The Benefits of the Single-leg Tubing Squat is for runners who want to build leg and hip strength that will transfer to running. This exercise may help you overcome knee and hip pain as well whether you’re a runner or not. There are three variations on this exercise and all are discussed in the article. This is my second article for Competitor Running. (Those pretty pictures were taken by my wife with her fancy new camera.)
This post is mostly the same as my recent article in CompetitorRunning.com. I discuss several exercises in the article designed to help runners overcome common painful issues related to running. For this post, I include pics and videos of the exercises. Here it is.
Pain Science for Runners
Acute vs Chronic Pain
Chronic pain is frustrating. Painful feet, ankles, knees, hips, and low-backs are common in runners. Chronic pain may bring fear that you’re broken, weak, and fragile. Thus you avoid many meaningful activities. You may obsess over your pain. This is the fear-avoidance cycle and it fuels itself.
Chronic pain is different from the pain of an acute injury such as a bone fracture; dislocation; or a cut, scrape, burn, or puncture. Chronic pain lasts long after an acute injury has healed.
Pain serves a valuable purpose but with chronic pain, the pain remains after it has served its purpose. Chronic pain comes from a “broken pain system,” akin to a car alarm that goes off for no reason. Fortunately, you can overcome chronic pain and start running again.
Pain science reveals several important points regarding chronic pain. Most important is that pain rarely equals harm or damage. You can be hurt and strong at the same time. (You can also have damage with no pain. Ever find a bruise but have no memory of how it got there?) Chronic pain is the result of a sensitized nervous system aka central sensitization (http://www.instituteforchronicpain.org/understanding-chronic-pain/what-is-chronic-pain/central-sensitization). Contributors to sensitization include:
- Beliefs such as you’re broken and further activity (running) will break you more.
- Lifestyle factors: job stress, relationship stress, lack of sleep, poor diet, lack of exercise
- Coping strategies: Avoiding running out of fear which drives you deeper into despair and further sensitization.
- Emotions: catastrophizing, fear, anxiety, anger, rumination
- Tissue stress: Tissue stress can definitely contribute to pain. Remember though, tissue damage is typically a minor contributor to sensitization.
All of the above factors may be kindling for a pain fire. One too many stressors may spark the fire. You feel pain when the accumulation of stress exceeds your brain’s perceived ability to cope. There are two ways to tackle pain. One way is to decrease the stress that contributes to pain. Another way is to increase your resilience and get strong.
Confront your pain
You can lower nervous system sensitization in several ways:
- General physical activity
- Talk with a counselor
- Various therapeutic techniques: massage, foam rolling, manual therapy, hot, cold
- Consistent sleep schedule
- Improve your diet
- Load and strengthen the place that hurts.
- Resume running
Your bones, connective tissue, joints, and muscles are very strong and they respond well to loading. If you’ve been guarding and resting part of your body then it gets weaker. Structures like the Achilles and patellar tendons need strength, not more rest. Physiotherapist, chiropractor and pain expert Greg Lehman favors gradual strengthening as one of the best ways to reduce pain.
Get strong – Load it!
Loading strengthens muscles and connective tissue while and provides an analgesic effect. Physical activity boosts your mood, builds self-efficacy, and shows that you’re not broken. By engaging in exercise you break the fear-avoidance cycle. Here are several exercises to help with several conditions. A comprehensive guide is beyond the scope of this article.
Isometrics work well to calm pain. Contract and hold with no motion for 30-60 seconds. Perform isometrics frequently throughout the day.
- Right: Heel raise loaded with a kettlebell for Achilles and plantar
fascia pain. Use a bent or straight knee.
- Below: Wall sit for patellar pain. Progress from two to one leg.
- Below: Straight-leg bridge for glute/hamstring pain. Progress from two to one leg.
HSR (Heavy Slow Resistance) training:
Exercises should be exhausting in 5-10 slow, deliberate reps. (Most of these can also be done as isometrics too.) Start with bodyweight then add weight via barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells, weight vests, machines, or rubber tubing/bands. Persist into pain no higher than a 4 on a 1-10 scale.
