Athletic Therapy, Biomechanics, Chronic Pain, Conditioning, Wellness

Is Running Bad For You?

Out of all the fitness rumors and fads, the statement “running isn’t good for you” is one that I actually understand. At least, I understand why it’s come up time and time again (though this rumor may have been started by someone forced to run in a PE class somewhere (me.. Circa 2007)…).

There’s a few things I will add to this as we go, but in short.. No. Running is not bad for you.

Using running as your only form of cross training has the potential to do you harm, yes.

Running without a planned out strategy (see above) will likely end in burn out and pain.

Running with uncorrected muscle imbalances will indeed lead to injury. Most runners I meet are in this situation!!

However- running at its purest form is an excellent and age old way to get cardio work in. The truth is- as with pretty much everything else- if you correct any postural imbalances you have, run appropriately for your goals, and do appropriate mobility/strength training alongside your running program.. There is no way running should cause you issue, or impact your health/performance negatively.

Injuries and pain arise in running when our biomechanics aren’t on our side. Just the same as they do in our rides, or other training. With running, the most common imbalances to see are decreased hip stability, poor foot activation (we will talk about footwear in a second), and poor breathing technique.

When our hips aren’t stable, this means that other muscles around the hips will attempt to take over pelvic stability. With this we see a tightening of the hamstrings, glutes, and hip flexors. There also tends to be an increase in knee pain (think runner’s knee). On top of this, most of us buy into the fad of either highly cushioned and supportive shoes OR jump right into minimalist/barefoot trends.

Neither are necessarily great. Shoes are designed to protect our feet- but in this day and age, they are marketed to do much more. The painful (often literally) truth behind this is that the more “supportive” and cushioned a shoe is advertised as, the more likely it is to just turn off your foot’s natural activation and cause postural issues elsewhere.

But what about my flat feet, you ask? Well.. with a little bit of effort you can correct most foot postural issues (like flat feet) yourself, for free. This doesn’t mean that you should be ditching all footwear and running barefoot, either. While running in minimalist style footwear is something I typically will suggest for some people- it is only after we’ve gone through a rigorous postural correction program to find and fix any imbalances they have, and then slowly worked them down to a minimalist level of footwear for their training (both running, and otherwise). If you choose to go cold turkey on cushioned footwear- you will likely be extremely sore, and want to never use your calves again.

When we start running, it’s important to take time to do some hip stability work (I’ve given many of these moves in previous articles.. Look for clamshells, hip circuits, balance work, side bridges!), foot reactivation (think toe curls with a towel, spreading the toes out as wide as you can (harder than you think!), and utilizing products like toe spreaders in your down time.

As humans – it’s important for us to maintain cardio, and running offers us a great way to build in that training. It is of course not the only option for cardio, and needs to be done with intelligent preparation. If you have doubts as to you running technique, many gyms/therapy clinics offer gait analysis to runners to help them spot and correct major postural dysfunction. 

If you’re new to running, start with low distance/intensity and build up to tolerance. Unless your goals include marathons, running a few days a week is all most of us need in our training program.  

Want to know if your running form is up to snuff? Book a consult with one of our certified Athletic Therapists or Kinesiologists this winter, and we can help you figure it all out.