Archive for Ask Coach Al

Don’t Forsake Long Term Improvement for Short Term Gain

Coach Al sharing his positive vibe!

Coach Al sharing his positive vibe!

Happy Friday!

One of the benefits of having been a coach for so many years, is recognizing certain trends that are typical for developing triathletes, whether they are the first-timer, or the seasoned weekend warrior, or even the experienced age grouper trying to get onto the podium.

One of the most common trends I see in many developing triathletes (and I think it’s probably human nature to some degree) is the tendency to self-sabotage their ultimate chance for potential massive long term improvements in order to reach some short term gains.  

The best example of this is giving up on perfecting stroke technique in the water too early, by logging yards and yards (in the pool or open water) in order to build swimming “fitness.”

One thing I’ve said repeatedly to novices who asked (so many times it has made my head spin): Once you KNOW you can finish a swim (especially with the aid of your wetsuit), why not put all of your energy and focus into setting up your long term gain in swimming ability by working on skills relentlessly.

While many nod their heads in agreement, when push comes to shove, most forsake that advice and that approach and just go swim, mile upon mile, grooving poor skills and trashing their shoulders in the process. When they finally decide in the years to come, that their abilities are subpar and they want to go faster, they’ll be faced with the fact that they’ve now hard-wired that poor form to the point where change is nearly impossible to achieve.

What are some other examples?

  • Building running mileage with the primary goal being to make that running log look impressive (from a mileage point of view, because that’s how you get better, right?), without first identifying imbalances and weaknesses in the body and addressing them head-on.
  • Signing up for long course races (70.3 or 140.6) without first developing a solid foundation of fundamental skills and experience at the shorter distances.
  • Spending $5,000 or more on a state-of-the-art triathlon bike before even owning a road or mountain bike. And getting that “cool bike” without even possessing basic bike handling skills or experience.

There's a lot of reasons why so many athletes tend to approach things this way. Some feel they need more confidence to just "complete" the distance, and others, fired up by their newfound enthusiasm for the sport, think they can jump on the "fast track" to improvements in durability and speed. I am willing to bet that many folks just plain downplay their own potential for improvement, or sell themselves very short when it comes to how good they can actually be!

Do you REALLY know how good you can be? NO, you don't.

Truly GREAT performances (YOUR best possible potential, no one elses) are built upon a solid foundation and mastery of the basics and fundamentals.  

It takes a long time to truly get good.  And that's one reason why I encourage folks to really embrace the process and enjoy the journey.

Of course, I’m often reminded that I don’t think the way that most people think.

I guess that is true.

The thing is, most people who achieve LONG TERM success and absolutely explode their potential, going much further and getting much better and faster than they ever dreamed was possible, do it because they think like I think.

So who do you want to be?

Do you want easily achieved short term “confidence” building, or true, long term, massive gains in performance potential?

It’s up to you.

Have a great weekend everyone!
~Coach Al

 

Do Your Calves Ever Cramp When Swimming? Here’s Why!

1794548_678702325506808_505115595_nThere's nothing like a painful calf cramp to ruin an otherwise enjoyable swim, ya know? :(  They seem to happen at the worst times and very often, they'll happen in our most important races. Frustrating!

So what's going on? Why do so many triathletes struggle with this issue during swimming?

Ridding yourself of the cramping calves will often lead to exactly what you want when you swim, which is a nice compact kicking motion which is both streamlined and also relaxed.

Here's a question I received from one of our athletes, that might sound familiar?:

"Sometimes I get a cramp in one of my calves while swimming. It can happen in the beginning, middle, or near the end of a workout, and only occasionally - not every time I swim. It may happen just after pushing off the wall, or it may start in the middle of a lap. I don't feel like I'm kicking very hard when I'm swimming. It has never happened in a race, just while training in a pool. I figure I swallow enough pool water during my swims that hydration shouldn't be the issue. Any suggestions on how to prevent them?"

Calf cramps while swimming can be quite common actually, especially for triathletes in particular...and there's a very good reason why....and its got nothing to do with hydration or electrolytes....

The reasons usually come from two things:

1. Trying to point the toes during kicking, which is active "plantar flexion" and creates tension in the calves. DON'T do this!* DO NOT try to point the toes while you kick.

2. The other thing which is somewhat related, is that there is OFTEN simply too much TENSION in the lower legs, period. [Remember what a cramp is: its simply a "hyper"chronic contraction of a muscle. That is, activity within the muscle (tension) is heightened and rises to the point where the contraction hits overdrive - and then, bingo, cramp!]

Why all that tension? (this relates to why it happens to triathletes more than swimmers).

You're running, and with all of that running is more tension in the calves, simply because they're so active during running (and walking), etc.

