Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
The Heart of a Swimmer vs. the Heart of a Runner (nytimes.com)
334 points by philonoist 7 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 206 comments

Long time swimmer and runner here - the biggest difference between the two IMO is the focus on lung capacity for swimming.

A common swimming training set most competitive swimmers will be familiar with are "lung busters". You do a 200y free that's 50y breathing every 3 strokes, 50 every 5, 50 every 7, 25 every 9 and then a 25y butterfly without breathing. I had a coach who would have us do 6 of these on 2:45 (meaning about 15-30s of rest for strong distance swimmers). Everyone would be audibly gasping for air by the end of these.

In races, how often you breathe is a critical part of race strategy. In a 50y/m free you generally shouldn't breathe at all; in a 500+ race, there are big debates about whether to breathe every 2 or 3 strokes. Additionally, how much to kick is a key part of strategy since kicking's contribution to speed is not great compared to how much oxygen it depletes.

I really don't think running compares in terms of how stressful the sport is on the lungs. That said, running 400m sprints with small rest intervals is extremely hard on every part of the body and I found the muscle stress from running far greater than from swimming.

I swam competitively for 15 years, including 4 years of D1 swimming, but I come from a family of rowers.

The effect of limited breathing in swimming forced the body to adapt. One Thanksgiving, my father (a former international-level rower), my brother (a currently international-level rower), and I found our way into a pack of balloons. We wanted to see who could inflate the largest balloon off of a single breath. Once we had breathed our hardest, got out the measuring tape, and argued about the best way to measure it at length, we found that I had won.

My brother and my dad are both around 8 inches taller and 50 pounds more than myself — much bigger people. But they didn’t have to hold their breath for hours every day :)

Obviously this is a poor man’s proxy to a VO2MAX assessment, which I’m sure they would win. But lung volume is certainly one of a swimmer’s greatest assets.

Lung capacity can only be improved a little bit with training (we're talking 5-10% range) and it's a poor indicator of your fitness level. Either you have a genetically larger lung capacity than your brother and dad, or you are simply better at filling your lungs to their full capacity. VO2MAX has nothing to do with lung capacity (if you're healthy)

> Lung capacity can only be improved a little bit with training (we're talking 5-10% range)

Do you have a source for this, because it doesn't sound right to me. For one, the packing technique has been shown to add an extra 10-15%. So right off the bat, there's a training technique that can increase lung capacity by more than your figure. Also, my anecdote matches GPs...since I started training freediving, exercising my diaphragm on a regular basis and practicing three-zone breathing with the corresponding stretches, the amount I can exhale into a balloon has increased significantly.

some interesting reading on the topic:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29174581 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28168782

(you can find more by searching PubMed). Granted I have mostly done research on cyclists. What we tend to see is an increase in the strength of respiratory musculature which leads to an increase in functional lung capacity and this capacity would not vary much between individuals (even between pro cyclists and high-level amateurs). More important than lung capacity for performance is your diffusing capacity (how fast you can move oxygen from lungs to your red blood cells). In sports other than swimming, it's always possible to breathe faster, which benefits from a strong respiratory musculature.

when it comes to freedivers, it's slightly different. They are forcefully stretching their lungs (which doesn't happen with normal aerobic training or breath holding to the same extent)

in this study https://erj.ersjournals.com/content/41/3/760.long they stretched their lungs as much as +800 ml.

Unless I’m reading it wrong, it looks like the paragraph above the one that lists 800ml is the more interesting. The 2004 reading was 2.4L above expected, or 192% of expected.

Also, the freediving exercises are not just about stretching the lungs, they’re also about opening up the rib cage, since it constrains lung volume, and exercising the diaphragm, since the further down it can flex, the more air is pulled into the lungs. Freedivers also train the ability to stretch the diaphragm up since lung volume decreases significantly under pressure.

Anyway, it’s an interesting topic. And since you mentioned cycling, there’s one other area where apnea training intersects with the world of professional cyclists. You mentioned that the speed at which you can perform gas exchange in the lungs was the most important, and to a certain extent that’s true, but also important is the blood’s ability to hold oxygen and deliver it to organs/muscles. And, as I understand it, increasing the blood’s ability to hold oxygen is the primary effect of the banned substance EPO that cyclists frequently use to cheat. Now what’s interesting is that apnea training has a similar effect to EPO as well as increasing the body’s ability to reduce haemoglobin oxygen affinity. What I gather that to mean is that repeated exposure to hypoxic conditions triggers adaptations that allow freedivers to store more oxygen in the blood and, once reserves are running low, deliver more of that oxygen to the organs where it’s needed. The original study where I read this has since gone paywalled, so I’m not sure I’ve still got the correct link to give you, but one of the conclusions was that the effects of apnea training could likely be beneficial to the performance of endurance athletes like distance runners and cyclists.

This is true. FEV1 and FVC for swimmers is higher than other athletes, having a 10% difference is actually huge compared to the general population.

Conversely a 20% below average function is what someone with asthma could have or beginning stages of lung disease.

Bottom line if you're lungs are functioning even 5% over "normal" for your age, height, and ethnicity you have extremely efficient lungs

Lung elasticity and fill (and drain) capacity may be trainable, or affected by environmental factors.

Swimmer also, and at one gym I'd attended I heard I had the lagest lung capacity the trainer had measured.

Also, my understanding is that the body position in rowing -- squat-like at the catch, with arms reaching far forward -- impacts breathing to the point that most (all?) rowers breathe twice per stroke at higher stroke rates, such as race pace. Your dad and brother might be optimized for faster, relatively shallower breaths.

I rowed crew in college and swam on a swim team as a kid, IMO the big difference is that in swimming strategically holding your breath allows you to swim faster. With rowing there are brief parts of the stroke when breathing is physically impossible(right at the catch, as you mentioned) and you have to inhale/exhale around that. Outside of that rowers aren't deliberately holding their breath while rowing, ever.

I'm an advocate of breathing every 2 strokes. Watching phelps 200 free in beijing was the time I switched from 3 to 2, and i think many swimmers followed suit, even biedderman who still currently holds the world record.

Sun Yang however mixes it up in the 800-1500, he'll do 2 for the majority of the swim, but there are times where he'll put in 3.

I've been doing every 2/4 for so long that it feels awkward trying to breathe to my strong side. I feel that muscle memory is actually a key component in why swimmers who generally breathe every 2 are faster. It's kind of like that bruce lee quote where you practice 1 thing 1000x is a lot more effective than practicing 2 things 500x each

My experience was that 2 stroke breathing was good if you can put power into the full motion (like Phelps and others) but in high school I was pretty lanky and found 3 to be more balanced and streamlined— 200 has always been the border between short and long distance too which makes it the most gray area imo

This is super fascinating, thanks for sharing.

I did an olympic triathlon a few years back, and while I consider myself a decent runner and a strong cyclist, the swimming absolutely kicked my ass to the point that I'm not sure I'll ever do another triathlon to avoid it. Seems to take another level of strength to be great at it.

Technique buys you so much more speed and/or efficiency in swimming compared to cycling or running. Those that lack good technique will thrash themselves into a tired mess in order to keep up with the others on the swim.

Some swim coaching, and subsequent drills in your usual training, would soon get you on your way to enjoying the swim part of a triathlon and stop it being horrendous.

The cheap and less effective method is simply watching/studying this video every time before you go to the pool: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s3HhNlysFDs and then watching it afterwards and thinking about your own stroke.

One thing I noticed in the video you included: when the shot is following him from behind I noticed that Van Hazel's head is completely stationary, no lateral or up-down movement. Amazing!

Also notice how far his shoulders rotate. I see lots of people mainly moving their arms instead of rotating their entire torsos.

Thats been a big thing for me to learn - if you want to be able to breath without taking long pauses, your whole torso needs to move, and it creates a very natural motion to pop your head left or right to breathe a pocket of air

Another bonus to rolling -- it is initiated with your core, so it uses large powerful muscles. Once the roll is initiated you can feed your kick and your pull with that momentum. You end up using more powerful muscles to feed your stroke, so you can pull harder without wearing out your arms.

A few years ago, I did a swim workshop taught by Dan Bullock from Swim for Tri (https://www.swimfortri.co.uk). His technique is optimized for long distance open-water swimming and emphasizes smooth, energy efficient motion.

Watching him swim with literally no splash on arm entry was amazing. And torso rotation far further than

Most of my previous swimming was for water polo: short, sharp sprints, mostly head-up freestyle, focus on power and claiming space, often jostling with your opponent. Exactly the opposite of Van Hazel and Dan Bullock's focus on perfect technique.

>>Technique buys you so much more speed and/or efficiency in swimming compared to cycling or running.

I know this isn’t the topic, but the exact same thing applies to rock-climbing. After a certain point, sheer strength won’t help you if you don’t have sufficiently good technique.

I recently started doing triathlons and had kind of a bad experience on the swim portion of my first race. Made it through but had to stop and tread water a couple times just to get my heart rate under control. But after training more I really enjoy swimming in triathlons. It's quite different from lap swimming in a pool. Most likely your problems can be easily fixed.

