6 Common Running Myths
Running Myths & The Truth Behind Them
For a very simple outdoor activity, it may come as a surprise that there are many misconceptions and myths about running. From pre-run stretching to everyday training, everyone can have his or her version of a running “myth” that masquerades as a fact. Debunking these myths and straightening the misconceptions are important if you want to make the most out of running. Let’s examine 6 of the most common rumors about running and decipher the truth behind such myths.
Stretching Is Very Important Before Every Run
Every time you see runners preparing for a stint either at the track or on the trail, they will always perform stretches. They’ll prop one limb against a wall and try to stretch it as much as they can. Then they do it with the other leg.
Everyone knows the importance of warm-up exercises to help prepare the muscles for a grueling activity. Warm-up exercises tend to unknot and relax muscles. But then, there is now a body of evidence saying that stretching the muscles of the legs may not be beneficial for the run at all. As a matter of fact, pre-run stretching can hamper your ability to run at a more efficient pace.
The issue with stretching is that it only moves muscle groups on a single plane. It elongates the individual muscle fibers without inducing any other physiological change. There is no increase in the tonicity of the muscle groups which should be beneficial in maintaining balance with each running stride. Stretching also doesn’t strengthen the muscle fibers, a trait that is essential in powering each stride. In other words, stretching doesn’t provide you with any remarkable benefit prior to the run.
If any, stretching can increase the risk of muscle injury. Overstretching can lead to muscle spasms, swelling, and pain. This can hamper your ability to move. A painful limb can make you want to skip your running session altogether.
A better approach is to perform stretches for a few minutes every day. It’s also best to stretch your muscles after the run, but not before it. Stretching the muscles after running is better because your muscles are more receptive to the single-plane movement of stretching.
If you need to warm-up for the run, forget the stretching. Instead, perform a 5 to 10 minute warm-up that can include jumping jacks, high kicks, pushups, and lunges. These work a lot better in warming up your cold muscles prior to running.
You Don’t Need To Strength-Train To Run
Running is a type of cardiovascular exercise that aims to improve the ability of the heart to deliver blood. It also promotes better management of breathing by the lungs. Hence, there is this belief that runners do not need to strength-train anymore.
If we try to understand the physiology of running, we know that strength training is crucial to such an activity. We run with our legs. Leg strength is important if we want to propel ourselves faster and with more efficient strides. A more important effect of leg strengthening exercises is the establishment and maintenance of muscle tone. This allows the body to maintain stability with each stride.
When we run, only one foot gets planted onto the surface of the track or trail. Although very brief, this one-legged stance requires the muscles of any given leg to be strong and of the right tone. Muscle tone is crucial to maintaining optimum balance when we are in this particular stance. If there is not enough muscle tone, we can find ourselves swaying to one side. As a runner, you don’t want that to happen. You’d want to remain upright for the remainder of the run.
That’s why strength-training that focuses on the leg muscles is important if you want to make the most out of your running activities. The focus of these exercises is on stability and balance. By ensuring greater muscle tone and strength, you’re reducing your risk of injuries secondary to a bad fall.
While you don’t need to build other muscles, it is best to target the muscles of the core and the lower legs if you are an avid runner. The core muscles are important for maintaining balance in everything that we do. The muscles of the thighs and buttocks are also special since they connect to the muscles of the core and the legs. They have to work together to make sure that your running activity proceeds without any incident.
Regular Everyday Training Is Crucial To Running Performance
People believe that running everyday can make one a better runner. While this is true to a certain extent, one has to realize that the body also needs rest. There is mounting evidence that runners should always aim for the quality of the run than the quantity. But before we delve into this matter, let’s try to understand first what happens to the muscles when you run.
Running utilizes the muscles of the legs. They may not contract and relax as much as strength training exercises, but they receive most of the brunt. Muscles used in running will need plenty of oxygen and other energy molecules to keep it going. If there is not enough oxygen in the muscles, the cells will try to use other forms of energy.
Muscles convert stored glycogen into pyruvate, which undergoes a series of steps to produce lactate. This substance allows for glucose metabolism to proceed without the need for oxygen. One can think of lactate as an emergency molecule that your body produces to help sustain the activities of the muscles. But like all “emergency” molecules, lactate can only last for so long. If the muscles don’t get oxygen right away, they can suffer from more serious damage.
In the past, people believed that the formation of lactate is what causes muscle soreness after every intense exercise. Unfortunately, it’s not. However, because lactate facilitates a number of biosynthetic pathways, this can lead to the production of metabolites. These metabolites are the direct result of extreme muscle exertion. When these metabolites accumulate in the body, it would be almost impossible to command the muscles to “work” again.
