by Colin Aina
There are many "norms” in the fitness and athletic world that have had some impressive staying power even with data to the contrary. We get our info from many unlikely and unreliable sources these days..like social media. Some myths, wives tales and taboos continue to remain timeless. In the past 15 years of my career, I've heard downright lies being spread from people whom we hold in high esteem. Fitness articles, doctors, coaches, and colleagues of mine are all to blame. I'm guilty of disseminating advice that has proven to be incorrect. Here's one that refuses to die.
Running is bad for your joints/knees.
Being someone who has been a runner their entire life, I have no residual, running related musculoskeletal issues.... No meniscus damage, no cranky hips when I wake up in the morning, nada. This is not to say that others that shared the same running lifestyle as me don't have these issues. Misery loves company and our natural inclination as a social being is to suffer with others...which is why people tend to train in groups. This misery is no better exemplified when Johnny-weekend-warrior signs up for a charity 5k to benefit, let's say... bringing "awareness" to something (don't get me started on awareness), and then pesters his friend to join him for motivation. I say this because I've literally had frantic people come to me with, "My friend wants me to do this stupid 5k with them...I haven't run in 7 years and the race is on Saturday (it's currently Wednesday!) how do I get ready for it?!!" You've heard me reference preparedness in this blog (http://www.212healthandperformance.com/212blogfull/2016/8/2/proper-preparation-part-one?rq=proper%20pre)
There has been a huge boom in these 5k's over the past few years and I'm willing to bet that this has correlated with an increase in injuries of underprepared runners. Most of these injuries are highly, highly preventable in that proper warmup, training protocol and technique will mean the difference between feeling successful as you cross the finish line, or having ibuprofen for breakfast for a month.
I refute the "Running is bad.." statement with, "BAD RUNNING IS BAD!!" Running with bad form, not doing a proper warmup, running slow for long distances, running without proper mobility needed to do so, AND not doing speed work can contribute to injury and most people are guilty of most, if not all of these. I've had many people come to me wanting advice about how to alleviate running related pain and most of the time all they need to do is complete a simple warmup, a proper warmup. See what I mean here:
If you’ve spent the entire day sitting or you just got out of bed, you need to open up your hips get the joints mobilized. Completing the above movement prep drills will make a very big difference but you also need to address the lower leg as well and here is how to do that:
I constantly hear running advice advising people to "start off slow", "take it easy". The bad thing about this is the fact that when you run slower, the risk of knee and hip related issues increases substantially. No, I do not know the precise level of increase. I do however, have years of experience being on many track teams having literally hundreds of teammates throughout the years as well as being a track coach since I was 21. Distance runners simply have more foot and knee problems than sprinters do. The days of LSD (Long slow distance) as the ultimate way to train for a distance running event are over. There have been many studies completed over the last 40 years to support this.
In my first year of college coaching, we had a quarter-miler whose previous coach's main mode of training for him was to have him do mileage and very little speed-work. During his time with this coach, his time never improved since high school. All that changed when the head coach and I gave him the appropriate coaching he needed, and all but nixed the distance mileage. He ended up becoming conference champion in the event. To this day, I hear of coaches having their athletes of all sports run miles and miles to get them "in shape" when it actually makes them slower...this infuriates me. Yes, you need mileage to acquire the volume needed to sustain the distance of your race, but incorporating strength in the form of speed work, will make you run faster and easier when it comes time for your event. The proper dosage and timing of incorporating speed and distance is important too. In the competitive running and track and field world, this is a no brainer.
Let's back this up with some basic running physics shall we?! ....
When we run at our absolute slowest (walking), our foot places the ground with a locked knee and with a heel-to-toe strike (landing with a stiff knee joint and ankle joint). When that foot strikes, bodyweight remains on the trailing foot until the front foot becomes flat as it passes through the strike of the ground. Both feet are on the ground simultaneously as toe-off of the rear and heel-strike of the front occurs. Running is not like this in that both feet are off the ground at the same time and the landing and takeoff is done all on the lead foot. If you run with a good amount of heel-strike, which is common with a slower pace, there is a significant amount of ankle and knee joint stiffness upon landing as opposed to when running at a faster pace or on an incline. The answer to remedy these impact forces, which create injuries, is to get a shoe with more midsole cushioning. There is evidence to the contrary. As soon as these over-cushioned shoes hit the market about 10 years ago, I was like "oh no...here we go". I immediately knew that these would allow people with poor running mechanics to run farther, hence Band Aid-ing their problems instead of correcting them (this could be beneficial to someone training for that one off 5k..hmm). These types of shoes allow one to get away with bad form.
In 2015, Baltich, Maurer and Nigg et al noted that "A stiffer limb would result in a “harder” landing (higher impact forces), counteracting any influence of the shoe cushioning on impact absorption. This has been supported by previous studies that have demonstrated increased leg or joint stiffness when running or hopping on a softer surface or a shoe with a thicker midsole". check out the research here- https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4405580/ .
Yes, running can be bad...just like anything that isn't done properly. Doing what's appropriate (read above!!) will yield a significantly reduced injury risk.