Here are a few random tips that might help, in no particular order. Sign up for an open water swimming clinic to learn from the experts; race organizers and local triathlon clubs put those on in some areas. Triathlon swimming is a contact sport so if you're uncomfortable with others bumping you then start near the back of your wave and stay towards the outside of the course (you won't lose much time). If the water is cold then buy a dedicated swimming wetsuit; suits meant for diving or surfing restrict arm motion too much. When you first enter the water that will cause your heart rate to jump up so get in the water early before your wave start time to acclimate. Practice lifting your head every few strokes to sight on a fixed landmark and stay on course. Practice bilateral breathing so that if the water is choppy you can always turn your head away from the waves to breathe. Buy tinted goggles in case the sun is in your eyes. Use your arms mostly and save your legs for the rest of the race.

I was the opposite. A swimmers and a runner who got rocked on the bike. I too haven't wanted to do another triathlon because of the bike.

I have been following swimming on and off since 2004. I very vividly remember A Bernard (French) breathing heavily after a 100m relay split in 2008 Beijing (J Lezak produced an inhuman performance to take Gold for the US) and thinking... Those must be some really really really huge lungs: https://youtu.be/chwxaUtnfUk?t=7m45s

Sub-competitive freediver here, so I thought I’d comment a bit on how my sport stresses the lungs and how the body adapts to that stress.

First a comment about the debates over how often you should breathe...almost certainly, those who advise breathing less often are right. People who haven’t trained in apnea and haven’t learned to tolerate high levels of CO2 in the blood always assume the urge to breathe has to do with not getting enough oxygen. But in those sessions where you were “audibly gasping for air,” you were mainly satisfying your urge to expel the CO2 that had built up in your body and, after 1-2 breaths, your oxygen levels were mostly back to a point where you could’ve started breathing normally again. Even after 5 minute breath holds, I try to only take 2-3 recovery breaths before I return to my normal breathing cadence. Breathing less often, since it sounds like breathing slows you down to some extent, should just be a matter of dealing with the discomfort of a higher build-up of CO2. If you were to specifically train for CO2 tolerance, that wouldn’t be that big of a deal. I’m actually somewhat surprised that apnea training hasn’t become an important part of training to be a competitive swimmer.

Secondly, there have been a few studies that have looked at the physiological changes that happen to extreme breath hold athletes, so those may be of interest to swimmers because they may experience some of the same changes. One study showed increased basal metabolic rate and ability for the blood to hold oxygen. It seems like the training makes the body want to store more oxygen and use less of it to convert stored energy reserves. It wouldn’t surprise me if swimmers saw some degree of those changes as well.

Lastly, one important difference between freediving and swimming is the effect on the heart. Freedivers are specifically focused on not putting stress on the heart. We try to relax and lower our heart rate to use oxygen as slowly as possible. Even in dynamic disciplines, the focus is on slow, relaxed strokes, even if that results in more time spent underwater. A freediver swimming 200m on a single breath (whether horizontally or vertically) will likely have fewer heartbeats during that swim than that 50m swimmer you described. But what’s interesting about that is that freedivers still experience some of the beneficial changes to the heart that swimmers and runners do. For instance, when I first took up the sport, my resting heart rate dropped to about the level mentioned in the article (below 60 bpm) and my blood pressure dropped to the point where my doctor was somewhat worried (90/56 at one point). I think there’s something to what you mentioned about putting pressure on the lungs. The heart and lungs are really one interconnected system and you can affect one by affecting the other.

> "in a 500+ race, there are big debates about whether to breathe every 2 or 3 strokes."

It seems to me that debate is less about lung capacity and more about breathing on one side or two (e.g. bilateral breathing.) For me it's always seemed obvious that bilateral swimming should be the desired ideal. Most of my peers favored one side or the other, because in the beginning they had a very slight preference and over time as they used that side only, that preference was reinforced to the point where it became downright awkward to breath on the "wrong" side. If you train against this from the beginning, it seems to me that your times will improve (if only because every three strokes is less breathing, which of course is faster, all else being equal) and you won't have to worry about any physiological asymmetries.

I think it's a tradeoff between resources and efficiency. The longer the race, the more you need to manage your air. Breathing more means a bit more drag, but also more energy to finish the race. Which option is better for you depends on your strength, endurance, distance, and probably many other factors.

Of course in training, ideally you would breathe to both sides—Michel Phelps alternates every 50.

I disagree. breathing to one side usually every 2 strokes has been the ideal ever since 2008 200 free beijing. I switched then and now you're right in the sense that breathing to my strong side is awkward as hell, but I dont think i'll ever look back to every 3

I think switching once you're an established swimmer is going to be virtually impossible, at least if you want to be competitive. I think it's something that should be trained as early as possible. If any established Olympic swimmer tries to make the change, my guess is they won't be swimming at an Olympic level any longer, because breathing on a single side is a pretty good local maxima (only marginally worse than bilateral) but getting out of that local maxima would involve degrading your performance for however long it takes for bilateral swimming to feel just as natural, which might take years for all I know. I don't know if there are any top-tier swimmers who've ever made the switch and remained competitive, I've not looked into it that far, but I suspect there aren't.

I also belief (with no scientific evidence) that training bilateral from the beginning is even more advantageous for mediocre to poor swimmers, since the symmetry in breathing will make their form in general more symmetric and consequently more efficient. Obviously bilateral breathing is not necessary to achieve excellent form, as demonstrated by the vast majority of Olympic swimmers, but I believe it should make it easier for the common swimmer.

I switched from strong-side to alternating late in my training (17, had been swimming for 10 years). It was awkward for a few weeks, but became comfortable. My times improved through this period.

I really breathed more often than every 4 when 500m was my best event, is breathing that often really the common consensus?

I think so. If you watch someone like Katie Ledecky, she breathes every 2 strokes.


A kind of off topic question: in that video you can see that not only is Katie breathing every 2 strokes, but her stroke timing is "staggered" - 2 strokes, pause, 2 strokes, pause - like a heartbeat. I think Phelps does the same thing. Is this just a style thing or is it actually faster?

This is called galloping (might have other names too). In general, freestyle has two extremes: shoulder driven and hip-driven. Shoulder driven freestyle is faster but less efficient, and hip-driven is slower but more efficient. Galloping alternates between hip- and shoulder-driven strokes, which is why it seems uneven. This also allows the swimmer to take advantage of the motion of breathing to build more momentum. I don't know if it is truly faster or not though.

Thanks! They definitely didn't teach us to do it that way when I was a kid, but that was back in the dark ages. I'll have to try it to see if it works for me.

I dont think this is settled -- I've seen world class swimmers do it both ways. Personally I find taking a long stroke after each breath more effective.

breathing every 4 in a 500? damn you have massive lungs. Everybody i know that goes under 4:30 in the 500y breathes 2 though.

Fascinating to know that swimmers (professional) employ breathing techniques, as well as being selective on which body part they choose to use during swimming events - given the ratio of how much oxygen is utilized when using a part of the body against not using it.

Does the size of the diaphragm also takes into factor on this scenario? I guess it might be because that would be the muscle that helps compresses the lungs to be able to take in the most amount of air possible.

This guy swims.

I am guessing that is a Blind app reference?

I think it's a Silicon Valley[0] reference

[0] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_uMEE7eaaUA

Thanks for that ! I've always wondered what the genesis of it was....

I've run lots of trail marathons and halves and have pretty good aerobic function, but I've always had a big problem with breathing while swimming. Does anyone have any good links or thoughts on getting into a good breathing rhythm that doesn't involve running out of steam and ingesting water? My running breathing is very disciplined but it all seems to fall apart when I swim

Have you tried just using nose plugs/clips? There seems to be some variation in how well people can close off their nasal passage while underwater and often people who have more trouble with it sound exactly like this.

Personally I have to be blowing air out my nose at a pretty unsustainable rate to prevent water from coming in, so if I'm doing serious swimming I use clips. Not exploring this option when I was a kid made me resent and hate swim classes even though I loved being in the water.

i'll try that, thanks!

Hi! You typically want to breath out through your noise, then inhale through the mouth when you go for air.

Another tip that comes immediately to mind is try using a swimmer’s snorkel. At first, it’ll be really difficult to keep from water going into your nose but after a few practices, your nose and it’s canals will block out water as a reflex, enabling you to breath through your mouth the entire swim. Hope this helps and sorry for English!

>I really don't think running compares in terms of how stressful the sport is on the lungs.

Sounds like words spoken by a person who's never run a competitive 800m race. Maybe if you said swimming just barely edges out running in lung stress... sorry, but this claim is simply comical.

Yeah... Except that if you run at your maximum capacity every day, you will get injured fast.

In swimming, everyday training (actually twice daily) is extremely hard because the length to which you can go without injury is further. Same as for say, cycling.

Running is definitely harder on the joints.

On the lungs? Give me a break.

> That said, running 400m sprints with small rest intervals is extremely hard on every part of the body and I found the muscle stress from running far greater than from swimming.

This surprises me greatly. If you look at the body of a professional runner vs. a professional swimmer the swimmer is much, much more built.

If you look at sprinters compared to swimmers, I would say the sprinters are much more built. If you compare marathon runners to swimmers, it is the swimmer that is more built.

This brings up the interesting topic of anaerobic vs. aerobic exercise which running can be either. Typically one would think of anaerobic exercise as lifting weight or strength training, but sprinting is also anaerobic, meaning you are building muscles.

When you run at a slower pace you are conditioning your lungs and not your muscles as much. This is aerobic exercise, and why marathon runners are so skinny because they are more focus on lung capacity than muscle building.

When you sprint your muscles are actually being broken down and then when you stop they get rebuilt as stronger and larger muscles. This is the reason no one can sprint a marathon.

