If you're new to running, you may have a lot of questions. Heck, even if you've been running for 30 years, you truly never stop learning. With so much information out there about this activity, there's bound to be some things that crop up that aren't necessarily true.
That's where we come in. We're here to get to the bottom of 10 common running myths you've probably heard over the years to see if there's actually any truth to them.
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Here's what research has found and what experts in the field want you to know.
1. You Should Always Stretch Before Running
You used to see runners begin a workout with a good static stretch session (reaching down to touch your toes, for instance), but research shows this type of stretching before a workout doesn't provide any benefit.
For example, a March 2013 review in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports suggests static stretching before a run may actually slow you down during your miles. And according to Yale Medicine, it probably isn't helping prevent any injuries.
Instead, doing a dynamic warmup before a run is the way to go. Dynamic stretching "involves performing gentle repetitive motions in a way that gradually increases motion, circulation and muscle length," per Yale Medicine. "When these replicate the activity that you are about to perform, such as running, they allow the muscles to stretch and the blood flow to those areas to be optimized."
A small November 2015 study in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research suggests dynamic warmups may help improve running endurance.
Some examples of dynamic warmup activities you can do before running include arm swings, walking lunges, calf raises and hip circles.
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 — aka stored energy from carbohydrates. But sports-performance coach Hannah Schultz, CSCS, 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 tells LIVESTRONG.com. 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.
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 runners use most and can help improve performance and decrease injury.
A small April 2021 study in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology suggests having a strong upper body is linked to better running efficiency. Plus, a strong upper body aid in a strong arm swing, which helps propel you as you run.
And an April 2021 study in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise suggests lower-body strength — specifically in your glutes — is important for sprinting, like when you're doing a track workout or are running fast toward the finish line of a race.
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 — like stress fractures, per the Cleveland Clinic — for many people.
"It's just not really realistic, especially considering the surfaces that we run on these days," Schultz says. 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."
If you want to give minimalist running a shot, try one of these minimalist running shoes that have a much lower profile compared to your typical cushioned running shoe.
5. 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.
While many people assume running is damaging to your knees, a February 2017 study in Arthritis Care and Research looking at a 10-year timeframe found runners don't have an increased risk of developing knee osteoarthritis compared with non-runners.
6. Muscle Cramps Are 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 June 2011 study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, 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.
7. Changing Your Running Style Improves Running Economy
Although changing certain elements of your form may be beneficial, especially if you're becoming injured frequently, Schultz says the purported effects on running economy — or how well a person uses oxygen while running at a certain pace — are a myth.
An April 2014 study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research assessed a technique called Midstance to Midstance Running (MMR), which emphasizes changes that shorten your running stride length. Researchers concluded that MMR had no effect on running economy.
And, according to a December 2019 review in Sports Medicine, changing your running stride may actually slow you down (best case scenario) or leave your injured (worst case scenario).
8. Running Outside Has No Relation to Running on a Treadmill
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.
A May 2019 review in Sports Medicine found that your average heart rate while running (along with oxygen intake) outside and on a treadmill are just about the same if you increase the treadmill's incline to 1 percent to make up for the lack of air resistance indoors.
With that being said, you may want to run outside to get some much-needed vitamin D. Plus, being outside in nature is shown to boost mood and benefit your mental health, according to the American Psychological Association (APA).
9. 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.
It takes about two weeks of not doing cardio exercise, like running, to start losing cardio fitness, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And by four weeks, research — like this October 2019 study in Examines in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation — shows you can lose up to 20 percent of your VO2 max (aka your maximal oxygen consumption).
If you stop exercising, you'll start losing cardio fitness at two weeks. By four weeks, research shows you'll lose up to 20 percent of your VO2 max.
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," Schultz says. 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.
10. 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.
And 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.
- Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports: "Does pre-exercise static stretching inhibit maximal muscular performance? A meta-analytical review"
- Yale Medicine: "How To Stretch Before a Run—Properly"
- The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: "Acute Effect of Dynamic Stretching on Endurance Running Performance in Well-Trained Male Runners"
- American Journal of Physical Anthropology: "Neuromechanical linkage between the head and forearm during running"
- Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: "The Muscle Morphology of Elite Sprint Running"
- Cleveland Clinic: "The Benefits of Barefoot Running"
- Arthritis Care and Research: "History of Running is Not Associated with Higher Risk of Symptomatic Knee Osteoarthritis: A Cross-Sectional Study from the Osteoarthritis Initiative"
- British Journal of Sports Medicine: "Increased running speed and previous cramps rather than dehydration or serum sodium changes predict exercise-associated muscle cramping: a prospective cohort study in 210 Ironman triathletes"
- Sports Medicine: "What are the Benefits and Risks Associated with Changing Foot Strike Pattern During Running? A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis of Injury, Running Economy, and Biomechanics"
- Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: "https://www.researchgate.net/publication/261743049_A_Novel_Running_Mechanic's_Class_Changes_Kinematics_but_not_Running_Economy"
- Sports Medicine: "A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Crossover Studies Comparing Physiological, Perceptual and Performance Measures Between Treadmill and Overground Running"
- Journal of Sports Sciences: "A 1% treadmill grade most accurately reflects the energetic cost of outdoor running"
- APA: "Nurtured by nature"
- CDC: "PHYSIOLOGIC RESPONSES AND LONG-TERM ADAPTATIONS TO EXERCISE"
- Examines in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation: "The Effects of Detraining on Cardiovascular Parameters in Distance Runners"