Heel raises for Achilles tendonitis can be done with a straight or bent knee.
Loading the knee and hip reduces knee pain.
Band knee & hip extension
Side bridges target abs and hip
Band leg press (A squat can be done in a similar way.)
IT Band syndrome
Band leg press (A squat can be done in a similar way.)
Exercise is medicine. If you’ve avoided running for a while then it’s time to run! A little bit of running will help you understand that you’re not broken and the physical activity will help calm your nervous system. You’ll use the process of graded exposure. Add work gradually, keep pain at a minimum, and you’ll increase your capacity for activity.
Try a run/walk protocol like this:
- Week 1: 1 min. run/3 min. walk, repeat 10x
- Week 2: 2 min. run/2 min. walk, repeat 10x
- Week 3: 3 min. run/1 min. walk, repeat 10x
- Week 4: 40 min. run
Perform each workout twice per week on non-consecutive days. Pain should be no higher than a 4 on a 10-scale (1 = no pain, 10 = very painful) and pain should not alter your running form. Don’t push through severe pain.
It’s not uncommon for pain to flare up after activity. Don’t be alarmed. You haven’t done more damage. You’ve pushed a boundary and your nervous system has overreacted. Reduce your activity level a little bit next time you exercise.
You may need more information beyond this article. A physical therapist or other medical professionals can help guide you through recovery. Injuries such as stress fractures definitely need to be unloaded and rested. If your pain gets worse with activity then seek medical care.
Poke the bear. (But don’t hump the s%it out of the bear.
I’ll get to the above statement in a moment. (Mom, I apologize but blame Greg for it. I’m just quoting what he said.)
I recently attended Reconciling Biomechanics with Pain Science, a two-day seminar with chiropractor and physiotherapist. Greg Lehman. (There aren’t too many people schooled in both disciplines.) The course was superb! I recommend the course to anyone involved in helping people move and get out of pain, whether you’re a trainer, coach, massage therapist, chiropractor, physical therapist, etc.
This is the cutting edge of pain science. The information may challenge what you hold near and dear as pain gospel, most importantly, pain doesn’t always equal damage. Nor should painful movements always be avoided. In fact, engaging in painful movement is part of getting past the pain and back to living.
This was another big dose of information with which I was familiar. Much like reading a book for the second, third, or 19th time, it’s always useful to revisit and re-examine important information. I came away with a deeper understanding of how pain works and how to work with it.
I’ll discuss what I learned and how I’ll apply this information to over the next several blog posts. Here’s my first takeaway:
You’re free to poke into pain
One of the best ways to overcome pain, regain function, and have fun doing what you love is to load the affected area. Does something hurt when you move it? If so, do the movement slowly and safely to the edge of your ability. Add a little more work over time. Work to the level of pain that you can tolerate. Load the movement to your tolerance. The idea and the expectation is that your tolerance will increase, your pain will decrease, and your life will improve. It may take time, but it’ll happen. This is called graded exposure. Pain is the bear that was mentioned at the top of the post. The concept is that you are free to gradually work to a tolerable level of pain but don’t grind and bash your way into severe pain. You shouldn’t limp, flinch, or recoil from the pain. No white knuckles, please.
If it’s a sore knee, then we’re going to use those parts and make them work. We may do squats, lunges, one-leg squats, hopping—whatever is tolerable. By poking into pain you can habituate to it and decrease the severity. Same with a sore ankle, shoulder, back, etc. Some other examples of pain that diminishes upon exposure:
- You sprain your ankle and you “walk it off.” It hurts but you move it, load it, and resume activity to a tolerable level and you’re fine. The ankle might be sore so take it easy but don’t just rest it for days or weeks without using it.