What is curious to me is that elite marathon runners "jog" at what I would consider being a sprint for myself. So, I wonder if sprinting would be an anaerobic or aerobic exercise for myself?

> What is curious to me is that elite marathon runners "jog" at what I would consider being a sprint for myself. So, I wonder if sprinting would be an anaerobic or aerobic exercise for myself?

Everyone has an anaerobic threshold (the level of exertion at which the body transitions from aerobic to anaerobic systems).[0] But your AnT is much, much lower than an elite marathon runner's due to years of training designed to increase running economy.[1]

So what is a sprint to you (e.g. anaerobic exercise) would be a jog to Kipchoge or Bekele (e.g. aerobic exercise). If you are able to run fast enough to make yourself gasp for air, you've just done some aerobic exercise!

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lactate_threshold#Lactate_meas... [1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Running_economy

> What is curious to me is that elite marathon runners "jog" at what I would consider being a sprint for myself. So, I wonder if sprinting would be an anaerobic or aerobic exercise for myself?

As a rule of thumb, if you fail because specific muscles are burning and not working anymore it’s anaerobic (muscle limited), and if it’s because you’re out of breath and it’s more of a generalized pain it’s aerobic (cardio limited)

> If you look at sprinters compared to swimmers, I would say the sprinters are much more built. If you compare marathon runners to swimmers, it is the swimmer that is more built.

This comparison puts all swimmers in the same category, but there are sprint swims and distance swims too. Do you mean that most land sprinters are more built than all swimmers — both sprinters and distance?

(Just seeking clarification is all.)

Yes, sprinters on land or water will be more built than distance swimmers/runners.


Who are you looking at? Professional 400m runners tend to be quite muscular, although more in the legs whereas swimmers have stronger upper bodies. It's only the long distance runners who look scrawny.

jacked torsos are often more visually impressive than jacked legs

True, but don't neglect leg day :)

I'm on a t-rex workout plan :D

That's not true. Guys with chicken legs look plain silly.

They do, but average legs and extreme torso looks more impressive than average torso and extreme legs.

I think this applies for long distance runners, but sprinters are usually built.

I'd like too see more study on the long term damage of endurance sports on the heart. I'm hoping to begin running marathons at the end of this year and ultramarathons next year. But reaching that level of fitness requires multi-hour runs, sometimes as many as twice a week. When training for mountaineering, I sometimes climb 5000+ feet in a day. Days like that tend to elevate my resting heart rate for up to a week afterwords. This probably means I'm sustaining heart damage, at least temporarily.

There are notable case of ultra runners dying, and autopsy shows long term heart damage. Some combination of duration and intensity seems to be dangerous, but the risk factors are not well understood yet.

> Days like that tend to elevate my resting heart rate for up to a week afterwords.

Sounds like overtraining. If you overtrain, you are not exercising optimally and stop developing. You must increase the training volume gradually and take days off if the signs of overstraining appear.

Increasing training often requires increased rest. You can't keep busy as usual and train hard. Pro-athletes sit and rest on a couch a lot.


>Elevated resting heart rate, a persistently high heart rate after adequate rest such as in the morning after sleep, can be an indicator of overtraining

> and take days off if the signs of overstraining appear

Your training plan should include days off irrespective. And also easy "rest" weeks. When training you essentially do damage (wear and tear in the muscles etc.), and when resting after the body repairs things better than they were before. If you never rest properly, the body is fighting a losing battle and you'll never improve as much as you are trying to, if at all. This is why marathon training plans and similar tend to be in 4-ish week cycles with an easy week every cycle and explicit rest days even in the hardest of weeks. Even ultra-marathon training where you might have back-to-back long runs will have rest days each week and whole rest weeks within the program.

Caveat: I'm not expert so consider my thoughts anecdotal. Though I'm fairly confident I'm not talking complete rubbish as I've run a few road marathons (best time so far is just shy of 4 hours, I'm not sure I'll try for any faster than that), plenty of road halfs, a number of trail runs of 13 miles or more, one trail "ultra" (30-ana-bit miles so only 4 above base marathon distance, but bugger me there were hills/steps/mud/other!), and a long weekend trail challenge (69 miles over four days), and I'm training for another trail marathon (~28.5 miles this one) next month and another trail challenge weekend (100+ miles over four days this time) later in the year.

I typically "train" every day, meaning I run six days a week and ride my bike on the seventh. I do, however, have rest days; it's just that my rest days are shorter distances at a lower heart rate. My Tuesdays and Thursdays are rest days, so I run 8.9 miles @ 130 beats-per-minute heart rate.

I absolutely, do not recommend my training plan for others; it's taken me more than ten years to get where I am, but as an example of what can be done (at least with my body), you can see how I recently trained for the Bataan Memorial Death March[0] and also see a subset of my official ultra results at UltraSignup[1] as well as my self-reported marathon results at Marathon Maniacs[2].

FWIW, I think my sleep schedule and diet have contributed significantly to the gains I've made over the years, but I'm also well aware of survivor bias. Neither of my parents were athletic though and I absolutely hated running as a kid (although I really enjoyed ultimate frisbee in high school).

[0] https://github.com/ctm/Bataan-Memorial-Death-March [1] https://ultrasignup.com/results_participant.aspx?fname=Cliff... [2] https://www.marathonmaniacsdb.com/Maniacs/MyRaces?ManiacId=4...

I suspect that ultra endurance is somewhat different from the other sports. It seems reasonable that conditioning requires loading mileage like crazy, even compared to marathon or triathlon. Maybe microcycles (1 week) are unnecessary.

Modern preiodization was scientifically discovered by Russians in the 60s and it seems to work in every sport when correctly applied. Do you have have mesocycles (2-5 weeks) or macrocycles (6-12 month) in your training plans?


Your toughs more or less match everything what I have read and practiced.

"Overreaching" might be a better word. Overtraining would be doing that kind of workout every week instead of every few months.

But yes, I'm probably making mistakes. I've never trained seriously until very recently. I reached my current level of fitness more or less by accident with a few thousand miles of hiking.

Avoiding overtraining is one reason to train with good heart rate monitor. In some days you must run much slower than other days because of stress, lack of sleep and rest. When you hit your upper limits, it's a sing to slow down.

Suddenly reduced HRV is another sign of overtrtraining. Good heart rate monitors (some Polar models with a strap) can do Orthostatic Test and give even more accurate information than heart rate.


Mountains, perhaps thanks to summit fever, really seduces people into overreaching, and cover up the clues at the same time. "I got to the summit, so it's all good!" you think.

I really can't recommend "Training For the New Alpinism" enough. It really disabused me of that notion, and after a year or two of conscientious work I can hike the same trails with a smile & easy breathing, faster than I once could dripping sweat & suffering.

A sport heart rate monitor is also extremely valuable.

Heh, I've actually been doing TFNA for about two months now. Just finished the "transition period."

If you're having these days where your heart rate is elevated for weeks after, during your transition period, you either started off with way too much work or you're not tracking your work honestly. In just a month or two during the base period you will wind up doing more than double what you're doing right now, so it's very important that what you're doing right now is really quite easy to sustain. Also, heart rate zones! Make sure you are following them!

About once a month I take a weekend to go to my absolute physical limits, and then take a half week or so of rest. It's probably not healthy, and it's certainly not good training, but it sure is fun. Not many people get to say they've seen the enchantments or deep into the goat rocks wilderness in the dead of winter.

>> There are notable case of ultra runners dying, and autopsy shows long term heart damage.

??? I run ultras and marathons, am 55 years old, have trained 2500 - 3000 miles/year for years. I don't necessarily consider all this as building my health; I assume it helps in some ways and hurts in others.

But I'm fairly plugged in and I've never heard of these "notable" cases of ultra runners dying with heart damage. Do you have links or specific references to any? Sounds to me like typical baseless conjecture (of which there is plenty) that gets thrown around and then accepted as fact by someone down the line.

I was a little curious, so I did some searching, and ran across a study about damage from long runs.[1] You may be aware of that already.

I did eventually come across some stuff about a "dangerous lung disease" marathon runners are at risk of.[2][3] The news article seems a little scare-mongery (no surprise), but it appears to be backed by science, from the little I read into it.

1: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4415847/

2: https://www.express.co.uk/news/uk/343996/Running-marathons-c...

3: https://err.ersjournals.com/content/23/134/416

There's plenty of exercise science stuff, much of it conflicting. Also, even if some damage to health from running were 100% certain, you need to get a handle on just how likely and how dangerous the damage is. Is it analogous to exposure to a carcinogen that has a 95% chance of leading to cancer and death within 2 years? Or is it analogous to exposure to minor carcinogen that means you have, say, a 2% greater likelihood of developing cancer over the course of your life?

For me, I see that I and all my running friends seem healthier and more vibrant than an average person of the same age. My heart is stronger, running improves bone density, (at least for me) improves strength and reduces pain in joints, improves my balance, helps keep me slim, etc. It gets me out every day, often into beautiful mountains with friends. For as long as I keep running I expect to reap these benefits.

Would I stop or cut down if I were told, with certainty, that running would cause me to die, say, 2 years sooner than I would otherwise if I wasn't running? Not likely, it increases my quality of life in too many important ways. If that number were instead, say, 10 - 20 years, then yeah sure, I might cut down. But there is no science remotely resembling that. I don't think there's anything out there that establishes to any degree of confidence that lots of running reduces life expectancy at all.

