Common Misconceptions in Running.

1. Stretching improves performance
Reality- Nope, it impairs it. Numerous studies have shown that it decreases performance from sprints to endurance. How? Well that would take a whole post but it’s mostly through neruomuscular factors, such as decreased muscle recruitment, and decreased stiffness of the system, resulting in less elastic energy return when running.

1a. Flexibility helps improve efficiency .
Reality- Nope, it decreases it. The more flexible you are, the worse your running economy is. Why? Because of it’s impact on the stretch shortening cycle, and the previously mentioned decrease in elastic energy return.

2. Stretching prevents muscle soreness/injury.
Reality- Studies have shown that stretching after a workout does not help prevent delayed onset muscle soreness. There also has been no link between stretching and injury prevention.

3. Distance running strengthens your legs.
Reality- Running will either keep absolute strength the same or decrease it.

4. You don’t need to do strength work for the legs.
Reality- Most runners who do strength work avoid the legs and focu on arms and core. The problem is that you want to work the legs. Strength training (or sprint or plyo training) increases performance via increased running economy and anaerobic capacity. It increases the muscle fiber pool that can be recruited. And if done, with no bulk.

4a. You will increase muscle mass if you weight train.
Reality- Only if you do it wrongly and even then you have to be an athlete who is more FT. Most runners won’t have enough extra protein laying around to build more muscle. Most runners are in a negative protein balance because of all the repair that has to occur with running.

5. VO2max is the be all end all.
Reality- Nope. As a test, it’s almost useless in my opinion. This is real controversial so i’ll abstain from more for now.

6. Lactate causes fatigue.
Reality- It corresponds with fatigue but does not cause it. In fact it is a mechanism to help delay fatigue.

7. Muscle Cramps are caused by electrolyte imbalances.
Reality- This one I got from the guys. Go read there explanation and you’ll find out that muscle cramps do not come from electrolyte problems. So much for eating bananas for potassium or downing gatorade.

8. Fatigue is due to one specific variable.
Reality- It’s an incredibly complex thing that has it’s roots in the brain. The brain controls all. But we are very very very far from knowing how fatigue works.

9. Everyone needs to move up in distance.
Reality- Bekele and Geb and those guys aren’t 47sec 400 guys. They run 49ish tops according to Renato Canova. What’s that mean. Well, we have guys like Rupp who can do that, yet there’s no way he can stay with those guys over 5k-10k. Pure speed is not the exact answer. It’s specific endurance. Geb, Bekele can hold much closer to their max 400m speed or even max 100m speed than their western constituents.

10. Core strength is incredibly important
Reality- It’s important, but not to the degree that most have given it. There have been only a handful of studies done comparing endurance performance with core training and that without it and so far there has been no improved performance from core training. That doesn’t mean that is definitive, or that it isn’t needed. It just means that 5-10min most days is more than enough, no need for 30-40min core sessions.

10a. Do core work on unstable platforms.
Reality- Don’t use a bosu ball or a balance ball. It decreases the recruitment of the muscles used. It engages the antagonist at the same time as the agonist, instead of teaching it to relax. And a whole lot of other stuff.

11. Putting your hands above your head and staying up after a race/workout helps.
There’s a reason you want to bend over or lay down. Your body is telling you it doesn’t want to work against gravity pumping blood. So, next time someone tells you to get up after a race tell them to go away.

I’m sure there are more but that’s it off the top of my head. I’ll try and expand on some of these topics at some time.

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    1. Anonymous on February 6, 2009 at 6:17 pm

      1a. so you are trying to say that we should become as inflexible as possible because that will increase our running economy. Of course you don’t want to be hyper-flexible but you also want to be able to move through a comfortable range of motion. Balance ROM/flexibility (whatever you want to call it) with strength and you’ll improve running economy. Where is that study?

    2. stevemagness on February 6, 2009 at 7:24 pm

      Range of motion and static flexibility aren’t directly related.

      If you can go through the range of motion for running with no problems, why do you need to increase it?

      I’m saying that you need to be able to be flexible enough to go through the range of motion that is needed in running. Being too flexible does harm. I’d say the only reason for static stretching for increased ROM would be for older runners who have lost significant ROM.

      And as I said earlier, static flexibility doesn’t have a whole lot to do with dynamic range of motion.

      For the studies, go on and search. Here are the titles of two studies that you can start with:

      The association between flexibility and running economy in sub-elite male distance runners.

      Sit-and-reach flexibility and running economy of men and women collegiate distance runners.

    3. Anonymous on February 6, 2009 at 8:19 pm

      I think you should mention static stretching does nothing to increase running performance and I even question it’s benefit for increasing ROM.

      Just from my personal experience it was uncomfortable and didn’t make me any more flexible.

      When I started doing active isolated stretching after about a month it really increased my ROM and made a static stretch like bending over and touching my toes comfortable. No strain on the hamstring.

      I agree being to flexible does harm as would being too inflexible. The key is to find the balance between strength, flexibility, coordination, muscular recruitment etc. Renato even says during the fundamental period you must improve all these qualities.

      As far as warming up for a race/workout do you include some dynamic exercises that not only put you through your ROM but also help to recruit muscles? How about some light jumping exercises?

