Sport Metabolism Testing at the CU Anschutz Health & Wellness Center

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Doing my best Bane impersonation. Might be good for Halloween.

I’m currently training for some road and trail races. Part of that training process is running at different paces to elicit various training effects. Those paces are built around such factors as the aerobic threshold and the lactate or anaerobic threshold. (The definition of those terms are beyond the scope of this blog post. To understand them I suggest you read this from endurance coach Joel Friel.)

Up to this point I’ve used pre-made running plans such as the Run Less, Run Faster and the Hanson’s Marathon and Half-Marathon Method. Those books prescribe paces based on 5k and 10k race finish times. From those race times it’s possible to

I bet its hard to run in that coat.

The Batman villain Bane. I don’t know what his VO2 max is.

predict race finish times of distances up to the half marathon and marathon. Along with race finish times, training paces for speed, tempo, and long distance runs are also derived. I’ve discovered

those training paces, particularly tempo run paces, are too fast for me. Rather than blunder around trying to solve the problem by myself, I sought help.

Testing at Anschutz

A few days ago I visited the sports performance lab at the Colorado University Anschutz Health & Wellness Center in Denver. I underwent the sport metabolism assessment. The test started with a 12-minute warm-up on a treadmill that went from walking to jogging to slow running and running up to a 9:10/mile pace. That was followed by a five-minute rest. (The test conductor explained the whys and hows of the warm-up and rest period. I won’t go into all the information but now I use that process before all my runs. Essentially it enables me to perform better.)

The fun began after the rest period. I ran in two minute intervals. Speed was increased after every two minutes. This process was repeated until I was nearly blue in the face and I couldn’t run anymore. It took about 12 or 14 minutes to hit my limit.

As you see in the pictures, I wore a mask connected by a tube to

Running & bleeding

Running & bleeding

a computer. The computer measured my O2 intake and CO2 expiration. This gas analysis allowed us to see at what paces my aerobic and anaerobic thresholds exist.

Not only did we analyze my breathing, but we also analyzed my blood via a finger prick delivered near the end of each two minute stage. I can’t tell you what joy it is to combine bleeding with intense running…

(For cycling performance testing, the same test is done on a type of stationary bike.)

What did I learn?

I NEED TO SLOOOOW DOWN.

From my speed workouts to my tempo runs to my long runs I should run slower. Running faster isn’t just about running faster — and I knew that! Countless running articles and books preach the idea and I thought I had it figured but I was wrong. The big points and the factors that need improving are these:

Fat metabolism:

I need to spend 80% of my time running for base endurance. In this zone, I use mostly fat for fuel. This works out to a pace of about 11:30/mile. Prior to the test I thought this pace was about 10:00 to 10:30/mile. The good news is that an 11:30 pace is really easy!

Anaerobic Threshold:

My AT occurs at a 7:45 pace. I should be able to maintain that pace potentially for a full marathon. But right now, when I hit my AT I crap out quick! I need to gradually nudge my ability along. If I run at or over my AT (which I have been doing) then I overwhelm my ability to function at that pace. So now my tempo runs are 9:10/mile.

Anaerobic training:

This is speed work and this is where I will improve my VO2 or my ability to utilize oxygen. The pace for this work is 8:40/mile. I had been running my speed work at about 8:00/mile.

What else?

First, the idea that I can get my tempo/race pace down to 7:45/mile is fairly exciting to me. It means I might be able to hit a 3:30 marathon! That’s a powerful motivator for me. All the slow miles I’ll need to put in won’t be done aimlessly.

I’ve said it for the past few years and I’m saying it again: I need to work with a coach. I’m a certified running coach but it’s not something I practice much. As the saying goes, “The lawyer who represents himself in court has a fool for a client.” I need an objective set of eyes on me. A good coach can adjust my training schedule where a book or a pre-made running plan cant. It makes sense to work with someone who coaches runners on a regular basis. I am considering several resources:

Hip Adduction Part II: Solutions to Mobility and Stability

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In Part I of this series, I discussed what hip adduction is and why it’s crucial for good movement, balance and sports performance. In this post I’ll give some ways to self-assess your hip adduction and increase your hip adduction mobility, stability and power.