Micah True in 2012. Also note that for marathons the number one cause of death is cardiac arrest. Now that is not explicitly what OP said, but you can see how one could draw a valid conclusion from that observation. I don't think that is "baseless", but I would agree that it is not necessarily a smoking gun. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_marathon_fatalities

Interesting, given that I was down in Copper Canyons just a few weeks ago to run the Caballo Blanco race. I don't see Micah True as establishing anything. Yes, it's likely he died of cardiac arrest. Yes, he displayed the enlarged left ventricle characteristic of people who run a lot. But as far as I'm aware, his family history is unknown. It could be that he died of a genetic (inherited) disorder and that he actually lived longer, delayed his heart attack, _because_ he was a runner. (This is the likely situation with Jim Fixx, a famous guy back in the 80's who promoted the health benefits of running, but then died of a heart attack: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jim_Fixx#Death ) One current conjecture in medical science is that enlarged left ventricle and scarring increases likelihood of cardiac event; at this point I'm pretty sure it remains mere conjecture.

Regarding marathons: what would you expect to be leading cause of death in marathons? Surely not cancer. Running a marathon stresses your heart. If you have genetic cardiac issues (which many do) it's more likely that they will appear in a marathon than when you're walking down the street. It's a huge leap to suggest that training for a marathon increases overall risk of heart failure. It could just as easily be that the marathoner has actually extended his/her life by running, that they would have died earlier if they hadn't kept their diseased heart as healthy as it could be by doing lots of running. As far as I'm aware, there's no science out there that establishes that marathoning causes people to die earlier than they otherwise would, and lots of evidence to the contrary.

Hyponatremia (broadly low sodium levels from drinking too much water) is one of the leading causes of death during/shortly after a marathon.

> When training for mountaineering, I sometimes climb 5000+ feet in a day. Days like that tend to elevate my resting heart rate for up to a week afterwords.

I'm curious, what is your living elevation? When you climb 5000+ feet in a day are you traveling to a higher elevation? And if so, after the movement are you staying at that higher elevation?

I am not a doctor. But I ascend a minimum of 20K feet per month via the steepest trails I can find. This usually includes a movement of up to 7500 feet of gain in a few hours. I've never seen my resting HR affected and do not recall having seeing that happen to anyone doing the same work unless they lived at lower elevation and were visiting.

If you're coming to an elevation much higher than your living elevation, doing a movement, and then staying at a higher elevation, then your elevated RHR is most likely due to the body's response to the reduced partial pressure of oxygen.

But if you're doing a move and returning to your "home" elevation and your RHR stays up...again I'm not a doctor in any way but I'd really encourage you to talk to one.

> I've never seen my resting HR affected and do not recall having seeing that happen to anyone doing the same work unless they lived at lower elevation and were visiting.

Out of curiosity, how do you know your resting HR isn't just always higher?

Because I monitor my resting heart rate obsessively. :D

At 6800 feet (where I live) my resting HR is 55BPM +/- 3 and falling because I've begun to train hard coming off of a really bad injury + surgery. During recovery where I was unable to exercise it drifted up over the months to 62BPM. As I get back into my best condition it'll fall into the low 50s.

At sea level my resting HR will fall by 5-7 beats for a couple weeks and then drift back to stasis over 6ish weeks my body reduces its red blood cell count and all the other acclimatization stuff. I try to avoid this.

I watch it pretty closely because as nabla9's excellent commentary in this subthread highlights, a persistently elevated resting HR is a sign of overtraining, which being a type A obsessive nutjob I am pretty susceptible to. :)

I've also found that an elevated heart rate that can't be explained by overtraining, for me, is indication that I've got an incoming illness that I don't feel yet, usually a sinus infection.

Edit: expanded explanation

You're probably in much better shape than I am. For you, a 5000 foot day is probably fairly routine. For me, it still takes some willpower. I'm sure I will adapt over time.

But yes, to answer your question, I train at sea level and climb between to 6000-10000 feet on weekends, and sometimes high camp.

If your RHR is elevated at high camp that's to be expected as that's part of the physiological response to reduced partial pressure of oxygen.

If your RHR is still elevated after your return to sea level...huh.

I live at 6800 feet now but like you used to live at low elevation. I'd come out, hike up Pikes Peak (6700 feet start, 14100 foot finish) and then come back down to sleep at 6000ish feet. RHR would be up maybe 10-15BPM until I went home to sea level, then it went back down to normal literally on the drive home.

So the response you're seeing, I mean what do I know I'm not a researcher, doctor or expert but I will say that seems odd.

Check out this 40 minute podcast on altitude physiology. Super dense with really actionable information on the body's responses: https://www.scienceofultra.com/podcasts/29

> There are notable case of ultra runners dying, and autopsy shows long term heart damage

I wonder how much of this is pre-existing heart conditions that went undiagnosed versus running _causing_ heart damage.

> Days like that tend to elevate my resting heart rate for up to a week afterwords

This is surprising to me... I've run almost 5000 miles and 6 marathons so far and this has not been my experience. Maybe it's due to over training? Have you asked a doctor about it?

> I wonder how much of this is pre-existing heart conditions that went undiagnosed versus running _causing_ heart damage.

The sample size might be too small, but I'd love to see a comparison of heart-failure events among ultra runners to other very intense exercise.

Conditions like Marfan Syndrome are obvious candidates for these deaths: it's often undiagnosed, it significantly increases risk for sudden heart failures like aortic dissection (especially in younger people), and it produces a progressive risk with intense exercise (by weakening heart tissues which then stretch under stress). Which, oddly, is both pre-existing and exercise-induced; running wouldn't do the same thing without the condition, but a sufferer who didn't run as hard might never have a problem.

Directly attributing the problem to conditions like that is probably impossible; there are a bunch of them and there's no guarantee they'll be diagnosed or even caught at autopsy. But a cross-sport comparison might turn up interesting data - breath-restricting sports like swimming and scuba diving are higher risk than running.

> This is surprising to me... I've run almost 5000 miles and 6 marathons so far and this has not been my experience.

Do you track your resting heart rate on the days after running a marathon? It's been pretty consistent to me. If I sustain near max exertion for multiple hours, it takes at least a few days to feel normal again, and resting heart rate seems to be a very good indicator of the overall stress of the exertion. Obviously my RHR is dropping over time. These are temporary variations.

I've been reading this thread and I'm curious if you've had any cardiac checkups done.

I had a friend who was very healthy and fit but, like you, experienced elevated heart rate (and some loss of energy) for a few days after hard exercise days. Turns out, he had a partial blockage in a cardiac blood vessel. It was not blocked enough to be noticeable under normal workloads. But under hard work loads, part of his heart did not get enough oxygen and experienced damage. Eventually he experienced a heart attack, which is when it was caught and stented. Every other vessel was clear... it was just one of those flukes.

Who knows if you have the same issue, but I would suggest it's worth getting checked out.

Yeah I'm feeling a little unsure myself after reading these replies... I had a checkup very recently and got the all clear... The most recent incident I was referring to (I hiked up 5000 feet in a couple hours and ran the descent) caused severe DOMS, and I think the elevated RHR may have been due to muscle damage in my legs. I was probably not physically prepared for that large of a running descent. But I'll keep an eye on it.

Yeah I peek at my heart rate graphs daily, but not with any kind of scientific rigor

I just love marathon running and I'd hate for it to be hurting me long term...

It's not as much about your "experience". IIRC there was scarring in heart tissue after running a marathon distance in a large majority of runners independent of training. This could plausibly impede blood flow if the heart's fitness dropped back to "normal" (i.e. in old age). That said, I still do distance running.

"An ultra-marathon can also lead to changes in biomarkers indicating a pathological process in specific organs or organ systems such as skeletal muscles, heart, liver, kidney, immune and endocrine system. These changes are usually temporary, depending on intensity and duration of the performance, and usually normalize after the race. In longer ultra-marathons, ~50–60% of the participants experience musculoskeletal problems. The most common injuries in ultra-marathoners involve the lower limb, such as the ankle and the knee. An ultra-marathon can lead to an increase in creatine-kinase to values of 100,000–200,000 U/l depending upon the fitness level of the athlete and the length of the race. Furthermore, an ultra-marathon can lead to changes in the heart as shown by changes in cardiac biomarkers, electro- and echocardiography. Ultra-marathoners often suffer from digestive problems and gastrointestinal bleeding after an ultra-marathon is not uncommon. Liver enzymes can also considerably increase during an ultra-marathon. An ultra-marathon often leads to a temporary reduction in renal function. Ultra-marathoners often suffer from upper respiratory infections after an ultra-marathon."


"A structural change of the heart muscle by an ultra-marathon could be detected by the use of echocardiography. Echocardiography can detect a reduction of the left (Niemela et al., 1984; Krzeminski et al., 2016; Maufrais et al., 2016) as well as the right ventricular (Oxborough et al., 2011; Lord et al., 2015, 2016b; Maufrais et al., 2016; Rothwell et al., 2018) function after an ultra-marathon. The changes in cardiac troponin I during an ultra-marathon are inversely associated with left ventriculare ejection fraction determined with echokardiography (Christensen et al., 2017).

