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Common Running Misconceptions

We’ve leant on the expertise of our newest recruit, Matt Crear – an Accredited Exercise Physiologist, to give us some key points on keeping your body moving well during running training. Take it away, Matt! 

Over my career as an Exercise Physiologist, I’ve had the pleasure of working with plenty of individuals to help in the management of their injuries and aid in safely returning to, or managing a running load. My experiences have varied from the every-other-day jogger to sport-specific athletes and elite athletes. Across these different types of runners, I often note common misconceptions and errors which can greatly improve the outcome of rehab or have prevented the injury entirely. These are the top most common talking points I come across.

My pain eases within 5 minutes of starting my run, I don’t think I have an injury.”

In some instances, the result of the body warming up after the first few minutes of running, and noticing your pain easing, doesn’t actually mean anything. Instead, it’s simply your body adjusting and overcoming muscular soreness or tightness during your early run strides. But, it is important to keep in mind that this can also be a key indicator of an injury. 

A classic characteristic of suffering from tendinopathy (which can occur at the patella, achilles and glute), is pain easing during warm-up. As an example, think about when you rise from bed in the morning. The first few steps are painful, but before you know it, the pain settles. Tendinopathy occurs when a tendon is exposed to a load greater than it can handle. This can occur either over a long or short period of time. In this situation, the best course of action would be to seek professional advice from an Exercise Physiologist or Physiotherapist. It may also be beneficial to implement a strengthening program to assist with increasing the load tolerance of said tendon and help eliminate pain.

“I missed my run this week, I’ll do double next week to make up for it.”

The human body, and specifically its soft tissue, is amazing at adapting to training loads when applied in a progressive nature. As an example, if you’re running between 10-15km’s per week over a long period of time (think months), your body begins to adapt to this amount of training. It is likely at this point that you will stop experiencing muscle soreness post-session. On the other hand, if you miss a session or two and decide to ‘make up for it’ the following week by increasing your total distance to 20-25km’s, your body may experience an ‘overload’. 

This is quite similar to our previous point where you are exposing your body / tissue / tendons to a load (more distance) that is greater than what it can handle. In the short term, this may trigger irritation that causes pain which may ease. The long term consequences of exposing your body to greater load can become more harmful and ultimately result in an overload injury. This may cause you to have to cease from running until the injury has settled or can be managed safely under the guidance of an Exercise Physiologist.

Ensure your running program follows a progressive load protocol. If you anticipate a period where you can’t meet your plan, discuss this with your coach or an appropriate professional. Additionally, if you’ve been through this particular situation and are still currently experiencing pain or detriment to your performance, we highly recommend seeking advice from our practitioners.

“I don’t do strength exercise because it will make me bulkier and slower.”

There is a common misconception that strength exercise will make your muscles bigger and bulkier, negatively affecting your running performance. This is false. In fact, evidence has proven that strength exercise interventions can significantly improve the performance of endurance (running) athletes. 

In the Exercise Physiology field, we refer to the concept of ‘running ergonomics’ – also known as the ability to perform a movement, in this case running, with the least amount of energy. In the running space, this concept means being able to run faster or further with the same amount of energy output. To capitalise on this ‘running ergonomic’ concept, it is highly recommended to have your biomechanics (the way you move) analyse. From here, an individualised exercise program is designed for your specific needs. Strength exercise is generally recommended 1-2x per week, depending on your goals, ability and running schedule.

“I saw Stewie McSweyn break another record on the weekend, I want to change my running style to be like him.”

Let me start by saying that Stewie isn’t the most ideal role model when it comes to running technique. Secondly, he is an amazing example of how we all perform movement differently. There is no one technique that we all must follow. It’s important to understand that each and every one of us has different body requirements when it comes to running or strength programs. 

The best thing you can do to reach your full potential is to take the time and effort to understand how your body moves and how to maximise your performance based on this understanding. 

The key underlying point to all of these misconceptions is to ensure that you’re listening to your body all the time. Don’t ignore the alarms when they go off. Your body will tell you if something isn’t right – it may be pain, fatigue or decreases in performance. If left for long periods of time, these alarms can turn into more harmful issues. By addressing them quickly and promptly they can be nothing but a small hurdle in your running career!

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