Archive for Elastic Return

Is It Possible You’re Dehydrated?

 

I'm coming at you today with a short piece on all things hydration. (I know what you're thinking, not another article about water and how much I should drink!) 🙂

In all seriousness, I decided to write this up today for one primary reason: despite the plethora of information and research on this topic, I still find that more than a few athletes end up coming up short with their water intake during training and racing, and it often dramatically (and negatively) impacts how they feel and perform.

So with the introduction of Timothy Noake's book "Waterlogged," a few years ago, or this article published last August in the New York Times, the message that is being sent out to endurance athletes is clear:

They'd have us believe (I'm paraphrasing) it's a myth to think the average person needs to drink eight, 8 oz glasses of water daily. As for the endurance athlete out there training in a variety of conditions, your risk of drinking TOO much water is actually much greater than is being dehydrated.

But are these statements 100% true, for every one of us?

I would argue that no, they're not.

Your hydration needs are largely determined by the temperature and humidity where you live and train, and your acclimation to those conditions. When it is very hot and humid, your hydration needs rise, often dramatically.

As a coach, I find that many of the athletes I work with fail to meet their minimum hydration needs during their regular day in, day out training sessions, especially when it comes to the hottest training days of the year. (Like right now!)

For what it's worth, I also find that sometimes the biggest mistake an endurance athlete makes is not adjusting their hydration "plan" based upon the conditions on the day. For example, let's say race day turns out much colder and windier than you were expecting or that you trained in. Don't make the mistake of taking in the same amount of water as you did during your very hot training days.

The Conservation Mindset

  • Do you typically head out on "only" a 45 minute or 1 hour run without water, thinking you don't need it or can catch up later?
  • What about a 3 or 5 hour bike ride with only 3 or 4 bottles of water?

One of the problems that often arises, is when we venture out into a run or bike ride carrying a limited number of water bottles (and therefore, fluid). Because many abhore stopping at a store and can often get caught failing to plan ahead, the result is what I call a "conservation" mindset during that training session that says, "you'd better meter out that water because it's all you have."

I've experienced this myself a few times, and with others that I work with. This kind of thinking can set you up for dehydration. Bottom line, during hot weather training, you must drink enough water to meet your needs, without fear of running "out."

Avoid trying to "catch up" by simply taking enough water along or planning ahead and taking the time to place bottles out at distant locations where you may be passing by to have enough to cover your basic needs.

Your Fascial (Water) Net

We are all familiar with how water is truly essential for basic functioning - for life itself. But what most athletes aren't as familiar with is how much your hydration levels impact how easily, efficiently, and fast you are able to run (or perform any other activity).

What do I mean?

A bouncing water balloon mirrors how our fascial net, combined with adequate hydration, helps us move forward!

A bouncing water balloon mirrors how our fascial net, combined with adequate hydration levels, helps us move forward!

Think of a water balloon. (Check out the slow motion video by clicking on the image to the left!). When you run, your body is a lot like this balloon filled with water.

The skin of the balloon is just like the fascial net that surrounds and supports your internal organs, soft tissue, muscles, and bones. What is important to know is, most of the elasticity that moves you forward comes largely from that fascial net, NOT other tissues.

 

Fascia is a water filled membrane. To use an analogy, when you dehydrate even slightly, your fascia and fascial system begin to act more like dried out (dehydrated!) beef jerky, and less like juicy, succulent prime rib. When you're dehydrated (even the tiniest bit) that fascial net can no longer help you bounce along (again, think of that water balloon).

9d6401e2-69ae-4fec-b05a-b7d841d180e8With increasing water losses, you're required to muscle every step. Similarly, that fascial net provides much of your overall stability. Your balance, coordination, and ultimately your speed, suffer.

Drink To Thirst?

In this podcast I did with Dr. Tamera Hew, one of the world's leading researchers and experts on hyponetremia (low blood sodium), she recommended drinking according to your thirst. (**If you haven't listened to this great interview loaded with golden nuggets related to hydration and hyponetremia, and you have a "thirst" for knowledge, go listen HERE!)

There's no doubt that this basic recommendation is a good one. The problem can be, based upon my experience as a coach, that quite a few of us are NOT as in tune with our thirst as we might hope, especially as the hours add up, and fatigue and energy challenges increase.

This is one reason why it's imperative to have a basic plan of attack in place that is based upon the conditions and your own practice and experience.

  • Start with a basic plan for 25-35 oz of water per hour and adjust accordingly depending upon conditions!
  • When it is very hot or you're not fully acclimated to the environment you're in, you'll need more. When it's cooler, you'll need less. Be flexible with your plan and adjust as you go.
  • Consider performing a sweat test on yourself to find out your own individual needs depending upon environmental conditions.
  • Go listen to that podcast I did with Dr. Hew, she rocks!
  • Learn about YOUR body and your needs as you train, and then listen to it! 🙂

Happy trails!
~Coach Al

PS: If you'd like to receive more information and tips right in your inbox, click HERE to sign up and I'll be in touch!

PSS: One last thing: if you end up in a situation in a hot race where you know you're dehydrated, you have to have the confidence in your training and STOP long enough to fix the problem! That might mean a few extra minutes at an aid station, or sitting down to drink a liter of water to fix the issue. Don't assume that you'll be able to still soldier on to the finish. Stop, fix it, then resume, feeling much better and able to maintain your goal race pace as a result!

 

One Quarter of an Inch!