The length of the ultra-marathon is important whether a change in the left and/or right ventricular function occurs. After the 2-day “Lowe Alpine Mountain Marathon,” both a systolic and diastolic dysfunction of the left ventricle could be detected. Humoral markers of myocardial damage were increased and the increase in cardiac troponin was considered to be associated with a minimal myocardial damage (Shave et al., 2002). After a 24-h ultra-marathon, two out of 20 runners showed a slight increase in cardiac troponins and echocardiography showed a decrease in left ventricular ejection fraction in one of the two runners (Passaglia et al., 2013). After an 89-km ultra-marathon, there was a reduced function of the left and right ventricles (Chan-Dewar et al., 2010). In a 4-h run, there was a decrease in the activity of the MIBG (131-J meta-iodo-benzylguanidine) in the myocardium, and the extent of activity decrease correlated with the distance covered during the run (Estorch et al., 1997). In a 160-km ultra-marathon, no correlation between the decrease in left ventricular function and the change in cardiac biomarkers could be demonstrated (Scott et al., 2009). During a 24-h ultra-marathon, the left ventricular function decreased during the last 6 h of the race where the function normalized within a few days after the race (Niemela et al., 1984). Another study showed that echocardiographic changes returned to normal within 1 day after the run (Dávila-Román et al., 1997). In some instances, an ultra-marathon leads to no echocardiographic changes. For runners in the “Western States Endurance Run,” echocardiographic findings were normal (George et al., 2011). Therefore, it is at the moment difficult to conclude that an ultra-marathon leads to substantial heart damage."

Thanks for the reference. It's just hard for me to parse out how bad it is for me to continue running these kinds of distances.

One could easily write a list of scary side effects for being sedentary too... but which is worse? I'm just guessing (hoping) that the benefits of marathon running outweigh the costs.

The choice isn't marathons or nothing. You could run half-marathons.

Parent's last sentence gives me hope it should be OK, at least for the heart.

What I can surely say is that I have never been feeling better and healthier than since I started running long distances at 30.

> Days like that tend to elevate my resting heart rate for up to a week afterwords

Not an expert, but that seems alarming. Please check https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rSiS9qkJUU0

Although regular exercise is great, complementing with good diet is a must too, I believe.

I think this is a little bit alarmist. My resting heart rate is in the low 50s and rises 2-3 bpm when I am sick or stressed (including during recovery from intense training). Looking at yesterday's run, my heart rate dropped from 182 to 138 in a little over a minute. I don't think I'm about to keel over just yet.

It’s part of the recovery process. Let your body/heart recover to what’s normal for you before stressing it again. It needs time to adapt.

There’s no such thing as overtraining, just under-recovering.

If I die while running an ultra at least I'll die doing something I enjoy. I know it's not "good" for my body but I like it.

> I sometimes climb 5000+ feet in a day

Unless you mean proper climbing but rather you hike/scramble, that's not really anything extraordinary. I am a rather active person but by no means any endurance or ultra runner. Doing 1500m+ altitude gain hike (which I sometimes do over weekends, most usual one is 1000 -> 2500m) is a weekend warrior level, next day I go and do something else (usually easier).

If you experience that elevated heart rate a whole week afterwards, that ain't normal IMHO, at least not for somebody who is on verge of starting marathons and planning for some lighter ultras soon. Get your heart/cardio/breathing checked by some experts.

My personal theory is - we are not born equal, and some people can literally grow with almost any challenge, others are easily destroyed by the same. I am rather the latter but it has some positive aspect - I need to train harder than most to get to their levels, which brings good amount of mental fortitude.

Anecdata: I ran marathons and a few ultras (several 36 mile, one 50) in my late 20s. Through my 40s and 50s, my EKGs, and one ultrasound of the heart, have all come back clean; I'm not sure whether I've had one since turning 60. I'm 63 now, and haven't run for a couple of months, but that has to do with plantar fasciitis that I let get out of hand.

The craziest of my running friends, measuring by ultras run, has said that she doesn't run far these days, but that's her knees.

I think it's possible to work out too much:

1) Scar tissue formation in heart after repeated episodes of prolonged ischemia (ultra marathon)

2) early joint wear necessitating joint replacements at earlier ages (marathon, lifting)

3) ligament and tendon damage requiring surgical correction (cross fit, power lifting)

4) high regeneration of tissue causes premature aging of tissues (increased cell replication and tendency for DNA damage)

I think society's glorification of extreme exercise does more harm than good.

> I think society's glorification of extreme exercise does more harm than good.

Which society? What glorification? According to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_body_mass..., society has clearly moved in the complete opposite direction, with approximately 30% of the world population considered obese. I am aware that BMI doesn't take into account muscle mass, but really, most people who are obese by BMI standards aren't there due to powerlifting. They are simply obese.

It is possible to work out too much, for sure. Most serious exercise programs have "easy weeks" specifically to give the body time to rebuild and recover. I've done many triathlons and sure, there is glorification of the IronMan distance tri; but it should be something that is glorified. It's an incredibly challenging event and worthy of praise.

If anything, I think society needs to encourage, explicitly and with great zeal:

1. Hard exercise (long runs, swimming, lifting, rugby, cycling, etc.) at a bare minimum of 3 times per week for 1 hour or more.

2. The basic physiological fact of "Calories In, Calories out". A person is fat because they consume more calories than they burn (barring certain medical conditions/medications that cause weight gain). That's it.

3. Quality fuel. Ensuring people eat foods that provide the essential amino acids, necessary vitamins and minerals, and an even macro distribution of carbs, fats, and proteins.

Lastly, I would gladly trade [2, 3, 4] in exchange for living a fulfilling and healthy life spent exercising and accomplishing goals like completing an IronMan Triathlon or breaking into the thousand pound club for lifting. The other option is wasting my life eating chips on my couch and getting fat.

> Which society? What glorification?

The high-functioning, wealthy society of working age professionals. I think of the United States - and I assume most countries are the same, but perhaps to a lesser degree - as a cluster of societies that sometimes intermingle and share space with each other but are otherwise distinct. Obesity is a disease of the poor.

In certain circles there is a glorification of extreme forms of exercise. Partially as an indicator of status, to demonstrate that you have the both the personal agency and excess resources to pour into a training program to achieve impressive feats. But also as a sacrifice to the gods of success. All the respected leaders in business are doing ultra endurance sports, so it would stand to reason that there is something, some X-factor it's contributing to their ability to achieve.

It's worth asking whether there's any benefit to this kind of thing past a certain point. Are people their wasting time and causing long term damage to their bodies just to impress their friends?

Your last sentence, by the way, gave me a laugh. It could be the dictionary example for false dichotomy. Not sure whether this was intentional.

> It's worth asking whether there's any benefit to this kind of thing past a certain point. Are people their wasting time and causing long term damage to their bodies just to impress their friends?

I think it's a bit presumptuous to categorize extreme exercise as "just to impress their friends". Was Alex Honnold free soloing El Cap just to impress his friends? I doubt it. The same can be said for almost all extreme challenges. Why climb Everest? Why run a marathon? Why go to the moon?

To crib JFK: Because it's hard. Because you can. Because it's there and it's maaaybe, just maybe, possible.

Regarding my last sentence, perhaps I could have phrased it better like this: I would rather destroy my body through hard work by trying to achieve difficult things like an IM triathlon than destroy my body out of apathy and sloth and gluttony. Either way, if all goes to plan, my body is gonna go to shit at a certain point anyway and I can't do anything about it. And then I die. So why not try to have some fun?

The false dichotomy persists in your rephrasing. You could maintain excellent fitness with a more moderate exercise regime.

Sorry if it comes across as an attack on your lifestyle. It isn't meant to be. If you find extrinsic motivations morally suspect, then let me assure you I believe your motivations are entirely intrinsic and pristine.

But regardless, there are such things as trends. It isn't presumptuous to assume that people do things for the social benefits. That's just being realistic. If it builds their social network, increases their status, widens their career prospects, makes it easier to find a better mate... perhaps they should be doing that thing, whether it's running an ultramarathon or doing a 6-hour headstand in a park. What does it matter?

Except that if 6-hour headstands become the hot new thing that every young professional seems to aspire to, I'm going to ask about whether "society" should be glorifying something that's obviously going to lead to neck damage versus, say, a nice 6-hour foot race. That's all.

Oh I never assumed it was an attack, just healthy discussion. I see your points, though I still disagree about the glorification aspect. I think glorifying athletic feats is not just good for society, but that society is (partially) built upon physical desirability thanks to the need to reproduce.

People will always go to extremes in everything, though. And naturally, some people will see that extreme and feel a strong desire to push further. I simply see nothing wrong with it, regarding exercise, is all. Have a good one!

"I think it's a bit presumptuous to categorize extreme exercise as "just to impress their friends". Was Alex Honnold free soloing El Cap just to impress his friends? I doubt it. The same can be said for almost all extreme challenges. Why climb Everest? Why run a marathon? Why go to the moon?"

Honnold probably does it for himself but I agree that a lot of people exercise mainly for other people. They want to look good or impress them. Not necessarily wrong but it can lead to unhealthy extremes.

"Which society? What glorification?"

I see that a lot. A lot of people do nothing and then they suddenly want to do marathons or they start Crossfit. At some point they get injured and revert to doing nothing.

You definitely get more attention and admiration if you run marathons or climb Mount Everest vs doing some mild exercise every day although the latter is probably much healthier.

I disagree. I think if you took a reasonably fit marathoner (approximately 3:30 time on a flat course) and compared them to someone who only does mild exercise every day, the marathoner will come out as far healthier.

