Dispelling the Myth that Running Ruins your Knees

By Jonathan Davenport, CSCS, TSAC-F, CCC, CPT
Establishing a controversial opinion on a very popular topic: Running.

If there is one thing I hate hearing, it is hearing that running destroys your knees! For some reason, this myth has infiltrated most peoples thought processes and has become engrained in common practice. However, I see this as potentially harmful and preventing many people from living a higher quality of life that includes something that use to be a way of life for people for centuries prior, the ability to run.

Why is this Myth so Rampant?

The saying, “everything in moderation,” is applicable here. Running is not itself bad or dangerous for your knees; however, running with poor form or inadequate preparation is where things start to pave the way for injury. The vast majority of running injuries are due to overuse, which is completely preventable through means of proper strength and conditioning, progressive overload, as well as, proper recovery from running!

Planning can help to prevent most of these injuries. By utilizing a running program that also addresses strength, an athlete can avoid injury by managing volume and intensity, as well as improving strength to the needed musculature.

Strength Training Provides Valuable Resiliency to Injury

Proper strength training for runners can provide them with the tools needed for running pain free. Strength training will increase neuromuscular coordination and strength providing runners with an increase in resiliency to injury through managing the constant impact of running.

Neuromuscular coordination, the ability of the central nervous system to effectively control and coordinate the contraction of muscle, or muscle groups in order to complete the task at hand.

Training 4 Endurance, “What is Neuromuscular Coordination?”

An increase in neuromuscular coordination will allow the muscles, or muscle groups, specific to running will be much more efficient in the movements demanded by running.

Utilizing Progressive Overload

Before utilizing progressive overload, we need to understand what exactly is progressive overload. Progressive overload is systematically and progressively applying a stimulus that causes a favorable adaptation. Now, one can apply progressive overload by increasing volume, or intensity over time. This is the most basic form of progressive overload; however, we can also apply a favorable stimulus by changing the exercise, making it more demanding by increasing instability or varying tempo (rate of the movement).

Specific to running, progressive overload is most commonly utilized through carefully managing running volume. For example, if you were a new runner, then it would not be wise to just start running without a plan because it would be difficult to find baseline. Instead, runners should perform some form of testing prior to running to properly calculate a baseline.

Learn More: Progressive Overload: The Basics of Progressing Strength & Conditioning

Running Tests to Gauge a Baseline

If you’re a runner looking to get a baseline level of your fitness, there are several common tests that you can do. Here are a few examples:

  1. VO2 Max Test: This test is a measure of maximal aerobic capacity, or the maximum amount of oxygen your body can consume during exercise. It is considered the most accurate way to measure a person’s cardiovascular fitness level. During a VO2 max test, you typically run or cycle on a treadmill or stationary bike while wearing a mask that measures the amount of oxygen you consume and the amount of carbon dioxide you produce. This information is used to calculate your VO2 max, which is expressed in milliliters of oxygen per kilogram of body weight per minute (ml/kg/min). The test usually involves progressively increasing the intensity of the exercise until the participant reaches exhaustion, which typically takes between 8 to 12 minutes.
  2. The Cooper Test: This test provides an estimate of maximal aerobic capacity (VO2 max) by having you run as far as possible in 12 minutes. To do this test, warm up for 10-15 minutes, then run as far as you can in 12 minutes. Your distance covered in meters is then used to estimate your VO2 max.
  3. 5K Time Trial: This is a classic running test that measures your speed and endurance. To do this test, run a 5K as fast as you can on a flat course. Time yourself with a stopwatch or use a GPS watch to record your time.
  4. The Beep Test: Also known as the Shuttle Run Test, this test measures your aerobic capacity and endurance. To do this test, you run back and forth between two cones that are 20 meters apart. You have to reach the other side before the beep sounds. The time between the beeps gets shorter as the test progresses, so you have to keep up the pace.
  5. 1.5 Mile Time Trial: This test measures your speed and endurance over a shorter distance. To do this test, warm up for 10-15 minutes, then run 1.5 miles as fast as you can on a flat course (track or treadmill-0%). Time yourself with a stopwatch or use a GPS watch to record your time.

By doing these tests and recording your results, you can get a baseline level of your fitness and track your progress over time by repeating the test to see if your training is working or not. I’d recommend retesting every 2-3 months.


In summary, running is not bad for your knees. In fact, it can have numerous benefits for your overall health and wellbeing. While knee injuries can occur in any physical activity, the risk can be minimized through proper training and injury prevention strategies. So, if you enjoy running, don’t let the myth of knee damage hold you back – lace up your shoes and hit the pavement with confidence!