5 Myths Runners Need To Know

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5 Myths Runners Need To Know

Written by Mitchell Robinson

This series focuses on a number of myths we often hear at Sycamore Health relating to physiotherapy and exercise. Our goal is not that you become discouraged from exercising, but rather that you train safely, effectively and often!

There are a lot of misconceptions when it comes to heavy strength training and running. We know there’s strong evidence that resistance training has a myriad of health benefits and reduces the risk of overuse injury in athletes by approximately 50% (2). Despite strong evidence of strength trainings utility for runners, many simply avoid lifting heavy things and instead just run more! This eries on running myths has been adapted from a blog post by Prof. Rich Willy which can be found here.  

"Jumping into heavy resistance training without proper preparation can cause injury."

Myth 1: Strength Training Should be High-Rep Low Load

This misconception seems to make sense right? High-rep, low-load training mimics the demands of running which itself utilises high step counts and low (bodyweight) loads. However, on closer examination it falls flat. The belief that light-weight, high-repetition training improves running performance is simply not supported by the research – it doesn’t improve endurance running performance (Mikkola et al., 2011).

Instead, it seems that the opposite is true!

One should incorporate slow, heavy resistance training as this seems to best improve tendon stiffness, which improves running economy and performance, and reduces your chance of injury. Low weight, high repetition training doesn’t significantly increase tendon stiffness at all. (Bohm et al., 2011)

So, should runners simply launch into a heavy resistance training cycle to improve their performance? Well, no.

Jumping into heavy resistance training, without proper preparation, can cause injury. An endurance athlete should complete a short preparatory cycle of moderate resistance training before moving to very heavy weights!

Myth 2: Strength Training Will Make Me Run Slower

Another prevalent misconception among runners is that strength training will make you run slower. The theory seems to be that strength training will increase muscle size, which will increase total body weight, which will result in a decrease in running performance.

However, it seems this isn’t true!

Rønnestad & Mujika (2013) have shown that total body mass doesn’t increase when strength training is added into an endurance running program. Far from strength training being an impediment to running performance, it seems to increase running economy and running performance.

Bettina and colleagues (2016) incorporated six weeks of heavy resistance training in a group of moderately trained runners. The group improved their 5km race times by almost 4%. In contrast, the control group - who only did endurance training - saw no changes.

So, should runners include strength training in their programs? Absolutely!

Myth 3: The Glutes are the Most Important Muscles

The glutes are definitely important for running – there’s no doubt about that! However, it seems that the calf and thigh muscles are actually more important for supporting the body during running. In fact, for endurance-type running the calf muscles supply approximately 50% of the total torque needed for propulsion.

The ability to push off with our calves declines approximately 31% between the ages of 20 and 60 years of age. Interestingly, this reduced ability of the calf complex to push-off as we age is a major contributor to the shorter stride lengths observed in older runners, as well as partially accounting for the shuffling pattern observed in the elderly.

We take all this to mean that a comprehensive heavy resistance training program that targets the calf, thigh and hip muscles is appropriate, with the calf complex demanding more attention in the masters runner. Lastly, it’s also been suggested that maintaining running volume and intensity as we age can help reduce the age-related decline in ankle push-off during running.

Myth 4: Strength Training Will Fix Poor Running Technique

It’s commonly believed that the key to “fixing” poor running technique is to incorporate certain special exercises in the gym. Knee valgus (when the knee collapses inwards towards the midline – see picture), which can be controlled by the gluteal muscles, is sometimes observed in runners. When this knee valgus is “excessive” (whatever that means), a runner’s chance of certain injuries (e.g., patellofemoral pain, iliotibial pain) increases. Sometimes physiotherapists will attempt to reduce knee valgus by training the aforementioned gluteal muscles in an effort to reduce hip adduction and therefore reduce knee valgus.

Fair enough, right?

Well, unfortunately there’s no evidence to suggest that strengthening the gluteal muscles will reduce hip adduction during running. That’s right, there’s little evidence that weak gluteals are associated with hip adduction during running. Some studies suggest that a structured running program that aims to retrain a runners gait can reduce hip adduction, but the focus of these programs is not on strengthening glutes, but rather on improving the coordination of the hip during running.

Myth 5: Running Need to do "Functional" Exercises

In general, there are two schools of thought when it comes to training for sport in the weights room. The first school sees a gym environment as a place to train capacities that a person may utilise in a sports-specific context. The second school of thought sees a gym environment as a place to mimic the movement patterns of their chosen sport in an attempt to be “representative” of their needs and/or be more “functional”.

We're in the first camp. The gym environment is best used to increase capacities, and sport-specific training and performance can utilise those capacities. When it comes to training for running, doing multi-joint, “functional” exercises that mimic the movement patterns of running does not seem to transfer to running.

Moreover, single joint exercises can be superior for achieving running-relevant levels of muscle forces. A good example of this can be seen with single leg squats. These are a great exercise to strengthen the hip and thigh muscles. However, a squat minimally loads the calf complex and minimally moves the ankle through ranges that mimic those utilised in running. Therefore, a single leg calf raise could be used to isolate the calf musculature and enable the runner to work through a full range of motion at the ankle. As the Achilles tendon can be exposed to forces 6-8x bodyweight, heavy resistance exercises here seems appropriate.