There are many ways to investigate and train hip adduction. I do not propose to cure what ails you with any of these exercises. If you’re in real pain then you need to see a physician.

(I realize now in watching the videos that I use the term “frontal plane” more than I say “hip adduction.” Please consider the terms interchangeable for the purpose of this post.)

Check your ability to move into hip adduction. Check both right and left sides. How do they compare?

Now check your stability. Can you control your hip adduction?

Try this mobility matrix to gain more hip adduction. You may need more on both sides. The great thing about this matrix is that you’re not only address the hip but you’ll also be mobilizing other joints in concert with the hip.

This movement series is a more aggressive way to challenge hip adduction while at the same time getting an upper body workout.

The next three exercises are a few ways to challenge and develop hip adduction mobility, stability and power. These can be used for athletic training purposes or simply as fun ways to tweak familiar exercises. All sorts of implements can be used:

Hip Adduction: What It Is and Why You Need It – Part I

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All human movement occurs in three planes. Forward/back movement occurs in the saggital plane. Rotational movement happens in the transverse plane. Side-to-side movement take place in the frontal plane. This post is about the very easily overlooked frontal plane movement known as hip adduction.

His left hip is adducting.

His left hip is adducting.

(Adduction’s opposite twin is known as “abduction,” or movement of the limb away from the body’s midline. I have no idea why it was named abduction. I think it should’ve been named “out-duction.”)

Hip adduction. What is it? 

Look at his right hip and  you'll see adduction.  HIs leg has moved toward his body's midline.

Look at his right hip and you’ll see adduction. HIs leg has moved toward his body’s midline.

Adduction is the movement of a limb toward the midline of the body. If we think of the hip then we’re looking at the pelvis and the femur moving toward each other. Hip adduction can happen either with one leg off the ground and the leg moving toward the pelvis (Think of a soccer kick.) or it can happen with the foot on the ground and the pelvis moving toward the leg. (This should happen every time we take a step.)

Hip adduction is vital for everything from walking and running to skiing. Two aspects of hip adduction must be considered. First we must be mobile enough to achieve hip adduction. Equally if not more important, we must be able to control movement into and out of hip adduction.

Why is hip adduction important?

  • Without it, you have problems.

All of our limbs and joints are connected. We are a closely linked system of systems, not just a bunch of individual parts. What happens in one part of the body can strongly influence what happens elsewhere in the body.

The image on the right shows excessive hip adduction during gait. Too much of this may lead to knee or back pain. It's also indicative of poor balance skills.

The image on the right shows excessive hip adduction during gait. Too much of this may lead to knee or back pain. It’s also indicative of poor balance skills.

With that in mind, consequences of poor mobility and control of hip adduction can include back pain, hip pain, knee pain, ankle/foot problems and even shoulder or neck problems. Issues such as IT band syndrome and hip bursitis may be consequences of poor hip adduction skills.

  • Balance

Clients with balance problems often have poor hip adduction abilities. Their hip abductor muscles on the outside of the hip are often tight which limits their ability to move into adduction. This shows poor mobility. Typically, when they try to stand on one foot, the unsupported side drops uncontrolled into adduction which shows poor adduction control.

(Sometimes I hear clients say, “I think it’s just a balance thing,” as if balance were some ephemeral, magical thing that has no relation to muscles, limbs, joints and control of those parts via the nervous system. Balance isn’t “just a thing.” It’s a movement skill that is learnable and unlearnable.)

  • Sports performance

Preparing for a backhand, his left hip undergoes hip adduction.

Preparing for a backhand, his left hip undergoes hip adduction.

Sports performance may suffer due to hip adduction problems. Significant hip adduction skills are required for effective skiing, running,  golf, and tennis to name a few sports. Without good hip adduction skills, an athlete may not be as fast, powerful and effective as he or she may wish.