What can add to the tension is the often colder temperatures you'll find in some competitive pools. With colder temps, tension rises. (which is why I love jacuzzis!) 

So, what to do?** Two things:

1. First, the most important thing: RELAX YOUR FEET AND LEGS.

The term I use to describe how to kick correctly (while reducing the risk of cramping in the process) is FLOPPY ANKLES. *

More: Really good "kickers" have very mobile,*floppy ankles. In fact, great backstrokers can lie on their backs on the floor and easily touch their toes to the floor as they point their ankle. Most triathletes can't come close to doing that. Limited ankle mobility means tension when kicking.

So what we must do as we are swimming down the lane: think and visualize FLOPPY ANKLES. That's right, just let the feet just flop at the ankle. Relax and release them completely.

As you relax your feet and JUST LET THEM FLOP, you'll reduce all of that tension in the calves that leads to cramping.

Now, of course, relaxing the feet and letting them flop, DOES NOT give you permission to also flop your knees or relax them.

In fact, what I've found works best is if you keep that knee straight and at the same time, flop the ankles, you'll get exactly what you're looking for, which is a nice compact kicking motion which is both streamlined and also relaxed.

When I say "straight knee," I am really saying to keep it straight - locked out. What will most likely happen is that your knees won't actually "lock," but they will bend less....which is a good thing.

From my experience videotaping dozens of triathletes: those with the worst kicks will bend their knees a LOT, and their ankles a little. That looks ugly on video.

Great kicking comes primarily from floppy ankles. Just check any backstroker (where kicking makes up a great majority of their propulsion).

2. Second, and really importantly: make sure you keep those calves stretched out and nice and long. They will tighten up from running and over time, shortness in that area raises risk of running injury, and also leads to increased risk of cramping.

To avoid cramping in the calves while swimming, keep the calves LONG, and relax those feet and think: FLOPPY ANKLES.

And lastly, do all of your swimming in the JACUZZI!

Happy Swimming!

~Coach Al

ps: got additional swimming questions or anything training related? Jump onto our FACEBOOK page and ask away!

Can You Be Better Than Your Best?

Coach Al sharing his positive vibe!

Coach Al sharing his positive vibe!

Happy Friday! I thought I'd share a tidbit with all of you this morning, that has drawn some interest on Facebook...

An ironman triathlete I coach, in her unending quest to be a better athlete and achieve her (for now) ultimate goal of qualifying for Hawaii, asked a question on her Facebook wall, hoping that all of her friends might chime in with a "golden nugget" or two of wisdom, that would help her answer THE question.  And what was it that she posted?

"I am looking for a way to be better than my best."

Ironically, we had discussed this topic in an email exchange prior to her posting this, but she was looking for more!  Yes, she is determined!  And I love that!

So, to get to the point, I read through a litany of responses from her friends, and was amused to read all of the things that had been posted, such as "try P90x," or "dig deeper," and even "let me know when you find the answer."  At the end of a long string of responses, I posted a single word: "interesting"....

Of course, this athlete posted something which in hindsight, I should have expected: "Give me your thoughts, Coach!"

Since she had reached out and asked for more thoughts, I chimed in. Here's what I posted on her wall; I hope you all find what I had to say valuable AND interesting, and I hope you find something which applies, as you ALL embark on your own hero's journey....
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I found all of the comments your friends left, as quite interesting, that's all. You work very hard, certainly as hard or harder than many athletes out there whom you're competing with for a coveted Hawaii slot. "Digging deeper," or trying some fad training program that is sold to the gullible masses, not as a way to "train" smarter as an athlete, but as some kind of magical "workout," designed to carve a "six pack" and make you like yourself more when you look in the mirror, is NOT the answer. In my humble opinion, what you are looking for is a way to short circuit the "grind." The process. And in my experience, that rarely - ever - works.

What it DOES often do, however, is cause us to be impatient, and look for an easier, or in your case, "better" way.

Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending upon how you look at it) it takes a long time to get good in this sport, and we ALL have our own unique adaptive abilities, which we aren't in control of, as hard as that is to accept sometimes. Rather than look for ways to press on the gas pedal HARDER, why don't you step back, and with respect to your LIFE, take your foot off the brake.

In other words, try to see if there is a way to enjoy the process, the grind, more, by not looking beyond the task at hand.

Look for more ways to balance your life away from the sport, and then what might be the hardest thing of all - accept that IF YOU continue to train smart, work hard, recover harder, and stay the course, that you will get where you want to go......because you will.

The "problem," is that you don't get to hand pick when that will be. Life isn't like that.

Mental toughness isn't just about gritting your teeth and hammering more.....it's also about being focused on the task at hand, and not looking for any specific result from the process, EXCEPT for the process itself.

