3 Training Myths Runners Still Follow in 2023

running myths

Until around 20 years ago, most running knowledge came from a limited selection of print books and hearsay among training partners. The Internet has largely changed the way runners look for training information, and the results have been mixed. On one hand, athletes have access to more training tips and data than ever before. On the other, misinformation has spread at a far faster rate, and many myths now take the place of evidence-based training principles.

Running myths are born when athletes look for simple answers to complex training questions. When these myths are repeated enough, they eventually become training gospel. Even some of the fastest runners I’ve ever met have still sworn by myths that were absolutely holding back their training.

If you’ve hit a plateau in progress, it may be because your training tenets are faulty anecdotes you’ve read on commercial running sites or heard from other runners. Running is a sport that seems simple on the surface, but there is a staggering amount of depth beneath every stride you take. With the wealth of information available to you in 2023, you should always dig beneath the surface and find out the how and why of what you’re doing in training.

Here are three myths still circulating in the running community that may be holding back your progress:

1. You should put your legs up against a wall after a run to “flush out” lactic acid

After races, chances are you’ve seen a group of people laying on their backs with their feet above their heads, pressing against a wall. I have been told several times to do this pose following hard workouts multiple times throughout my running career. The reasoning I’ve heard usually has to do with reducing lactic acid, which still is mislabeled and misunderstood by much of the running community.

When you run, lactic acid – which is produced by the body both during rest and during workouts – is broken down into lactate, which becomes an important fuel source for movement. But excess lactate does not tend to linger after workouts. In fact, lactate levels usually return to normal an hour after exercise. And as mentioned, your body will still be producing lactic acid, even when you’re resting. So the idea that lactic acid can somehow be “flushed out” is completely wrong from the jump.

More accurately, what runners are likely trying to achieve with their inverted poses is increased circulation. Oxygen-rich blood, after all, helps to facilitate the breakdown of lactate ions. But the benefits of this process aren’t because lactate is harmful. With circulation comes increased movement of nutrients, fluids, and growth factors, which can enhance recovery. Oxygen interacting with lactate is just something that happens during the process of your body transitioning from working out to resting. 

On top of all the flawed science, there’s another reason why you shouldn’t be putting your feet up against the wall following workouts – it’s really ineffective. Of all the ways you can increase circulation following a run, staying still in an unnatural static pose is arguably at the bottom of the list. In fact, many studies have demonstrated that active recovery following workouts is better at clearing lactate than passive recovery. Again, it’s important to note that lactate clearance isn’t ultimately the goal – it’s simply a process that’s associated with increased oxygen delivery to muscles. 

So don’t waste the valuable recovery hour you have following runs just staying still. Instead, jog to cool down, refuel, and perform a variety of light stretches.

2. Treadmills provide no terrain variety or wind resistance, so you should run on a 1% incline

On paper, this theory makes sense. When you run on the roads, you’re seeing a natural incline variation, even in relatively flat areas. Running on a treadmill removes all of these variables. So a common piece of advice in the running community is to turn the incline on treadmills up to 1% to better simulate paces on the roads. 

There are a few problems with this theory. For starters, altering only one variable still won’t come close to mimicking the variety of road running. In fact, if you run your entire workout at only a 1% incline, you’ve still removed any and all diversity from your run. 

Second, there’s something very unnatural about running at a constant incline, even if it’s as low as 1%. There are little to no scenarios you’ll run like this beyond a treadmill. While the injury potential is still relatively low on runs like these, it’s higher than necessary for the small payoff you’re getting in return. 

And finally, there’s nothing wrong with utilizing the faster leg turnover you get on a treadmill at a 0% incline. For the right runners, treadmills can be a fantastic tool for cadence work and stride efficiency. This is one of my favorite tools for body mapping your stride for added efficiency.

3. Once a week is the universal optimal frequency for a long run

The weekly long run has been such a staple for distance runners that nearly everyone in the sport has been told at some point that it’s necessary. The benefits of long runs are nearly endless – increased glycogen storage capacity, structural strengthening, and mental toughness are just a few. But the idea that you should do one long run every week is completely arbitrary and based on no specific research.

Every runner is different, and when dealing with a stimulus as powerful as a long run, you need to factor in your own profile as an athlete. How quickly do you recover from higher mileage?  Are you lacking in stamina or aerobic power? What energy systems are you hoping to improve in your current training block? All of these questions and more should play a role in determining your long run frequency. 

Long runs can, depending on their intensity, be among the most demanding runs in your training plan. Recovery following long-duration efforts varies significantly among runners, with some evidence that years of training can lead to abnormal mitochondria and increased collagen deposits in tissue. Many runners, even experienced ones, thus struggle to recover from long runs, meaning their frequency should be reduced accordingly. On the other extreme, some runners handle long runs seamlessly and can benefit from multiple long runs per week. 

When determining your own long run frequency, ask yourself what you’re trying to achieve when you hit the roads for your extended efforts. For my own marathon training, I would hone in on specificity and crank my long runs every 12-20 days, followed by adequate recovery. That allowed for very race-specific training, which always kept me sharp. During base blocks for other distances, however, I would often focus more on total mileage, substituting three medium-long runs on Monday, Thursday, and Sunday for a singular 2-hour-plus effort. 

Your own long-run frequency should depend on numerous factors, which a coach can help you identify and explore. But while simply doing “the weekly long run” for the sake of it may help you improve, that doesn’t mean it will help you reach your full potential.