During the backswing, his right hip undergoes hip adduction. Follow through has hip adduction occurring in his left hip. If a golfer can't adduct on both ends of the swing then there will likely be problems with the shot.

During the backswing, his right hip undergoes hip adduction. Follow through has hip adduction occurring in his left hip. If a golfer can’t adduct on both ends of the swing then there will likely be problems with the shot.

 

In Part II of this post I’ll show not only how to mobilize the hip into adduction but also how to build strength and stability.

 

Intent & Variability: Notes from Frans Bosch

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I’m currently navigating the deep waters of Strength Training and Coordination: An Integrative Approach by sprint coach Frans Bosch. This is some thick reading. Among many things, he discusses two concepts that have grabbed my attention.

Move with intent

I’ve read and written in the past about the idea of internal vs. external movement cues. Anyone who’s golfed, skied, played tennis or performed almost any sort of sporting movement knows that if we focus on how we execute the movement (internally directed) then we’re screwed. Rather, if our focus on accomplishing the task or directed on our environment (externally directed) then we have a good chance of performing well. The way we direct movement is fairly powerful. Bosh makes several statements that have drawn my attention.

  • “If two or more movements share the same intention, then the system marks them as related.”
    This goes to sport specificity. It matters in that if we want a particular exercise to transfer to our sport then the strength movement should share the same intent as the sport movement.
  • “So the body does not think in terms of processes, but in terms of the results of the movement.”
    This happens constantly throughout our day. When we step out of the car, put something on a shelf, lift groceries out of the trunk, etc. we don’t think of how the joints, bones and muscles do the job — we just do the job. Why don’t we take the same approach to our gym exercises?
  • “In coaching, including sport-specific strength coaching, this transfer must be effected as as well as possible. That is why it is a good idea, wherever possible, to add an intention to a strength exercise that has no clear intention of its own.”
    This relates to the first bullet point. I must work to choose the right language and analogies in order to get my clients to use an external focus. Choosing the right language is sometimes very challenging!
  • “If attention is focused outside the body on features related to the movement, then the movement and motor learning processes will be controlled more effectively. Controlling movements effectively is thus a matter of focusing attention externally, and hence using vision effectively (making optimal use of central and peripheral vision).”
    The execution of movement skills suffer if the athlete pays too much attention to how the task is performed. Look at targets. Move toward or away from them.
  • “Directing attention at the result and hence the intention of the movement provides room for the intended organization of the movement…”
    Intent-driven movement with an external focus fits with how we learn motor control.  In contrast, focusing on contracting muscles, joint position, and posture goes against the way in which we learn to move. (Think of how a baby learns to move. No one gives a baby instructions on how to roll, reach, crawl, or stand up. The baby just figures it out.)
  • “Besides providing information for learning, KP [knowledge of performance which is externally directed] information also increases motivation, which may well be the most important driving force in learning.”
    Motivation is TREMENDOUSLY IMPORTANT!

Movement variability

Movement variability is a big deal. (I’ve discussed it here, here and here.) Bosch talks about movement monotony and variability:

  • “However… if the movements during coaching are repeated again and again in an unchanging environment, the learning effect will be less than if the performance and the practice environment keep changing. The link between sensory and motor patterns must be shaken up in order to generate motivation to learn. Sensorimotor chaos is, if you like, the basis for learning. (Schollhorn et al., 2009)”
    Doing the same thing the same way in the same environment gets boring. We don’t learn when we’re bored. By varying the training environment we can avoid boredom, maintain motivation and thus keep learning. Thus, I need to continually change things for my clients and myself.
  • “It [variation] is so important that the reason why periodization models appear to work so well is not the perfect planning of the components in relation to one another, but above all the simple fact that periodization leads to variation in training.
    I’m not sure this is entirely true but it’s an interesting idea. I wish he would provide data to back this up. I hope it’s true but I’d like to see supporting information.
  • “Variation is therefore the first and most important training principle, along with individualization.”
    This makes sense. In the simplest terms, if we never add weight, speed, volume or complexity to an exercise then it is impossible to make progress.
  • “Of course it is training for endurance sports that is at most risk of monotony… However, if the athletes include strength training in their total programmes, variation increases. That is why strength training for endurance athletes yields not only coordinative and perhaps physiological benefits, but also the important benefit of reducing monotony in coaching.”
    I’m glad to hear this. If variation is as vital as Bosch suggests, then gym work is a simple way to provide that variability. I have several questions:

    • What’s the best way to strength train endurance athletes?
    • Endurance sports vary widely from swimming to running to cycling to skiing. Does each discipline require different strategies?
    • Should strength work replace some endurance work?
    • What’s the best way to fit strength work into the endurance athlete’s training schedule?

There’s more to read and digest…

 

Gluttony Season is Almost Here. What’s Your Plan?

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Halloween kicks off several months of partying, gobbling, and guzzling. Very soon, swirling all around you there will be a galaxy of the richest and tastiest food and drink. Not only do you have a list of occasions for feasting, but also the days grow cold and dark. That means you’re less likely to be active and more likely to huddle in your warm, cozy home.

Is it any surprise that you tend to gain unhealthy weight under these conditions?

In all truth, it’s not a done deal that your health and fitness must suffer. You’re a grown-up. You can make good decisions. With some forethought, planning and awareness, you can avoid the slide backwards into feeble flabbiness.

Here’s an idea: Start your New Year’s Resolution early. Put in some thought and effort before you’re beset on all sides by wicked temptations. If you start building just a few healthy habits now, you can do a lot to minimize the usual holiday temptations and pitfalls. With some thinking and a plan in place, you can feel confident and you can avoid the guilt that often comes with holiday over-indulgence. Here are a few examples:

  • Will you exercise 3-5 days per week? For 30 minutes? (Or if you’re not currently exercising, can you start with just one day per week?)
  • Will you eat 1-2 fist-size servings of vegetables at each meal?
  • Will you limit sweets and/or booze to one day a week?
  • Will you talk to a friend or loved one about eating better and exercising together?
  • Will you consider hiring a trainer now instead of in January or February?

If it’s important then why wait?

 

Off-Season Part II: What Does It Look Like?

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As I noted in my prior post, I’ve engaged in a lot of fun and challenging physical activities. Now it’s time to step back a bit and rest.

Effective training is made up of peaks and valleys. Training and rest are flip sides of the same coin. Rest must follow training in order for adaptations and progress to take place. The more extensive, prolonged and/or intense the training, the more rest is needed. Here’s an outline of how I plan to conduct my off-season.  (It’s not technically a full season, btw.)

Short-term plan

Week 1:

  • No running.  None.
  • Only easy bike rides: to/from work, maybe 1 or 2 easy road rides, no mountain biking
  • de-load week from lifting: This is week 4 of a 4-week block. I’ve been lifting 4 days/week; this week will probably be just 2 at the most. I’ll do some variations on the lifts I’ve been doing. Workouts will be short. Less will be more.
  • Prioritize sleep.

    Week 2:

  • To paraphrase a friend’s take on off-season: If I feel like it, I’ll do it. If I don’t feel like it, then I won’t.
  • “It” being anything from road/trail running to road/trail riding to hiking to whatever else there might be.
  • Start a new 4-week lifting block. This will involve hard work but since my riding and running will be reduced, I’ll still be resting to some degree.
  • Continue to prioritize sleep.
  • Weeks 3-4:

  • This will take me to the end of October.
  • Continue lifting
  • Some mountain biking
  • Some trail running
  • No real planned training beyond the lifting schedule
  • Ski season comes up soon.
  • Feasting/gluttony season is also waddling my way.

Beyond one month:

We have a big trip coming up the first week in December. It’s a scuba diving and other-fun-stuff trip to the Caribbean island of Dominica. Since it’ll be a beach gig, the wife and I want to look our best in swimsuits and such.

