It is my opinion that the work we do at Pursuit Athletic Performance (PAP) likely requires a paradigm shift for our athletes. Before we begin to talk about training plans with clients, we reeducate our athletes on the importance and ultimate power behind “authentic movement.” Restoring authentic movement through balanced mobility, stability, and strength is the basis of what we do. From where I sit, each and every athlete, no matter what the ability, should–no, must–approach their training from this fundamentally powerful place.
I cannot drive home forcefully enough how authentic movement and balance in the body results in better quality training, phenomenal recovery, better overall health, and faster racing! Balance, as we talk about it at PAP, is not standing on one leg or exercising on a BOSU ball. Rather, it is an holistic balance of muscle length, mobility, stability, and strength. Our sports, coupled with our lifestyles–sitting, driving, computers work, etc.–create imbalances in the body. These imbalances lead to compensation and dysfunction, and, ultimately, to injury. Make no mistake, dysfunctional movement patterns diminish performance, extend the time needed to recover from training and racing, and absolutely shorten an athlete’s lifespan in sport. As we age, it certainly negatively impacts quality of life as a whole.
This philosophy is also the foundation of the way I coach. Discovering dysfunctional movement, and working to rid the body of compensations and restore balance is what I first do with any and every athlete I coach, whether it be Lisbeth Kenyon, 3x consecutive Ironman age group world championship, or Debbie Livingston, women’s champion at the Grindstone 100 ultra run, to a pure novice. My coaching philosophy is based upon restoring authentic movement and building a base of balanced strength from the ground up so that athletes can train and race to their true potential.
You simply cannot train and race to your ultimate best with a body that is unbalanced and broken.
Cultivating speed and outstanding personal performance is what we expect all our athletes to be able to achieve–and they do. By rebuilding the athlete’s body from the inside out– so that it is injury resistant and able to withstand more training load, and teaching them how to properly recover and maintain optimal health–we create the perfect confluence where fulfillment in sport and personal happiness is greatly enhanced. When this holistic balance is attained–and I see the power of it in my athletes every day–it is the most fulfilling and rewarding aspect of my coaching.
I hope this explains where I focus my efforts as a coach, and how dedicated I remain to outstanding results for my athletes–on the race course and in their daily lives. It may take a bit of relearning on the part of some athletes–the paradigm shift we talked about earlier–but it is a place of true power in our lives and outstanding performance on the race course.
I think you will find interesting a current situation I am working through with one of the triathletes I coach. He is having a crisis in confidence about his run preparedness for Ironman Coeur d’Alene coming up in June. This athlete has been at the triathlon game for a while, but–like so many of you–has experienced repetitive cycles of running injury. Before we started working together, he had not been able to run with any consistency–or at all–for a year.
His current injury cycle came on the heels of his last round of Ironman training two years ago. He trained for that race with a mass coaching program that strongly stresses the “train more” philosophy with punishing levels of intensity day in and day out, week in and week out. And while this program touts it is “the way” to train for faster race times, in the end it robbed this athlete (and many others) of ANY ability to train or race at all.
As a long-time and experienced coach, I know one thing for sure–the “just train more” message is very seductive to triathletes. In a very real way, the mindset of “just train more” or “no pain, no gain” pervades much of our sport, and is almost like a drug. Many of us joke about it, but the fact is it seems to tap into a primal need to test ourselves and prove we can handle pain and not wilt under pressure. Once we drink that Kool Aid, it’s hard to turn back. Many don’t know any other way once exposed to it, and are often led further down the path by coaches who flat out don’t know what they are doing. The bottom line is, my triathlete’s concerns about run preparedness come from old, worn out training tapes replaying in his head. He has been duped into believing that you need to do week upon grueling week of long, hard running in order to be “ready” to run a marathon off of the bike.
That’s simply not true. Not on any level.
Here’s what is true–and this is where athletes find the place of phenomenal power, authentic fulfillment, and, yes, truly outstanding race day results.
IF you are functionally strong, TRULY healthy, and are building run and overall fitness steadily throughout training, that creates the conditions for an outstanding race. Then you must SHOW UP on race day, be TRULY healthy and rested, race smart, and be mentally ready to go after it. Put the two pieces together and it is then that you have the best opportunity for a GREAT race, especially off the bike–which is where it matters the most. Sounds too simple, and not “hard enough”?
