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Running myths debunked – the ultimate 6-step strategy to become a better runner

If you’re a runner, the chances are you have wondered once or twice:

What is the ultimate secret to becoming a better runner?

Even though genetics plays a role in running performance, it isn’t the only factor – there’s a lot you can actively do to improve your running.

To find out what exactly can you do to become a better runner, we asked researchers, coaches and professional athletes to discuss and debunk six common running myths by providing their expert opinion – backed up by research-based facts – on what else runners need to do besides run.

Based on this pro insight, we created a 6-step strategy to become a better runner to help you take the right steps on your way to running success.

Step 1: Work on your weaknesses

Debunking the myth: “To become a better runner, you should focus on your strengths”

The human body tends to do what is comfortable but staying in your comfort zone will lead to a stagnant state with no progress in sight. Start working on the aspects that feel challenging – that’s where you can make the biggest improvements because the body will react to overload and develop outside its comfort zone.

  • If you hate doing flexibility and you’ve gone out of your way to avoid it, that is probably what you should be doing.
  • If you feel comfortable doing long runs, but you hate getting your heart rate up and feeling the sting of using explosive strength, you should up the intensity and do some high tempo work.

Where to start:

1. Look at what you’re doing on a weekly and monthly basis to spot the elements that are missing from your training.

2. Look at what others are doing and learn from their best practices (but don’t copy blindly – adapt their example to fit your level and serve your purposes).

Step 2: Add variety

Debunking the myth: “Training for a marathon should be all about the long runs”

It’s easy to get caught up with focusing on just one type of running, but adding variety to your running routine, while keeping your training balanced and enjoyable (not to mention staying healthy), is essential to be ready to run at your peak performance on race day.

If you’re training for a marathon, for example, it’s key to make sure your long runs are run at the right effort levels and progressing realistically, but also necessary to build your threshold running, do easy early morning recovery runs, occasionally complete a faster session and include a prep race to check progress.

Add in the weekly conditioning sessions and some cross training and you might just have the magic formula for marathon success, provided you remain fully focused on quality recovery and nutrition at all times.

Where to start:

1. Build your training gradually and adjust when necessary to make your training plan work for you and your lifestyle and fitness.

2. Build your long run by 10 mins a week and make sure the effort is super easy and fully conversational.

3. Keep your easy runs or recovery runs easy.

4. Put in a shorter faster session every couple of weeks to boost leg turn over and even VO2 max within your marathon build up, especially if you’re an experienced runner who runs most days.

Step 3: Do one core workout a week

Debunking the myth: “Core workouts for runners are effective if done several times a week”

Core is key, but you don’t necessarily have to do it every day or for hours on end.

Research suggests that one 30-minute strength session per week produces the same results as two, so instead of increasing frequency, you can invest in duration and intensity of your core workouts.

If you only have a few minutes, focus on quality and opt for integrated core exercises that strengthen the front, back and side of your core at the same time. That way you can make the most of the little time you have.

Where to start:

1. Do integrated core exercises, such as:

  • A plank where your shoulders are stacked over your wrists and you’re either on your knees or toes.
  • A hover (a low version of the plank) with your shoulders stacked above your elbows and your forearms down on the ground.

2. Strengthen the outside of the hip and deep into the back of the hip:

  • Lift and extend one leg when you’re in a hover and float the leg away from the body and and back in.
  • Put a resistance band around your legs in a standing position and pull one leg away from the other.

Step 4: Stretch after running

Debunking the myth: “You should always stretch before running”

The scientific evidence available suggests that stretching before running doesn't reduce injury, but will reduce power.

But, stretching post run may have some benefit for tight muscles. Stretching creates space in the body and as your mobility and range of movement improves, it can affect your running speed.

Where to start:

1. Stretch opposite the workout: if you run in the morning, stretch in the afternoon or evening or vice versa.

2. Focus on stretching these muscle groups to improve range of movement in running:

  • Calf muscles
  • Hip abductors and the groin
  • Hamstrings
  • Quadriceps

Step 5: Warm up before running

Debunking the myth: “You don’t necessarily have to warm up before running – you’ll warm up as you go”

While many runners tend to skip warming up before running, the commonly held belief is that warming up drastically reduces the occurrence of injuries, be it muscle, tendon or bone. Particularly if a person's goal is performance oriented, warming up is essential.

The goal of warming up is to make sure your body is awake on a neuromuscular level and minimize the risk of injuries.

Where to start:

1. You can't go wrong with leg swings, light core exercises and lunges.

2. Try the most general warm up of 20 minutes of easy jogging.

3. For short runs: Include the same warm up exercises as for longer runs and then run five to six miles starting off easy before you progress the pace.

4. Mix things up to find out what works best for you. You can test for example:

  • Incorporating three to four minutes of threshold running at the end of your 20-minute jog and see if that helps to give your heart rate a quick spike and feel like your engine is ready to fire.
  • Doing 15-second sprints and see if that allows your legs to reach a more full range of motion and makes race pace feel like a breeze.

Step 6: Get a second opinion

Debunking the myth: “I'm the best expert when it comes to my running”

In many respects, you are the best expert when it comes to your body and how it reacts to training, but on the flip side, everyone has something to learn when it comes to running – no matter your expertise level.

An outside perspective is vital in challenging what you think is best, and helps you know why you are doing what you are doing. To truly maximize your potential, outside help can be an invaluable resource.

A running coach can help with running form, technique and efficiency and offer different training approaches that can help improve fitness. A coach or other outside advice is also helpful to avoid overtraining and optimize training to see the best results.

Getting an outside opinion doesn’t always mean hiring a coach. The best advice can come from many different people and experts, such as massage therapists, physical therapists and other runners.

Where to start:

1. Join a running group in your area to meet others and hear advice from more experienced runners.

2. Hire a running coach to help you with your form, technique and efficiency.

3. Try online remote running coaching.

4. Find a physical therapist who can spot the muscle weaknesses you have and give you ways to correct those imbalances.

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