The real challenge is that my wife and I are in fairly good shape. We don’t need to lose much fat. Our big-picture eating habits are mostly very good. We exercise very regularly and we have a consistent, healthy sleep routine. There aren’t any big, bad habits we need to change. Thus it’s small details we need to mind. Here are some thoughts:

  • We’ve given up booze except for my birthday and Thanksgiving.
  • The only sweets we’ll have are following a significant (minimum 2-hr) physical effort such as a ride, run or strenuous hike.
  • It’s probably a good idea for me to give up peanut butter. It’s probably a little too easy to eat. Further, that it’s ground up makes the calories easier for my body to access than regular nuts.
  • Maybe consider giving up dairy?
  • As December approaches we will likely cut the carbs a good bit, and up the protein, fat and vegetables.
  • It’s very easy during this off-season situation for weight to creep up. With all the training I was doing this summer, I needed to eat a lot and I could eat a lot without any consequence. Now I plan to lower my activity level but my nervous system will still want to eat like I was during the summer. Thus…
  • I’m trying out the Eat This Much app to help me plan meals that correspond to my needs. This helps bring awareness to my current habits so I can tweak them in the right direction.
  • I need someone to take my body comp.
  • The current lifting scheme should help add muscle.
  • I’ll gradually resume significant endurance activity which should contribute to reduction in body fat.
  • Review my Precision Nutrition text to figure out else I need to do.

 

 

Off-Season Part I: Resting is Weird.

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I just finished a 10-mile trail race and I feel good. I’m pleased that my Achilles held up. It seems I took the right approach to addressing the pain in that are.

I am grateful and very happy to have had a lot of fun over the past few months in the great Colorado outdoors. This spring and summer were full of activities including the following:

Besides these events, I put in the time to train for all of them. I’ve also continued lifting though for most of these past few months it’s been at a minimal level, about twice a week though that has changed recently. It’s been a lot of fun and a lot of hard work, but now it’s definitely time to shift gears.

I’m feeling a bit tired and beat-up. I can say without hesitation that it’s time for some rest. Rest is an interesting concept. Most people probably get a little too much rest. Some of us find it difficult to take time off though. Strangely, it can be a challenge to time away from challenging physical work.

Saying, “It’s so difficult to take a break from all this grueling stuff,” sounds loaded with pretentious fake humility. I don’t say this to sound like some sort of supreme, tough-guy super-athlete. There is a strange type of mental state that many of us have that isn’t entirely rational, healthy or wise. Our love our chosen activity(-ies) can verge into irrational dependence and obsession.

Our running, riding, swimming, climbing, skiing, lifting, — our athletic achievements and work — define us. What are we without the sweat, toil and achievement?

We also start to think crazy thoughts. Take just 48-72 hours off from working out and many an exercise aficionado starts to go insane. We think things like,

“All my muscles have shriveled like prunes and I’ve gained 30 lbs of pure fat!”

“My lung capacity is probably that of an emphysema victim!”

I am nothing but crippled, human lard!

That’s just after a few days! Taking several weeks or a whole month away from training can be excruciating!

This is all nonsense crazy-talk. It’s foolish to think we can keep pushing and pushing to no end. Following a serious season of training and/or competition, rest is exactly the activity an athlete needs. It’s easy to accept this fact on an intellectual level. It’s more difficult to accept it emotionally.

Achilles Pain. Time to Take Action!

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I’ve had periodic issues with my left Achilles tendon. I’ve never had trouble with my right Achilles until just lately. I felt a bit of soreness one morning and found some swelling. I knew it probably wouldn’t “work itself out” (I sort of hate when someone says that about something. Nothing “works itself out.” Someone has to put in work in order to see progress.) The upside to having had this problem before is that I know how to address it now.

I believe my trouble may have started because of the long trail run/hike I did a couple of weekends ago in Telluride. It was about 12 miles which was a sizable jump from my prior long run of 7 miles. (Sometimes I’m not smart.)

I have attacked the injury with a fairly conventional strategy of slow and controlled heel raises. Here’s what it looks like:

I’m doing these exercises frequently throughout the day. If I can hit 15 reps then I add weight. Fifteen reps isn’t a magic number by the way. Most importantly I work to a high level of exertion, pretty much to failure.

