runners around the world, Phil is also convinced that all of the manual labor he does on his farm, coupled with the weight workouts he does in his barn/gym, is keeping him healthy and running strong.
Put another way, if a masters runner has been running for 10, 15 or 20 years, he has come close to maximizing his aerobic metabolism, yet his body is much more prone to breaking down from a 50-mile week at age 45 than it would at age 25. But if masters runners embrace doing some GSM work daily, they will balance out the catabolic/anabolic equation, and will be able to train at a higher level with a lower injury risk.