Any coach can react to an athlete’s nervousness and write an overly aggressive run “build” phase. I always tell my athletes the easiest thing I can do is write harder plans. After all, I only have to type! Many knucklehead coaches, however, take pride in making stuff “hard” because their own egos are their biggest concern, not the athlete’s health and well being. As a responsible and experienced coach, I know that when an athlete returns to running after injury, the first few weeks absolutely DRIVE what happens, good or bad, with all the run training to follow for this race, this season–and beyond!
For example, if my triathlete is running slightly beyond his true functional capability due to an aggressive build designed to “get him there,” odds are he will fall back into old dysfunctional and compensated movement patterns. Remember, it is those same patterns that created injury in the first place. Also, he will be building TIREDNESS, instead of true run FITNESS. That means as he gets closer to the race, he will be thinking and believing he’s ready to race, when, in truth, he has been moving backwards on a number of levels–not the least of which is inching closer to re-injury.
I can guarantee that if my triathlete is FULLY PRESENT on race day with strong mental fortitude and toughness, AND a completely healthy, rested and ready body, he will surprise the heck out of himself with a run to be proud of–and a run that reflects his true potential. And the beauty is, this Ironman will be the start–NOT the end–of a training period. By ensuring true run health, athletes find a deep well of resiliency they never thought they had. They are able to dig deeper and find a resolve they always thought had to come through “force,” and a “train-more-and-suck-it-up” philosophy. Truly healthy athletes RECOVER, and come back to train and race year after year. Instead of beating the body to a pulp, Ironman becomes the beginning of a long period of steady improvement in strength, durability, and speed.
Most importantly, finishing this Ironman healthily and well will allow my triathlete to MANIFEST the power of the accomplishment in his everyday life, not simply adopt a persona. His personal reasons for undertaking the challenge will be with him with every breath he takes after the race. It’s what Mark Allen referred to as a “raw reality.” My triathlete will be authentically healthy, authentically athletic, authentically positive. He will be an IRONMAN, in the truest sense of what finishing the distance is supposed to mean. He will live it, and in his own mind, he will know he did it right.
I wish this same sense of peace, accomplishment, and good health for every single triathlete I coach. It is the place where true fulfillment and satisfaction are born. Believe it, and make the decision to BE IT.
Recently, there has been debate in triathlon circles about the benefit of brick runs. A new school of thought has swept in claiming that running off the bike in training serves no purpose and is of little use. After years of thought on this topic as a coach, and much personal experimentation as an athlete and movement specialist here in our gait analysis lab, here is my perspective on the debate.
In brief, I believe brick runs have great value, but not necessarily for the reasons most people think. In my opinion, the issue of running off the bike should not be presented as a training dilemma or time-saving problem to be solved. Brick runs, in fact, present the opportunity to solve a very important physical MOVEMENT issue for triathletes.
What I know from my work in our gait analysis lab, and confirmed from my own experience, is that it is VERY challenging to get the posterior chain–the glutes, in particular–working properly to be able to run well after cycling. I have personally spent a lot of time practicing and experimenting with ways to trigger better glute activation and involvement before a brick run. I have worked on correct hip flexor stretching, and various dynamic stretching of the entire anterior hip region in order to better activate the posterior chain. I can tell you with certainty that it is very difficult to get the back side of our body going after being on a bike for any length of time. And, to be clear, to run to your potential, your posterior chain–including the glutes–has to not only be firing, but must be strong.
But why do the glutes stubbornly refuse to activate off the bike? It is due to a real physiologic phenomenon known as reciprocal inhibition. Reciprocal inhibition causes the muscles on one side of a joint to relax to accommodate contraction on the other side of that joint. The posture of cycling involves sustained hip flexion, making the hip flexors short and tight. Reciprocal inhibition then causes the hip extensors, especially the gluteus maximus, to shut down markedly. As we discuss further, you will see how brick runs work effectively to counter this phenomenon.
The discoveries I have made in my own training, as well as what I see in the athletes I coach, prove to me that the following elements are absolutely crucial to one’s ability to optimize the run portion of a triathlon:
You must first understand how important the glutes are in running. And its NOT enough that your glutes are strong (although they MUST be STRONG), they must also be able to act as the PRIMARY extendor of the hip, which is their role. Sometimes the hamstring or low back, due to compensation, tries to over take the role of the glute. First order of business for you is to eliminate compensation wherever possible so that the glutes are doing their job, and then via a platform of functional strength training, get them strong.
