The 10 great running myths!

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Simon Bartold

Sports podiatrist Adelaide, South Australia

A little while ago, Competitor magazine ran an article entitled “The 10 Biggest Myths About Running”

The full article can be read here, but I thought I might put my own spin on this from the science perspective.

1. You Need To Have A Certain Body Type

It is true that runners are very variable interms of body type, and, as with nearly all things, there is a dichotomy in body type between elite runner and non elite. Perhaps the best study to look at body type and running performance comes from Bale et al

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“Sixty male distance athletes were divided into three equal groups according to their personal best time for the 10km run. The runners were measured anthropometrically and each runner completed a detailed questionnaire on his athletic status, training programme and performance.

The runners in this study had similar anthropometric and training profiles to other distance runners of a similar standard. The most able runners were shorter and lighter than those in the other two groups and significantly smaller skinfold values (P < 0.05).

There were no significant differences between the groups for either bone widths or circumferences but the elite and good runners had significantly higher ponderal indices (P < 0.05) than the average runners, indicating that they are more linear. Elite and good runners were also less endomorphic but more ectomorphic than the average runners.

The elite runners trained more often, ran more miles per week and had been running longer (P < 0.05) than good or average runners. A multiple regression and discriminant function analysis indicated that linearity, total skinfold, the type and frequency of training and the number of years running were the best predictors of running performance and success at the 10km distance.”

Having established these facts, it is true that anyone can become a runner, and a good level of aerobic fitnees can be achieved without neccessarily having very low skinfolds.

The best study looking at O2 uptake (i.e. “fitness”) in relation to body type, comes from Bergh and co workers, who concluded “the present data indicate that submaximal oxygen uptake during running does not increase proportionately to body mass.

2. Stretch Before You Run

I have already covered this topic in depth in the blog. I summarised the myth of static stretching prior to running as follows: “Warm-up (raise your temperature and sweat a little) and include simple, sport-specific, ‘dynamic’ stretches. ‘Static’ stretches should be limited to 15-30 second holds, once per position. Warm-up for 10-15 minutes, or until you feel ready to rock.”

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3. Runners Don’t Need To Strength Train

There are many studies that have established that this statement is as off as a bucket of prawns in the midday sun! These include Millet et al, who concluded “the addition of HWT (heavy weight training) to the endurance training of well-trained triathletes was associated with significant increase in running performance (i.e, VV02max) and an enhancement of running economy, probably determined by an improvement in lower-limb stiffness regulation, as a result of the concurrent strength and endurance training.”

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Delecluse comments that “Today, it is generally accepted that sprint performance, like endurance performance, can improve considerably with training. Strength training, especially, plays a key role in this process”, and Paavolainen et al state “simultaneous explosive-strength and endurance training improved the 5K time in well-trained endurance athletes without changes in theirVu02d9O 2 max.” In otherwords, strength training makes you faster without an energetic cost.

4. Barefoot Running Will Reduce Injuries

We have covered this extensively here on Bartold Biomechanics, and despite there still being small groups of individuals with very loud voices espousing this philosophy, the science tells us the opposite is true.

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You can read my many articles I have written on the topic.

5. You Have To Run Every Day To Improve

Wenger and Bell looked at this issue, and their findings may be read here.

Certainly it is not necessary to run every day to improve and we need to factor in many things like running goals, experience personal experiences etc. It is also very important to note that there is no one universal training program that applies to every athlete. Sure there are some training principles that will apply to every runner, but there are also many individual aspects that must be considered to ensure the athlete achieves their goals and remains injury free.

The bottom line is that to improve, the runner does need a plan, and that plan must be adhered to, but mixing training in terms of terrain, surface, footwear and intensity is just as important as training frequency.

6. Running Is Bad For Your Knees

I think for anyone who has been involved in sports medicine since the early 80′ (like me!), when the running boom was relatively new, there was an expectation that sooner or later we would see longitudinal studies that showed running led to joint degeneration, especially in the major weight bearing joints such as the hip and knee.

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Thirty years later, no such study has been published.

That said, running is a high impact sport,and knee injury is common, especially in female runners who are several times more likely to develop knee pain than men. The reasons for this are not completely understood, however, it seems likely to be a combination of biomechanics and hormonal (especially oestragen) influences.

The bottom line is that as with the majority of running injuries, it is not running itself that causes knee injury, it is training error and load management.

