Five Minutes with Running Expert Jeff Galloway

Featured Article, Fitness, Workout Plans
on March 8, 2013
Jeff Galloway is one of American's top running experts.

Author, former Olympian and running expert Jeff Galloway must be on to something. A self-proclaimed specialist in injury-free running, Jeff himself hasn’t experienced as much as a sprained ankle or tender tendon in more than 35 years—despite the fact that he runs daily. Here, he shares is secrets with us.

Spry: Many runners out there are frequently sidelined by overuse injuries. What are some of your best tips for injury-free running?

Jeff Galloway: Injury-free running is my specialty. I have gone over 35 years now without having had a running injury. Prior to that, however, I was injured almost every three weeks. The number-one thing that has kept me injury-free has been to insert walk breaks into all of my difficult runs, especially during fast runs and long races. These walk breaks act as “shock absorbers” to the whole system that eliminate or reduce overuse muscle breakdown. In my research, I have discovered that injuries tend to build up based on the weak links that we all have in our bodies. In my book Running Injuries: Treatment and Prevention, I demonstrate how the body actually breaks down due to overuse. That is because the constant running motion is very stressful to all the weak links of the body. By contrast, walking is very gentle. Thus, taking regular walk breaks allows for those running stress areas to be erased, and for adaptations to occur in those weak-link areas as well as in the muscles and in the energy systems. To receive maximum benefit, you must start the walk breaks before you feel any fatigue, in the first mile.

Spry: Can you talk a little bit about your belief that diets don’t work? There are been numerous studies suggesting that calorie restriction is more important for weight loss than exercise alone. Why do you disagree with these claims?

Jeff Galloway: There’s no doubt that in the short term, you can lose a lot of weight and fat by restricting calories. However, calorie restriction is counterproductive according to long-term studies. For example, take someone who is following a low-carb diet. The body has a certain amount of carbohydrate that is stored around the muscles and livers, because carbohydrate is the reserve fuel for the brain when there’s not enough fuel being taken in. If you starve yourself or severely restrict the intake of carbs, then fairly quickly—within a week or so—there will be a significant decrease in weight due to the storage areas of glycogen (the stored form of carbohydrate) dissipating and withering away. Most of the weight loss on a low-carb diet is simply water weight. For every gram of carbohydrate that is stored, there are 4 grams of water—so as the carbohydrate diminishes, so does the water. It is common for people on an extremely low-carbohydrate diet to lose 15 to 25 lbs. in a few weeks. Most of this, of course, is water weight, so when these people go back to eating carbs (which almost every single person does) the water weight and glycogen goes back on quite quickly.

One of the worst aspects of these restrictive diets is that they trigger a starvation reflex circuit in the brain. On this starvation circuit, your behavior pattern is to overcompensate. Study after study shows that restrictive diets—whether they are carbohydrate-restrictive or total calorie-restrictive—will allow for weight loss within a 6-month period, but within a year to 18 months more weight is gained back than before.

Spry: So are you advocating for a combination of diet and exercise as the best way to lose weight?

Jeff Galloway: Well, yes. If you want to burn off fat, there are two sides to the equation. On the one hand, there’s exercise. Exercise acts as the furnace that burns the fat off. Then there’s the other side of the equation, the income side. In order to lose weight or lose fat, you have to monitor food intake. If you restrict food intake too much, not only will you run out of fuel, but you’ll also trigger that starvation circuit in the brain that will cause you to overeat later on.

But while it is counterproductive to have a huge calorie deficit day after day, it is productive to have a slight calorie deficit. My wife Barbara and I wrote a book together a few years back called A Woman’s Guide to Fat Burning. In this book, we recommend that a person’s daily calorie deficit be between 50 calories to 150 calories a day. You can exceed that number occasionally, but when you continually sustain large calorie deficits, the body tends to enter starvation mode, which means that hunger is more readily turned on when food is consumed in a more abundant quantity.

Adding gentle exercise to your lifestyle is one of the best ways to maintain a calorie deficit while eating approximately the same amount of food that you did before you started losing weight. The easiest way to do that? Get a step counter and shoot for 10,000 or more steps a day. Walking more throughout the day burns fat and contributes to overall weight loss. Instead of sitting or standing, walk. Most people need some sort of assessment tool to motivate them to move more. The step counter has been amazing in motivating people to do this.