You must understand that the glutes work to create hip extension when running to power you down the road. When coming off the bike, the glutes are not doing that job well at all due to reciprocal inhibition. The longer the ride, the greater the inhibition. Therefore…
It is imperative to PRACTICE running off the bike frequently to develop a precise, in-tune FEEL of what it takes to get the glutes working effectively. How can you do that?
? Engage in kinesthetic and proprioceptive awareness when you run. Make thoughtful yet subtle adjustments in run posture, especially early on in the run, and periodically throughout the run. Lead with the hips, not the torso; shoulders down/elbows back; stand tall and lengthen your spine are just some of the cues to use.
? Employ a higher stride rate (at least 90 to 95 stride cycles per minute) and a “shorter” stride to allow for the awareness articulated above and to reduce ground impact forces.
? In your training, every few times you do a brick run, take a few minutes before going out on the run, to moderately and smartly stretch the flexors of the hip. This should be done correctly, from a neutral pelvic position, and done dynamically and with control. Own this movement pattern before running.
? Begin your run out of T2 very conservatively. Allow a few minutes for the body to “find” its correct running form naturally. You want your running to be AUTHENTIC, which is to say driven primarily by the glutes. If you start running too intensely or too fast, it is less likely the run will be glute driven–and the risk of poor performance and injury increase.
? Practice brick runs frequently, BUT combine the running with the proper awareness we discussed. If you do that, the authentic run groove can be established more easily and more quickly.
For the record, I am not saying that frequent brick runs, in and of themselves, fix the inherent problem we are discussing here. If your butt is weak and asleep, then no amount of bricks can change that, and in fact, will only groove poor movement and inefficient running. Running off the bike alone cannot and will not make you a stronger and faster triathlete.
What I am saying is that as a triathlete, you must first understand how crucial an issue this is. The inherent challenges that exist when going from cycling to running ARE NOT about the training effect of bike to run, but are about quality MOVEMENT. Your glutes must be strong, and they must fire in order for you to run well. If you do the work and strengthen the posterior chain, then the last piece of the puzzle is using the brick run often and effectively to groove the transition from strong powerful cycling to strong, powerful fatigue-resistant, injury-resistant running.
In the end, brick runs help you address a MOVEMENT ISSUE crucial to your triathlon success. It is not a “training” issue. And it is a real mistake to view brick runs as unnecessary or expendable,
It is clear to me that coaches who diminish the importance of brick runs simply do not understand physical movement, where true running speed really comes from, the importance of the glutes, and the real impact of reciprocal inhibition. Frequent brick runs, built upon authentic movement and gluteal strength, will lead to better, more efficient, more powerful, more skilled running off the bike.
I believe it is something every triathlete benefits from when approached in the correct way, and with clear intent.
“Gluteal amnesia” is a great phrase coined by Stuart McGill, PhD, one of the world’s foremost experts on spine biomechanics. And you know what? Based on the athletes we see coming into our Gait Analysis Lab every day, you probably have it. And it’s not a good thing.
So much of athletic performance depends on the optimal functioning of your butt and all the gluteal muscles–maximus, medius and minimus–in concert with the functional integrity of your hips and pelvis. This is the powerhouse that generates propulsive athletic movement, and when functioning properly, is majorly important in helping to prevent injuries.
“Gluteal amnesia” is particularly detrimental to athletes. Many of us in modern society have lost our ability to engage the butt muscles and hips during exercise due to lifestyles that include a great deal of sitting, driving, being hunched over a computer, etc. When the ability to move correctly and with functional integrity is lost, performance is adversely affected for sure, and the risk of injury rises exponentially.
We want to make clear, however, that overcoming “gluteal amnesia” is about more than simply strengthening the glutes. We encourage you to revisit our posts on functional strength training and authentic movement to learn more about the importance of establishing and owning a neutral pelvis, achieving muscular balance, and becoming stable. Getting functionally strong, activating your glutes, and strengthening your hips is far more than just throwing a bunch of exercises at your body, especially if you do them with bad form, or if they’re an incorrect exercise for you. We hope to help you put the pieces together to learn how exceptional athleticism is derived, then have you take action. Conquering overall “functional amnesia” is how to unlock your potential, and become the best athlete you can be.
Pain in the joints or muscles when exercising is normal.
Being “tough” and training through pain or injury is sometimes necessary, and should be considered a source of pride.
Strength training is not necessary for runners or triathletes.
Stretching should not be targeted to particular areas. One must stretch the whole body in order to be healthy and receive the benefits of the stretching.
The way to get faster and improve future performance potential is to keep increasing volume and intensity.
