Along with some helpful information that is out there, a lot of myths are circulating around which may put some people off running completely. Below, I go into five myths and why they are what they are…myths.
1. Running will ruin your knees.
This one is a little closer to me as I consider myself to have ‘dodgy’ knees. By 16, I had suffered two pretty bad knee injuries playing rugby and basketball where I had full contact knee to knee impact. Since then, my knees crack and pop and I can’t sit still without having to “crack” them by extending my legs out.
For running, according to some places on the Internet, you will destroy those cartilages up to the point of arthritis. Many people will feel pain in the knees and this can be down to a number of reasons other than running. This can include:
· Bad running form and technique
· Running too far/much too soon
· Wrong running shoes
Similarly, the weight of a runner can also be a contributing factor as the force exerted from running increases the load on your knees from anywhere between 5 to 12 times their weight, depending largely on running speed or form.
“While the extra load caused by running has long been a concern, especially for bigger guys who are pounding the pavement, it has never been shown to increase the risk of knee osteoarthritis - the irreversible wearing away of the knee cartilage - for runners.” - Ross Miller, Ph.D.
While this can seem over concerning, when compared to walking, a runner will spend much less time in contact with the ground, which is when force is felt on the knees. When they calculated the load that accumulates over a set distance, the knee experienced the same amount while walking as when running.
This was the finding from a 2013 study out of Queens University in Canada, in which 75,000 runners were evaluated. It was determined that there was “no evidence that running increases the risk of osteoarthritis, including participation in marathons.” It was noted that these findings were true only for those runners with healthy knees to begin with. As long as the knees were in working order, running did not deteriorate the joint or lead to osteoarthritis.
In fact, for healthy, in-shape runners, knee cartilage will actually strengthen under high forces. However, that doesn’t mean there’s no risk if you’re overweight. Extra pounds can cause mobility issues and throw your joints out of alignment, he warns.
“When you add high impact to an out-of-whack joint over and over again - like you can do when running - you’re setting yourself up for knee pain or an injury.“ - Bill Hartman, C.S.C.S., P.T., co-owner of Indianapolis Fitness and Sports Training.
Running can still lead to other injuries in the lower body, but the single largest risk factor for knee osteoarthritis is obesity.
2. Strength training is not important.
One mistake new runners tend to make is thinking that running is the be-all and end-all when it comes to … running. I for one definitely did not think spending time in the gym (and not the pavement) would be beneficial. As it turns out, not only could strength training be the key to a new personal best, but also help prevent injuries, which means we can keep running and not spend time on the physio table.
Running can get very repetitive, and will typically use the same muscles, in the same way, every time you hit the road for a run. Sadly, there is no exercise that works out all of our muscles at the same time, and because we’re running a lot and using those same muscles, chances are you’re heading towards an injury. These injuries are typically caused by muscle imbalances in the body.
According to Amby Burfoot, “strengthening the hips is optimal for effective rehabilitation, as opposed to treating the area where the pain is located (e.g., your knee),” he says. “When you strengthen the hips - the abductors, adductors, and gluteus maximus - you increase your leg stability all the way down to the ankle.”
As strength training increases your ability to run with correct form for extended periods of time, this will improve your running efficiency, leading to faster times. I can attest to this as I recently started training for a half marathon with my local Running Room, but also incorporate strength and cross-training while at home three to four times a week. This schedule has helped me become a stronger running and recently lead to a personal best in the 10k taking off four minutes and on top of that, not feeling like death afterward.
And don’t take my word for it, a study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research examined the effects of a 10-week strength training program on running economy in female distance runners. The group who added three strength training workouts in addition to their running programs saw significant improvements in their running economy.
3. Stretching is a must
Studies on stretching are torn on the subject. Some researchers found however that stretching is actually bad for runners. While stretching is important pre and post-run to warm up/cool down the body, and to prevent injury, you need to consider that static stretching is against your natural movements as a sprinter or long-distance runner.
One way our running group prepares for our Sunday long runs is to do some dynamic movements to warm us up. Typically, it will go a little something like this:
· High knees
· Butt kicks
· Trunk Twists
· Alternating Toe Touches
· Leg Swings
This is a little short for some longer distance runs, but enough to warm the body up for a run. A longer example of a stretch/warm-up routine can be found in the video below:
Source: The Run Experience (YouTube)
4. Bulking on carbs before a race
Growing up, I was told by my dad that a good bowl of pasta the night before a big basketball game was perfect for that extra bit of energy. Religiously for a number of years, I would eat pasta the night before a game, and even the day of (if I had an evening game). I recently took this mentality further when I learned about ‘carbo-loading’ in high school. The class was given some menu ideas for meals to eat the night before our next PE lesson. Turns out we were going to run the Beep Test (again).
Each year, we ran the Beep Test as a test of our physical endurance and fitness. Many of us hated it, as it was last man standing and if you were one to drop out early, you couldn’t leave the gym until everyone was done. We had already done this test in our normal PE lessons, as I was taking PE for my GCSEs so two extra lessons each week (one practical, one theory). We put the carbo-loading theory to the test to see if we could improve upon our results from a few months prior. Turns out, each of us did improve our results. This cemented my belief in carbo-loading.
Many runners can fall under this impression too that eating excessive amounts of carbs before a race will give them that extra energy for that run or race. What they didn’t teach me in class, and until I started running more seriously, was that carbs are stored as glycogen in our muscles but the amount is actually limited with any surplus being added as fat.
Like in most diets, overdoing it can have negative impacts on your running and. A heavy carb-heavy meal before bed for your morning run can make you sluggish.
If you do find you need the extra energy you can increase your carb intake by a few hundred calories per day, but just don’t overdo it.
5. Running barefoot is the way to go
It was in 2010 that Daniel Lieberman, the barefoot-running evolutionary biologist from Harvard, published a hugely influential study in Nature. The study compared the “collision forces” of feet hitting the ground for runners with and without shoes while landing on their heel or forefoot.
Research at the time - not to mention the popular book Born to Run — showed that running barefoot could, in fact, make you a better, stronger athlete. Soon, racers were lining up at start lines across the world in Vibram FiveFinger shoes or, for the very bold, in nothing at all.
Vibram FiveFinger Shoes. Source: Vibram FiveFingers
The barefoot boom has since slowed considerably, but many athletes are still going shoeless, and are fascinated with the natural running trend. Minimalist running is beloved by some, but it isn’t for everyone. But what caused this shift towards minimalist running?
Biomechanically, the foot is designed to handle the stress of running for prolonged periods without support. Sometimes, when a runner is wearing an overly-cushioned or supportive running shoe, it can actually limit the ability of the foot to pronate and supinate the way that it should, ultimately weakening the intrinsic muscles of the foot. It can also cause a runner to over-stride or overly heel strike. This leads to decreased efficiency, increased ground reaction force — or impact — being absorbed with each step, and increased risk of injury.
The pros are decreased torque on the hip and knee, shorter step length — especially if you over-stride — increased mid-to-forefoot strike if you’re landing too hard on your heel, and decreased impact peak on landing. Natural running is a good option if you’re prone to shin splints, knee pain, or bone-related or stress-related injuries.
That said, the major con is the increased torque on the foot and ankle, and probably isn’t for you if you’re prone to Plantar Fasciitis, Achilles Tendinitis, or calf strains.
Like many things in running, while this one might not be a myth but more of a individual thing. There is no one size fits all in running, no blanket training routine, no one fix for everyone, and that will lead to some runners agreeing or disagreeing. This is probably the reason why there is so much information out there for us to digest.
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About the Author
Our guest author this week is David Hampson. Here's a little more about David...