To summarise, a good heavy resistance training program that utilises both multi-joint and single-joint exercises seems appropriate to ensure suitable adaptations in the muscles and tendons.

If you’re unsure where to start or how to maximise your running performance, contact us. Physiotherapists are specialists in exercise and would love to help you take control of your health. We can even address any underlying or lingering injuries or pain you may have.

References and Further Reading:

Almonroeder, T., Willson, J. D., & Kernozek, T. W. (2013). The Effect of Foot Strike Pattern on Achilles Tendon Load During Running. Annals of Biomedical Engineering, 41(8), 1758-1766. doi: 10.1007/s10439-013-0819-1

Andrew, R., Keith, D., Thomas, W. K., Naghmeh, G., & Christina, O. (2017). Achilles Tendon Loading During Heel-Raising and -Lowering Exercises. Journal of Athletic Training, 52(2), 89-96. doi: 10.4085/1062-6050-52.1.04

Baggaley, M., Noehren, B., Clasey, J. L., Shapiro, R., & Pohl, M. B. (2015). Frontal plane kinematics of the hip during running: Are they related to hip anatomy and strength? Gait & Posture, 42(4), 505-510. doi: 10.1016/j.gaitpost.2015.07.064

Bettina, K., Liesbeth, S., Mark, C., Eneko, L.-Z., & Fernando, N. (2016). The Effects of Sport-Specific Maximal Strength and Conditioning Training on Critical Velocity, Anaerobic Running Distance, and 5-km Race Performance. International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance, 11(1), 80-85. doi: 10.1123/ijspp.2014-0559

Bohm, S., Mersmann, F., & Arampatzis, A. (2015). Human tendon adaptation in response to mechanical loading: a systematic review and meta-analysis of exercise intervention studies on healthy adults. Sports Medicine - Open, 1(1), 7. doi: 10.1186/s40798-015-0009-9

Devita, P., Fellin, R. E., Seay, J. F., Ip, E., Stavro, N., & Messier, S. P. (2016). The Relationships between Age and Running Biomechanics. Med Sci Sports Exerc, 48(1), 98-106. doi: 10.1249/mss.0000000000000744

Hamner, S. R., Seth, A., & Delp, S. L. (2010). Muscle contributions to propulsion and support during running. J Biomech, 43(14), 2709-2716. doi: 10.1016/j.jbiomech.2010.06.025

Kulas, A. S., Hortobágyi, T., & DeVita, P. (2012). Trunk position modulates anterior cruciate ligament forces and strains during a single-leg squat. Clinical Biomechanics, 27(1), 16-21. doi: 10.1016/j.clinbiomech.2011.07.009

Lauersen, J. B., Bertelsen, D. M., & Andersen, L. B. (2014). The effectiveness of exercise interventions to prevent sports injuries: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 48(11), 871.

Mikkola, J., Vesterinen, V., Taipale, R., Capostagno, B., Hakkinen, K., & Nummela, A. (2011). Effect of resistance training regimens on treadmill running and neuromuscular performance in recreational endurance runners. J Sports Sci, 29(13), 1359-1371. doi: 10.1080/02640414.2011.589467

Neal, B. S., Barton, C. J., Gallie, R., O’Halloran, P., & Morrissey, D. (2016). Runners with patellofemoral pain have altered biomechanics which targeted interventions can modify: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Gait & Posture, 45, 69-82. doi: 10.1016/j.gaitpost.2015.11.018

Reed, F., Brian, N., Joseph, H., & Irene, D. (2010). Competitive Female Runners With a History of Iliotibial Band Syndrome Demonstrate Atypical Hip and Knee Kinematics. Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy, 40(2), 52-58. doi: 10.2519/jospt.2010.3028

Richard, W. W., & Irene, S. D. (2011). The Effect of a Hip-Strengthening Program on Mechanics During Running and During a Single-Leg Squat. Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy, 41(9), 625-632. doi: 10.2519/jospt.2011.3470

Richard, W. W., Lisa, H., Andrew, H., Holly, J., & John, D. W. (2016). Patellofemoral Joint and Achilles Tendon Loads During Overground and Treadmill Running. Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy, 46(8), 664-672. doi: 10.2519/jospt.2016.6494

Rønnestad, B. R., & Mujika, I. (2013). Optimizing strength training for running and cycling endurance performance: A review. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, 24(4), 603-612. doi: 10.1111/sms.12104

Paquette, M. R., Devita, P., & Williams, D. S. B., 3rd. (2018). Biomechanical Implications of Training Volume and Intensity in Aging Runners. Med Sci Sports Exerc, 50(3), 510-515. doi: 10.1249/mss.0000000000001452

Willy, R. W., Bigelow, M. A., Kolesar, A., Willson, J. D., & Thomas, J. S. (2017). Knee contact forces and lower extremity support moments during running in young individuals post-partial meniscectomy. Knee Surgery, Sports Traumatology, Arthroscopy, 25(1), 115-122. doi: 10.1007/s00167-016-4143-9

Willy, R. W., Scholz, J. P., & Davis, I. S. (2012). Mirror gait retraining for the treatment of patellofemoral pain in female runners. Clinical Biomechanics, 27(10), 1045-1051. doi: 10.1016/j.clinbiomech.2012.07.011

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