It often feels like fitness, more than almost any other topic, is a particular target for myths. Miscalculated conventional wisdom and outdated medical and scientific research make for a lot of strangely persistent advice that isn’t doing anybody any good.
For runners, it’s especially tough to separate the wheat from the chaff. And with your health at stake, it’s extremely important to make sure your running routine is solid. To help you sort through it all and come to better conclusions, here are three common running myths definitively debunked:
MYTH: Heel-striking is inefficient.
The common wisdom among runners is to run while striking the ground on the forefoot rather than the heel. After all, elite runners never seem to strike their heels during their strides, so they must know what they’re doing!
Only part of that is true. While top runners generally rely on forefoot-striking, according to a University of Massachusetts study many still deploy heel-strikes at varying intervals. The same study also notes that for the average runner, heel-strikes are often more efficient overall. While some runners do have problems with their heel-striking style leading to injuries, most runners are safe to continue their natural heel-striking style.
MYTH: Running inevitably wears your knees out.
Runners hear about the slow destruction of knee cartilage constantly from their low-impact cycling and elliptical loving friends. And many simply accept it as the cost of doing business when taking on running as a hobby.
The latest research actually found the opposite is true in many cases. Runners are actually far less likely than the average non-runner to develop arthritis. The real culprit, far more than high-impact running? Weight. The upper body weight having pressure pulled down by gravity upon the cartilage in the knees does much more damage during normal day-to-day walking. Because runners weigh much less on average than most people, the damage over time is much less prominent.
This isn’t a complete pass though. Running still puts stress on knee cartilage, and people already suffering from knee issues should still take their doctor’s recommendation to avoid running. The spirit of the myth still holds, if not the details: running and other high-impact exercises do cause some level of long-term damage, but when considered in the full context of everyday life for the average person, running will likely be responsible for enough weight loss that you will have healthier knees than most.
MYTH: Runners should maintain moderate-intensity pace.
A persistent bit of advice many runners hear early on is to find the pace just where they feel like they’re pushing themselves, and hold it. Don’t go to a slower, more comfortable pace, and don’t hoof it as hard as possible. As with a lot of conventional wisdom, the idea is that the middle ground is always the best place to be.
A 2014 medical journal study says otherwise. High-intensity running is far better at increasing endurance and burning calories. Meanwhile, the study calls out persistent moderate-intensity running as being about as stressful on the body as pushing it harder, while mitigating the endurance benefits gained by going all in.
Try engaging in a 80/20 running routine. Spend 20 percent of running time on high-intensity sprinting, reserving the remaining 80 for leisurely recovery runs. Moderate-pace running simply isn’t efficient enough to be part of the equation.
Changing Your Routine
It’s never too late to start doing things differently. Take in all the information you can from reputable sources to build an efficient, safe running habit that removes all the worry from the hobby. Ask your doctor for advice based on your specific health needs, combine that with good, properly researched sources on the best exercise habits, and you’ll find yourself enjoying running in a relaxed way you might not have thought possible.