The way your body moves has no bearing on my training or performance.
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 to studying movement and the powerful roles strength, stability, mobility, and flexibility play in unlocking ultimate athletic potential.
There is no doubt that some of you reading the statements above think many, or all of them, are “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 most athletes.
Every day at Pursuit Athletic Performance (PAP), my partner, Dr. Kurt Strecker, and I 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 STRONG, STABLE, MOBILE, AND FLEXIBLE! Period. You MUST make your body MOVE like a champion athlete, authentically! 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 car1eer 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 is, however, not an easy task to upend the beliefs athletes consider gospel. It demands a paradigm shift. Some get it, some don’t.
We have clients who, when introduced to the power of authentic movement, “get it” right away. The light bulb goes off and they understand they too can train like a champion. How? It sure isn’t about racking up the miles. These smart athletes learn that they can build strength, balance, and stability INTO THEIR BODIES to MOVE LIKE A CHAMPION. Sure, they know they will never be as fast as a Kenyan, but they understand how their own body can work like a champion’s body. They experience how a foundation of strength, stability and balance produces power and speed within them, just as it does for Ironman World Champion Chrissie Wellington or Boston Marathon winner Geoffrey Mutai. Those who “get it,” and “own” authentic movement are the PAP athletes who do amazing things they never dreamed possible like getting to Kona, or making that Boston marathon qualifying time. These same athletes never bother to look back and revisit their old beliefs and perceptions.
The uphill battle begins when an athlete is unshakably wedded to training messages that are just plain wrong. Competitors have long been served “easy fixes” that are readily swallowed. How many of you have bought shoes that promise biomechanical nirvana? How many of you have deliberately tried to change your running stride? Did any of it work over the long term? Of course not.
Most athletes still believe breakthroughs in performance come from changes you make on the outside. Sorry, folks, but that simply wastes your time, energy, and money. The missing link is this: Better performance and faster racing is built from the INSIDE OUT.
At Pursuit Athletic Performance we don’t worry about getting athletes faster and stronger. We can do that without question whether you are an elite racer or a novice. It is our ULTIMATE GOAL that proves our greatest challenge–to teach all athletes the essential role of authentic movement in athletic pursuit. The plain, yet simple truth is if you are not strong, stable, and balanced ON THE INSIDE, you will NEVER manifest your goals and dreams on the outside. It is sometimes not an easy lesson for us to teach, but when we are successful, it is incredibly rewarding for us and athlete alike.
A client's daughter runs with the beauty of pure authentic movement
Here at Pursuit Athletic Performance (PAP) we regularly use the phrase “authentic movement.” We’ve received a few requests asking us for an articulation of what we mean, so here goes!
“Authentic movement” sums up the movement restoration process we undertake with clients here at PAP through gait analysis and subsequent functional strength training. To reestablish “authentic movement” means to get athletes back to a point of holistic balance within their bodies. We don’t mean balance as in standing on an unstable object or on one leg, but rather, balance of muscle length, mobility, and stability.
In fact, authentic movement and balance is something we all possessed at one time. It refers back to the way we moved as children. It’s the way we moved before we suffered that first minor, soon to be chronic, injury (however minor it may have seemed at the time). Authentic movement is what we see when we watch elementary school children run around the playground, developing speed and power seemingly effortlessly.
As we age, however, issues associated with too much sitting, commuting, working hunched over a computer, or chronic microtrauma from our “healthy” exercise habits greatly impacts our bodies. It changes our movement from “‘authentic” (and thus correct), to compensated. Compensation is the exact opposite of authentic movement. Some degree of compensation is inevitable in every adult. If your goal is to get faster, and be better as an athlete, the training loads you’ll be putting on your body will expose the compensation, and will surely lead to dysfunctional movement.
Dysfunctional movement is an extreme dream crusher, responsible for reduced power and speed, diminished performance, and increased risk of injury and frustration. From the first ache or pain, you see your dream slipping away. You sense this activity, which you love to do, is going to be taken from you. You get so anxious and so concerned, that you become willing to try and train right through the pain, and ignore it in the process. You try to wish it away. You pray that some kind of “quick fix” will work. But it rarely ever does. The only path to injury-free, faster performances, over the long haul, is authentic quality movement, FIRST!
We hope this clarifies for you what we mean by authentic movement. It sounds like a theoretical way to move, but is, in actuality, truly attainable. You CAN recapture that place of free, easy movement that allows you to train–and enjoy life–to your ultimate potential.