Smell the roses. Enjoy the grind. Be present. Learn every day, about yourself and about the sport. Accept that you CAN'T control much of the results of what you do, despite your desire to. And while you are working very hard, and recovering as hard as you work, just let everything else take care of itself..."
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Have a great weekend everyone!
~Coach Al

 

Triathletes: Swim Technique – The Two MOST Common Mistakes…

"Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result."

- Albert Einstein


Coach Al along with elite swim coach and Masters World Champion, Karlyn Pipes

Coach Al along with elite swim coach and Masters World Champion, Karlyn Pipes

Hi Everyone! Coach Al here. I've got a quickie for you today, talking swim technique and common mistakes I see in developing triathletes.

As many of you know, for novices (and even for those who have experience) the swim portion of a triathlon is often THE segment of the race that creates the most amount of anxiety and nervousness. As a result, many triathletes spend countless hours doing drills up and down the pool to improve their technique, hoping that the changes they learn and practice WILL make the swim portion of the race easier come race day.

The problem becomes, what if you're not working on the right skills or worse, grooving less-than-optimal form, in your attempts to improve?

In my experience, there are two mistakes that I see over and over again, that are arguably the most common mistakes. Today I shot a quick video so you can see for yourself.

Ironically, the 2nd mistake I point out is very likely one of the reasons why the 1st mistake is often happening and therefore difficult to correct.

To summarize, if you roll excessively to the side, not much else matters! Why? Because there really is no way you can get into a good catch from an "all-of-the-way-onto-your-side" position, without first returning or rolling back to a more prone position.  And, rather than feeling fast or stable, you may actually feel the exact opposite.

Want to learn more? Check out this great video from Vasa (and elite swim coach Karlyn Pipes) on Better Freestyle Body Rotation. 

And here's another: In this video, Karlyn discusses fingertip orientation. Check it out.

Go other questions? Hit me up on our Pursuit Athletic Performance Facebook page!

Happy Swimming!

~Coach Al

ps: if you'd like to learn more about Karlyn and the services she offers designed to help you improve, go to her website here!

pss: we are HUGE fans of the Vasa Ergometer here at Pursuit Athletic Performance. Very few swim training tools offer a larger bang-for-your-buck than the Vasa. Check them out if you want to take your swim to the next level.

Triathlon in 2015: The Challenge of Changing Beliefs and Perceptions

Coach Al on the run at the 2004 Hawaii Ironman World Championship

Coach Al on the run at the 2004 Hawaii Ironman World Championship

Hey Everyone. Coach Al here. Thanks for joining me today.

I want to to share with you today some thoughts on the challenge of changing beliefs and perceptions in athletes. It's a view from my side of the fence, the perspective of a long-time coach who has dedicated many, many years, not only to studying movement and the powerful roles strength, stability, mobility, and flexibility play in unlocking ultimate athletic potential, but simply put, on what it takes to stay healthy and go FAST on the race course.

Let's start with this: Are the bullets below, true or false?

  • Pain in the joints or muscles when training is normal.
  • Being "tough" and training through pain or injury is sometimes necessary, and should be considered a source of pride.
  • Strength training is a luxury, and not really "necessary" for runners or triathletes.
  • Stretching has not been proven to be beneficial, so why do it?
  • Stretching has been proven to be beneficial.  However, to receive the benefits and remain healthy from stretching, one must stretch the whole body.
  • The way to get faster and improve future performance potential is to focus on continually increasing volume and intensity.
  • The way we move ultimately has no bearing on training or performance.

There is no doubt that some of you reading the statements above think many, or all of them, might be "true." In fact, from my point of view--and the view of renowned athletic movement experts--NONE of them are true. They are but a few examples of harmful and erroneous notions that have deep roots in the minds of many athletes, even in 2015!

At Pursuit Athletic Performance, we face the challenge of helping athletes discard commonly-held beliefs about training that are injurious and destructive. We ask athletes to open their minds, and let go of outdated and disproved ideas about what it takes to excel in sport.

Our message is a simple one, and it is this:

If you want to perform better, get faster, avoid or recover from injury, have longevity in sport, and have a healthier quality of life you must FIRST restore or develop MUSCULAR BALANCE, and THEN GET MOBILE, STABLE AND STRONG. Period. You MUST make your body MOVE like a champion athlete. That quality movement MUST COME FIRST before serious sport-specific training can then take you to the zenith of your potential.

One thing I know for certain: movement patterns filled with compensations lead to dysfunction, and dysfunction absolutely destroys the potential to train and race fast. I have dedicated my coaching career to helping athletes learn this life-altering truth, and break free from perceptions that undermine their true abilities and push attainable goals out of reach. It's not easy to change or upend the beliefs most consider gospel. It demands a paradigm shift. Some get it, some don't.

