Running Injuries and Running Performance: A Podcast and an Article

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Injury and performance exist on a sliding scale. At one end we are completely broken down, hurt, and unable run/bike/swim/lift/fight/hike/etc. At the other end we’re performing at our peak. Probably every active person has been injured and I’m willing to bet that every active person would like to perform their very best. This post is for runners in either or both camps.

Runners are often injured. According to a review of literature in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, rates of lower-leg injury ranged from 19.4% to 79.3% among study subjects. The magic questions are 1)Why do we get injured? and 2) How do we overcome injuries?

I think it stands to reason that if we hurt while running then very likely it’s the way we run that’s the problem. Running requires complex coordination among many parts and systems. It is mind boggling to try and dissect running form, find the problems and then either teach or learn new, helpful techniques.

Meanwhile, if we’re not injured and we’re able to run, then we probably want to know how to run faster and more efficiently. How do we we achieve these goals? These questions aren’t easily answered. With all that in mind, I found two resources that may offer some very valuable information on these issues.

The first is the Physio Edge Podcast 049, Running From Injury with Dr. Rich Willy. At about the 20:30 mark Dr. Willy gives some good external cues to help promote running form that may help with IT band pain. The cues involve the knees and the hips:

  1. If the knees cave in too much while running: He puts brightly colored tape on the outside He has the patient run on a treadmill facing a mirror. He tells the patient to push the tape out toward the walls.
  2. If the hips are adducting too much: The runner runs on a treadmill facing a mirror with the waistband of their shorts clearly visible. He instructs the runner to keep the pelvis level by keeping their waistband level.

Listen to the podcast to get all the details.

Next is an article from the always informative Alex Hutchinson at the Sweat Science column at Runner’s WorldWhat Makes a Running Stride Efficient? Hutchinson discusses a study from Loughborough University in England that looked at biomechanical factors

“For running economy, three variables stood out: vertical oscillation (measured by the up-and-down motion of the pelvis; less is better); how bent your knee is when your foot hits the ground (more bent is better); and braking (also measured by looking at the motion of your pelvis; less slowdown as your foot hits the ground is better).

“Overall, these three variables explained 39.4 percent of the individual differences in running economy—and the vast majority of that (27.7 percent) came from vertical oscillation.

“For running performance, four variables stood out: braking (as above); the angle of the shin when your foot hits the ground (closer to vertical is better); duty factor (basically a measure of how long your foot stays on the ground relative to your overall stride; quicker is better); and the forward lean of your trunk (more upright is better).

Overall, these four variables explained 30.5 percent of individual variation in race times, with shin angle (10 percent) and braking (9.9 percent) as the biggest contributors.”

Something I always appreciate about Hutchinson’s writing is that he lays out some of the errors in thinking that we might encounter when we assume that employing new running techniques will automatically equal better, faster, pain-free running. Are these characteristics of efficient runners chickens or eggs?

“For example, you could imagine a study that compared elite runners to ‘regular’ runners and found that the elite tend to have more highly defined calf muscles. It doesn’t necessarily follow that doing a whole bunch of hardcore calf exercises will make you faster. It’s more likely that a whole lot of training, combined with some genetics, has given elites more defined calves. Fixating on getting better calf muscles would be distraction that’s unlikely to help you, and takes away from things that really would make you faster, like running more.”

That said, (and he mentions this) it may well investigating new strategies based on these findings. From my experience in helping people with their running, aiming to achieve these biomechanical outcomes can help. (This post offers a few cues that I’ve found useful to use with runners.)

Ideally, you should be videoed while running.Trying to adjust your gait without knowing how you’re currently running might be near impossible. Video is a very powerful tool when it comes to making adjustments to sporting techniques and I highly recommend it.

Definitely read the article and listen to the podcast if you think you need help with your running or if you’re a coach who works with runners. And if doing it yourself isn’t getting you the results you want then I strongly suggest you employ some sort of running coach to help.

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?  

Colfax Marathon & The Gathering Place: There’s Still Time to Donate

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The Colfax Marathon, marathon relay, half-marathon and 10-miler (my race) are all coming up this Sunday, May 15. I’m trained up and ready for a fun dash from Lakewood to beautiful Denver City Park. I’m feeling good, strong and injury-free. The weather should be cloudy and cool which is good for a 200 lb. runner such as myself.

