Four running myths debunked

mobility running form Jun 14, 2021

When it comes to running with proper form, increasing your speed, or avoiding injury, there are plenty of running myths out there. This only makes the activity of running more difficult and can set you up for failure in the long run.

Here are some of the most common running myths I hear, almost daily. My alternative suggestions are subtle but will make a massive difference to your overall running form and enjoyment of the sport.

For tips and cues like these, sign up to my 10 Running Cues Program

1 Running myth: Lean forward”


A very common running myth amongst many coaches is to talk about leaning forward when you run. You might hear them say, "Gently lean forward from the ankles". Many believe that energy can only be built and released this way. However, this is not entirely true. 

At Innerunner, we prefer to encourage athletes to use a forward shift, rather than a lean. A forward shift implies that you shift your weight forward as a stacked, connected unit. Leaning implies that you lean forward like the Leaning Tower of Pisa. We want a shift rather than a lean.

Leaning forward makes your toes press down harder into the ground which can cause the soles of your feet (plantar fascia) to tighten. Your heels may also lift off the floor and your calves will tighten too, which could put pressure on your Achilles tendon.

Rather than leaning, try this:

Stand tall with your arms at your side. Now slowly "shift" forward. Your head, shoulders and hips should remain vertically stacked - one on top of the other.

This time, you're not initiating the movement from your ankles but rather from your hips. Hips shift forward, shoulders stay stacked over your hips, head over your shoulders. You should feel as though you're shifting ahead of your ankles.

If you place your awareness into your feet, you should notice that they stay relaxed on the floor. Your feet should feel "engaged" with the floor, relaxed but active with near even weight distribution between your forefoot and rear foot (slightly more weight in your forefoot is okay).

Please be aware that your hips should not get ahead of your shoulders, thrusting your hips forward will likely place stress on your lower back. Shift forward as a connected unit, you don't need much shift for it to be effective.

Also see my blog on my your center of mass is so important to consider when running. 

2 Running myth: Lift your knees”


Often, during a warm-up, athletes are encouraged to run on the spot with high knees. While this warm-up exercise is good for activating the glutes and core, and slowly getting the heart rate up, it’s not a sustainable running style. Why? Because it wastes energy over a longer distance.

Yes, it might work for sprinters or short distances, but the key with longer distances is to focus all your running effort to moving efficiently forward and not waste unnecessary energy on going up and down.

Rather than lifting your knees too high, try this:

Imagine that your knees are gently pulled forward with a string that runs parallel to the ground, rather than being lifted like a puppet as you run. As you practice this, your stride should open-up, and hips should feel relaxed as you gently “float” your knees forward, rather than lifting them up and down.

3 Running myth: Drive with your arms”


While sprinters might look impressive when they use their arms to gain momentum over a short distance, this doesn’t mean you should do it whilst out for a relaxed run or jog. Even if you’re completing a speed session, your arms should be relaxed at all times. 

This is because your drive in running should come from your hips and not your arms. The aim is to relax your arms and shoulders and let them come along for the ride, rather than trying to control them.

Rather than driving your arms up and down, try this:

Imagine yourself pulling up a pair of shorts, and once your arms reach waist height, let them sit there, making sure to keep your elbows soft and shoulders relaxed.

How high you choose to carry your hands is up to you. Some elite runners will run with their arms nearly straight and hands at their hips, some elites have extremely high arm carry with elbows very bent, it’s all up to you. 

However, your elbows should be behind you and your hands should never go very far in front of your torso.

I talk more about simple walking and running cues in my blog here

4 Running myth: Increase cadence”


It’s common for runners to be told to increase their cadence to improve running economy, efficiency and to decrease ground contact forces. Therefore, they’re encouraged to either measure cadence or to try increase cadence. This has been validated by several studies too. But here at Innerunner, we don’t measure cadence or think about it too often.

A normal cadence for most runners is probably between 168 and 174 strides per minute for standard training paces. This may go up with faster running and in more elite runners. For example, many elite runners’ racing cadence can be as high as 190 strides per minute, but is often slower at low speeds. In a recent study, Professor Dan Lieberman and others found that around 170 strides per minute might be optimal.

So, when you measure your cadence, realize that 169 to 190 is considered normal and it’s virtually impossible to measure your exact cadence or compare it to anyone else. It needs to feel right for your stage of training.

Another factor to consider is that elite marathon runners are generally tiny compared to most amateur runners.

I am 6’1 and 180lbs, but the 1996 Olympic Games champion Josia Thugwane was 5’2 and 99lbs. I had the pleasure of meeting and treating Josia and its hard to believe how tiny he was. It’s ludicrous to suggest he and I should have a similar cadence and now 3 decades later, even more irrelevant. Cadence is greatly influenced by different shoes, terrain, running speed, flexibility, strength, neuromuscular control, fatigue. All of these can vary from run to run.

Questions on cadence and form

From my perspective, modifying and measuring cadence is not my preferred approach. Most people will increase their cadence by lifting their feet up quicker (not putting them down earlier). This effectively shortens their stride and decreases glute drive. Increasingly runners don’t seem to drive enough from the hips, use their glutes to generate power or push off their toes enough.

By bending your toe as you push off late in your stride, you develop medial arch foot strength and hip strength and flexibility. Increasing cadence causes almost every runner to prematurely pick their feet up off the ground without finishing the toe off and hip drive.

It can be argued that a light, quick turnover is the way forward and science backs this up, but there are so many runners still injured and frustrated after working on increasing their cadence. Remember a cadence of 168 steps per minute might be just fine for you.

Humans also learn faster by doing things slowly and well and letting things like speed and power come later. In the world of music, a great guitarist can play fast but they learn and practice slowly. Trying to play the guitar quickly is a sure-fire way of sounding terrible, hurting your fingers and not learning. These parallels can be drawn in all endeavors of consequence like martial arts, combat, calligraphy, sport, the list is endless.

Why would running improve because it’s done at a more rapid tempo than your nervous system is ready for? The speed and timing of a stride comes with slower, more deliberate practice and repetition, you don’t have to chase the speed. There are many productive aspects to work on in running and I think taking more bad steps per minute is not the most efficient, nor productive use of your time and effort.

Rather than focusing on your cadence, try this:

When you run, zone in on how you feel. Good running should always feel fluid, rhythmical and within yourself. If you’re feeling those three things, then your cadence will be just fine for your current fitness, running speed, weight, age, flexibility, fatigue levels and terrain.

Not sure whether to take short or long strides? I cover all this in my 10 Running Cues Program.

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