Fitness: Simple Run/Walk Fitness for Busy People (cont.)

Moderator: Are there any other imbalances like the shin/calf imbalance that runners should be aware of?

Ward: Yes, the hamstrings, the muscles in the back of the upper thigh, get very tight, and the opposing muscles, the front of the thigh, the quadriceps, are usually weak, and that can create an imbalance. And if the hamstrings are too tight, this can cause stress on the low back. So I recommend that people strengthen the muscles in the front of their thighs, and one way to do that is walk up a big hill backwards. Strengthening the front of the thigh helps strengthen the knee joint.

Moderator: Do you recommend any upper body strength training to benefit runners/walkers?

Ward: I do. However, I prefer people who are not used to an exercise program take it one step at a time. So I recommend people start with the run/walk program for a few weeks. If they find that they can stick to that, then I think they can add some upper body strength exercises, posture, abdominal and back strength -- sometimes runners and walkers feel that their shoulders get tired from holding their arms up -- but again, only after someone is consistent for the first few weeks. I believe if you try to do everything, you may be setting yourself up for failure.

Moderator: A common complaint from new runners seems to be cramps in the side. What would you recommend to remedy them?

Ward: Cramps in the side usually happen once or twice when someone who is not used to exercising goes out and does it, sometimes, too much too soon. So with this program you start out with one minute of running, which is doable for most people, and I encourage people to go very slowly at their own pace. If they do get a side-stitch, I have them walk, take some deep breaths and rub that area. It will usually go away.

Moderator: In what ways do running and walking have different effects on the body, both positive and negative?

Ward: They both have positive effects, in that you will get all the usual benefits with either. If you are a walker and you prefer that, that's fine, you may choose to do a tiny bit of running. If you are a runner, you may have to get used to a walking break every now and then. And that can benefit you because even if you take a short walking break, over time, those breaks allow a person to go farther with less fatigue and a lower risk of injury. So by switching back and forth, you change the way the muscles in your legs are used, and they have a chance to recover. Also, any moderate exercise -- many of my clients have noticed an increased immune system. And many of my clients have made it through the cold and flu season fine, because the program is moderate.

flooz_webmd: I have been experiencing leg cramps at night since I've started walking. What causes this and what can I do to relieve the cramping which usually occurs at night?

Ward: Sometimes leg cramping is due to dehydration. And drinking plenty of water throughout the day can make a world of difference. If you are drinking beverages such as coffee and soda, those things are dehydrating and drinking a lot of water can really help. Also, it's important to remember that when you are trying to hydrate yourself by drinking water, it is better to take small sips than it is to gulp down water in a minute. This way the water is absorbed more slowly into the cells, rather than your kidneys being overloaded with fluid.

Moderator: What's the best way to relieve their leg cramps?

Ward: When it occurs, rub that area. Massage that area. Sometimes leg cramps occur when you weakly point your toe; just relaxing the leg and massaging that area will help. Sometimes those cramps can be very intense, and they will strain a muscle. This usually occurs with people who are becoming very dehydrated. A sport drink mixed with water is a great way to get minerals into the system.

Moderator: Should people run with a water bottle and drink while they run?

Ward: I recommend that people get used to carrying an eight-ounce bottle of water because you always have it available. So even if you are doing a road race, especially on a hot day, it may not be enough. Or it may just overload your system, and then when you're running you feel the water sloshing around. Whereas, if you take small frequent sips, it's more readily absorbed. It's better to just get used to carrying a small bottle.

Moderator: What is the difference between aerobic and anaerobic exercise?

Ward: That could get technical, but aerobic exercise is with oxygen. So aerobic exercise is where your breathing rate is up and you are able to talk and continue for a long period of time. Walking, running, swimming, roller-skating, et cetera, anything that elevates your breathing rate for a sustained period of time and uses the large muscles to accomplish that.

Anaerobic exercises are those which are done without oxygen, or in short bursts. Strength training, quick sprint for 50 yards, are anaerobic where you use a different energy system to spend calories. Some sports such as tennis, basketball, are considered anaerobic, but have aerobic components, but you may be sprinting or standing in place.

Moderator: Is your program mostly aerobic, then?

Ward: My programs are mostly aerobic; however, if you want to include strength, that's anaerobic.

Moderator: Do you incorporate sprints to increase speeds?

Ward: Not initially through this program. I have worked with some of my advanced runners to improve their pace. So if they want to be able to run a nine-minute mile, what I do with them is short interval training, where for 30 seconds I have them run a little faster than their comfortable pace. So we don't get them to the anaerobic phase, but speed intervals. That is also know as fartlek training. This increases the conditioning of your heart and lungs.