- You step into a hot shower and—Wow! It’s hot!—but it feels fine in a few moments. You accomodate. Similarly…
- You get into a swimming pool and—Whoooo! It’s chilly!—and you’re fine in a few minutes. You adapt. (Strangely, the same process happens when you step out…)
- You start a bike ride or a run and you knee bugs you a little. The pain vanishes in a few minutes. Did you suffer an injury that suddenly healed? No, but you had pain and your nervous system changed and then there was no pain. You’re fine.
Movement is a great way to desensitize the nervous system! Anyone who’s gone through post-surgical rehab for something like an ACL tear (me) has gone through this process. We’ve had to work through a certain amount of pain and discomfort as we progressed out of the injury and back into normal living. The crucial point is this: PAIN DOESN’T EQUAL DAMAGE. You’re not broken.
*****IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER***** I’m not talking about loading an acute, severe injury. If a bone is fractured, if you have a dislocation, if you suspect organ damage or if you’re bleeding then please don’t load it. In this case, you ARE damaged and you need medical help, not a trip to the gym. These conditions should be obvious.
I have vanquished the foe!
In my case, I’ve had some foot and heel pain which has been severe at times. I’ve curtailed my running and I’ve had to face the prospect of missing several big races this year. I’ve spiraled down a drain of negative thoughts and dread. Most runners have faced this overflowing toilet of fear, self-hate, and psychological nastiness. All that stress has only contributed to my pain. What will I do with this crisis? Can life go on???
On the first day of the lecture, I started loading those hurt areas. I sought out the sore spots and made them work. I did both isometric contractions and heel raises with bent and straight knees. I worked various angles and speeds. I worked to the point of local fatigue. My pain started to recede before the lecture was over. My nervous system was changing and my pain was retreating. My hurt spots hurt less.
The next day before the second lecture I went for an easy run. I continued with heel raises and toe work and I added weight to the exercises. My symptoms have only improved. Two days later I did a hard hill workout, a workout that would’ve been seriously painful and nearly unthinkable prior to my new hopeful mindset. I’m not broken! In fact, wouldn’t be surprised if I was made of vibranium… Maybe adamantium. You probably are too!
I wrote recently about my experience with posterior tibialis tendinitis. This post continues the analysis of the problem and solutions that helped resolve the problem.
Posterior tibialis actions
The posterior tibialis (PT), and the gastrocnemius, soleus, and plantaris, (all muscles that attach to the Achilles tendon) overlap to some degree in how they function in gait. What do those muscles do you ask?
- Concentric function (when the muscle contracts and shortens): plantar flexion (points the foot), inversion (sole of the foot turns in)
- Eccentric function (when the muscle lengthens): decelerates dorsiflexion (bending of the ankle), decelerates eversion (sole of the foot turns out)
Gastrocnemius/soleus/plantaris actions at the ankle
- Concentric: plantar flexion
- Eccentric: decelerates dorsiflexion
- The gastroc and soleus attach to the heel via the Achilles tendon.
In the case of my Achilles pain, I found relief from strengthening those calf muscles through doing a lot of slow, controlled heel lifts. I thought the same approach would resolve my PTT. I was wrong. I believe that my efforts at strengthening the PT and the PT tendon aggravated the problem and caused more foot pain. I believe my PTT was rooted in a rigid left arch and rigid plantar fascia.
Plantar fascia flexibility, pronation, and force distribution
For years I’ve noticed that my left arch doesn’t pronate (collapse) as much as the right. I believe this lack of movement is part of my problem. In my prior post, I asked the question, “Do you have the mobility to get into the position required by your activity?” As it regards my left arch and running, my answer was, “No.”
Among many runners, the word “pronation” equates to “bad.” That’s wrong. (Uncontrolled
or excessive pronation is bad.) Pronation is a necessary movement that contributes to deceleration of the foot, lower leg, and the rest of the body during foot strike. As the arch collapses, the plantar fascia acts as a leaf spring, storing then returning valuable energy that helps propel the runner forward. This energy return occurs as the foot supinates with the arch lifting as the runner pushes away from the ground.
