You've probably heard several of them numerous times-"be sure to stretch before you run" and "always finish your runs with a cool down"-but is there any real truth to them?
We asked exercise science expert Michele Olson, PhD, FACSM, CSCS, professor of exercise science at Auburn University Montgomery, and creator of the Perfect Legs, Glutes & Abs DVD to help us sort out the facts from fiction of these popular running misconceptions.
Myth: You should always stretch before you run
The Truth: "Static stretching is not the optimal way to warm-up before you run," Olson says. Believe it or not, you could actually strain your muscles with static stretching , and it might even slow you down. Instead, focus on getting oxygen to your muscles and warm them up-literally, Olson recommends. "Start out by walking and trotting: swing your arms; shrug your shoulders and slowly elevate your heart rate for about 10 minutes before you pick up your pace."
That doesn't mean you should skip stretching completely, Olson says. Just make sure to do it after your run, when your muscles are very warm and full of oxygen and nutrients; and then engage in static stretching, focusing on your leg, hip, and low-back muscles.
Myth: You should always do a "cool down" after your run
The Truth: Have you ever finished a long run and all you want to do is sit down but your running buddy insists on a cool down? Good news! It's actually OK to sit and catch your breath after a run, Olson says. The idea behind 'cooling down' (an active way to recover) is that you'll enhance your body's ability to return to its normal, pre-exercise state, but it isn't mandatory. Your increased breathing rate will do the job just fine, Olson says. "Your body is engineered to return its functions back to a normal resting state anyway-and that post-exercise heavy breathing is your body's natural way of restoring oxygen levels, removing heat, and moving out waste products whether you are actively recovering or passively recovering."
Myth: Barefoot shoes are the best footwear for all runners
The Truth: In the U.S. we grow up wearing shoes and our bodies adapt to footwear , Olson says. But the barefoot runners from Kenya, for example, never wear shoes, so their bodies are more adapted to barefoot running. If you aren't used to running sans shoes, immediately switching from cushiony kicks to barefoot runners may not be the best idea. "If you want to try the newer barefoot shoes, be sure to ease into them. Go for short distances and build up slowly," Olson recommends. And while they can offer some benefits for runners, they aren't the best choice for everyone. "If you wear orthotics or have joint problems that require the cushion of a typical running shoe , you may not do well with barefoot shoes," Olson says.
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