Mother runners don’t have a lot of time to waste. But many of us have been wasting our time on popular running tips that we think are helping us but are doing nothing—or worse, hurting us.
The truth is, the sport of running has been around for a long time which means common running tips like stretch before you run have also been around for a long time. That’s despite new research showing that these running tips don’t help us prevent injuries or run faster.
Below are 5 common running tips that AREN’T backed by science. Thus, these are five practices you don’t need to waste your time on doing.
Related: 9 Running Hacks that WILL Make You Run Faster
5 Popular Running Tips That Are SLOWING YOU DOWN
RUNNING TIP #1: Stretching before you run helps you to avoid injury.
FACT: Static stretching before you run may actually make
you more prone to injury.
Running and stretching go hand in hand, right? WRONG. There’s actually NO evidence that static stretching prior to running—holding stretches that lengthen muscles to improve flexibility—prevents injury or improves running performance. In fact, some studies show that static stretching may reduce muscle strength, making you more prone to injury. Other research shows that static stretching’s ability to improve flexibility actually decreases running efficiency—thereby making you run slower. Therefore, static stretching should absolutely NOT be done BEFORE running. Static stretching may be performed AFTER a run to improve joint range of motion and help you relax. However, it’s important to note that no research supports that this prevents injury.
WHAT YOU SHOULD INSTEAD: Dynamic stretching.
Some studies show that dynamic stretching—active movements where joints and muscles go through a full range of motion—increases mobility, thereby decreasing risk of running injuries. Examples of dynamic stretching include exercises such as donkey kicks and whips, leg swings, lunges, and clam shells. Jay Johnson’s Myrtl routine is a popular mobility warm-up to do before hard efforts.
Related: A Proven Guide to Injury Prevention
RUNNING TIP #2: Icing a running injury will help you recover faster.
FACT: Icing a chronic injury may slow healing.
Something hurts, you ice it, right? WRONG (again). Icing is only good for acute, fresh injuries; NOT for chronic running injuries. Ice is beneficial for decreasing pain and swelling for injuries like a sprain where damaged blood vessels swell. Cold constricts the blood vessels. Chronic injuries however, like tendonitis or tendinopathies, don’t have inflammation. Pain is coming from a weak area that hasn’t fully healed. Icing constricts the blood vessels, decreasing blood flow, thereby decreasing the body’s ability to heal itself.
WHAT YOU SHOULD DO INSTEAD: Heat.
Heat allows for our blood vessels to expand, thereby improving circulation, allowing our muscles to relax and bodies to heal damaged tissue. Apply heat for 20 minutes several times a day, or up to once per hour. I like to use a sock filled with rice and heat it in the microwave for about a minute.
RUNNING TIP #3: Foam rolling can prevent injury.
FACT: No studies back that foam rolling prevents injury.
Foam rolling hurts so good so it must be warding off injuries, right? WRONG. There is no substantial evidence that supports foam rolling before or after running prevents injuries.
WHAT YOU SHOULD DO INSTEAD: Foam roll if it makes you feel better.
There is some evidence that foam rolling before you run can increase tissue elasticity, range of motion, and blood flow to help you move better. If you have time before a hard effort, take a couple of minutes to roll the major muscle groups (but avoid the IT bands as research shows this could actually cause an injury). There is little evidence to show that foam rolling after your run will accelerate recovery by stimulating blood flow in affected areas. However, if it feels good and works for you, keep doing it. Foam rolling before or after running will not hurt you.
Related: How to Run Without Getting Hurt
RUNNING TIP #4: Lifting light weights with high reps will make you run longer.
FACT: Low resistance training does not improve running performance.
Research shows that low resistance/high rep training is NOT beneficial for runners as it doesn’t build muscle endurance as previously thought. Running itself does that.
WHAT YOU SHOULD DO INSTEAD: Lift heavy weights.
The fear that you will get bulky if you lift heavy is unfounded. There is something called “concurrent effect” which means that your muscles’ ability to expand is constrained by aerobic activities when done together. Thus, getting bulky isn’t possible when combining weight lifting with running. Studies have shown that heavy resistance strength training enhances running economy—how efficiently your body uses oxygen and energy—by 2 to 8 percent, as well as time trial performance by 2 to 5 percent. That means you could shave a minute or TWO off your 10k time. A recent study examined specifically how weight training affects runners. The findings suggest runners should lift loads at 60 to 80 percent of the heaviest weight they can lift one time for three to six sets of 5-15 reps.
Key exercises include squats, deadlifts, step-ups, lunges, and calf raises. The researchers suggest that runners should have a three-hour break between weight sessions and running; and a day’s recovery after strength training before a high-intensity running session. Aim to do this 2-3 times a week and keep it up for lasting running performance benefits.
RUNNING TIP #5: Rest will fix a running injury.
FACT: Rest alone will not heal a running injury.
If I had a dollar every time someone told me I just needed to rest when I had a running pain, I would be a very rich woman. But rest alone is not always the answer. I would also be a very rich woman if I got paid a dollar every time someone said they took time off to heal an injury only for it to return as soon as they started running again. The problem is that rest may keep you from aggravating the injury and may allow it to heal, but it does not address the issue. Furthermore, treatments like needling, ultrasound, and STEM may accelerate healing, but they also do not address the origin of the issue.
WHAT YOU SHOULD DO INSTEAD: Strengthen the injured area to ward off injury.
To really rid yourself of a running injury, you need to strengthen the area. Most common running injuries are overuse injuries that have weakened soft tissue like muscles and tendons. Eccentric exercises have been proven successful in rehab of overuse injuries as they build the tissue back up by carefully loading the area to lengthen and strengthen. Carefully stressing the hurt area will heal it so that your injury does not come back. Some examples of eccentric exercises include hamstring sliders for hamstring injuries, calf raises for Achilles tendinopathy and plantar fasciitis, and hip drops on a step for quadriceps injuries. You can get a specific exercise by asking a physical therapist or visiting a reputable site for running injuries such as running-physio.com.
There, mother runners, you just earned more time in your day by busting these running myths. Happy running!
PS-I’d love to help you reach your running goals whether it be to run your first 5k or run competitively! Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with questions or check out my Coaching Services page!