The plantar fascia isn’t the only participant in this process of energy absorption and return. All the muscles and connective tissue throughout the body contributes to the process. The tendons of the lower leg, such as the Achilles tendon and the posterior tibialis tendons, are highly active during this process. If everything is moving correctly, in control, and in a coordinated fashion then the impact forces of running are distributed efficiently among all of the muscles and tendons.
Now imagine if some link in this kinetic chain isn’t moving the correct way. If that happens then other regions and other structures of the body will be forced to handle more than their fair share of the load. Some sort of overload, injury, and pain is likely in this scenario. Specific to my case, I believe the lack of mobility of my left plantar fascia has contributed directly to my past Achilles tendon problems, plantar fasciitis, and to my recent bout with PTT. Plantar Fasciitis and the Windlass Mechanism: A Biomechanical Link to Clinical Practice is a literature review from the Journal of Athletic Training. This review provides the following pertinent comments:
“Researchers have also reported faulty biomechanics and plantar fasciitis in subjects with a higher-arched foot.16–18 A higher-arched foot lacks the mobility needed to assist in absorbing ground reaction forces. Consequently, its inability to dissipate the forces from heel strike to midstance increases the load applied to the plantar fascia, much like a stretch on a bowstring.4
“A review of the literature reveals that a person displaying either a lower- or higher-arched foot can experience plantar fasciitis. Patients with lower arches have conditions resulting from too much motion, whereas patients with higher arches have conditions resulting from too little motion.4,16,19 Therefore, people with different foot types experience plantar fascia pain resulting from different biomechanical stresses.”
(The article is thorough and informative about foot mechanics. If you’re a runner suffering from foot problems, a running coach, or a clinician who treats these issues then I think it could be valuable to you.)
Exercises that helped
- I foam rolled the calf. You probably know how to do that. If not, look on Youtube.
- Band eversion/dorsiflexion: It’s one of the exercises discussed here. I did and continue to do the exercise with very high reps. It looks like this:
- Bent-knee heel raises: I used high reps but there is probably benefit to using heavier weight with fewer reps. There are machines for this exercise at many gyms. I don’t have access to such a machine so I did it by stacking up some sandbags under the front of my foot and putting a dumbbell on my knee. I worked to high exertion for several sets:
- Arch mobilizer: It takes time to make changes to tissues so I do this frequently throughout the day.
- Gait check: This is HUGE! In my first meeting with running coach Andrew Simmons of Lifelong Endurance, he noticed several problems with my gait. These were problems seen in the past with my gait.
(This illustrates the immense power of working with a coach. I don’t know what I don’t know and I can’t see what I can’t see—and neither can you! My technique had slipped and I didn’t know it.)
- My ground contact time (or how long my foot was on the ground) was too long. Thus, my feet and lower legs spent a lot of time transmitting stress through my lower leg. That may have been a part of overloading the PT tendon. This long contact time was probably a result of…
- A low-energy gait. My legs weren’t rebounding off of the ground sufficiently and the whole gait cycle was sluggish. Now, as I run, I think of a strong, quick, powerful push into the ground. I drive the leg behind me, and I push the ground behind me.When I run correctly, my foot spends less time on the ground and the tissues spend less time under stress and I’m more efficient. Read How to Run: Running With Proper Biomechanics by Steve Magness for details on running technique including the need for hip extension.
Solving the riddle of the sore left foot has been a prolonged, tricky struggle. Every time I find relief I think I’ve solved the problem only to have some other problem pop up later. That said, I now think I’ve figured it out. I could be wrong. Maybe some of this information will help other runners overcome their foot and ankle troubles too.
A 5k? You can do that in your sleep can’t you?”
A client said that to me when I recently told her I’m training up for a March 5k, the Cherry Creek Sneak in Denver. She knew I’d run several big, difficult trail races and two marathons. She figured a 5k would be easy for me, and in terms of distance, yes, running 3.1 miles isn’t a big deal. But to run it fast…? That’s the challenge.