I think this because to be even a mediocre marathoner, one needs to exercise with about the same frequency as the control person. But one also needs to work diligently on a large peripheral system like flexibility and mobility, recovery routines, stricter diet controls such as counting calories, macros, ensuring proper vitamin/mineral uptake, strength work with lifting, etc.

Sure, a mild exerciser can be relatively healthy, but the real difference is that the marathoner has challenging goals to accompany the systems for building health; whereas the mild exerciser only has the systems and easily accomplishable or even no goals besides "being healthy".

Don’t forget the wear and tear on your body. Not many people can maintain marathon training for a long time without injuries. There some that can but those are only a few. I have seen the same in martial arts. Once you reach 40 the injuries start accumulating.

Nonsense. I've met plenty of runners who absolutely destroyed my pace (and I'm no slouch) well into their 50s and 60s.

Yes. And you will see even more who have stopped at that age because they couldn’t do it anymore.

I really wish we had society where these issues were the primary health problems. Unfortunately, the reality is that most of society's health issue stem from a lack of enough quality exercise. Obesity is a significant problem.

there is a good book on the topic: The Haywire Heart by Dr. John Mandrola, Lennard Zinn, Chris Case

I think you should get yourself checked out. My resting heart rate is in 50s. It gets elevated when I'm running, riding, or working out, but returns to resting levels after only a couple of hours.

There has been quite a bit written about this subject lately, there are mounting evidence that training hard have a negative impact on your heart.


In the article it's stipulated it's because of gravity. But it's also mentioned in passing that swimmers hold their breath. I wonder, is there any effect in being able to hold your breath for long when it comes to cardio? As in, I can hold my breath for 4:58, does that offer me any advantage?

Or what about training with a bigger lack of oxygen, as in waiting longer between strokes to breathe or holding your breath while running, does it do any good?

I found that sentence odd... Swimmers do not really hold their breaths often. Some training involves breath holding, and sprinters will hold their breath, but the majority of training and all distance swimming involves relatively normal breathing - the body exhausts itself quickly when there is no oxygen coming in to the system. I do masters swimming after starting to swim recreationally in college, and the first thing you learn to conserve energy is to breath normally and not hold your breath.

Swimmers hold their breath constantly from turns to different patterns depending on the stroke. Also in freestyle it's common to breath in through your mouth and exhale through your nose which isn't like running which is all mouth breathing.

Breath control drills (i.e. "breathe once this lap" or "breathe every fourth stroke") are also standard for competitive swimmers.

This study looked at top competitive athletes, who might be pursuing a different strategy than masters swimmers.

Erm, I think it really depends on the intensity of the run. I typically breathe in through my nose and out my mouth when running at a lower intensity.

Distance swimmers don't really hold their breath, but sprinters certainly do. I was a state champion sprinter, and when I would swim the 50 freestyle I only breathed once, usually a few strokes after the turn. For the 100 freestyle it was one breath per lap, and this is crucial because in a sprint anytime you breathe you are slowing yourself down.

Freestyle should have continuous outflow while head is in the water so that at breath time, you can get a lung full. This becomes more important the longer the event (eg miles) due to accumulated stress and lactic acidosis due to not breathing properly. That is, you should breath as close to running as possible.

Yes, I agree, that's why I also asked in the context of a person actively training in holding their breath. Could it help with cardio?

What kind of swimmers? Lap swimmers don't hold their breath much, freedivers do it all the time.

Since this discussion is in the context of lap swimmers...

To be fair to taneq, the reason I asked is because I used to freedive so used to holding my breath for long, and wonder if that skill yield any kind of advantage.

Also, what's the significance of the muscle groups involved? Swimming is much more upper-body intense than the lower-body intense exercise of running. One would think the heart is much more 'exercised' trying to keep large leg muscles oxygenated compared with smaller upper-body muscles.

Are you Guybrush Threepwood?

Hardly a word on the type of runners? Typical track and field running disciplines are a very different load than marathon or longer and the training cannot be compared at all. The same question would apply to swimming, if there were truly established long distance disciplines outside of triathlon (but even there, the swimming part takes only a fraction of the time of the others).

The study was 16 swimmers and 16 runners.

From the paper itself:

"For runners, sprint/power athletes were defined as those who competed in 100–400 m races and high jump, while distance athletes competed in races ≥800 m. Short distance swimmers comprised those competing in 50–200 m races while middle-distance/distance athletes competed in 400–1500 m races. Eleven swimmers swam freestyle, 3 swam breaststroke and 2 swam backstroke."

The phrase "there were interesting if small differences" makes me suspect nothing statistically significant was found. Digging into the paper, I found the sentence I was expecting:

"Further research is required to delineate whether these observations are a product of a superior exercise stimulus, or a necessary adaptation to promote filling during upright exercise."

Any small sample of undergraduates always gives the same scientific result: more grant money required.

But "≥800m" could be anything from "some 800 and even a 1.5k" (sub 5 minute efforts) to "mostly marathon and some ultramarathon" (multiple hours). Swimming tops out at 1.5k, which would be a sub twenty minute effort for world class athletes. The longer ones are clearly anaerobic efforts, but still a long shot from endurance disciplines. Except for those six individuals who might run utramarathons or 800 meters, we don't know.

The study is nicely apples/apples if those six are well within the track running range (800, 1.5k, 5k, even 10k would be close enough in duration to 1.5k swimming which is the longest subdiscipline there), but if there are road endurance runners in the group, they will likely skew everything from a comparison between running and swimming to a badly made comparison between athletes aiming at multi-hours efforts and athletes aiming at minutes or even seconds.

From the paper: 6 distance runners, 10 sprint/power, 6 sprint swimmers, 10 middle-distance/distance

"For runners, sprint/power athletes were defined as those who competed in 100–400 m races and high jump, while distance athletes competed in races ≥800 m."

"Short distance swimmers comprised those competing in 50–200 m races while middle-distance/distance athletes competed in 400–1500 m races."

(not sure if this is paywalled or not)


I was a national level 5k runner in Canada

I often have doctors tell me that my resting heart rate was too low for the machine to read. The lowest I’ve clocked is 34 bpm.

I assume there’s a safe limit to how low a heart rate can go, which makes me wonder what the limit to cardiovascular performance in running is.

I've heard of some professional cyclists years ago who turned their bodies into such efficient biking machines from training + drugs that when they when to sleep, there was a change of them dying in their sleep because their heart rate was so slow. They'd have to get up in the middle of the night and bike just to stay alive. Only anecdotal, but worth considering.


I understand it's anecdata, but I still do not completely get how you can die from slow heart rate?

Why heart shouldn't get a signal to beat more frequently if body starts to lack oxygen during sleep? Is it just because the blood is so thick and moving so slow it will clog and may produce a sudden heart attack? Thus you need to "manually" keep up the heart rate?

> But even now, he says, “an important message is that all of the athletes showed better function than a normal person off the street, which supports the message that exercise is good for hearts.”

Or people with good hearts become athletes and their hearts improve with exercise.

If anyone is interested in cardio activities, jumping rope is another one that gives high numbers:

* https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metabolic_equivalent#Activitie...

It's certainly an interesting finding, but I wonder if there are any long term implications of it? Especially as swimming should be easier on the knees than running is.

Like all repetitive activities, runners are prone to overuse injuries and the most common is to the knee. However, runners are still much better off than non-runners. Also, knee pain is almost always due to a biomechanical or strength issue. If you’re smart about your running (most runners, self included, are idiots about their running), you need not get injured and you’re way better off than sitting on the couch.

That said, I don’t know what happens to the knees of swimmers, weightlifters, cyclists, etc, but inactivity is the worst thing you can do.

Sorry, I just hate this very common misconception that runners are out there destroying their knees.

From https://www.runnersworld.com/health-injuries/a20850408/5-thi...

Runners don't get arthritis in their knees more often than nonrunners.

Those are the facts. Period. If anything, long-term studies have found that runners have less incidence of knee osteoarthritis. One study[1] that followed runners and nonrunners for 18 years found that, while 20% of the runners developed arthritis during that time, 32% of the nonrunners did. A large study that looked at runners and walkers[2] found that regular runners had roughly half the rate of arthritis as regular walkers. In that second study, the runners with the highest regular mileage had the lowest rate of arthritis.

1. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2556152/

2. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23377837

Do these studies control for people who quit running due to an injury? It doesn't appear that they do. They look only at "healthy long distance runners." Sorry, but that is not very compelling. It's like studying 90-year old chess grandmasters and concluding that chess prevents Alzheimer's.

You have to control for all the people who don't do an activity because they're too unhealthy to continue. And there is no obvious way to do that.

It says they followed runners and non-runners for 18 years. Presumably, that means they monitored the same bunch of people over the 18 years and the effect you mention would have been noticed, if it existed.

The question is: did they only count someone as a runner if they were still a runner at the end of 18 years? Or if someone was running for 1 year, got injured and then quit running, did they get dropped from the study or even grouped with the non-runners?

Well, I don't have the time to go through the whole thing but on a first glance:

1. Seems like they identify someone as runner or walker based on a questionnaire filled. After X years those people fill another questionnaire to indicate whether they had OA or hip replacement. I would think that at the time of the second questionnaire a runner will still be assumed a runner, even if he doesn't run anymore.

2. Exercise other than running increased rates of OA and hip replacement.

That's not a very good study then. They should be taking a group of people, none of whom are runners, and randomly assign them to runner or non-runner groups, and then follow them for 18 years. The activity levels of all participants should be tracked at all times by GPS devices with heart rate monitors. Their health should be monitored by professionals, though they should not be given any instruction in proper running techniques. At the end of the study they should give everyone a full examination to determine the outcomes for each group.

