11 Myths About Running Debunked
Last Updated: Jul 22, 2014
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Before you lace up your running shoes, find out which common beliefs about running have been debunked.
MYTH 1: YOU SHOULD ALWAYS STRETCH BEFORE RUNNING
You used to see runners begin a workout with a good static stretch session, but research shows that stretching before a workout doesn't provide any benefit. Tamra Llewellyn, assistant professor of health and human performance at the University of Nebraska, told “The Guardian” that because runners only move their legs in one plane while running, the increased range of motion stretching provides isn't as necessary as was once believed. Pre-run stretching can also be detrimental to your performance. The results of a study published in September 2010 in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research showed that distance runners who performed static stretches before running had significantly reduced performance and greater energy expenditure compared to those who did not stretch.
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MYTH 2: YOU SHOULD EAT AS MANY CARBS AS POSSIBLE BEFORE A RACE
The spaghetti dinner the night before a race is a great time to socialize with fellow runners and fuel up for the next day’s event. But if you’re eating big spaghetti dinners every night leading up to a race, you’re not doing yourself any favors. Carbo-loading helps fill up your muscles’ stores of glycogen -- stored energy from carbohydrates. But sports-performance coach Hannah Schultz says many people overdo it before a race. “What people need to understand is that the muscle tissue can only hold so much glycogen,” Schultz says. Anything above that is stored as fat. Schultz recommends carbo-loading for a week before a marathon, increasing your intake by 300 to 400 carb calories per day. For anything less than a marathon, eating a healthy balanced diet will suffice.
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MYTH 3: RUNNERS DON’T NEED TO STRENGTH TRAIN
It used to be that runners just ran. But that won’t lead to better performance. Strength training builds the muscles and joints that runners use most and can help improve performance and decrease injury. “In my 20-plus years of experience ... I have found that the folks who [strength train] more often tend to be less prone to typical running injuries,” says elite-level coach Keith McDonald. Strength training also helps improve body composition, for a lighter, leaner frame. McDonald says that for the general public, a couple of functional training sessions a week will do the trick. Perform multi-joint body-weight exercises such as squats, pushups and lunges or try a TRX class, McDonald recommends.
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MYTH 4: RUNNING BAREFOOT REDUCES INJURIES
Barefoot, or minimalist, running took the running world by storm, but it’s been misunderstood in terms of its practicality. In fact, it can increase the risk of injury for many people. “It sounds like a wonderful idea because it’s all about running as naturally as you possibly can run,” says elite-level coach Keith McDonald. The problem, he says, is that most adults don’t run properly and need the support of a running shoe to help prevent injury. “It’s just not really realistic, especially considering the surfaces that we run on these days,” says sports-performance coach Hannah Schultz. She notes that on the right surfaces -- such as grass -- it has a place, but she concludes: “for most people it’s just too stressful on the body and on the joints.”
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MYTH 5: THE MORE YOU RUN, THE BETTER YOU’LL RUN
Believe it or not, you can get too much of a good thing when it comes to running. You may think that by upping your training volume you’re better preparing your body for a race, but you might be doing more harm than good, says elite-level coach Keith McDonald. “I’m a huge proponent of the Hanson brothers’ training method. Their philosophy is ‘work smarter, not harder.’” Unlike traditional training schemes, the Hanson method, created by top running coaches Keith and Kevin Hanson, emphasizes quality over quantity and aims to avoid the cumulative fatigue that results from too much mileage and not enough recovery. “Basically, it’s debunking the whole myth that before your marathon you have to build up to 25 miles before you go run 26 miles.”
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MYTH 6: RUNNING IS BAD FOR YOUR KNEES
As a runner, you probably know this one’s not true, but you need to arm yourself with the information to combat the myth when you hear it from your non-running friends. They assume it’s damaging to your knees. But a study conducted by researchers at Stanford University and published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine in August 2008 compared the progression of knee osteoarthritis in distance runners and non-runners over an 18-year period and found that it was neither more prevalent nor more severe in the group of runners.
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MYTH 7: MUSCLE CRAMPING IS CAUSED BY DEHYDRATION AND ELECTROLYTE LOSS
It’s true that being well-hydrated and having adequate levels of the electrolyte minerals -- sodium and potassium are two major ones -- is important for your health and physical performance during a run. However, if your legs start to cramp during a run, it’s likely not a hydration or an electrolyte issue. In a study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine in June 2011, researchers compared blood electrolyte and hydration levels of two groups of Ironman triathletes: those who experienced cramping and those who did not. They found no differences and concluded that cramping was a result of increased running speed, not dehydration or electrolyte losses.
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MYTH 8: CHANGING YOUR RUNNING STYLE IMPROVES RUNNING ECONOMY
Just like the barefoot-running craze had enthusiasts throwing away their running shoes, running methods such as Pose and Chi had runners overhauling their forms. Although changing certain elements of your form may be beneficial, especially if you’re becoming injured frequently, sports-performance coach Hannah Schultz says the purported effects on running economy -- or how well a person uses oxygen while running at a certain pace -- are a myth. A study published in April 2014 in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research assessed a technique called Midstance to Midstance Running (MMR), which is similar to Pose and Chi techniques, and concluded that while eight weeks of instruction in MMR decreased stride length and increased stride rate in a group of recreational runners, it had no effect on running economy.
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MYTH 9: RUNNING OUTSIDE HAS NO RELATION TO RUNNING ON A TREADMILL
Real runners don’t use treadmills -- after all, running outside and running on a treadmill are completely different animals, right? Well, when it comes to scenery and stimulation, that may be true; but in terms of the mechanics of running, research shows there’s not much of a difference between pounding the pavement and pounding the deck. Publishing their results in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise in June 2008, researchers compared motion capture and ground reaction force data of running over ground and on a treadmill at similar speeds. They found that parameters measured were comparable, although not equivalent. Study authors conclude their findings show that a treadmill with a sufficiently stiff surface and adequate belt speed can be used to reproduce the conditions of outdoor running.
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MYTH 10: TAKING A FEW DAYS OFF WILL RESULT IN A LOSS OF FITNESS
Most people who run do it because they love it, so taking time off is not usually high on their list of priorities. But not only can taking a few days off aid your performance, it also won’t decrease your fitness. Running coach Jeff Gaudette sums up the research on his website Runners Connect and concludes that a break from running of less than two weeks isn’t likely to affect your fitness level dramatically. Not taking rest days, however, will affect your performance. “You always want to make sure you recover more than you actually think you need to,” says sports-performance coach Hannah Schultz. Your body doesn’t get stronger and faster during runs; rather, improvements occur during recovery, when your body goes to work repairing the damage done during your workout.
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MYTH 11: RUNNING IS ONLY FOR THE YOUNG AND FIT
Maybe you’re not a runner but wish you were. Well, stop wishing and get out there! As long as you don’t have any medical conditions or injuries that prohibit it, you can run. Even if you’re overweight or have been a couch potato, you can start training today and see real improvement in just a few weeks -- not only in your ability to run, but also in your fitness level and overall health. You don’t have to immediately start running continuously either. Former Olympian, author and coach Jeff Galloway’s Run Walk Run method, which alternates periods of walking with periods of running, is a great way for beginners to get into running -- they can even work up to completing their first 5K, 10K or marathon.
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