I’ve been raising money for a great organization called The Gathering Place which is a drop-in day shelter for homeless women, kids and the transgender community. I’m very happy to be helping the TGP do their wonderful work and I’m grateful to everyone who has donated thus far. Thus far my friends and family have donated $2343.10. I would love to hit $2500 (or more) by Sunday. If you haven’t donated or if you’ve already donated and you still have some spare money sitting around, then you still have time. Follow this link if you’d like to donate.

Sleep: Think You Can Do Without It?

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This is the cutting edge of health!

A recent TED Talk has grabbed my attention. The topic is sleep. (I’ve written before about this vastly under-appreciated component of health here and here.) The presenter is Dr. Kirk Parsley. Dr. Parsley is a former Navy Seal. He’s been a member of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine since 2006 and served as Naval Special Warfare’s expert on sleep medicine.  In other words, he’s familiar with lack of sleep and its effects. 

Among other things, he discusses our cultural view of sleep which is one that I’ve observed as well. It seems that a lot of us recognize the necessity of good eating and vigorous exercise as part of getting in top-notch shape but sleep seems to be a footnote. It’s often dismissed without much thought. We look at sleep as an obstacle to productivity. It’s like a leisure activity done only by babies and the weak. The productive go-getters hardly sleep–they work!

I’ve had a lot of people say something along the line of, “Oh well, I can’t ever get to bed that early,” or “Yeah… I know… I just wind up staying up late.” Some people seem to think they don’t need sleep.  “I feel fine with five hours of sleep,” or something like that. Here, from the National Institutes of Health, are a few of the negative health effects of lack of sleep:

In the past 10 or more years, research has overturned the dogma that sleep loss has no health effects, apart from daytime sleepiness. The studies discussed in this section suggest that sleep loss (less than 7 hours per night) may have wide-ranging effects on the cardiovascular, endocrine, immune, and nervous systems, including the following:

  • Obesity in adults and children
  • Diabetes and impaired glucose tolerance
  • Cardiovascular disease and hypertension
  • Anxiety symptoms
  • Depressed mood
  • Alcohol use

The evidence suggests strongly that if you’re not sleeping enough then you’re not performing as well as you’d like and your health is suffering. In my totally anecdotal experience, the days when I get to bed early and sleep in for a little while results in my feeling phenomenal. I’m going to try and do that more often. Here’s the TED talk:

Worth Reading: What Makes a Great Personal Trainer? Recovery, Pronation, Bringing Up Your Weak Spots

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What makes a great trainer?

The Personal Training Development Center (PTDC) has a lot of useful, informative articles for personal trainers.  Are Personal Trainers Missing the Point is a recent piece with which I agree. The key observation is this:

“The ability to correctly coach exercises is slowly becoming a lost art in the training world, despite that it’s the most fundamental component of being a personal trainer/coach.”

The article advocates for trainers to teach the squat, deadlift, bench press, standing press and pull-up.  (I would ad the push-up to the list.) It’s also suggested that trainers learn to teach regressions and progressions of these exercises. These exercises are the essentials. They have been and still are the basic building blocks of effective exercise programs and they offer the most return on investment of a client’s training time. Read the article to learn three steps to becoming a better coach.

Running recovery

Alex Hutchinson writes for Runner’s World and the Running Times. He recently wrote an article called the Science of Recovery.  He briefly discusses six methods: antioxidants, jogging (as during a cool down), ice bath, massage, cryosauna and compression garments. Anyone who trains hard–runner or not–may find the article interesting.

Pronation

Pete Larson at Runblogger.com gives us Do You Pronate? A Shoe Fitting Tale. Here, he describes overhearing a conversation between a confused shoe store customer and the mis-informed employee who tries to educate her on pronation. Contrary to what many of us believe, pronation is not a dire evil problem to be avoided at all costs. Larson says it well:

 “The reality is that everybody pronates, and pronation is a completely normal movement… We might vary in how much we pronate, but asking someone if they pronate is like asking them if they breathe. I’d actually be much more concerned if the customer had revealed that no, she doesn’t pronate. At all. That would be worrisome.”

If you’re a runner then I highly suggest you learn about the realities of pronation.