There is now good evidence, that exercise, especially in the case of knee osteoarthritis, is actually beneficical in terms of pain mamagement and disease progression

A good commentary on how to prevent knee injuries during running can be read here and here

7. Drink At Every Water Station

This may be one of the biggest and most damaging myths of all running Lore! it simply is not true and may cause more harm than good. Drinking too much water, especailly during the long runs, can cause a medical condition called hyponatremia, an electrolyte disturbance in which the sodium (salt) concentration in the serum is lower than normal. Exercise-associated hyponatremia (EAH), however, is not uncommon. Researchers found, for instance, that 13% of the athletes who finished the 2002 Boston Marathon were in a clinically hyponatremic condition, i.e. their salt levels in their blood had fallen below an acceptable level. Symptoms of hyponatremia include nausea and vomiting, headache, confusion, lethargy, fatigue, loss of appetite, restlessness and irritability, muscle weakness, spasms, or cramps, seizures, and decreased consciousness or coma, in short, it is not pleasant!

Knowing how much water to drink is unfortunately an inexact science, and is dependent upon physiological and extrinsic factors, for example temperature and wind. The dangers of overhydration have been emphasized recently in books like Tim Noakes’ “Waterlogged”

8. Potassium Will Prevent Cramping

Well, this study,Serum electrolyte concentrations and hydration status are not associated with exercise associated muscle cramping (EAMC) in distance runners leaves little doubt what these authors believe. they concluded: “There are no clinically significant alterations in serum electrolyte concentrations and there is no alteration in hydration status in runners with EAMC participating in an ultra-distance race.”

Fair enough, but if it is not serum potassium causing the dodgy muscle cramps, what is?

This study states the following: “appear to support the hypothesis that EAMC may be accompanied by heightened neuromuscular activity possibly associated with muscle fatigue”. In a nutshell, cramping probably has more to do with not training properly and subsequent muscle fatigue.

9. Running Is Supposed To Be Hard

This advice fron The Run Lounge seems very sensible to me:

“Your heart and energy stores don’t work to miles. They work to effort and time. So lets move away from tradition and work to time and effort. Don’t worry about if you ran 7 miles or not on a run. If you went out to run 60 mins at an easy pace and the run felt easy and controlled, that’s all that matters”.

10. Cushioned Shoes Will Prevent Injury

Let’s get this straight up front. No shoe will prevent injury, just as going barefoot will not prevent injury. Running, as with any sport, is a stressful endevour, and risk of injury is always present for an almost infinitely variable number of reasons.

Does this mean cushioned shoes are better or worse than less cushioned shoes. Not neccessarily, and it will completely depend on the runner. Some runners do require more cushioning, either because of their biomechanics, the level at which they train or race or their experience level. As an example, the maximalist shoe brand Hoka, which works off a zero drop but 40mm platform in a very lightweight package, has gained good acceptance in the ultramarathon community. this is no surprise to me at all. I believe I would also be searching for added cushioning were I ever to contemplate running 100 miles ot more!

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The opposite side of the coin is that most runners can probaly deal with less cushioning rather than more, and the thing to always remember is the equation, more cushioning= more weight.

And for me, in athletic footwear, weight is the great enemy of the runner!

This was originally posted on Simon Bartold’s website. You can click here to read more blogs from him.

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About the Author

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Simon Bartold

Sports podiatrist Adelaide, South Australia

Simon Bartold is a graduate of Adelaide University where he gained a Bachelor Degree in Science majors in Physiology and Zoology.  He holds postgraduate fellowships in Sports Podiatry with the Australian Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine, in Sport Sciences with Sports Medicine Australia, and in the Faculty of Podiatric Medicine with the Royal college of Physicians and Surgeons (Glasgow) Simon has been an executive board member of the Australian Sports Medicine Federation and Past President of the Australian Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine, and remains the only podiatrist worldwide to ever hold a commission position with the International Sports Medicine Federation (F.I.M.S.). He has been the consultant podiatrist to the Australian Institute of Sport Cricket Academy, The British Cricket Academy and the Indian cricket Team, as well as a number of state and national sporting teams. He was the Deputy Director of Podiatry Services at the Sydney Olympic Games in 2000. He attended his 4th Olympic Games working in London in 2012. He has published over 30 papers in high impact peer-reviewed journals, has authored or contributed chapters to7 books. He has lectured at international conferences in 42 countries.

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