With so much information at our fingertips, it’s extremely difficult to decipher which information are the old wives tales, and which are in fact evidence based. Often, old myths can be carried over for generations before hard facts become common knowledge. Let’s have a look at the biggest running myths making the rounds these days.
Myth 1: Running is bad for your knees
Although runners may suffer from knee injuries, research has shown that recreational running can actually delay or prevent the onset of osteoarthritis. A recent study (Alentorn et al, 2017) found that running for less than 15 years was beneficial to knee cartilage. However, an over exposure to running for long distances did not yield the same positive outcomes. As they say, everything in moderation is good for you.
Myth 2: Eat your weight in pasta the night before a race
This particular running myth has been doing the rounds for a very long time. Most runners believe they will experience exceptional performance gains by carbo-loading the night before a race. This is not the case. Dietician, Pamela Nisevich, R.D, says shorter distances such as 5Ks or 10Ks don’t require carbo-loading because it’s unlikely you’ll deplete the fuel in your muscles in the time it takes to complete those distances. However, if your race is longer than 90 minutes, you should consider increasing your consumption of carbohydrates a few days before race-day (not the night before). You can’t fill your muscle glycogen stores after just one meal. Monique Ryan, R.D, recommends carbo-loading two or three days before a race.
Myth 3: You should always stretch before a run
Instead of doing a bunch of static stretches before a run, rather warm up your muscles by incorporating some light cardio into the mix. By performing static stretches on cold muscles you could in fact increase your risk of injury - much like stretching an old rubber band.
Many believe that stretching before a run reduces your risk of injury. However, one study (Pope et al, 2000) concluded that pre-exercise stretching does not produce clinically meaningful reductions in exercise injury risk. Essentially, 1538 male army recruits were put through twelve weeks of training where half of them performed a 20 second static stretch for six major leg muscle groups. After twelve weeks, lower limb injuries were 158 in the stretch group and 175 in the non-stretch group.
Myth 4: Runner’s shouldn’t do any strength training
It seems to be common belief amongst runners that strength training will make them bulky - and therefore, slower. In fact, research has shown that strength training can in fact help you run faster by improving neuromuscular coordination and power. Furthermore, regular strength training can also prevent injuries by strengthening muscles and connective tissues.
Think about it, you need powerful legs to propel you when you run. So, it makes sense to get them as strong as they can be. Try incorporating exercises such as lunges, squats, deadlifts and calf raises 2-3 times a week for best results.
Olympic distance running coach, Jack Daniels, says “The stronger your core, the more solid you are as you hit the ground”. This is because running requires a solid foundation. You need a strong core to stabilise your spine to help your legs grow stronger. By simply adding 15 minutes 2-3 times a week you could reap the benefits of a killer core. Running coach, Greg McMillan, says exercises like planks, superman and glute bridges can reduce your need for unnecessary stabilization which allows you to become a more economical runner.
Myth 5: You should drink a sports drink before every run
Sports drinks can be extremely beneficial for replenishing lost electrolytes and calories during intense workouts. However, if your run is less than an hour, it isn’t necessary to automatically reach for the Energade - water will do just fine. The correct time to take sports drinks would be when you are exercising for more than an hour and sweating profusely.
In this case, there are plenty of convenient commercially available options:
Myth 6: Heel striking leads to injury
In the past, heel striking was commonly associated with an increased risk of injury. This is why most believed that runners should ideally land on their forefoot or midfoot. Heel striking has received a bad reputation since it often accompanies “overstride” - when you land with your foot too far in front of you, onto a locked knee. However, this association has been shown to be inaccurate. Many runners that land close to their body still heel strike without any issues.
One paper by Peter Larson called “Foot strike patterns in recreational marathon runner” analysed the foot strike of students running 10km and 32km, respectively. The results indicated that most marathon runners do in fact heel strike, which suggests that either they were doing it wrong, or heel striking helps them run more efficiently.
Myth 7: Runners should focus on flexibility
Over the past few years, yoga has become incredibly popular in the running community. And, although yoga holds a host of benefits for runners - including strength and stability improvements - flexibility doesn’t need to be a training focus point. In fact, research has shown that overly flexible joints are less stable and prone to being overstretched. When running, your body needs stable joints with strong muscles to hold everything in place. Consider doing yoga on the weekends to destress, and build core strength - but don’t let it dominate your training schedule. Instead, focus on running, with a good balance of strength training and other cross training activities (including yoga).
Myth 8: Runner’s should run every day
You may think that the more you run, the better you’ll become at it. However, it puts a lot of strain on your body to continually perform these workouts. Your body needs rest to repair itself so that you can get the most out of your training.
By neglecting strategic rest days, you could be putting yourself at risk for developing injuries, interrupted sleep cycles and impaired immune function. Let’s not forget about the mental implications. Mental fatigue can be just as detrimental as physical fatigue, so taking a rest day is essential for recharging your mental psyche.
Perhaps quite a mental obstacle in itself, take a moment to reflect on the importance of rest days as a key element in successful training. Make the mental adjustment to understand that you can take days off - and that it’s actually good for you.
Myth 9: Runner’s should only focus on mileage
The most important thing you need to realise, is that there are many factors involved in an effective training schedule. If you just signed up for an intense race - let’s say a 56km trail run - then you’re probably stressing about completing the distance. Yes, distance runs are a key element of any training plan, but it’s important not to neglect how other elements can boost your overall performance.
An ideal race plan should include a number of elements, including long runs to adapt to distance; fartleks and hill training to increase stamina; short, high pace runs to increase speed; strength training to improve muscular power and prevent injury; and rest days for recovery.
It is clear that there are still so many myths out there that runners still believe to be true. Most tend to stick to pre-race rituals and theories they’ve always believed to be true. However, not all running wisdom is rooted in reality - which is why separating myth from fact can make all the difference to your progress.