Be Wary Of Research-Based Running Advice

What?! But I thought your running coach and triathlon coach certifications are based in science due to evidence-based study information?

Before you pass this article off as click-bait and hit the delete button, please allow myself to explain myself.

Game of Telephone

While actual running studies no doubt have quite a bit of detail in regard to the subjects, testing protocol, etc… what often ends up happening when this information gets passed along is that the specifics get left out and all that is left is ‘running.’

It’s a lot like the game of telephone – you know the game… where one person says something and after it’s been passed along to multiple people, the end result resembles almost nothing to the original word or phrase.

For example, let’s say that a study has 20 participants (collegiate track sprinters) who after doing three heavy sets of squats till failure followed by 20 plyometrics for two weeks in a row, the athletes show a 5% improvement (i.e, reduction) in their 100M sprint time. Given the amazing results of the study, it gets quite a bit of traction and soon enough, blogs and other media sources pounce on it. The result, “Heavy squats followed by high jumps improve running performance by 5%!” See what I’m getting at?

Go To The Source

Based on the above fictitious article title, you’d likely be lacing up your shoes to go hit the gym for some heavy squats!

Understandably, a blog post author or magazine will want to get the most readers possible for their content. I get this. That said, in an attempt to do so, article headlines and titles are on purpose quite general and enticing. Conversely, a narrow and technical title will likely not draw the same number of views. I mean really, would you read an article with the title, “2.3% Improvement In Oxidative Phosphorylation In 10KM Runners Due To Increased Spinal Counter-Rotation?” Aside from the title making no sense, you’d likely rather do burpees till your legs fell off than read this article!

But I digress… if an article that you’re reading mentions the study that it refers to, and the associated link – go check it out! While I know that studies are often hard to understand and digest due to the technical matter, you should at least be able to get the gist of the article to understand if it is applicable to you.

We Should Know

During the creation of the UESCA Running Coach Certification, I poured over literally thousands of studies. Occasionally, the origin of my search for a study was an article in a magazine or a major publication like the Wall Street Journal or the New York Times.

The majority of the time, the title of an article was quite misleading in respect to the information in the study that it mentioned.

Running Is A VERY Generic Term

Part of the problem when saying that a particular thing improves or hurts running performance is that the word ‘running’ is extremely generic.

For example, the training methodologies that make a world class track sprinter are likely the polar opposite of that of a world class ultrarunner… and vice versa. I remember reading an interview with Usain Bolt’s coach where he recalls that someone asked him how fast Usain could run a mile. The coach’s answer was, “I have no idea. I don’t think he’s ever run that far!”

To put all distances of running under the same umbrella as it pertains to training methodologies obviously makes no sense. However, as so often is the case, this is what happens. Performance gains are very specific to the distance, as well as the subject. As such, it’s near impossible to say with any certainty that a particular training methodology will work for you, let alone runners in general.

As noted above, while a 100M dash and a 100 mile ultramarathon are both running races, that is about all they have in common. A good analogy would be addition and linear algebra. Yes, both are math but that’s about it.

Summary

Whether it be an article (or headline) about training programs, biomechanics, nutrition, or pretty much any area under the umbrella of running, know that you MUST go deeper than just the article and headline to understand if it is applicable to you.


Rick Prince is the founder/director of United Endurance Sports Coaching Academy (UESCA), a science-based endurance sports education company. UESCA educates and certifies running and triathlon coaches (cycling and ultrarunning coming soon!) worldwide on a 100% online platform.

Click here to download the UESCA Triathlon Course Overview/Syllabus

Click here to download the UESCA Running Course Overview/Syllabus

Rick Prince

Rick Prince

Founder/Director of United Endurance Sports Coaching Academy (UESCA).

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