(In case you didn’t know, the 5k is an Olympic event. Look at an Olympic 5k runner at the finish line and and ask him or her if the race was easy.)
It seems like most grown-ups think about running longer and farther. Many of us look at the marathon, or in trail running circles, ultra-marathons, as the ultimate running thing to do. Similarly many of us look at 5ks and 10ks as fairly easy runs done just for fun. Most runners progress from the shorter runs to longer runs, leaving behind those short runs doing them mainly for training purposes around their long-race goals.
In contrast, grown-ups rarely look to run faster. (In comparison, ever watch kids run? They only sprint!) I want to run faster. As I’ve said before, I love the training process. I want to experience the process of speed development. I’ll be doing track workouts and tempo runs, which are very different from trail running. I like the idea of doing work all along the energy system continuum, with short, powerful efforts at one end, and much longer efforts at the other. It seems to me a well-conditioned, athlete should make stops all along the way.
The Ragnar Trail Relay came to Aspen, CO last weekend. I ran the race with seven other people, mostly from my wife’s company. We were the Kenzan Running Club. This was my first Ragnar. It was unique among the races I’ve run. I like to recall specific moments after events like this and reflect on what I saw and felt. Experiences like this are the highlights of my life. The memories and emotions are important.
Most teams were eight-person teams like us. The race consisted of three loops: the green easy loop, yellow medium-difficulty loop, red hard loop. We all ran all loops once. I ran first (green), ninth (red), and 17th (yellow.) We were finished when runner eight crossed the finish line.
The night before
My wife and I camped out the night before the race. It was COLD that night. There was frost on the ground and tents in the morning. We slept well. Sleep was limited from there on out. It also didn’t stay cold.
Fortunately for us, some other teammates got to the camp site early and grabbed a prime spot. We were close to the toilets and the transition area. A word to the wise: If you do this race, get there early. Very early.
Don’t blow up
Teams were put into flights with the slower teams starting earlier and faster teams starting later so everyone would finish within a certain window. Flights left every half-hour starting at 10 am. We started at 1 pm. I was the first runner. The first loop was very warm, high 70s. No shade. Heat throbbed off of the parched trail. The temperature climbed.
The challenge in an endurance event is to take a very hard effort and spread it out over the entire course of a race. Every runner has started out too fast and paid the price at some point later in the race. That’s not good. At the same time though, you don’t want to finish thinking, “I could’ve run harder.” Another wrinkle was the fact that the race required us to run again and then again.
A few people passed me. Whenever I’m passed, I listen to their breathing and I watch how they move. Do they run strong and relaxed or brittle and tense? If it’s the latter of those two, then I know I’ll probably catch them sooner or later. I like passing people. I don’t win trophies and I’m not a top runner, but I truly enjoy beating other runners to the finish line, especially if I did it by running smart.
My mantra was, “Just don’t blow up.” That meant run my race, not someone else’s. Don’t give in to the urge to charge ahead early just to catch someone. If someone passes you, let them. Be patient. Wait until the end is near to hit the gas.
My coach made the analogy of holding on to an electric wire, the type used to keep cows away from the fence. You can hold on for a little while but you can’t hang on to that thing forever. If you grab ahold too tightly, too early, you’re cooked. You blow up which means you screwed up. The blow-up/electric wire paradigm played on a loop in my head throughout the race.
I was very pleased with my conditioning and performance. I was never overly sore and none of my joints hurt. I was especially happy with my downhill running as I had to do a lot of it in the dark on very tired legs. I never crashed or flew off the mountain into space.
A well-run operation
The organization and execution of the race was impressive. From what I can tell, the Ragnar race is a complex thing with a lot of moving parts. Everything seemed to operate smoothly. I didn’t detect any crises or surprises on the part of the staff.