Spry: Running is typically thought of as a high-impact exercise that is hard on the joints. Do you think it is possible for individuals to run for their entire lives?

Jeff Galloway: I do. Let me correct a misconception: Yes, there is a perception that running is hard on the joints; however, the research doesn’t back that up. About five years ago, I wrote a book called Running Until You’re 100. Before starting on that book, I reach out to a number of my friends who work for the CDC in the area of orthopedic running issues, particularly as one gets older. They were kind enough to give me access to various databases. Neither my orthopedic consultants nor myself could find any study anywhere showing that running by itself, per se, harms the joints or orthopedic units. So this notion is really an old wives’ tale. Now, what the research does show—and there are growing numbers of these studies—is that runners tend to have much healthier joints 20, 30, 40 years later than those who do not run. There’s one study out of Stanford that has been ongoing for about 30 years now that has examined thousands of runners over 50 who have been running for 20 years or more. That population, according to the research, has less than 25 percent of the orthopedic complaints compared with non-runners their own age. It’s a “use it or lose it” situation. There are numerous examples of people who keep running well into their 80s and 90s with no significant orthopedic issues.

But I will say that running very fast or running continuously can cause injuries. Speed tends to be the number one career-ending situation. If you keep trying to run fast on a regular basis after the age of 55 or so, the body doesn’t recover as quickly and the damage keeps accumulating. With the simple insertion of frequent walk breaks in your run, you allow the body to adapt and for the stress on the body to be minimized.

Spry: I understand that you have a new book coming out, entitled Run Walk Run. Can you tell me a little bit more about some of the topics you address in your new book?

Jeff Galloway: The method of run/walk/run has been embraced by the new revolution of runners and has brought millions of runners into running. It’s based around the notion that continuous running hurts—it’s uncomfortable; it causes people to become injured; it can make people nauseous. But if you alternate between periods of running and walking in a pattern that prevents the injuries of continuous running from occurring, people can still receive the endorphins, the positive-attitude hormones, that allow them to feel better than they have for years. A lot of beginning runners make the mistake of eliminating walk breaks, hoping to receive those great running endorphins. But doing so has just the opposite effect: Endorphins are designed to kill pain, including the pain of running. If you run continuously, the endorphins that you produce are mostly used to kill the pain of running. On the other hand, if you take regular walk breaks, there’s no need to kill pain during the walking phase, so the endorphins lock into receptor sites and allow you to feel good.

So Run Walk Run encourages anyone—whether they’re coming off the couch or would like to improve their race times—to adopt this training method to remove the build-up of fatigue and stress, to erase injuries, and to allow the body to adapt to the running motion. From there, it allows people to achieve goals they wouldn’t have even dreamed of accomplishing without Run Walk Run.

Spry: Obviously, running is a huge component of your life. What would you say is your favorite part about running—the thing that gets you up and going every day?

Jeff Galloway: I run because it makes me genuinely feel better. It gives me a sense of peace and freedom. When I go for a run, there’s no phone, and I’m with trees and nature. I feel empowered after every run—empowered not only to go out and run again, but empowered to solve problems in my life and to push through difficult tasks. To attempt things that I normally would not attempt. And it’s not just me: I hear from hundreds a people a week who report experiencing the same feel-good benefits from running.

Currently, there are a number of studies being conducted around the world on this very topic. Running has become a target for brain researchers, who want to figure out why runners feel better than other folks, and how running transforms individuals into more positive people. There are so many positive changes that occur in the brain when a person runs. It’s a powerful attitude booster. Numerous studies on the brain and running demonstrate that running shifts you over into the conscience brain—this is the “human” part of the brain that animals lack. It’s the conscious brain that enables us to gain control over our current destiny, to make decisions and make choices. When you’re running, you’re on top of the world. You’re able to decide what to do with your life. It’s an activation of mind, body and spirit that simply doesn’t occur in any other area of life. The endorphins are kicking in; the heart is pumping; the brain is working. You feel more alive.