IF YOU ARE BATTLING injury and want to finally turn things around for you can have your best season ever, why not begin anew and start by checking out our new VIDEO series on avoiding and recovering from the most common running injuries. You won't be disapointed, that is for sure!

If you are not injured and want to stay that way, or you're a seasoned triathlete but frustrated because you aren't improving or getting faster, then get in touch with us and we will show you how to achieve your dreams!

Got questions? Fire away on Facebook or email me directly at coachal@pursuitfitness.com.

Have a great day!

~Coach Al

 

Stuck In Injury? Now Is The Time To Do Something About It!

Woman and men running during sunset

It is now mid-February. Whether or not it feels like it (can you say 70+ inches of snow and counting, if you live in the northeast!), spring is right around the corner, and with it, the events you have planned that you are also HOPING will make you feel good about yourself AND about the year 2015, when looking back on it.

The problem for many, especially those who have had success in the past, is allowing their EGO (along with some wishing and hoping) to get in the way of forward progress.

Why do we allow our own "confirmation bias" or our need to always be "right" to drag us down and keep us stuck in a place of injury, plateau, or worse?

If you can't get out of your own way long enough to leave behind the wishful thinking and see things (even for a brief moment) for how they REALLY are, then you know what? You will reap exactly what you sow. You will remain stuck in a place where injury or poor performance becomes your new normal.

If I've learned anything over the years, it is how important it remains to embrace humility. I have also learned that I NEED to get out of my own way and reach out to others with a beginner's mindset, so that I may move fully forward and reach my greatest personal potential! Not always easy, incredibly important and powerful.

Why not join me and a long list of others and finally put the injury and plateau bug behind you!

Check out our NEW INJURY PREVENTION series and get started now addressing those issues, so 2015 turns out the way you hope it will!

All my best,

~Coach Al

Are Running Drills A Waste of Time?

Keep Calm and Get Your Learn OnHi Everyone. Coach Al here. I often get questions from our team members and others about which running drills are best for improving form as well as "fixing" running gait issues. Today I decided to share one of those questions and my response to it.

Now I'm sure the title of this blog post caught your eye, right? On the topic of running drills, are they really a waste of time?  Keep reading to learn more. Here's the question I received:

"I saw my functional movement guru recently; he was really impressed with all my hard work and how well I've progressed since he saw me last. Gave a thumbs up to all the exercises and the return to running program as well, and made one small suggestion that made a lot of sense to me, so I wanted to run it by you guys. He asked if I was doing any running drills...and I replied, no, not really. He related it to my swimming- how I've taken such a big chunk of my swim time to retrain my movement patterns with my swim, and since I am returning to running, yes I am strengthening weaknesses, but he felt quite strongly I should be incorporating more drills to unlearn poor movement patterns. Retrain my brain so to speak. And this made total sense to me- I know I have been doing exercises that strengthen the muscles I should be using when I run, but the brain also plays a large part in how we move too, and I thought the drills suggestion was awesome. BUT- I have no run coach, and not sure where to go from here. Can you help?"

These are really good questions and I'm sure, many of you have heard this kind of recommendation before. So here's my response....


First, you ARE already doing "drills" with the exercises you are practicing and progressing (such as the basic glute-bridge and others), you just may not be "thinking" of those movements as running drills.

Most people don't think of a basic bridge (and the variations including one-leg versions) as a running drill. But it is. It's a hip extension pattern that mimics what happens when you run. Done correctly and progressively, the movement strengthens the body to run stronger, better, and faster. Isn't that what a drill is supposed to do?

My point in presenting the bridge as a "running drill" is this: Traditional running drills are highly dynamic. Bounding or A-Skip/B-Skip - these are movements that are very challenging to do well. If the foundation (and the basic skills designed to build that foundation) aren't solid and well established, especially combined with a lack of the required strength to absorb the loads inherent in running (resulting in loads equaling 3 to 4x our body weight from the affect of gravity and ground reaction, and up to 1500 or so foot strikes in every mile), then no amount of even more complex or "traditional" drill work is going to FIX the lack of a strong foundation or the lack of those basic foundational skills.

Start at the beginning, and master that beginning before moving on to something more complex. After all, if you were a math student, wouldn't you expect to learn basic math and algebra efore moving on to calculus?


Two Popular "Schools of Running": What's The Deal?

Some run coaches and other supposed "experts" (including those runners who consider themselves to be the experts) often suggest to others, who may not have learned how to extend their hips with their butts correctly (as with the basic bridge), or learned how to stabilize their core, or even perform a perfect 1-leg squat for that matter, to do complex drills like A-Skip, or B-Skip, or some other "typical" running drill.

Chi Running and The Pose Method represent two "schools" of running form that also offer lots of drills, designed to "teach" the body how to run efficiently and effectively.