      I think the whole issue with some of these scientific studies is that they only focus on one aspect of training and don’t take into consideration a global approach.

      They come out and say stretching is bad but only look at static stretching and not something more dynamic.

      Even better if they would compare runners who do both ROM work and strength/plyometrics and compare them to runners who only do ROM, others who only do Strength/plyometrics and one group who does neither and see who gets the most benefit. None of this necessarily has to be in the hour before you run, but as a seperate session/sessions.

      Also in a recent interview Rupp said he PR’ed in the 400 running 53. So not quite the 49s speed of Geb/Bekele. More telling is Geb’s 1500M pr of 3:31 versus Rupp’s 3:42 or so.

      Really enjoy reading your blog, and have learned a lot form it. Just trying to start up a discussion.

    4. stevemagness on February 6, 2009 at 8:35 pm

      Thanks for the comments. Some excellent points!

      I should have made the distinction. Static stretching is what decreases performance.

      There have been many studies on dynamic stretching or using dynamic drills that have shown improved performance when used as a warm up.

      Agreed on studies. A lot of times, I HATE using scientific studies because they are short term and don’t look at things globally.

      In fact, in terms of distance running, I think almost all of the studies out there are useless. They try and isolate variables to increase one specific component and forget about that variables global impact. In fact, I think I wrote a blog post on that very subject.

      Stretching studies are slightly different because they are looking at an easily controlled variable on an outcome, performance. So, it’s easy to test if someone will sprint faster if he stretches or not. And that type of study has value to us athletes.

      As for Rupp, I was going off of what Alberto Salazar said he could run a 400m in. He told me a while back he thought 50 point. Since most distance runners never run a 400m, I don’t always like taking official PR’s.

      But your point on the 1500m is exactly right. If Geb can only run 49sec, yet he can run 3:31, why can Rupp who can run let’s say 50-51, only manage 11sec slower? The problem doesn’t seem to be 400m speed so much as it does to be specific endurance. Meaning how close to that speed, the athlete can run over 1,500m for example. Why is Geb able to run closer to his full speed over 1,500m? AND how come he can close closer to his full 400m speed?

      Really interesting questions to ponder. If you or anyone else wants to take a stab, go for it. Feel free to tear down any of my theories. Nothing is proven, but I think discussion on these types of topics can lead to some new/different ideas.

    5. Anonymous on February 6, 2009 at 10:37 pm

      “I should have made the distinction. Static stretching is what decreases performance.”

      Many of your other points need further distinction as well my friend…

    6. stevemagness on February 6, 2009 at 11:04 pm

      I know they do. Thus why I said, I’d expand on them later. It’s a quick list meant to bring up some common myths.

    7. Anonymous on February 7, 2009 at 12:07 am

      As far as Geb/Bekele and their ability to finish it’s probably a combination of talent, years of training, and specific training for that event.

      In a championship race they can close well because they are running under their specific threshold for that event for most of the race and they also must have also have the ability to produce a lot of lactate and thus have a lot of anaerobic power late in the race.

      I think Renato mentioned that Stefano Baldini before the 2004 Olympic Marathon was able to produce very low lactate levels at marathon pace but also very high levels 10-12mmol, can’t quite remember, when he ran a 1200 after his specific test. So he had achieved a high specific threshold but also the ability to produce lactate so he had an incredible finish to that race.

      I suppose that Geb/Bekele have the same ability in the 10K. They have achieved a level of 10K specific endurance but they also have the ability to produce high levels of lactate. At least I’d have to imagine that running 52 at the end of a 10K would produce high levels but I have never tested that myself.

      I know I’ve read of Geb doing workouts like 5X2K for specific endurance and 10X400 at 54-55 which is something completely different but may have contributed to his ability to finish.

      He used to say I just need to work on my speed, never was specific about it, but I imagine he meant sprinting.

      Doesn’t Ethiopia have one coach called the Doctor or something like that. Maybe all we need to do is go study them for a year to figure it all out.

    8. Anonymous on February 9, 2009 at 6:57 am

      Steve, whats your stance on static stretching with say an injured or extremely tight calf muscle for example?

    9. stevemagness on February 9, 2009 at 8:18 pm

      I think you are right on in regards to the lactate dynamics of africans. I’ll be doing a series of articles pertaining to this so I’ll wait and express my views then.

      The question with static stretching that you need to ask is “Can that group of muscles go through the range of motion needed for your dynamic activity?”

      Most of the cases, the answer is yes, even if you are a little tight. Static flexibility does not limit the range of motion needed for running in most runners.

      However, with injuries or chronic tightness in the calf for example, the range of motion needed for running might be effected. A tight calf that leads to achilles pain might limit the amount of ankle dorsi and plantar flexion that is needed when running.

      Therefore, static stretching to aid that would help.

    10. Anonymous on February 11, 2009 at 4:51 pm

      looking forward to the articles on the lactate dynamics of africans. really interested in what you have to say on this topic.

    11. Anonymous on December 15, 2012 at 3:22 am

      #7, what about hyponatremia? Isn't it well documented (for example Ironman triathletes) that taking salt for a race that is over an extended period of time can reduce muscle craps associated with sodium and water imbalance?

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