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Marathon physiotherapist blog series: Training myth busters

Over the past fifteen years of my physiotherapy experience I have seen far too many runners coming in to see me for physiotherapy for running injuries that could have been prevented if they had known some basic facts about marathon training. So whether you are running your first marathon or planning on smashing your PB are my top six marathon training myth busters…

1) Its all about mileage: FALSE

This is number one for a reason. The quality of your runs are far more important than the distance you are achieving. The most efficient way of training is shorter sessions of interval running combined with some hill running. Interval training is very efficient because it puts most strain on your heart and lungs, getting you fitter quicker. On top of this focusing on mileage is good way of ending up needing physiotherapy because of the high repetition impact it entails.

2) I should just pick a programme off the internet and stick to it: FALSE

Sure, a programme off the internet might give you some guidance but almost all of them are far too heavy on mileage and don’t take into consideration the essential components of cross training, recovery and rest. Not to mention your work and personal commitments. You need to create a personalised programme that realistically fits into your weekly routine. See a specialist physio or strength and conditioning coach if you are not sure how.

3) Barefoot running is better for running perfomance and can prevent injury: FALSE

We are all built differently and have different training backgrounds. So barefoot running might work for some people but it most certainly does not for others! I have treated lots of running injuries from people who have switched to barefoot running because they thought it would make them run better and/or prevent or treat an injury.

In general, but this is a vague generalization, not a rule, the more experienced the runner the more barefoot running might suit them. If you are an experienced runner with no current or previous injuriesthen I suggest you only do it under the guidance of a running physio or coach who can examine your biomechanics and advise on running technique accordingly. They can also look at the shoes you are running in and advise you on footwear that could act as a stepping stone between fully supportive shoes and barefoot shoes.

If you are a beginner or intermediate runner please don;t switch to barefoot running and stick to supportive running shoes. The key components being a slightly raised and cushioned heel, a supportive heel cup and foot arch and flexibility over the big toe joint.

3) I will get strong just by running so I don’t need to do other training: FALSE

You should work on leg and core strength starting at least six months before the marathon. This includes doing things like squats, single knee bends, split squats and lunges. You also need to do gentle cross training to enhance recovery – walking, cycling and swimming are particularly good options.

4) The best way to train core strength is doing sit ups and crunches: FALSE

These exercises put a lot of strain though your back and don’t work the deep stability muscles. Exercises working your deep core muscles in pelvic neutral lying on a foam roller, the superman exercise or planking are good alternatives. Pilates is ideal as long as you have a great instructor.

5) Stretching before running will help prevent injury: FALSE

Stretching before training can actually increase your chances of injury so don’t do it.

However, after running make sure you stretch all the major muscle groups including the quads (front of thigh) hamstrings (back of thigh) gluts (buttocks) and calf muscles.

Warming up however is absolutely essential and should never be skipped.

6) The best thing for recovery is to drink protein shakes: FALSE

The best thing for recovery is sleep, rest and nutrition.  Sleep and rest are vital for repair and you should consider them an essential part of training.

Protein shakes have their place but they are not the be all and end all. See my previous blog for more on protein shakes.

A well balanced diet with complex carbohydrates, lean protein, iron and plenty of fruit and vegetables for vitamins/minerals will maximise energy levels and ensure optimal repair. Avoid processed foods and alcohol to minimise inflammation and of course, don’t smoke!

7) You can get away with skipping a few training sessons: FALSE

The body deconditions far more quickly than it takes to get stronger and fitter. So if you take a few days or weeks off you need to slowly build up to where you left off slowly. Far too  many runners have come for physiotherapy for injuries as a result of taking a break and then returning suddenly to training. One particular type of structure is particularly unhappy when it is rested and then suddenly returned to exercise and that is tendons. The most common tendon problems in runners are Achilles tendinopathies(AKA Achilles tendinitis) and a patella tendinopathies of the knee (AKA knee tendinitis.)

My next blog will give my top marathon training exercises and I will continue this theme over the next few weeks alongside my ski physio series.

In the meantime I look forward to your questions and comments.

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