Are the drills sometimes fun to do and learn?* Yes. Do they "teach" you how to run well? By well, I mean, with appropriate stability, balance, coordination, applying powerful forces into the ground efficiently and effectively.

The answer is a resounding NO.

The reason is simple: the drills, just like running, are made up of very complex movement patterns involving LOTS of moving parts and our entire nervous system.

Something we frequently discuss with athletes here in our Pursuit Athletic Performance Fast Lab  relates to this very point, which is conscious control of running. What do I mean?

Let's start with a question that is worth considering honestly: Can you consciously control what your entire body is doing when you are running? Other than basic posture, arm carriage (which would change as soon as you stopped thinking about it), stride rate to some degree, and where you're looking, the answer is NO, you can not.

Core stability, hip and ankle mobility, foot mechanics, ground contact time, over striding, etc., are ALL things which largely HAPPEN FROM THE INSIDE OUT, NOT THE OUTSIDE IN!

The take home here is clear: drills can be learned, yes. But will they change what happens on the INSIDE?

No, as a general rule, they do not.

Now is a good time to pause and for me to make something very clear: I am NOT saying all running drills are bad or that there isn't an appropriate time and place for them - what I am saying is this:

MOST runners who do drills are NOT ready for them, and because of that, they will serve no meaningful purpose, nor will learning them result in meaningful changes to either injury resistance OR speed potential. 

Most running drills DON'T help you "un-learn poor movement patterns" at all, they usually do the reverse! They take "poor" (meaning compensated) patterns and often make them worse.

When you MASTER the basics first, then you may be ready to move on to a host of different "drills" which really challenge the nervous system and improve some aspect of running (I do think the jury is out on this however). The point is, certain drills, if they are going to be beneficial, will only be when learned and worked on in the presence of mastery of the fundamentals, and basics, first.


Swimming and Running: How Are They Different?

Your trainer's comparison between running and swimming is really common, but it's dead wrong.

The two "movements" are very different beyond the obvious factors (being horizontal in the water vs. vertical on land), and thus are learned very differently. As such, the role of drills is very different for each sport. Here's what I mean:

  • Regardless of intensity, swimming and running happen at very different speeds. For example, on average most triathletes take 18 to 20 strokes when swimming freestyle for 25 yds. That's 18 to 20 individual strokes over the course of an average of 20 to 30 seconds. In that same 20 to 30 second time period, the runner has taken 80 to 100 strides. That's a BIG difference in terms of the amount of time and focus you can give to controlling and executing the basic movement pattern. Swimming can be consciously controlled to a MUCH GREATER degree than can running, because it is happening much more slowly. It is less dynamic in terms of time and speed of the movements.
  • While we know swimming freestyle is "complex" (reach, catch, pull, kicking, etc), the truth is that when comparing the "complexity" of the run gait cycle to the freestyle stroke, running is more complex. For example, you could really lie on your stomach in the pool, put one arm out in front of you and keep one arm at your side, and just paddle like you were on a surfboard. And while your entire trunk is involved, your lower body could truly just be stationary and not doing much. It is, in effect, the motion of your arm and back that is largely responsible for swimming freestyle. In contrast, running involves virtually every single soft tissue in your body - its truly holistic and total body! And when you add in the forces acting on our body such as gravity and ground reaction forces, the movement becomes extraordinarily complex, immediately! And there's no way to "slow it down" or make it less complex, unless you do what I alluded to earlier - lie on your back and work on that 1 leg bridge or stand and groove a perfect 1-leg squat.

In summary, because of this complexity difference and the speed of the movements, there's no comparison between the "thoughtful" drills you do in the pool to improve technique and skill, and the run gait cycle. And as such, how we learn and improve upon our skills must be approached differently.

(*If you'd like to learn more about the connection between core stability and swimming, go to our podcast on the topic).


What Determines Your Path: Is it boredom or a need to be entertained while you train? OR is it a genuine pursuit of personal and athletic excellence? 

Now at this point you may be asking...."ok, well I've mastered the basics - shouldn't I be ready to tackle A-Skip or B-Skip?"

My response to that is to say this: As I look back, rarely have I ever coached or seen a runner in a clinic or worked with someone in our Pursuit Training Center who had mastered the basics well enough for me to say, "you are not only ready for the most complex drills, but because you're ready, you'll get a ton out of them!" That just hasn't happened very often. Does it happen occasionally? Yes, but not very often.

The reverse however, happens a lot. What is that? A runner who continues to struggle OWNING basic static stability or low level dynamic stability, and who hasn't yet developed powerful glutes and hamstrings to explode their hip extension..."wanting" to learn a new "cool" drill that they THINK, will take the place of good old, patient and persistent hard work.

That is what it comes down to, I think.

Building strength and stability is sometimes boring, and it is very hard work. Drills, on the other hand, are more fun and seem to be more beneficial because of the complex nature of them. And in that lies fools gold, in my opinion.

