If you’re a runner, knowing good advice from the bad can be tough. To help you clear some of the confusion, learn which running myths research doesn’t quite support so can focus on the right thing.
MYTH #1: RUNNING ON GRASS AND DIRT IS BETTER FOR YOUR KNEES
It’s a common belief that running on a softer surface can help save your joints compared to running on harder surfaces like the sidewalk or road. While it might seem like this makes sense since a softer surface gives more, research suggests this is not necessarily the case.
What makes the difference is running on a trail versus a route where your stride isn’t forced to change. Changes in your stride, which you’re forced to do on a trail, can prevent running injuries caused by repetitive motion, help to develop strength and improve lower-body mobility.
MYTH #2: ALWAYS STRETCH PRIOR TO A RUN
Getting your muscles loose and ready to run before a workout seems like a good idea. However, stretching cold muscles before a workout isn’t the way to go. In fact, studies show that stretching before a run can actually slow you down rather than speed you up and won’t necessarily keep you from getting injured.
Instead, it’s better practice to stretch during long periods of inactivity (like sitting at your desk) and after a run when your muscles are more pliable. Prior to your run, a short 5–10 minute warmup does more to get you loose and prevent injury before you begin the main portion of your workout than stretching cold muscles.
MYTH #3: BAREFOOT RUNNING PREVENTS INJURIES
After Christopher McDougall’s “Born to Run,” barefoot running was promoted as the cure all for common running injuries. And while there is some truth to developing a more efficient stride and a better foot strike, a recent study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine shows similar injury rates among barefoot and shod runners despite significantly less mileage run by the barefoot group.
While minimalism can be used as a training tool, barefoot running isn’t for everyone — and for some runners, it could make an injury more likely.
MYTH #4: ALWAYS REHYDRATE WITH SPORTS DRINKS
Electrolytes and sodium lost through sweat are often replenished with sports drinks, though it isn’t always the best practice. If you’re running in hot and humid weather or for more than one hour, a sports drink can be a good idea.
However, for those of us running an hour or less, the extra calories and high sugar content in most sports drinks can do more harm than good. Because of this, it’s best to only use sports drinks during high-intensity exercise for long durations and when conditions are extreme.
MYTH #5: STRIKING WITH YOUR HEEL IS BAD
One theory that has gained traction is that heel striking causes more injuries. While overstriding may indeed be bad for the hips and knees, striking with the heel isn’t necessarily a bad thing — and in fact, most marathoners do.
It’s true that forefoot and midfoot striking is a more efficient form of running, which is why it’s utilized by most elite sprinters and distance runners. But as far as injuries go, research indicates there is little difference between running-related injuries when runners with forefoot and heel contact points, though forefoot strikers did show a greater risk for developing patellofemoral pain syndrome (PFPS).
MYTH #6: YOU SHOULD CARB LOAD THE NIGHT BEFORE A RACE
For a long time, consuming large amounts of carbohydrates the night before a race was thought to be the way to go to maximize performance. However, carb-loading has shown to only be beneficial for distances greater than the half-marathon — and only if it’s done strategically.
Instead of stuffing yourself with as much spaghetti as you can tolerate (which can potentially cause GI distress), studies show a more efficient way to carb load is to gradually increase your intake during weeks leading up to your event.