The Art of Movement
By Dr. Mark Cucuzzella
January 26, 2009
If you are training for an event, striving to improve your health and
fitness, or have a desire to experience less discomfort in your
endurance activity, then read on. Although this article focuses mostly
on running, the principles apply to all endurance activity. Most of us
understand that you must train if you wish to run well and for greater
distances. What is mostly ignored in running is the concept of practice.
Imagine if you take up golf and were told to get buckets of balls and
each week hit more balls harder and hope that the result would be
effortless, precise rounds of golf. Or you desire to finish a triathlon
with limited swim skills and hope to get better in the water just by
fighting it harder each day. Seems crazy for these sports, yet we allow
runners to "just go run" with more and harder miles until something
We are going to introduce how to practice for running. Practice is fun
as you will see more relaxed movement develop, painless efficiency,
improvement in your speed and confidence. So how do we practice for
1. Understand and fully develop the aerobic system
2. Learn good form first, then add distance, then maybe some speed
3. Practice hydration and nutrition for your event
4. Put it all together for an endurance event
Building the aerobic engine
For running, you need to develop the correct system - the aerobic
system. This is the highly efficient system utilizing oxygen and fat
metabolism. The modern analogy is this: Each of us is blessed with a
hybrid engine - actually millions of hybrid engines - at the muscular
level. The electric engine is your aerobic system - it is highly
efficient and can go all day on minimal added fuel. It is resilient to
breaking down. In your body, this is fat metabolism at the
mitochondrial level of your muscles. The physiology is complex but the
practical implications are this: Producing ATP allows muscle
contraction. Exercising super hard - sprinting - with anaerobic
respiration produces two ATP per molecule of glucose (not efficient).
If you lower the pace a bit to an oxygen utilizing zone, you get 36-38
ATP per molecule of glucose - this is the gas engine, somewhat
efficient as we can store enough glycogen and blood glucose to give 90
minutes or so of activity.
Now, if you can develop the mitochondrial machinery to break down fat
into glucose your efficiency jumps exponentially- 460 ATP per fat
molecule. This is the electric engine. If you have ever driven a Prius,
you see the subtle mixing of gas and electric that you cannot detect.
Your body is doing this all the time in exercise. You want more
Many of us are constantly running out of and replenishing the easily
accessed glycogen tank and blood glucose. When blood glucose levels
drop, we crash. Mind and body sense an overwhelming fatigue. Topping
off this tank at high levels of exertion is problematic as we do not
feel hungry. Blood is being shunted from the gut to the active muscles.
Even if you do force down calories, it tends to sit there, or worse,
toss back up.
When this occurs you have options - walk, shelf the pride, and refill
your tank a bit. Or take the more comfortable option and call it a day.
To constantly access the deep fat burning tank, you must train
correctly. Some added glucose is still important, as we are most
efficient in hybrid mode with the majority of the power coming off
electric (fat burning).
So how do you build these mitochondrial factories in your muscles so
your hybrid engine is at optimum performance?
The analogy is this: Your goal is to build a bigger engine - build
millions of mitochondrial factories and the capillary blood supply to
deliver the oxygen to them. The heart and lungs are the fuel pump - the
engine is the millions of fat and glucose burning mitochondria in the
The good news is that it is all about running easy. For most highly
motivated excercisers, the definition of easy is not uniform. The
pioneer was New Zealand's Arthur Lydiard who trained the best
middle-distance and distance runners in the 1960s. His system is based
on months of aerobic training followed by measured increases in
intensity as events approach.
His principles still apply in almost all modern training. Lydiard's
runners were taught what easy was under the master's eye. Most of us do
not have a master teacher, so how do we learn this pace? The secret is
a heart-rate monitor.
The modern masters of this technique are Lance Armstrong, six-time
Ironman champ Mark Allen and British marathon legend Priscilla Welch.
Armstrong's coach, Chris Carmichael, describes Armstrong's training in
"The Ultimate Ride."
After his Tour de France recovery, he would go into winter/spring
aerobic system building, setting his aerobic threshold HR at 145, no
higher. The aerobic threshold is the fine and mostly undetectable line
where you are converting from more efficient fat energy to the more
accessible glycogen and glucose energy. The former has limitless
supply, the latter is good for about one to two hours.
Armstrong rode thousands of miles, became leaner and generated more and
more power and efficiency at the low HR. He ate amazingly little before
or during his rides, teaching his body to fat-burn. When he was no
longer improving at the low HR, he knew he could build no more
"factories" - his engine was as large as it could be.
It was time now to train the anaerobic system required for sprints,
time trials and breakaways on final mountain climbs. Armstrong had full
access to his "gas" tank for these measured efforts, using his electric
engine at all other times. Other riders were not so fortunate and were
spent at the time the hard effort was needed.
Another master of this is Mark Allen. He describes his evolution to
this method in his Web site. He discovered that running harder and
harder was not the answer. Skeptic of lower effort training, he put a
heart-rate monitor on and at a pace of 8:15 per mile, his HR monitor
would beep at the preset 155. Convinced to take the slow burn approach,
he took a year and ran at 155 HR. After this year, he was running
effortless 5:30 miles at the same HR.
Priscilla Welch won the 1987 New York Marathon at age 40, a feat likely
never to be repeated. She took up running as recreation in her 30s.
Welch was a master of efficiency, with 10k times only a trace faster
than her marathon speed. She pioneered the "Maximal Aerobic Function
She was a believer of the powerful feedback of the heart-rate monitor.
In her build-up for races, she did the bulk of her training below HR
150; she would not exceed this even if it meant walking up a hill. She
would judge her fitness not by a "time trail" (all-out effort over a
distance) but by the Maximal Aerobic Function Test. Her HR was set to
go no higher than 150, and she would measure her time over a 5-mile
So how do you determine what this "go-no-higher" HR is to maximize
aerobic development? The high-tech way is testing CO2 expiration in an
exercise physiology lab. The change point in expiratory gases is when
you are making the shift from aerobic to anaerobic. Most of us do not
sense this until it is too late in our efforts. The simpler and more
practical way is to apply the Maffetone Method. Phil Maffetone has been
the coach and advisor to many world-class marathoners and triathletes.
The 180 Formula
To find your maximum aerobic heart rate:
1. Subtract your age from 180 (180 - age).
2. Modify this number by selecting one of the following categories:
a. If you have or are recovering from a major illness (heart disease,
any operation, any hospital stay) or on any regular medication,
b. If you have not exercised before, you have exercised but have been
injured or are regressing in your running, or you often get colds or
flu or have allergies, subtract 5
c. If you have been exercising for up to two years with no real
problems and have not had colds or flu more than once or twice a year,
d. If you have been exercising for more than two years without any
problems, making progress in competition without injury, add 5.
For example, if you are 30 years old and fit into category b: 180 - 30
= 150, and 150 - 5 = 145. This is your maximum aerobic heart rate. For
efficient base building, you should train at or below this level
throughout your base period.
To summarize, what all this means for you as you start or develop your
For optimum performance, it is critical to develop the aerobic system.
Most have not fully developed this. This is not "no pain, no gain," but
rather "no pain ... good."
A few of us have good cues to what aerobic pace is and can run in this
happy and efficient zone without the feedback of a monitor.
Others of us are more hard chargers and need a feedback tool not to
help us speed up, but to slow down.
It takes months to fully maximize this system. Only then, and when your
event is nearing, is it wise to add speed. Doing speed too early can
lead to burn out and injury. There are no short cuts or six-week plans.