Supplemental strength

I love strength training. I love all the subtleties and ins & outs of getting stronger. One area that I’m learning about is supplemental work (aka accessory work). This is weight training used to bring up one’s strength on other lifts (typically the squat, deadlift, bench press or standing press).  With supplemental work, we’re looking to find weak areas and make them stronger.
Dave Tate at EliteFTS is one of the foremost experts on all of this. Thus, his article Dave Tate’s Guide to Supplemental Strength is very much up my alley, and it should be up yours if you’re serious about getting stronger. He discusses several categories of exercises and how to incorporate them into a routine. Below, the term “builders” refers to exercises that build the power lifts (squat, bench press, deadlift):
  1. Always start with the builders. Do not start with the main lift.
    Examples: Floor press, box squat. Sets: 3-5. Reps: 3-5.
  2. Move to supplemental exercises — exercises that build the builders.
    Examples: 2-board press, safety-bar close-stance squat. Sets: 3. Reps: 5-8.
  3. Accessories — Either muscle-based (for size) or movement-based (for strength). Use supersets and tri-sets, as needed.
    Examples: DB presses, biceps curls. Sets: 3. Reps: 10-20.
  4. Rehab/Pre-hab — Whatever you need, nothing more or less. Examples:
    External rotation, face pulls. Sets: 2-3. Reps: 20-30.
This is just a little bit of the article. It’s very detailed. There may not be much here for recreational lifters but for coaches and those of us who have gotten a little deeper into our lifting, it’s a superb article.

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Smoke out weakness

So here’s an idea. Let’s use all sorts of movement patterns, all sorts of loads (volume, weight, speed, range of motion) and see where we start to break down–expose the weakness in other words.  Then find some way to correct the weakness. In this way we should truly raise the ceiling on how strong we can be.

How do we do expose our weaknesses? First, I think it’s extremely important to have someone watch you or find a way to video yourself.  Very often we may be moving poorly yet we don’t know it and it helps to have another set of eyes on the problem.  Then, we need to work to the point of some sort of exertion in order to draw out the poor movement pattern.  That is, we need to a) do enough reps, b) lift enough weight, c) move fast enough, or d) move far enough into a particular range of motion such that we cause a movement fault to appear. By the way, the load that’s needed to cause this movement fault may not be very severe.  We may see a movement fault with just one half-range body-weight squat for example.

  • Squat

 

Pullups

Pushups

 

PBS’s The Truth About Exercise

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“The chair is a killer.”
– Michael Mosley, PBS, The Truth About Exercise

Attention all exercise geeks and anyone fond of learning about the ins and outs of regaining or maintaining your health: You must check out the new series from PBS called The Truth About Exercise with Michael Mosley.  (Actually, it seems that each episode has it’s own title “… with Michael Mosley.”)  I watched the first episode and it’s tremendously interesting.  The second episode is titled “Eat, Fast and Live Longer.”  I just started it.

(Thanks to my mom for telling me about this show.)

Mosley uses himself as an experimental subject as he delves into some of the following topics:

  • How to reduce your insulin response with 3 minutes of (very) intense exercise per week.
  • How and why exercise can help remove fat from the blood stream.
  • The very deadly perils of sitting too much.
  • Why some people are “non-responders” to some aspects of exercise (and why exercise is still healthy for “non-responders.)

I know very little about Mosley but that he seems to be a fairly common sort of guy who’s not in particularly good shape.  He has the questions about his health that many of us have.  He talks to various exercise physiologists, nutrition scientists and coaches as he searches for answers and examines several exercise myths.  I love it because much of what he discovers is informed by the latest science.  He’s not rehashing the “common knowledge” (which is commonly stale and fairly inaccurate.)  It’s a very entertaining show that moves quickly and isn’t overly science-y.  It has a pretty decent soundtrack as well.  I highly recommend it to anyone reading this right now.  Previews of each episode are below.  Go here to watch the full episodes.

Watch The Truth About Exercise with Michael Mosley – Promotion on PBS. See more from Michael Mosley.

Watch Guts with Michael Mosley – Preview on PBS. See more from Michael Mosley.

Kettlebell & Barbell Workout

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My Current Workout Scheme

Out of necessity, I greatly reduced my strength training as I was preparing for the marathon. As the stress of running went up, the stress of lifting had to go down. It was a bit tough to give up the weights, but it had to be done. Now I’m back to lifting and I’m loving it. It’s definitely refreshing to let the pendulum swing from the endurance end of the spectrum back to the strength & power end.

I’m a big fan of both kettlebells and barbells. They’re quite different implements but both are very enjoyable to use. Used correctly, both tools can make you big, strong, and powerful. My current workout comes from RKC Mike Mahler and it’s called the Kettlebell and Barbell Solution for Size and Strength Part II. (Part I can be found here. I had to choose one. I picked Part II.) It’s a 4x/week workout with two days on/one day off/two days on/two days off. I like the workout 1) because I get to lift most days of the week and 2) because I get to use kettlebells and barbells in all workouts.

