No one can deny that running is good exercise. Like any popular form of exercise, running is the subject of many myths and exaggerations. In this installation of running myths debunked, we look at 3 common running myths and help you sort through the misinformation.
MYTH: Long Runs are Bad
This makes sense on the surface. Running long distances three or four times a week puts a huge strain on knees, hips, and ankles. A thoroughly debunked study by cardiologist James O’Keefe helped to spread the myth that long-distance running might be bad for the heart. That may be where the “long runs are bad” myth got started. Evidence suggests this is not true. While running with bad form in bad shoes might cause joint problems, long runs will not damage a healthy person’s heart. If you are healthy enough for distance running, go ahead and do it. There is no evidence of risk to the heart, and little evidence distance running alone is a threat to joints.
MYTH: Running on Soft Surfaces is Better
There are two related myths here. Many people think that running on grass or sand, or on a rubber track might be better for the joints. A long-distance runner or an older person just taking up running might worry that sidewalks and roads are going to beat up their joints.
This does not seem to be true. Research into biomechanics proves that surface hardness doesn’t make much difference at all. Our bodies automatically adjust to keep the forces acting on our joints pretty uniform no matter the surface. People tend to land a little softer on a hard surface and a little harder on a soft surface with more force.
It is true that trails can be good for some runners. Trail running can be good for runners trying to avoid repetitive strain injuries from doing the same running motions time after time. Running on uneven, soft terrain takes the strain off the joints. The runner tends to make many tiny changes to stride which may reduce the odds of a repetitive stress injury. Regular trail running may help runners develop strength and mobility that they won’t develop by running on roads or paved trails.
This information helps to address the other soft surface myth. The myth is that running on a soft, uneven surface is good for the small muscles of the hips, legs, and feet. The theory is simple enough — running on a soft and slightly uneven surface like the grass by the sidewalk, forces the small muscles in hips, legs, and feet to work on keeping your body stable as you run. This, in turn, conditions the muscles and helps you run more effectively on hard surfaces. In short, running on soft surfaces doesn’t do anything special, except to help avoid repetitive strain injuries.
MYTH: Bonking is Bad for You
Casual runners may have never encountered this particular myth, or this bit of running slang. Bonking is the practice of running until your reserves of energy are exhausted and sounds like a bad idea, but running coaches suggest otherwise. The logic offered by running coaches is that marathon runners have to learn how to manage their energy to complete the race. Bonking (sometimes called a depletion run) trains the runner’s body to manage energy reserves more efficiently. In short, bonking is okay if you are training for a marathon, but probably just an unpleasant waste of effort if you are a casual runner training to run further or a little faster.
Avoid trying to completely exhaust your energy reserves, run at a moderate pace and with good form rather than going for distance, and run on the sidewalk if you want to. Research suggests those practices are fine.