Of course, I'm being facetious. Such a study would never be done because it's completely unethical. But the point is that you can't determine an intervention (running) is safe and effective without a proper trial like that. A survey that asks people whether they're a runner or not, before even beginning, has a problem with selection bias.

I skimmed the report, they break down the % of people still running. They took x-rays and measured the space between the joints amongst other tests to see how much wear/damage occurred in the 18 year period. In both the control, and the runners group there were runners (17% vs 97.8%). By the end the runners group still had 55.6% running vs 3.8%.

Unfortunately they didn't break down the km's ran to classify the individuals. Also The runners group was almost more likely to do 'vigorous exercise'.

To answer your question, they did continue to classify as runners even if they stopped (and almost half did stop).

I'd suggest you read the actual study. It's way more nuanced and detailed than the 2 sentence summary I provided. And no, I don't think it provides a 100% guarantee that running is safe but that's not what I'm expecting from a study. It's just one more data point in the ever growing body of evidence that active lifestyle is better than sedentary lifestyle.

The problem is not that you're being facetious, the problem is that if you insist on a single study proving something with a 100% certainty, we shouldn't be doing any science. For example, I can find numerous holes in your supposedly perfect study design. It turns out that active runners have less joint issues indeed? How can you be sure that it's due to running and not due to increased exposure to sunlight? Why aren't you testing different exercises? What if the benefits of running are solely due to improved cardiovascular performance but running specifically is actually bad on the joints bearing the heaviest load? If you dig deep enough, we can go on and on.

If you go back to the beginning of the discussion, the person I was replying to was citing these studies to claim that running is perfectly safe. My reply was intended to raise doubts about that claim.

The burden of proof is on running advocates to show that running is safe and to clearly lay out the conditions for safety. As a former runner (who quit after breaking an ankle and speaking to an orthopedic surgeon who saw runners all the time), my strong suspicion is that running is only safe for those who:

a) run with perfect form

b) have perfect-fitting shoes

c) eat a well-balanced athletic diet

d) are already slim and fit before they begin running

I feel like that last one is the real key. If you're massively overweight and someone tells you to just go for a run, you're going to get hurt. To be a runner you need to get in shape first and have someone help you buy proper shoes and teach you proper form. Anything other than that is bad advice.

You are questioning the study methodology without bothering to read it. The burden is on you to actually understand what you are talking about.

>> If you go back to the beginning of the discussion, the person I was replying to was citing these studies to claim that running is perfectly safe.

I'm mystified at why you'd say he was trying to "claim that running is perfectly safe" when his first sentence was, "Like all repetitive activities, runners are prone to overuse injuries and the most common is to the knee." Maybe you should go back and get a grip on precisely what point he was trying to make. It was _not_ that running is perfectly safe.

People who run are prone to overuse injuries, no doubt about it. People who are long-term runners tend to learn how to manage injuries and keep them minor. Some people never learn.

I've discussed with running friends that in a way it seems odd that medical insurance covers treatment for our running injuries, when they are injuries that are in a sense "chosen"; we could certainly have avoided them if we didn't run at all. Yet, still, a runner's visits to physical therapist, orthopedist, or sports medicine doctor are covered. The answer we come up with, and it seems correct to me, is that covering runners for their "chosen", "elective" injuries is over the long term still much cheaper than covering non-runners for the much more expensive health problems they will have over the course of their life.

> If you're massively overweight and someone tells you to just go for a run, you're going to get hurt

Massively overweight people can't run, even if they wanted to. Their "run" speed is slower than my "walk" speed.

Thanks for mentioning that, this is something I often wonder about, as this is at least often left out of the press. I don't know how/if the underlying research accounts for it, but I'd be very happy if such statistical complications were mentioned more often to show hard it is to get the science right.

Right now I weigh a little more than 100kg and am currently trying to better my life to live healthier and be more active.

I can run pretty well, currently about 10km with a heart rate monitor to not exceed my limits. I've tried swimming as well but for some reason I get knee pain during swimming, it's probably just bad technique but it feels so stupid to have to get out of the water because of knee pain.

At my max I weighed 115-120kg and I'm pretty sad that I didn't start doing all this stuff earlier.

How tall are you?

Also, the article briefly mentioned rowing. I didn't enjoy it as much when I was competing when younger, but it's a brilliant exercise if you have access to even (or can afford) an ergometer (indoor rowing machine).

As long as you study form and adhere to that principally before exerting yourself, it's a great aerobic exercise that also helps build and maintain muscle mass (arms, back, and legs mainly). It's easier on the joints as well—again, and I must stress, as long as you maintain proper form. I see so many "cross-fitters" yanking and janking their arms and back and shooting their butts around it makes me cringe knowing what kind of hell it's going to render to their bodies. With proper form, it's one of the best compound exercises. I wish I had access to an erg these days, but I'm trying to keep my own costs down by using the limited gym in my building.

Also if you're in a town with a rowing club, they often host "learn to row" sessions that will guide you through a lot of it—and get you out on the water as well, if you're not averse.

> (...) it's probably just bad technique but it feels so stupid to have to get out of the water because of knee pain.

Get one-on-one classes! A teacher can correct most of your errors in a couple of hours, and will make a decent swimmer out of anyone in ten hours[¹]. It's a very small investment for a very large gain.

[¹] Assuming there's no fear of water involved, you can go from "I can't do one lap without stopping for air at the wall" to "I can swim 1km continuous" with 10h of classes.

Maybe try ellipticals instead of swimming if you are bored of running? They should be easy on the knees.

Anecdotes follow:

As a lifelong soccer player, my knees are in terrible shape. I have multiple meniscus tears in each, and I've also had catastrophic injuries in both ankles. Despite that, I keep playing. The most useful teammates I have are those players who are also running fanatics. They put a lot of effort into gear, technique, and ritual that helps prevent and repair knee and foot damage. I've not encountered this much devotion to bodily integrity in any other sort of athlete.

Soccer is a totally different game than running - it's basically a game of "how to best apply extreme forces to your lower body in unstable positions". You're twisting and turning and applying force in ways the body wasn't meant to handle in any sort of repeated manner. I can definitely see how running would help - it'll help build up the muscles and surrounding tissue, but really, when it comes to longevity of the joints, soccer is just bad news.

> Also, knee pain is almost always due to a biomechanical or strength issue.

If you have a recurring running issue it’s one of those. I got shin splints every month. Then I stopped running for six months and started weightlifting. No one who squats is going to get shin splints.

Shin splints is the classic injury for enthusiastic people who see aerobic improvements that outpace the strengthening of muscle, tendon and bone. Shin splints is almost unheard of amongst experienced runners.

It's fantastic that squats helped you, but if you are primarily looking to improve your running then months of training at a lower intensity, to avoid the shin splints, is much more productive than stop-start training resulting from the need to let your injury heal.

I got shin splints because my calves were too strong, so I worked on that issue of strengthening the front, and flexibility.

This is why I bike rather than run. Crashing is your primary risk there but otherwise, it's stupendously hard+ to hurt yourself unknowingly.

I'm not fully aware of all of the possible long term risks to cycling but I know pollution from cars comes up a lot. I believe the prevailing consensus is that the benefits still outweigh the harm done.

+: May be overstating it. You can hurt your wrists through a bad fit and your knees through using too high a gear. In both cases, your body will probably let you know about it soon though.

I bike and run, and like you appreciate how gentle cycling is on one's body. With that said, I don't worry about getting killed while running the way I do while cycling (i.e. by cars).

Swimmers get shoulder problems.

That is a very general statement. It really depends on the type of swimming and intensity.

I have a bad shoulder (pain) from having it dislocated several times over the years.

When I first started swimming (only breaststroke), I felt tingles of pain pretty quickly. Outside of swimming, I would feel it if I raised my arm over my head in certain angles.

After about 6 months of regular swimming, literally all the pain went away. Clearly my body developed strength around the injury. My shoulders feel better because of swimming.

In a similar vein... I used to have terrible RSI from typing. I randomly started rock climbing. After a while, my hands strengthened and the RSI pain went away. I climbed actively for about 8 years. I stopped climbing years ago (kept typing) and the pain never returned to the same degree as before. When I started swimming more recently, the current hand pain went away again as well.

Is running hard on the knees? I see a large number of older people running here in Portland, OR. As a runner myself, the study I’ve chosen to believe shows that running may actually be good for the knees.


As best I can tell, running and knee problems, like most sports injuries, are generally self-induced and avoidable (at least for over-use injuries).

Also, my opinion... running is one of the first sports sedentary people will attempt. It's cheap (just need shoes), accessible (no special field, no special skill), and high calorie burn for time spent.

Running does pound your leg joints. Especially if you heel strike badly. And do so in inadequate shoes (cheap cross-trainers). And this is exacerbated by being over-weight. All correctable and avoidable (good form, good shoes, slow ramp-up and diet control). But, people don't know what they don't know, and if they get shin splint or knee pain, they're likely to quit and blame it on "running is bad for you".

> And do so in inadequate shoes

This is why I hate the "just go minimal" cargo cult. Yes, some people will notice how it highlights their heel-striking ways and will make the necessary adjustments. Others will not, and they'll end up smashing their feet even more than before. For them - and I think they're more numerous - minimal shoes are the exactly wrong answer. Not all runners are lithe twenty-somethings. Some are built differently, and react differently, and need different shoes.