Each workout has one or two of the big lifts (squat, bench press, overhead press, deadlift) as the focus with other supplemental lifts included such as pull-ups, renegade rows, bent barbell rows, kettlebell swings and snatches, and core exercises such as the Turkish get-up, hanging leg raises, and windmills. I’ve modified the workout slightly to include barbell cleans, barbell presses, a one-arm dumbbell press, and pistol squats. Ballistic exercises like the kettlebell snatch and swings come at the front of the workout. The ballistic exercises help fire up the nervous system. The big-bang exercises come next, followed by pulling exercises, core exercises, and a finishing metabolic exercises that gets the heart rate up. I plan to cycle various exercises in and out over the course of several four-week blocks.

The scheme

The volume/intensity scheme is a version of Wendler’s 5-3-1 program. In essence, it looks like this: Each workout is centered around one core lift: squat, bench press, deadlift, and standing shoulder press. Each training cycle lasts four weeks, with these set-rep goals for each major lift:

Week 1: 3 x 5

Week 2: 3 x 3

Week 3: 3 x 5, 3, 1

Week 4: deloading

Then you start the next cycle, using heavier weights on the core lifts. Again, the Mahler program is a variation of this, and I’ve modified it further. Here’s my version:

Monday:

Double kettlebell swing: 5×5

Barbell deadlift: 2×5, 3×3, 6×1

Barbell overhead press: 3×5, 3×3, 5-3-1

Kettlebell Renegade Row: 3×6+ I’ll add weight once I get 10 reps on each side

Kettlebell swings: 3×15, one- and/or two-arm swings. I’ve also used the rower.

Tuesday:

One-arm kettlebell snatch: 2-3×5-10 each side

Barbell cleans: 3×3, 5×2, 6×1

Pull-ups: 3×5. I’ll add weight once I get eight reps on the final set. (I’m bad at pull-ups. The cost of being tall….)

Bench Press: as per the 5-3-1 program

Kettlebell windmill: 3×5

Kettlebell front squat: 3×8+ I’m keeping this somewhat light.

Kettlebell swings 3×15 or farmer’s walks.

Wednesday: Off

Thursday:

Double kettlebell snatch: 3-5×5

Barbell hang clean: 3×3, 5×2

Back squat: as per the 5-3-1 program

One-arm dumbbell press: as per the 5-3-1 program. I clean the dumbbell from the ground and then press all my reps.

Barbell bent-over row: as per the 5-3-1 program, except I don’t do a 1-rep max in the 3rd week.

Hanging leg raise: 3×5. Mahler’s workout calls for 3×10 but I’m not up to 10 reps yet.

One-arm kettlebell swings, rower or farmer’s walks

Friday:

Double kettlebell swings: 5×5

Barbell cleans: lighter than Thursday

Barbell floor press: as per the 5-3-1 program

Weighted pull-ups: 3×3

Kettlebell Turkish get-up: 3×3. These are really tough at this point in the workout.

Pistol squats: 3×3, 2 or 1 depending how I’m feeling.

Kettlebell swings: I’m often smoked by this point so I may only do 1×10 or I may go as high as 3×15-20

Saturday/Sunday: Off

Observations

I’m on my third week of the program. I’ve made good progress. I think that since I was away from lifting for several weeks I have a lot of room to move forward. Plus, I’m eating more and I’ve recently started taking creatine which I haven’t used in a while. All of this should contribute to some decent increases in size and strength.


 

the Pencil Pushup

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What is Z-Health?

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The big question that I and just about every other Z-Health practitioner must answer is “What is Z-Health?”  It takes more than one or two sentences to explain this system that I’m involved with.  Key points that I mention in my explanation are:

  1. Z-Health is a performance system designed to take someone from an injured, painful, or inhibited state to the highest level of performance he or she wants to achieve.
  2. The nervous system is in charge.  Neither the muscles nor the bones nor the joints make decisions.  The nervous system decides whether or not you’re in pain.  The nervous system decides whether or not your muscles are tight.  Your nervous system dictates how fast, strong or agile you are.
  3. The aim of Z-Health is better movement.  Period.  If you want to lose weight, you need to move better so you can exercise vigorously.  Chronic pain is often a result of poor movement patterns.  The solution?  Move better.  If you’re an athlete and you want to perform better–then you need to move better.