What's more, our subconscious mind hates for us to engage in "practice," and in mastering the basics! Why? Because there is no "guaranteed" positive outcome. So, we need to be smarter than our subconscious mind and understand that to be the best we can be, we need to:

MASTER THE BASICS and FUNDAMENTALS first.

Own them. Completely and totally.

When you become super stable and strong and keep improving those elements, and then start training FASTER with the strength you've developed (and keep returning to the basics to ensure you OWN them completely), trust me, you won't be asking what drills you ought to do to get faster and better - IT WILL BE HAPPENING AUTOMATICALLY!

All of the above form the philosophy of training that drives our company and team Pursuit, and of course how I have personally trained as a runner and triathlete:

No one, not even those will great talent, will be successful over the long term, if they attempt to put higher fitness or higher level skills, ON TOP of a basic compensational or dysfunctional movement pattern (or a lack of basic functional balanced strength and length).

So, back to the title of this blog post, no, I don't believe all drills are a waste of time at all. Explosive drill work, just like running form technique work, does have its place!

That place, however, isn't at the beginning nor is it for the great majority of developing runners or triathletes. These things are FROSTING ON THE CAKE.

The thing is, before you apply the FROSTING, you HAVE TO BAKE THE CAKE!

Happy Trails!

~Coach Al 

Musings From Coach Al: Are You Ready?

"If people can make permanent decisions in their life regarding their choice of mate, religion, or political party, then they are equally capable of making permanent decisions regarding their food choices, fitness commitments, and goals. (The human species is not biologically weakwilled, though you'd never know it if you observed typical human behavior.) Making sweeping, definitive, all-encompassing, and enduring commitments is an incredibly powerful and liberating experience, both in the making and the living up to them." --  Chris Kostman, Race Director of the Badwater Ultramarathon


Today I received an email from an athlete I coach, with a hyperlink to a blog post from another coach.

The post resonated with me because I could really relate to what the author, Coach Taylor, was ranting about.

Many of you remember the podcast I did with Coach Pat Flynn, on the challenge inherent in being a "truth-telling" coach and teacher.

Perhaps you remember my blog post from Ironman Hawaii in 2012 on truth and honesty.

Well, here's another piece on the topic that I believe is worth a few minutes of your time to read.

Blog image

 

But only if you want results.

And are willing to look in the mirror and hear the truth.

And aren't easily offended.

Are you ready??

~Coach Al 

 

Team Pursuit Athletic Performance: It’s Been A Banner Year!

TEAM Pursuit Athletes at the 2013 Timberman Half Ironman triathlon!

TEAM Pursuit triathletes at the Timberman Half Ironman triathlon!

2014 was a banner year for Team Pursuit Athletic Performance.

It isn't just that we have expanded into a new training space on the top of Inspiration lane in Chester, Connecticut (with a completely new offering of classes and clinics for kids and adults in many different sports) OR that our team has grown at an unprecendented rate of speed. No, it's a lot more than just about a new training center or the numbers.

So what has made 2014 such a banner year?

Simply put, it has been the heart and soul of our team and our company, it is the people.

From novice to elite (and regardless of the sport), the person who finds a home as a member of Team Pursuit is friendly, supportive, humble, smart, compassionate, fun-loving and hard working. Our trainers and coaches are the same!

The start of the new year is a great time to reflect on why we are so proud of the work we do AND the athletes who make up our team.

So why should you choose Team Pursuit Athletic Performance?  Here are five reasons why....

  1. Fun, comraderie, sharing, hard work and achievement - together. Some teams or groups exist solely for the betterment of its leaders or to help someone else profit. Team Pursuit exists primarily to help make a real difference and empower ordinary people to achieve extraordinary things, amidst a genuine spirit of sharing, humility, fun, and comraderie.  
  2. Training for the betterment of the body, not to its detriment. Team Pursuit athletes believe that the ultimate 'goal' is to be in the game for the long term. They don't believe that any short term goal is worth sacrificing their body and damaging it for the long term. Some see training through injury as a sign of toughness, but not Team Pursuit. Many of our present day team members were once consistently injured and grew tired of it. You can read about their stories of redemption to a new better way to live and train. There really IS a better way. You CAN go faster than ever and be truly healthy too!
  3. Balance in all things. Family, sport, work, friends, community...they ALL matter and all are important for any person to lead a satisfying, rewarding, happy life. Balance might be the most over used cliche' word ever written, yet Team Pursuit athletes don't just give lip service to it. We preach it when it comes to our body and we LIVE it when it comes to how we reach higher and seek to explode our potential, on AND off the race course. Our own first-of-its-kind "Functional Well-Being" coaching program is just one example.
  4. Learning. Team Pursuit athletes might be defined most by this single concept: they love to learn! Life long learners achieve more, enjoy the training process more, and ultimately go faster too.
  5. Our staff of coaches, trainers, and sports medicine professionals is the very best available, anywhere. Rarely will you ever find the very best sports medicine advice AND professional coaching and racing expertise all under one roof. Combine those with a staff of dedicated professional coaches and trainers, and a team full of people who cherish the opportunity to reach out to each other and help, and you truly have a winning combination that is hard to beat.