Parking for team vehicles and shuttles to other parking areas worked very well. I was very grateful to see well-marked trails, especially at night. The workers were organized and helpful. The campground was crowded but very adequate. There was plenty of water available and food for purchase if you wanted/needed any beyond what you brought—and there were free ice cream sandwiches!
Now this is really important: The port-o-potty situation was excellent! The effort and efficiency in maintaining and cleaning those things was phenomenal! Thousands of people using those things over and over, round the clock—especially in the heat!—was a true marvel. What a relief to have access to mostly clean, well stocked toilet facilities. Don’t think I’m joking. This is a huge thing.
The Kenzan Running Club
Our team was a very compatible group of people. We got along very well, had a lot of laughs and were very comfortable around each other. Everyone was well-prepared. We happily shared space, food, equipment, and encouragement.
To expand beyond our team, my impression of all the Ragnar competitors was very positive. I didn’t see any drama or dumb behavior. I saw no meltdowns, freak-outs, arguments, or fights. I did see a lot of courtesy, encouragement, and the always appealing magic energy that is shared among people suffering together. We passed each other and were passed while exchanging kind words. The camp site was somewhat crowded but we all made do and lived comfortably together. The trail running community tends to be a laid-back, respectful group.
Managing rest was a challenge. We made constant efforts to avoid sunburn and drink lots of water. Staying off my our feet was a priority. We all spent a lot of time chasing shade as the sun passed over us from east to west. We were already spending a lot of time in the sun and any time spent in the cool shade was essential to feeling human. Lying in the grass under trees was heavenly and refreshing.
The Red Loop & the Fajita Lesson
The world isn’t perfect and neither was my race. Here’s the story:
There was a complimentary dinner Friday evening between my first and second runs. I had two thoughts:
- I’ll need a lot of calories for this event.
- I should have enough time between my first run and the second run for the food to digest and I’ll be OK to run. (On this point, I think we all felt like our next loop came much faster than we anticipated.)
Thus I ate a pretty big plate of chicken fajitas, onions, peppers, tortillas, guacamole and cheese. The magnitude of my gamble might seem obvious to you right now. It’s obvious to me now but due to some sort of faulty psychology, I thought my decision was reasonable. And it was hot…
Fast forward 2-ish hours. I felt okay and I continued to feel well enough during the long, steady, climb at the front of the 6.7-ish mile red route. I started at 8:10 pm. Twilight was coming on. I didn’t need the lights yet but I would soon. (More on night running in a moment.)
Fast forward a little further and it was time for a 2 mile, high-speed nighttime downhill dash over fast, swoopy terrain. There was jostling and sloshing. My digestive system lodged a prolonged protest. I knew this race would be tough and I welcomed the challenge. I didn’t welcome this. I began to fantasize about those port-o-johns. I thought my teammates might have to hose me off at the finish. By some combination of force-of-will and supernatural providence, I was saved. No hose down needed. That’s enough about that.
Running at night
This was a new thing for me and I enjoyed it tremendously. During my second run, the red loop, the hardest run of the race, I saw day turn to night. To my left, as I ran along the high ridge line I watched the pink sunset fade to black. On my right, a massively swollen blob of a moon rose and dominated the sky. I don’t see that happen every day. It was a stunning sight and a unique experience. (I took a pic while high up on the ridge line but it was no good. You’ll have to settle for the one up above which was taken after my 2nd loop at about 4 am. That’s not the sun.)
The early nighttime atmosphere was electric. There transition area buzzed with powerful energy. Music blared and thumped. A bonfire blazed. Everyone had on their nighttime running gear. We all looked like we were about to do battle with the Cylons, Klingons, and/or the Decepticons. We were sharp, confident, and energized. This was all happening before the wee hours, before the music got turned down so we could grab a few moments of sleep, before the deep fatigue set in and we were zombified.
Looking up at the mountainside from camp we saw the continuous trickle of bobbing little lights. Those were runners descending from the red and yellow loops back to the start/finish area. I wish I had a picture of that for you.