This is why a recovery period is crucial for runners. This means if you run today and tomorrow, you will have to allot the day after tomorrow as your rest period. This allows the body to get rid of the metabolites and help repair any damaged muscle tissue.
In other words, running everyday will not make you a better runner. It will only make you sore. This can prevent you from going for another run when you should. As such, it is okay if you run only three times a week, with the rest of the week focused on the recovery of your muscles. Remember, quality over quantity.
Running Is Harmful To Your Knees
This has got to be one of the most intriguing myths around. It is not a myth per se, since the points for it also have physiologic basis. The point of debate here is whether running does more harm to the knees than not running at all. If one were to compare running with biking, walking, or any other low-impact exercises, then it is possible that running is less beneficial. But if you’re comparing running with not exercising at all, you’ll find the results to be a bit more surprising.
People with long-standing knee problems may benefit more from low-impact exercises like rowing, swimming, and biking. However, running is better than leading a sedentary lifestyle. There is this study about runners and people who lead sedentary lifestyles. For two decades, the study monitored the occurrence of osteoarthritis in these two groups of people. The study shows that those who lead sedentary lifestyle had more incidences of osteoarthritis than runners.
This underscores the benefits of running on a healthy knee. One of the effects of running is that it stimulates the secretion of human growth hormone. This hormone triggers a host of responses in the body that can include tissue repair, healing, and regeneration. This translates to more efficient reparative processes for the various structures of the joints. The different cells of the joints like chondrocytes can also continue repairing and rebuilding the cartilage of the joints.
In addition to these changes, human growth hormone can also facilitate the repair of tendons, muscles, and ligaments. These are structures that are important components of the joints. The bones themselves also get repaired, allowing for a stronger structure to develop.
Sure, running is harmful to your knees if you already have severe osteoarthritis. But given the fact that most runners do not have arthritis, then running is a great way to ensure optimum joint health. You cannot get anything better than this.
Trail Running Is Better Than Road Running
There are those that say trail running is better than running on paved roads or asphalt. This is in relation to the effects of impact forces on the knees. If you run on paved roads or asphalt, the harder surface can generate more impact forces that can get transmitted to the knees. That is why many people believe that trail running is better. The soft nature of grass and dirt allows for less vibrations and impact forces reaching the knee.
But, we already know that running is beneficial for the knee. If one has problems in the knee, then a suitable alternative like swimming or walking is best. This is regardless of whether it is grass or asphalt you’re running on. The mere fact that you already have osteoarthritis or any other serious joint condition already prevents you from enjoying the benefits of running.
There is, however, a substantial difference when it comes to the risk of injuries. When running on a hard yet even surface, you can be sure that each running stride is equal. You’ll be landing on one foot planted squarely on the track surface. This ensures optimum balance, maintaining your center of gravity. Furthermore, your stride length is more or less equal. To achieve this you can also use specially designed stability running shoes.
When you run on grass or the track, however, the feet will have to make constant adjustments in muscle tension. Because grass provides a “softer” landing spot for the feet, there’s a chance that a sudden shift in weight can result in a sprain injury. In some cases, the ligaments can twist because of this sudden shift in weight to one side. This occurs because of the uneven surface of the trail.
There is also an effect on your stride length. Because you will never know how the trail will pan out in front, you’ll always be modifying your strides. At one time you’ll go a full stride; at others, only half a stride. This detracts from your rhythm.
The same is true with treadmill running and outdoor running. Some say, outdoor running is better. When you factor the fresh air and real-life scenarios, outdoor running is indeed better. But when you consider safety, you’re in better hands with treadmill running.
Carbo-Loading The Night Before A Race Is Crucial
Runners think that they need to load up on their carbohydrates the night before the race. While there is a certain element of truth to this, understand that you’re not supposed to gobble up several platters of pasta in the evening before your race. Carbohydrates provide the body with readily-available fuel. However, keep in mind that if not used immediately, the body will store this as fat and glycogen.
A better approach is to increase your carbohydrate consumption for several days prior to the race. This will help the body acclimatize to the increase in glucose. On the night before the race, you can increase the amount of carbs you eat, but only by around 10 percent.
Also, keep in mind that carbo-loading is only required for long distance running such as marathons and triathlons. But if you’re competing in a sprint or less than the distance of a marathon, forget carbo-loading.
There are other myths that continue to baffle runners everywhere. Starting with these 6 should help you modify your running habits so you can enjoy more of its benefits.