2015 is going to be one amazing year!  We invite you to consider joining us on the journey!

Happy New Year to all!

 

The TrueForm Runner: Part 1 – Sherrington’s Law In Action

TrueForm Runners lining the front window at the Pursuit Training Center

TrueForm Runners lining the front window at the Pursuit Training Center

As many of you know, we are fortunate to have five TrueForm Runners (non-motorized treadmills made by Samsara Fitness) in our Pursuit Training Center (PTC). If you haven't listened to our original podcast about the TrueForm (with the owners of Samsara Fitness) you can find it here.

In the next few months we are planning a series of articles on what we’re learning from using the TrueForms (running on them ourselves and coaching with them in a variety of our classes and 1 on 1 personal training). Most importantly, we’ll also share how using on a TrueForm Runner could help YOU improve (perhaps even more than you thought was possible!).

While today’s first-in-a-series article revolves around running on the TrueForm, the discussion will center on the nervous system: how it works and how integration, timing (and the Chinese philosophy of yin-yang) can powerfully (and positively!) impact your running speed, strength AND endurance. We will also examine how the TrueForm Runner can help you “connect the dots” and put it all together.

Note: the concepts we will discuss now and in the future will be born out of our experience and should be of great value to you, whether you have a TrueForm Runner to run on or not. We hope however, that should you have the chance to run on one that you jump at the opportunity.

In the time that the TrueForm Runners have been in our facility, I’ve probably spent more time running on them than any other person.  I have also coached some individual runners through a “rebuild” of their running using the TrueForm Runner as it was truly intended, NOT as a treadmill per se, but as a run trainer.  I’m also teaching an ongoing class at the PTC using the TrueForm which focuses on speed development and on learning and refining sprint mechanics.

What am I (and others who have used the TrueForm Runners) learning?

The first thing anyone who runs on the TrueForm for the first time may learn is getting the belt to even move so they CAN run on it can be difficult, especially if they have had a history of injury and are not moving well. It is really eye opening to see someone struggle; the look of shock, dismay and even a tiny bit of embarrassment on a person’s face is priceless. The fact is, the reasons for this struggle are virtually all nervous-system related.

(In the past, we've written frequently on our blog about the fact that running is a neural activity, and that running well truly has an important skill component to it. If you haven’t listened to our podcast with running expert Owen Anderson, Ph.D on this very topic, check it out here.)

So when someone experiences difficulty running on the TrueForm, what is actually happening? The answer to that question is what this first in a series of articles is all about.

To begin, let me first ask a question: Have you ever watched a highly accomplished elite runner and noticed how fluidly he or she seems to run, or how they seem to be able to effortlessly fly through the air bounding from one leg to another?

Stop for a moment and picture in your mind’s eye, a race horse in slow-motion rounding a turn at the track, or a dressage horse stepping out like a ballet dancer. Or gaze up at the sky and watch a bird in flight. What about a top-notch symphony orchestra: strings, woodwinds, brass and percussion, all playing perfectly together to create a rich beautiful sound, or a scull with its entire crew perfectly and synchronously propelling the boat at breakneck speed. What you see (or hear) is the near-perfect integration and timing of muscle contraction and relaxation (yin-yang). It is fluid – synchronous – graceful – powerful, like poetry in motion.

This seemingly fluid-like blend is categorized by something a neuroscientist named Sherrington told us about in the early 20th Century - what has become known as Sherrington’s Law of Reciprocal Inhibition or Innervation. You know this simply as one way of describing how a muscle group relaxes as its opposing muscle group is stimulated. For example, imagine you grab a dumbbell and curl it. As you curl the weight, firing the biceps and thus reducing the angle at your elbow, the opposing muscle group, the triceps, are relaxing to allow for this curling movement to occur.

Also known as rhythmic reflexes, the key thing to remember is that the simple act of running is Sherrington’s Law in action. And the act of running well (fast, efficient, powerful) is Sherrington’s Law in action at a very high level! In other words, running requires integrated activation and reciprocal innervation of muscles in order to happen. In effect, this rhythmic reflex which is inherent in compound movements like running, result in a meshing, somewhat like the cogs in a precision instrument or fine watch.

Perhaps the next questions to ask are, do we all “mesh” or blend like a precision instrument when we run? What are the real differences in how each of us puts Sherrington’s Law into action? Most importantly, can we improve our own run coordination and timing? If we could, wouldn't these changes result in improvements in speed, power and efficiency?

