Strong opinions, weakly held

The only exercise advice you really need

The New York Times ran an article this week about how beginning runners are not well served by the massive amounts of advice being offered on running form and running shoes. What do the doctors say?

When it comes to running form, Dr. Bredeweg said, “we don’t know what is the right thing to do.” For example, he noted, forefoot strikers place less stress on their knees but more on their calves and Achilles tendons.

“We tell people we don’t know a thing about the best technique,” he said. He tells runners to use the form they naturally adopt.

The problem of excessive advice is pervasive in the world of fitness. Everyone is trying to sell an exercise routine that they claim is the best. Whether it’s weight training, Crossfit, yoga, pilates, or running, people are evangelists of what they do, and professionals are even worse.

For people who aren’t exercising regularly, the most important thing is to start doing something. It doesn’t even matter what it is. If you don’t like what you’re doing, try something else, but keep exercising. The idea that there’s one master program is completely false. If some exercise doesn’t feel good, find something else.

Eventually, once you’ve been exercising for awhile, you may set goals that your exercise routine isn’t helping you meet, and you’ll need to find a coach, do more research, or just up your intensity, but it’s not worth worrying about before you reach that point.

The truth is that Nike has always provided the best advice when it comes to working out — just do it. If you can consistently challenge yourself over a long period of time, almost everything else will take care of itself.


  1. As a running “coach” (through a local Fleet Feet) all I can say is “well…yeah.”

    You have to like what you doing for exercise, otherwise you will not stick with it in the long run. You can force yourself to do certain things, but only for so long.

    I coach the 5k program, which in the casual running world is the shortest distance you can train really for. The most common questions I get from people just starting out is that they’re experiencing some kind of pain. People new to running typically encounter two kinds of pain: injury and soreness. It’s often difficult to distinguish between them at first, especially for people just getting into running.

    We recommend getting fitted for shoes, which takes into account the type of foot you have, pronation, and strike. There is a ton of research into feet and running shoes. Granted, you can consider this “unsettled science”. With equipment, generally, out of the way it’s typically easier to distinguish between injury pain and just being sore. There are as many cures for soreness as there are cures for the common cold, and this is where “science” generally goes out the window.

    As a running coach, I would say that if you want to run, find a local running program. If you think you want to run because you want to lose weight, think about trying something else. The typical calorie burn for running is quite low, around 100 calories per mile. Which means that you have to run over a mile to burn a pint of Guinness. Yes, your milage (no pun intended) will vary, but running is not a great way to lose weight quickly.

  2. Yes, exercising to lose weight is mostly a formula for disappointment. Exercise and losing weight are complementary, but losing weight is about what you eat.

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