I’ve run several times since feeling pain and doing the calf raises and I feel fine. That’s a good sign. I probably don’t need to take time off from running.

This exercise is boring and I hate doing it. (Sounds like what a lot of people say about going to the gym.) I have shown a propensity for weakness in my Achilles tendons in the past though. This is exactly the type of thing I need to do and I should be doing continually. It’s easy to skip this stuff because I don’t enjoy it. My body doesn’t  though even though there are potential negative consequences to this course of non-action.

There are lots of things in life like that.

Why Exercise?

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Call it whatever you want: “Exercise,” working-out,” “lifting weights,” “pumping iron” (Does anyone actually use that term without laughing?), “training” — use whatever term you want. It’s difficult and uncomfortable. It takes time and money. You get sweaty, maybe dirty, maybe even injured. Your hands grow callouses and you’re sore the next day. You must do it over and over and over to get anything out of it. Sounds like an irrational pursuit to me. Why in the hell do you do it?!

Why do you exercise?  I mean beyond looks or a health number like weight, blood pressure or glucose count, why do you sweat and pick up heavy things?  (My guess is most of you aren’t being paid to win races, tennis matches, softball games, bodybuilding contests and/or powerlifting meets.)  

What are you truly looking for by way of sweat and toil? How do you want to feel as a result of exercise? Do you want to feel accomplished, confident, sexy, or that you can do anything in life you want to do?  If you want to look a certain way then why? Are you motivated from something inside yourself or are you responding to messages (real or perceived) from outside and from other people?  

Training Both Ends of the Spectrum: Strength & Endurance

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For years I’ve been faced with a question to which I have yet to find the answer. The more I Iook for the answer, the louder I hear the question, and that is this:

Which do I love most, strength training or endurance training? Do I love lifting heavy stuff or spending hours running and biking? It’s as much of a question now as it’s ever been.

The truth is I love both activities. I love to lift weights and I love endurance activity. I can’t choose one. Periodically my interest swings more to one or the other but I have yet to find a way to de-emphasize one and specialize in the other. Why does this matter?

Concurrent training likely causes some conflict at the cellular level in terms of trying to achieve gains. That is, lifting a lot may interfere with endurance adaptations and significant endurance work my inhibit strength, power and muscle-growth adaptations.

From what I’ve come to understand, aerobic conditioning seems to inhibit gains in strength, power and muscular hypertrophy more so than the other way around. As regards endurance performance, carrying around extra muscle mass makes running and biking more difficult—especially when going uphill.

(Want to read more about this? StrengthandConditioning.com has a good discussion of research on the topic titled Should we avoid concurrent training to maximize hypertrophy?)

If nothing else, I often feel like a party of one. Sometimes it seems like I’m the only person who is enthusiastic about both lifting for five reps and under as well as suffering, sweating and panting for over an hour. I don’t meet many others who share my enjoyment of both types of activity.

Because of all of the above, I’m excited about an ebook from Juggernaut Training Systems called the Hybrid Athlete. I’ve been following a sample program from the book for a couple of weeks now and I’m enjoying it. I’m lifting more than I have in a while and at the same time I’m running, biking, and hiking a lot.

There are several different sample programs but it’s not a book of cookie cutter workout templates. The book discusses the underlying mechanisms at work during both strength and endurance training.

Most important, this book discusses recovery and the need to strategize lifting and endurance workouts. For someone trying to train hard on both ends of the exercise spectrum, managing recovery is crucial. Thus, there are ways to train for strength while resting the endurance systems and vice versa such that the athlete won’t be overwhelmed, burned out, and possibly injured. The Hybrid Athlete discusses all of this.

Finally, what makes me respect this work is that the writer, Alex Vada, has walked the walk. He’s competed in Ironman traithlons as well as put up impressive numbers in the power lifts.  He’s relied on academic learning and experience in the gym, on the road, and in the pool to develop this book.

Follow this link to learn more about essentials of the hybrid athlete training.