Before we delve into the possible answers to those questions, let’s look a little deeper at the importance of this yin-yang relationship of tension and relaxation and review the concept of Superstiffness.

Athletes experimenting with the TrueForm Runners!

Athletes experimenting with the TrueForm Runners at the Pursuit Training Center

Respected back expert and professor of kinesiology at the University of Waterloo, Dr. Stuart McGill, introduced this concept and has written often about it. I once heard Dr. McGill, in a presentation he gave at a strength and conditioning conference, say that in his work with many different athletes, the single largest difference between the elite and the average, was in the way that an elite athlete is able to tense AND relax at exactly the right time, at a higher level than the average athlete. It would seem that the regular among us seem to be tense when we should be relaxed, and relaxed when we should be tense!

When speaking about this concept of Superstiffness in his book, “Ultimate Back Fitness and Performance,” Dr. McGill states:

“Breaking the board by the martial artist requires the skill of compliance (relaxation) to build speed but with rapid super stiffness just at impact. The professional golfer who has a relaxed backswing but rapidly obtains super stiffness at ball impact (followed by an astounding relaxation rate) is the one who achieves the long ball. The one who tries to swing too hard too soon actually decreases speed of movement with inappropriate stiffness. We have measured the creation of “pulses” of muscle force in athletes used to create “shockwaves.” Precise timing, the rate of relaxation, joint buttressing together with all of the principles of Superstiffness are optimized.”

In case we needed to hear from even more experts on the topic of the tension/relaxation curve, well known Soviet sport scientist, Dr. Leonid Matveyev observed “the higher the athlete’s level, the quicker he could relax his muscles." It has been said that the soviet scientist observed an 800% difference between novice and Olympic level competitors. Without a doubt, there is clearly a very important relationship in elite performance between well-timed tension and relaxation, with mastery of relaxation being a hallmark of an elite athlete.

And what of the TrueForm as it relates to these concepts?

Because the TrueForm is non-motorized, the runner is forced to create and maintain their own momentum. A runner can't easily compensate (fake) their way to good running form artificially.  As a result, the more coordinated, synchronous and “mesh-like” your running, the more easily and effectively you’ll be able to run on the TrueForm.

For example, as your skill and coordination improve:

  • Your ability to create tension at the right time and in the right place (your leg/foot in mid-stance phase applying force to the belt) improves.
  • Your ability to relax certain parts of your body, such as the leg moving forward through the swing phase of the stride, also improves.
  • Your ability to take full advantage of the elastic component of running (where more than 50% of your forward propulsion in running comes from) also improves. (More about this aspect in a future article).

What is happening as coordination and skill improve is not from conscious thought - it happens unconsciously in the brain and nervous system. (It should also be noted that it is not in the cardiovascular system either, where runners typically look for improvements in fitness).

It is MUCH more about timing and integration, than effort or pure strength, just like the rowers in that scull or the dancing dressage horse. You don’t have to force it, as much as simply (and patiently) allow your nervous system and brain to figure it out - to learn better how to do their thing more efficiently and effectively.

To summarize to this point: The improvements aren't about a single muscle or body part (no, not even your butt!) What it IS about is everything from your fingertips to your toenails working together as a single, integrated, holistic unit. With repeated practice, the TrueForm can help you and your brain and nervous system, “connect the dots” more completely.

Some of the benefits of a non-motorized treadmill like the TrueForm are:

  • Near perfect application of force into the ground at the exact right time, resulting in a longer more powerful stride.
  • Relaxation of all other parts of your body that aren't applying that force, resulting in less energy use.
  • Enhanced posture, mobility, and stability with repeated training and practice, resulting is greater resistance to fatigue over the long haul.
  • Yin-yang: the perfect balance of relaxation and tension.

Tension and relaxation in all sports, including and especially running, are the two sides of the performance and durability coin. Tension is force production into the ground: it’s a powerful stride that lifts the body over the ground against the forces of gravity. On the other hand, relaxation is leg speed and endurance. To be the best runner you can be, you need both.

In future articles, I will discuss how we are actually training on and progressing our training on the TrueForm Runners, as well as other movement related components and how they can be enhanced using the TrueForm.  I will also present some strategies on how you can enhance the effects of the TrueForm without actually having one to use. Stay tuned.

Happy Trails!

~Coach Al

 

PS: in order for all of the improvements that have been discussed above to occur completely and to the full satisfaction of the individual runner, the runner also must possess appropriate mobility (ankles and hips), true dynamic core stability, and solid functional strength inside a balanced body. No tool, treadmill (motorized or not) or training protocol can ever substitute for mastery and maintenance of movement quality fundamentals.