My final run started around 4 am and ended about 40 minutes later. For me, anything before 5 am isn’t morning—it’s night. This was far outside my experience. I had maybe three hours of sleep before the final leg but I felt OK. It wasn’t as cold as the prior night which was good. This was the yellow loop, or the middle-difficulty loop. I was grateful that the red loop wasn’t my last loop and I was very happy to avoid more exposure to the heat. Runner number eight came through and I was off.
The climbs were tough on the last two loops but the descents proved difficult both from the the fact that it was night and that my legs were very tired. The challenge was to descend as fast as possible without the legs collapsing and careening down the mountainside.
I like descending. There is a focus that’s required to run fast down a mountain. It puts one very much in the moment. It’s meditative. It’s not like sitting in rush-hour traffic. I passed a lot of people and only one person passed me. He was moving much faster than I.
Our final runner came in several hours later, between 11 and noon. A couple of our team fell and got skinned up a little but no one had any major injuries or issues. The race finished at 6 pm. We were grateful to be through before that.
The trails for this race were not very technical at all. They were smooth and relatively free of rocks and roots. Compared to most of the Denver-area trails on which I trained, these were sidewalks. That was probably a good thing for night running.
My lights were the Black Diamond ReVolt headlamp and the Nathan Zephyr Fire 300 flashlight. A lot of people ran only with a headlamp, but several articles I read about night trail running suggested a headlamp and a handheld light. I liked having both. I could see both the trail at my feet and further down the trail.
If I had it to do over, I would’ve brought a little less gear with me on the red loop. I brought more than I needed to drink and a winter hat and gloves that I didn’t need.
I might’ve also done a night run during training, just to get feel for the lights. I don’t think I missed without a night run though.
For anyone thinking of doing this race I strongly suggest you familiarize yourself with trail running. This was very challenging. I wouldn’t recommend it for a green beginner. That said, it wasn’t overly brutal. It was very doable. The vast majority of us were very mortal.
That’s most of my story. Our stats are below. Follow this link for a look at all the teams’ stats. I think we did well. Several of us want to do it again.
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:
- 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.
- 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 World. What 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.
That title doesn’t make a lot of sense. Or, it does make some sense and that last word denotes something that shouldn’t be said in polite company.
What I’m really saying is that I’ve connected with a running coach. Mary-Katherine (MK) Flemming, an RRCA-certified running coach, reached out to me after my last blog post. She’s a mom who trains moms. Other than being a humanoid-type creature with two arms, two legs, and a head, I may not be her standard client/athlete. I’m not sure who/what I had in mind for a running coach but I probably wasn’t thinking about joining a mom-related sort of organization. Call me a backward chauvinist caveman—but what can I say?—my brain just wasn’t tuned in that direction. I’m very glad I kept an open mind though.
We talked and I was very pleased and impressed with what she had to say. I respected and admired her intense curiosity about running, management of planning, strength training, rest & recovery, and how to coach dedicated runners who also live normal lives. MK, like me, has been through various setbacks to her running career yet she persevered. I was excited to see someone who shares my passion about physical activity and performance. You can read about Mary-Katherine’s background and credentials here.
Further, she was able to answer all my questions and she helped me realize there were a lot of questions that I’d never thought to ask. Questions such as:
- How does one incorporate both road and trail running when training for trail races?
- How should runs be progressed based on heart rate? (She’s very much into HR training.)
- How does one manage biking, hiking, and weight training while running?
- I’d read Steve Magness’ Science of Running and I wanted to talk with a coach who was familiar with those methods. She follows his work and spoke on his methods..
Heart-rate training is a cornerstone of MK’s training plan. You can read about her approach here and you can hear her discuss heart-rate training here. Her training approach is influenced heavily by Coach Phil Maffetone. The essence of the strategy is that by spending a lot of time training at a fairly low heart rate (determined by this formula), you train your engine to burn fat for fuel and you build a significant and broad aerobic base. A strong aerobic base then allows for trainees to better develop anaerobic power and speed, avoid injury, and ultimately race their best.
