Running is one of the first movements you learn as a kid (you know, once you nail down crawling, standing, and walking). You fall into the motion pretty naturally, and then learn the basics of stretching, form, workouts, and more from gym teachers and coaches as you grow up. And for the most part, nothing’s really changed since you first ran. Or so you thought. Sure, most of the recommendations we’ve been told have remained steadfast over the years, but there are some old beliefs that can be put to rest.
We uncovered the myths and consulted with Matt Fitzgerald, author of 80/20 Running, running and triathlon coach, and sports nutritionist. Whether you’re an experienced endurance athlete or newbie, take note of the parts of your running regimen that may be hurting your performance, upping your risk for injury, slowing you down, or are just plain useless.
You have to static stretch before a run
Is your pre-run warmup so hardwired that you reflexively hug one arm across your chest, do a standing knee pull, and bend over into a double hamstring stretch before you even walk out the door? You’re not alone. But you should know these are all useless stretches, and research published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found static stretching can actually decrease endurance performance. Though not all traditional static stretches—which involve holding a muscle in a lengthened position, like the toe touch—are bad for runners. “They’re an effective way to increase range of motion where it’s lacking,” Fitzgerald says. “But doing static stretches before a run is a bad idea because it triggers a protective response in your neuromuscular system that temporarily weakens your muscles and reduces performance.” Stick to a dynamic warmup like this. And when you do stretch, stick to these 10 moves.
Moderate intensity is the best intensity
Most runners keep their pace at moderate intensity—meaning a pace that’s somewhat difficult, but it’s not impossible to carry on a conversation. But recent science has shown that it’s best to avoid this “in-between” intensity zone for the most part because it’s just as stressful as high-intensity running, and not as beneficial. One study published in the Frontiers in Physiology found polarized training—a combination of high-volume, high-intensity, and threshold training—has a greater positive impact on runners’ endurance, VO2 max, running economy, and peak velocity and power. “Runners get the best results when they do about 20% of their training at high intensity (above 90% of their maximum heart rate) and most of the rest at low intensity (60-75% of maximum heart rate),” Fitzgerald adds.
There’s one perfect running form
“Some running coaches believe there is only one correct way to run, and they encourage runners to practice this ideal running form, but it’s a waste of time,” Fitzgerald says. Studies have repeatedly shown that runners become less efficient when they try to run like someone else. In one study, published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, researchers found beginner runners naturally develop their running gait as they become more economical runners, and research from the Journal of Sports Sciences demonstrates that when running form evolves on its own—and runners train without thinking about their form—they become more efficient, and their stride and oxygen cost don’t suffer as a result.
You need a cool down lap
A nice, slow jog after a hard run may feel good, but it doesn’t really provide you with any functional benefit. Research published in the Australian Journal of Physiotherapy found warmups help reduce delayed onset muscle soreness, but cool downs, well, don’t do much beside cool you down. And another study published in the Journal of Human Kinetics found little to no difference when it came to recovery for athletes who passively and actively cool down. “I wouldn’t go so far as to call cooling down a waste of time, because it pads the overall duration of a workout in a gentle way,” Fitzgerald says, “but when you’re pressed for time, it’s the first thing that can go.”
You need to follow the latest trends in sneaker technology
There are hundreds of running shoes on the market, each with its own level of support for pronation, your arches, impact, and mileage. Vibram FiveFingers and minimalistic shoes had their time in the spotlight, only to be replaced by maximalist shoes. But quite frankly, it doesn’t matter what fad is in—all that matters is what’s comfortable to you, according to a review from biomechanics expert Benno Nigg. In the review, Nigg and his team sifted through decades of research on the relationship between different kinds of shoes and the rates of injury among the people who wear them. These studies confirmed pronation doesn’t really matter, and that trying to fix it with a running shoe can do more harm than good. Nigg’s own 2001 study suggests simply choosing the shoe that feels best to you. In that study, soldiers tested different shoe inserts, and chose the one they liked best based on comfort. Four months later, those soldiers were faring much better than the control group, who wore standard-issue shoes.