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April 2017
Fitness and sport
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A bit of history...

Marching and running are primitive, physical activities that are as old as man himself.

Mankind has transmigrated and crossed earth, glaciers, forests and deserts on those trusted limbs that are the legs and, more importantly, the feet, our solid foothold that is strong yet sensitive and so precise in providing information and the exact position we need to hold, especially when the next step is difficult and uncertain. History tells us about momentous migrations like those of the barbarians or the movements of the exiled Romans, Carthaginians and Napoleon followers. In history, marching has biblical and legendary origins. As far as running is concerned, attacking, fleeing, hunting, terror and fear all make mankind run. A good example of this is when Hector, frightened by the confrontation with angry Achilles (who had killed his friend Patroclus), escaped from in front of him and ran around the city of Troy three times. Another famous example of running is the particular case of Pheidippides who ran from Marathon to Athens (just over 42km) to report the victory of the Athenians against the Persians.
So are marching and running congenial to human nature?



From a mechanical point of view, when marching, every step pushes the body’s centre of gravity upwards (it is usually around the lower part of the abdomen). Then the individual, after finishing the step, lets him/herself fall (the centre of gravity also falls) and the other leg, which slows down the fall, then takes a step and starts the push-off again. The centre of gravity, therefore, follows a trajectory; ascending during the push-off phase and descending during the fall. From an energetic point of view, when marching there is a push-off phase when potential energy accumulates (and the centre of gravity moves upwards) and kinetic energy reduces (velocity is zero at the peak of the upwards movement) and then a loss of potential energy that transforms into kinetic energy in the falling phase. Therefore, in ideal conditions, the sum of the kinetic energy and the potential energy is zero. Unlike running, when marching there is always one foot on the floor. A good mechanic model of marching is that of an egg rolling along its biggest axis: if there was no resistance to motion, the egg, once put into motion, would continue to roll forever. In reality, the sum of these two forms of energy is not constant but reduces: the movement of the muscles compensates for the loss of energy and maintains the pendulum movement of the march. When marching, air resistance is not very problematic given that the velocity is always quite low. The amount of energy used when marching is extremely low; 1Kcal/(kg x km marched) and this is due to the fact that the motion is very functional and natural. However, this also means that marching is not a good way to lose weight. This conclusion should not be misunderstood though as, from a medical point of view, marching is a great physical activity and is recommended for people who want to start doing physical activity after following a sedentary life, those who have heart problems and need to do some physical activity and those who decide that they want to insert a good half an hour of physical activity in to their everyday life. As mentioned, even though marching does not help you to lose weight, from a health point of view, it is very advantageous because, since marching uses such little energy, we can do it for a long time and therefore, after this long time, we burn a substantial amount of calories.

Everyone has their own, optimum velocity (which corresponds to a minimum amount of energy used) which is characterised by the length and frequency of their steps and which correlates to the size and biomechanics of the individual. Walking up hill increases the amount of energy used, for example, on a gradient of 10%, the energy used is double that used on a flat surface. The energy used when going down hill is lower.


As far as running is concerned, the mechanical model is that of a ball bouncing: the body hovers in the air during the push-off phase which is carried out on one leg so that you fall on to the other leg. The main difference between running and marching, therefore, is that there is a hovering phase during the former, when neither foot is touching the ground. Therefore, when running, kinetic and potential energy are in sequence: when the foot touches the ground, kinetic and potential energy are minimal and then, both increase when the body accelerates upwards. An interesting, physiological characteristic is linked to the elastic energy stored in the muscles that slows down the fall. Let us consider the thigh muscles: these muscles contract to slow down the fall (which is easily noted by simply placing your hand on the thigh muscle itself). This contraction occurs with the lengthening of the abdominals, and there is also flexion of the knee. Therefore, the condition of contraction-lengthening (also called eccentric contraction) allows the muscle to store elastic energy which is then released during the next part of the ‘bounce’. This results in a substantial amount of energy being saved. On first approximation, the energy used when running is equal to that used when marching; approximately 1Kcal/(kg x km).


Running, which uses the same amount of energy as marching, requires more power, which means the cardiovascular system must work harder. Due to this fact, running is more of a work out than marching, is more tiring and makes you exhausted in less time. Practising running is very common and this means that the average efficiency of the cardiovascular system, globally speaking, has increased. Gentle running is better known as jogging and, when you first start, you should not run at a speed that makes you very tired very quickly and in fact you should run at speed that means you can still talk with a jogging companion. The problem with running, which is not the case for marching, is overloading certain muscles and footholds. Problems resulting from overload develop over time and can even get so bad that they hinder movement. However, the most common injury is the damage done overtime as a result of repetitive biomechanics: over the years, almost all runners suffer from overload ailments of varying severity. Stretching is highly recommended after doing physical activity, as well as appropriate footwear, the correction of placing the foot down in an imperfect manner and, above all, keeping an eye on yourself. When running at more demanding levels, like taking part in a marathon for example, you need to follow a training programme created by experts, like a sports doctor who can carry out a fitness evaluation, paying close attention to your cardiovascular system.


Problems with food regimes do not arise if training only lasts for 1-1.5 hours. However, it is always a good idea to start with a good amount of stored glycogen therefore, if you train in the morning, go about 1 hour after breakfast; if you train in the evening, have a snack one hour before training. If you go for a long walk, you need to consume something every hour so as to avoid hypoglycaemia. Not having water available is not usually a problem, however, in certain situations, like in deserts or areas with little available water (the Rocky Mountains, for example), rehydration is extremely important – remember that survival is heavily linked to consuming water. When running a marathon, it is recommended that you drink a glass of glucose solution (5-8% in strength) every 20 minutes; this strategy compensates for water loss, as well as supplying energy.


It may well be that one day mankind colonises the moon... Marching and running are made a lot easier on the moon thanks to the lack of gravity and the fact that you would weigh only 1/6 of what you weigh on Earth. It has been calculated that, given the dynamics of movement, the maximum speed of marching and running possible would be 2 and 12kmph, respectively, which is a lot less than on Earth. Contrarily, if you jumped, you could reach a speed of 20kmph and consume low amounts of energy; around 1/6 of what you would on Earth. Not a very good workout! Workouts are much harder on Earth, and even harder on sand, uneven or slippery surfaces and in deep snow.


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