I’m about a week into the plan and I feel good. If I hadn’t had the experiences that I have, then I would say I’m surprised at how easy the runs have been thus far. It seems that a lot of us runners need to ease down a little, run a bit slower and rest more. MK discusses this interesting and very common phenomenon in this podcast interview.
I’ve seen similar challenges with some of my clients. For some of us, sweating and picking up heavy things is fun and we love it. We plan our day around or workouts. Or weekends feature extra long bouts of exertion. Even our vacations are built around strenuous activity which we enjoy.
But rest? That’s a tough one. We think that if we don’t lift/run/ride/swim enough then we’ll get weak and fat. The truth is that we CANNOT get stronger/faster/better if we don’t rest enough and recovery adequately. This is one huge reason to employ a coach. You may think you can do it on your own, but very often professional help is absolutely a great investment. To learn more about employing a coach, check out the training programs of the Train Like A Mother Club.
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
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
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:
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!
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.
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.
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:
Big benefits from the 5k
“Everyone thinks the marathon is the Holy Grail, when a lot of people should really be doing the 5K,” Jason Karp, exercise physiologist.
In the running world, many of us want to progress from the 5k to the 10k, half-marathon all the way to the marathon—and maybe beyond! More is always better, right? We think 5ks are for beginners and marathons are for the truly fit and powerful among us. And ultra-marathons? Those are for the real champions.
Well, I suggest that more isn’t always better. Sometimes more is just more. Maybe we should reconsider our view of the 5k. (Remember, the 5000m is an Olympic event. It’s not always easy.)
The 5K, Not The Marathon, Is The Ideal Race argues that for most people and most fitness goals, the 5k is the optimal distance.
The latest fitness trends
“Below are the newest and niftiest fitness programs that have been gaining in popularity, and the odds that they will attract the most disciples in 2016.”
In terms of fitness, exercise and strength training, I believe there is very little new under the sun. Lift heavy things. Sweat often. Eat right most of the time. Rest, recover, repeat. Those are the big-picture concepts that have built healthy humans since forever.
That said, if someone wants to make money in the fitness business, presenting this picture in new packaging is a wise idea. Further, if some sort of new fitness trend grabs someone’s attention then all the better. I believe that anything that gets someone to exercise and stick with it is probably a good thing.
Who’s afraid of chemicals?
“If you can’t pronounce an ingredient, then you shouldn’t eat it, right? Unfortunately, it appears that idea may not be the best advice nor very accurate.”
Those of us who value good nutrition tend to avoid processed foods in favor of those in a more “natural” state. The idea sounds reasonable. Many processed foods are unhealthy garbage. Cookies, crackers, breakfast cereal, many frozen meals and all sorts of packaged foods come with lots of calories but very little nutrition. If you look at food labels you often see a laundry list of strange-sounding substances that bear no resemblance to any sort of food we’ve ever heard of. These types of foods often go hand-in-hand with obesity and poor health. In contrast, we know that fruits, vegetables, minimally processed dairy, meat, beans and whole grains are generally healthier for us.
Internet gurus and quacks such as Vani “Food Babe” Hari, Dr. Oz, and Joseph Mercola have engaged in fear-mongering and misinformation which has led to confusion among consumers. (They’ve made a lot of money doing it too.) These people have told us that we must avoid all chemicals at all cost lest we be struck dead at any moment! The horror!
Here’s news for you: Everything is a chemical, including water, aka dihydrogen monoxide. Further, the central tenet of toxicology is “the dose makes the poison.” This means that a wide array of substances from alcohol to sugar to formaldehyde to chlorine to even water can become deadly at a certain dosage. Meanwhile lower dosages may pose no threat at all.
With these concepts in mind, I like the article from Science Driven Nutrition titled The truth about food ingredients. It’s brief and gives a rational breakdown of why many (but perhaps not all) chemicals in our foods are safe.