ETA: Yes, it's a shame that heavily padded shoes are the default. They shouldn't be. And minimal shoes are great for some people. All I'm saying is that "go minimal" has become the "do you even lift" of running, and I find it just as unhelpful. It's not a universal prescription.

I have a pair of NB Minimus Trail. They're great for what I use them for... short runs on vacation, usually on mixed terrain. And walking around casually (weekend errands, etc). I don't think I'd ever run in them as my primary trainer. Even if I didn't fear injury, I'm just not convinced they'd be any faster than a good trainer, plus a road race shoe for race day.

Shortening my stride length was the best fitness change I made recently. Dramatically less stress on the knees, but now I have some pain on top of my ankles, which, I hope, is not-joint related. Not sure what to do about that one.

As far as the study - I don't see any actionable info there.

> I have some pain on top of my ankles

I had this very issue and changing my shoes resolved it. I had transitioned from off-road running over hilly trails, to very aggressive ascents followed by steep an often technical descents. The Brooks Cascadias that were awesome for the hilly trails weren't working for the steep techy stuff. Moving into Saucony Peregrino Isos that have a stiffer upper and much burlier tread solved the issue almost immediately.

No idea what kind of mileage you're covering or terrain you're running, but footwear can be a real maker/breaker as the mileage gets longer and the terrain gets gnarlier.

I never have any issue with my knees. I’ve been running 12 miles a week for over 4 years now. I’m not a fast runner either, average about 9.5 minute mile. I find that pace keep me going and can relax when I run. The pain on top of the ankle recently creeps up to me. I think it is related to how I tie my laces. If I loosen them a bit it feels a lot better. I will go to a runner store to have them pick my next shoes.

> I will go to a runner store to have them pick my next shoes.

Do this now if you can afford it. Try to find one of the smaller stores that really focuses on runners and is staffed by avid runners. A good store will have a treadmill and cameras to be able to look at your stride and make recommendations on both your stride pattern as well as your shoes. It was a running store that helped me find the Saucony shoes that have helped my ankle issues go away. :)

You could maybe also be dealing with an imbalance of strength between your hamstring and quadriceps. When runners have joint issues this can be the culprit or at least a key contributor. Adding in a couple sessions a week of weight training that include movements like deadlifts, good mornings, and back squats can strengthen the posterior chain (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Posterior_chain) and address those imbalances.

Cool and thanks! I'll make a trip to the running store in downtown soon. Like you said, it's small shop and hopefully run by knowledgeable staff.

I used to wear ASIC for over 10 years. I notice that the quality has gone down a bit: cheaper material, shorter laces and mostly I cannot find a wider size. I switched to Brooks in 2017 and it seems to be OK (wide size).

I also heard a lot of recommendations for Saucony. Let's hear what the running store's staff suggest.

You're also very on point w.r.t weight training! I quit going to 24-hour fitness in 2015 because of commute change. So now I mostly exercise by running outdoor. I need to sign up for gym again to squat.

I have been running for 15 years. I ran religiously on ASICS for the first ~10, but their ability to make a solid running shoe has really declined. If you have a wide foot you may find Sauconys too narrow, but their uppers are so damn comfortable that I find myself buying them a half size up anyway (or wearing them with almost-too-loose laces across the toe box).

Please do always support your local running store. I _never_ go in telling the people who work there what shoe I'm going to buy - like a good sommelier, you should be able to tell them what you're looking for and they should be able to recommend something accordingly. It helps a lot if you know your feet, form, and preferences - I have very high arches, a neutral footstrike, and prefer neutral shoes with less cushion. That'll help them get you in something you like.

FWIW, I am running in Saucony Freedom ISO 2s these days.

Thanks for the advice! I wear Brooks too, but it's been around a year since I changed them out. I only run about 12 miles a week, but I try to keep the pace up.

Oh wow, you're way overdue for new shoes. 300-500 miles is the usual rule of thumb[1].

My personal rule of thumb is 500 miles minus moving weight. So in my case I'm 225 lbs, I usually have 10 lbs of water/layers/kit, so 235lbs moving. 500 - 235 = 265 miles max per pair of shoes. I replace sooner because technical terrain trashes the lugs on the soles.

[1] https://www.runnersworld.com/gear/a20806543/running-shoe-que...

> Shortening my stride length [...] now I have some pain on top of my ankles

Same. I just took a month off, after three months of dealing with that pain. Seems to have gone away, but I just started back a couple of days ago and haven't gone all out just yet.

I also switched to super-cushioned shoes (Hoka Bondi). I figure I'm running for exercise, not performance, so now I'm prioritizing safety over speed. It's no fun if you can't run at all.

FWIW, I've found that the best way to shorten stride length is not to think about stride length. For many people, that will result in a very unnatural stride. Instead, focusing on increased cadence will cause stride length to decrease more naturally.

Running the wrong way is hard on the knees and everything else, and is surprisingly common even among those who run a lot. When I started running nearly five years ago, I quickly realized that I was doing it wrong. A little research on stride and foot landings, a few adjustments, and things were a lot better. If I'd kept running the "naive" way I'm sure I would have wrecked my knees in no time. As it is, I've had fewer injuries (and illnesses!) than before I started. As with most systems in the body, making your knees work a bit is likely to be beneficial.

BTW, one irony with running form is that it's often the young fast folks who are the worst. I often see some high-school or college kid zipping by with atrocious form, because at that age it's easy to get away with. I cringe when I think of what's going to happen when they get older, their bodies change, and they're still slamming their feet into the pavement. By contrast, older runners tend to be more careful about form. The ones who aren't tend to become non-runners very quickly.

Running with a minimalist shoe helps protect your knees. You learn to strike with your middle foot rather than flat-footed or heel first. The shock is absorbed by the muscles and tendons in your calf rather than by your knees.

Going back to when I was a teen I've never been able to keep up a running habit on pavement for more than a week before my knees hurt too much to keep going, but I've never had a problem running on trails and broken ground.

I did parkour for years, and at my peak I could jump from 12 feet up to pavement, everyone told me I was going to wreck my knees, it never happened. at 42 my knees are great but for the fact that I can't run regularly on pavement, and never could.

Yes, but... Please don't jump into minimal shoes and expect to do your normal mileage. Or, use them as your first running shoe, if you aren't a runner. Transitioning to them too quickly can lead to different overuse injuries (due to your body being used to heel-striking, and now you'er doing it without cushion). Start with a short run, on the track if you can, with PERFECT form.

As a semi-serious runner (sub-20 5k at 42 years old, ~20 miles/week), I've found it best to rotate shoes, not just to minimize wear on a given pair (cushioning can take a day to fully rebound from a long run), but also "horses for courses". Cushioned trainers for long runs. Light-weight racers for speed work and races. Trail shoes for off-road. Etc.

There’s some evidence that suggests adipose tissue can be an inflammatory mediator - which potential could lead to arthritic changes in joints. This is used to explain why we get arthritis not only in weight bearing joints such as the knees and hips, but also in the digits of the hands, which don’t bear as much weight. Presumably as a regular runner, you are not overweight (less adipose tissue than a more sedentary person)

Swimming has its own set of injuries. Shoulders in particular. Also your skin gets bad with all the chlorine unless you shower thoroughly +before+ and after, and apply moisturizer. None of the swimmers I know only shower afterwards, including women.

Second this on the repetitive stress injuries. Strong breaststroke swimmers can have knee issues due to the lateral force on a joint that doesn't move laterally. For shoulders - rotary cuff injuries are incredibly common, especially since the muscles developed by swimming are far larger and stronger than the muscles which hold the joints in place.

20+ years after finishing my swimming career, I still have to deal with both of those repetitive injuries.

Define runner. I skimmed the article and didn't see it. Maybe I missed it. Some runners train for long distances - marathons or longer. At the opposite end of the spectrum are the sprinters who train for a short burst of maximum speed. And there are competitions for many distances between these extremes. It wouldn't surprise me if difference between these extremes were as great or greater as those between runners and swimmers.

The sample size is very small. Makes me nervous about any conclusions.

They address that a bit, though, and they point out that this is just a cross-sectional study. I think it's more like a starting place for this research (land vs. water exercise) instead of anything meant to have hard conclusions drawn from it.

That said, I wouldn't be surprised if other "news" agencies report on the NYT report with headlines like "Runners Have Much Stronger Hearts Than Swimmers, Study Says".

We're really a furnace burning oxygen inside which deteriorate cells faster when you're doing sports competitively, sports are great for health, what about competitive sports? is it really that good? is there any data showing that they live longer and healthier because of those intense exercise?

I exercise regularly but always had this doubt about "over-exercise" that could do more harm than good.

Does anaerobic activity (lifting) improve the condition of the heart?

Would love to see a comparison with bike exercise.

Does gravity really affect our health?

now do the knees...

can i get a tldr? stuck behind paywall

You can check the full original study and conclusion here: https://news.nukleosome.com/t/left-ventricular-structure-and...

thank you!

No problem! What kind of prosthetics are you working on?

Exercise is good for your heart.

You can click on the little "web" link below the HN link to the article above the comments. This will search Google for the article's title---opening it from there won't bring up the paywall.

right-click, open in incognito window...

I always browse in Private Mode, but NYtimes has started to block reading in that mode.

yeah that no longer works for me

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact