The 10 Biggest Running Myths

The 10 Biggest Running Myths

Recently, an article came across my Twitter/X feed from the fantastic Physio-Network group entitled "The 10 Great Running Myths!"

The article itself was inspired by an earlier one published in the now-defunct Competitor Magazine called “The 10 Biggest Myths About Running”.

The goal of the Physio Network author's article was to bring a more nuanced, scientific perspective to these common running myths in the hope of better educating those who enjoy running.

And as they were, I have also been inspired to talk about these concepts from my own perspective as a Physiotherapist.

As a quick disclaimer, science and research are an important part of evidence-based care in Physiotherapy and can be applied to something like running to improve our understanding of what's more likely to be helpful and safe, and what's not. Having said that, an equally important part of "Evidence-Based Practice" is clinical experience.

And this is why I'd like to share my own, as I believe I have come to understand some very interesting and important things about how the body functions best and falters - that can be applied to these ten running myths.

So here's my considered take on the 10 biggest running myths!


1. You Need To Have A Certain Body Type

Like a lot of the running myths in this list, conceptually it does make sense on some level.

Certain people may not feel comfortable running from a fitness or injury perspective.

Similarly, body image is such an impactful force in today's society that it's easy for some who don't fit a particular runner's physique to inherently feel like they aren't built for running.

But, a tiny shift in perspective may highlight a better way of thinking. We know that humans are designed to run.

Like most animals, we have a regular walking pace AND the ability to shift up a gear or two when required. There's no doubt that certain body types may be more suited to running faster or longer distances - especially in a competitive sense.

But to suggest that only specific body types CAN or SHOULD run is misguided, and unfortunate, as it may drive people away completely unnecessarily.

By all means, if you don't enjoy running as a form of exercise, chose something else. Just do it because you want to, not because you feel you have to. As I say to my patients, we are born to run, but living in the modern world can really compromise that birthright.


2. Running Is Bad For Your Knees

This one is right in my wheelhouse.

For a long time, the health and fitness industries have both knowingly and unknowingly made the wider public feel that running can be bad for your knees.

And like most of these running myths, there is some element of truth to it.

At its core, a lot of people do experience knee pain when running. And when this happens, it's easy to feel like running is the cause of that knee pain.

But, another small shift in perspective can bring more tangible (and controllable) factors into view.

Clinically, running does not cause knee pain. But, repetitive activities like running are really good at exposing hidden dysfunction taken into running.

Consider this. Let's say you go for a one-hour run every day of the week. And, within that run your knee consistently hurts. Interestingly, let's also say that on either side of this, you also spend anywhere from 4-14 hours a day sitting.

You can probably understand where I'm going with this, but clinically I find that many of the mechanical issues we need to fix to solve knee pain when running - tight hips, stiff ankles, lower back stiffness, reduced trunk strength, and reduced hip strength, can all actually develop initially as a consequence of being stuck in a chair for hours on end.

So in a way, running could be bad for your knees, but only if you've unknowingly developed a reason for it to be there in the first place.

Related: The Cause of Knee Pain: Why It’s a Consequence of Something Else


3. Stretch Before You Run

This is an interesting one, and for me, a no-brainer.

In short, any extra mobility you can add to your body before using it will improve your efficiency and performance, while most likely reducing your risk of injury.

But the way we've asked you to stretch for years sucks. It just hasn't worked well enough for people to feel its benefits - hence why there's still conjecture around it. And for me as a Physiotherapist, the narrative needs to change from whether stretching before running is important, to which type of mobility techniques make the biggest impact.

We need to evolve beyond static stretching - which requires us to hold a stretch for about 30 seconds and hope for the best, and replace it with PNF stretching. PNF, or proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation, requires us to find that very same tightness we look for with traditional static stretching, but instead of just holding the stretch, we need to tense that tightness.

This creates a reflex that prompts our tight tissue to physically relax when we do. We should then expect to immediately be able to go a little further into the stretch than we could before.

Better yet, we should always walk away from PNF stretching with a greater sense of mobility and function - a no-brainer before running.

In my experience, PNF stretching before you run is a great chance to undo some hidden restrictions you'd normally take into running. It works fantastically well, and if everyone actually did this, I'd imagine this myth and any debate around it wouldn't quietly go the way of the dinosaurs.

Related: What is the Best Way to Stretch?


4. Runners Don’t Need To Do Strength Training

For me, this is similar to arguing that nutrition in running isn't important. Sure, you can do well without it, but it's hard to imagine you'll be the best version of yourself. Clinically, strength training helps create stability, muscle endurance, and can reinforce good movement mechanics. By training someone to squat really well, we can teach a person to create optimal back, hip, knee, and ankle stability and see it transfer across to a person's running technique. If this myth revolves around the "need" to do strength training, then you could mount a case that no one has to do anything really. But if you do care about optimising your running experience and decreasing the potential risk of injury, it might be worth seeking out some specific advice to find out where you could use a little more strength to support your running goals. Clinically, we often look to strengthen something that has objectively become less strong than it should be - especially when compared to the opposite side of the body. And with this in mind, I would argue that any runner would benefit from strengthening a tangible weakness. Especially if efficiency or performance is involved.


5. Barefoot Running Will Reduce Injuries

This is one of the most controversial (and complicated) running myths. From my experience though, it shouldn't be.

We just need to give people the right perspective.

Firstly, the statement "barefoot running will reduce injuries" is a poor one. The path to injury is so complicated and it's irresponsible to suggest that any one thing will make all the difference.

However, I find that by focusing on things that are logically and intuitively normal for the body, we often head down the right path and reach our desired destination with our bodies. For me, being barefoot is normal.

We are born barefoot AND have invented shoes. Running, as mentioned above, should also be considered a natural expression of our body's mechanics. So in theory, you could mount a pretty compelling case that in a perfect world, we should all feel comfortable running barefoot. And that running barefoot should not create pain and injury on its own.

But, today's modern world is no longer normal. Surfaces like concrete and bitumen, social norms, and hygiene standards make it hard to express that natural form all time. Furthermore, our thirst for fashion and comfort, and propensity toward popular brand names and advertising means we can no longer assume that popular footwear is optimal for our feet.

As a consequence, so many shoes now have a thick heel, arch support, motion control, pointy toe ends, and stiff, rigid soles despite our feet not inherently needing these things. And depending on how long you've been exposed to this external technology you may have gradually become stiff, tight, weak, or cramped for years. If this is you, it may be completely reasonable to feel like barefoot shoes are now uncomfortable.

Furthermore, that same compromised tissue may not cope if you suddenly take everything away and expose it to thousands of repetitious running strides.

Clinically, my advice to my patients is this: The ultimate aim is to hopefully feel comfortable running in barefoot shoes eventually. It's great to develop the tissue tolerance, muscle control, flexibility, and capacity that comes with it. But in the meantime, we need to get to work on reclaiming the basic function you may have lost from being in modern, built-up footwear up until this point.

And finally, I can't promise that barefoot running will reduce injuries, but what I can say is that working towards tolerating barefoot running inevitably might. And if barefoot running does stir something up, then you've actually just found something that your regular shoes might be hiding from you.


6. You Have To Run Every Day To Improve

One basic principle of skill acquisition and improving functional capacity is the need for repetition.

The body needs to be exposed to something numerous times in order for it to adapt in the way you'd like. With pure skill acquisition, the more you can obsess over something the more quickly you might expect to improve.

However, when dealing with things that require strength and endurance, the body does need scheduled periods of rest to allow space for growth and adaptation.

Therefore, if daily running doesn't allow enough time to properly recover, it may be a case of diminishing returns.

The middle ground here would suggest that practicing your running skills and techniques, and not draining your resources in the process might stand up to a daily schedule. But at the end of the day, it probably depends on what the word "improve" in the title of this myth represents. Is it strength? Power? Endurance? Running technique?

A new, relatively deconditioned runner may only need to run every so often to improve as they're coming from a lower base. Someone with greater conditioning and bigger volumes of running behind them may need to run more often to see the same gains.

You might run six days a week and opt to use the seventh for a light recovery-type jog.

Ultimately, it's highly likely you don't have to run every day to improve in some way, but there would absolutely be circumstances where you could either way.


7. Drink at Every Water Station

Hydration is a little outside the scope of my practice as a Physiotherapist. But some of the principles we adhere to, like "listening to your body" may prove helpful here too.

In the Physio Network article that inspired this one, the author states this may be "one of the biggest and most damaging myths" of all.

The reason for this is a condition called hyponatremia. Hyponatremia can occur when the balance of water and electrolytes is off. The more water you consume while exercising, coupled with greater electrolytes lost through sweating may become an issue over longer endurance events.

My logical brain suggests that it may be smart to offset the risk of this by making sure any water you do consume has sufficient electrolytes in it, but clearly, this is a conversation to have with your Dietician or Nutritionist.

While the disadvantages of over-hydration do exist, there are still the ever-present disadvantages associated with dehydration too.

Dare I say a balanced approach may prove to be the best here?

Let me know in the comments below - especially if you have credentials in hydration.

For the record, the author also states the 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."

Keep an eye out and make good, mature decisions.


8. Potassium Will Prevent Cramping

This particular running myth is close to my heart.

I've spent a lot of time as a Physiotherapist trying to better understand the cause of muscle cramps on behalf of my patients.

And I think I'm on to something.

Traditionally, our thinking about the cause of cramps has revolved around things like dehydration, electrolyte imbalances, and deconditioning. Things that again make sense on a number of levels.

But what's always had me intrigued by muscle cramps is that these common causes are whole-body issues. They aren't specific enough to explain why one muscle, on one side of the body often cramps.

This isn't to suggest these factors don't play a role, but for me, there has to be another, more specific explanation in play too.

And from what I find clinically, it appears that the somewhat hidden association we may be missing resides in the spine.

What's led me down this path is the unfortunate set of patients who experience nasty end-stage back dysfunction. Their spinal tissue is unfortunately degenerative, nerve roots become irritated and annoyed, and, well, they also can experience cramps in the muscles these spinal nerve supply.

And I find the same relationship between my cramp-prone patients, just to a much less sinister and severe degree.

Finding and reducing these hidden soft tissue and spinal joint restrictions often eliminates cramping altogether. This in no way discredits potassium's potential for helping cramps, but it tells me it's not the answer on its own.

Related: The Hidden Cause of Leg Muscle Cramps: Is it Back-Related?


9. Running Is Supposed to Be Hard

I think this running myth speaks for itself.

Running CAN be hard, but it doesn't have to be. It really depends on what your running-related goals are. If, like me, you run just so you can be outside in the sunshine and fresh air, be near the beach, and move your body, then running absolutely doesn't have to be hard. I don't run fast, I just enjoy the experience.

If you run to win races then there's a fair chance you should take a leaf out of the "No Pain, No Gain" philosophy. But as always, it's important to qualify that slogan by stating it shouldn't actually relate to pain at all. Just suffering.

Genuine pain must 100% be respected at all times. Suffering through mental and physical fatigue can breed champions.

In short, running doesn't have to feel hard at its core, but the dial can certainly be turned up when required.


10. Cushioned Shoes Will Prevent Injury

In my experience, this is essentially the opposite side of the same coin in the barefoot running debate from above.

I won't rehash the same concepts from before, but I will say that cushioned shoes can have the potential to prevent certain injuries. Not by fixing any underlying causes, but by buffering them.

But, if that shoe begins to rob you of your natural mobility, strength, and function over time, then you may just be shifting the load to somewhere else.

So in a roundabout way, cushioned shoes DO have the potential to "prevent" injury in the same way that orthotics may help prevent an arch from collapsing.

However, an arch support will never stop that arch from wanting to collapse, just like a cushioned shoe may never stop an injury from wanting to occur.

As a Physiotherapist, true running injury prevention - if there is such a thing, can only occur once you take the time to understand what might be missing from your overall leg mechanics in the first place.

And once you pair that up with the tissue tolerance and conditioning to handle the speed, length, breadth, and depth of your chosen running experience, the risk of injury may reduce significantly.

And with this in mind, it's hard to see how a generic piece of shoe technology that in no way feels specific to you may do a better job.

Again, it may help in some way, but not in the long run.

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