 

When asked what he thought was man’s greatest invention, Albert Einstein didn't reply the wheel, the lever, or for that matter, anything else you might expect, he replied, "compound interest.” Do you remember when you first learned about this seemingly magical way to earn money, faster and more easily?

What if I told you there was a way to "get rich" as a runner, by taking advantage of the same basic principles as those that make compound interest "man's greatest invention?" What I'm really talking about here is the ability to "compound" SPEED gains,  with no extra heart-beats required.

Well, there IS a way, and it's actually quite simple. Here's the deal:

If you add 1/4 inch to your stride length naturally, without forcing it artificially, you will be running about 10-seconds per mile faster at the same intensity.

Don't believe me?

Ever counted how many strides you take in a mile?

Depending upon your speed and intensity, it's about 1500.

If you were to get one-quarter inch more length out of each of those 1500 strides, you'd cover about 40 to 50 feet more at the same intensity.  That's another way of saying you're going to run about 10-seconds per mile faster.

How hard would you have to train to get 10-seconds per-mile improvement?

Imagine a 30-second improvement in your 5k finish time without having to do a single hard run workout! In a marathon, you could instantly improve by as much as 5-minutes or more depending upon your speed, just by adding 1/4" to your stride length! (Add more than 1/4" and you get even faster!)

The catch is, you can't just reach out further to grab more ground with your legs. Doing that would result in some overstriding and might get you injured. Not good.

So how do you get that extra 1/4" the right way?

By improving your stability, mobility and strength, that's how.

Even just a bit more hip mobility  = greater (and easier) range of motion, more elastic recoil and a longer, more powerful stride, naturally. (Did you know that 50% of the energy that propels you forward during the running stride comes from elastic and reactive “energy-return” of your muscles?).

Similarly, a more stable and stronger core and hips = LESS time spent in contact with the ground and LESS energy leaks, making each stride more efficient and powerful.

Sure, achieving either of these improvements will take some effort, but....the way I look at it, any improvement we can make that doesn't require more gut-busting track or tempo sessions, is worth exploring, don't you think?

Happy trails!

~Coach Al

PS:  And then there's the law of the Aggregation of Marginal Gains. I absolutely love the way James Clear writes about this amazingly similar strategy for improvement in his blog. Powerful stuff!

PSS: If you're a triathlete, imagine making similar kinds of gains as a swimmer. I'll be writing more about that in a future post.

Are You A Porsche Or A Cadillac?

 

Anyone who knows me well, knows I'm a car nut. I've always loved classics and muscle cars, and I love to go fast. So when I have the chance to draw an analogy between cars and running, how could I not speed ahead with it?

So here's the deal for today: To run faster than ever OR to finally get rid of that injury you've been nursing, you must think of your body as a spring on a car's suspension.

The optimal amount of springiness is NOT a Porsche. They're tight - firm - stiff, where you feel every bump in the road.

But, it is NOT a Cadillac either. They're soft and loose, bottoming out on every pothole.

Either scenario leaves you battling injury, recovering poorly, and running slower than you'd like!

Similarly, the answer to ANY question about flexibility, mobility, and stiffness for a runner is simply this: you want enough, but NOT TOO much.  

Don't be a Caddy OR a Porsche. To be a better runner, you'll need to find the appropriate amount of springiness and balance between the two.

Happy trails and have a great weekend!

~Coach Al

PS: do you love Yoga? The answer to that question might tell you which kind of car you are, and also where to focus your energy in order to improve.

Meet Our Interns: Caitlyn Kelly

Pursuit Athletic Performance Intern Caitlyn Kelly

Valley Regional student and Pursuit Athletic Performance Intern Caitlyn Kelly Valley

Valley Regional High School in Deep River Connecticut serves the communities of Chester, Deep River and Essex.  Students have the opportunity to get actual hands on experience in potential career paths through the CAPSTONE internship process.

As a result, we here at Pursuit Athletic Performance have been lucky enough to have Caitlyn Kelly join us.  We are excited to have Caitlyn here a couple of times a week.  We asked her to talk about what she hopes to gain from this experience.  See what she had to say!


I first became aware of  Pursuit Athletic Performance when I was seeking treatment for my Plantar Fasciitis foot injury. Here I was taken in graciously by the staff and then treated in an effort to keep me healthy through my strenuous high school soccer season.

As I have always been a fan of overall health and fitness, when thinking about identifying a work site for my internship, the genuine and caring staff of Pursuit Athletic Performance made my choice a no brainer.

While fulfilling my duties here as a student-athlete intern, on a general scale I look to become more knowledgeable about injury prevention and human health, but I am also looking to hone in on particular strength and speed training techniques that can be applied to my sport of choice. While I have been playing soccer almost all of my 18 years, most of the training off the field I have been exposed to has not been targeted to improve my areas of weakness that can make me the stronger, faster, smarter soccer player I look to become. As I am looking to continue my play at a collegiate level, I would like to elevate my current fitness to another level.

To be specific, I would like to learn exercises and tips that strengthen my hips and glutes, allowing for quicker, cleaner cuts and acceleration. I would also like to enhance my core and upper body strength  to have an edge over weaker female competitors.

Though my time interning at Pursuit Athletic Performance is limited, I am looking to make my experience a long term, continued application into my lifestyle as an educated student-athlete.

If YOU would like to learn more about the work I am doing here, would like to get stronger yourself, or have a child who plays sports who you would like to see remain injury free or get faster, come check out the classes and personal training that are available to all ages and ability levels. For a limited time only, we have 2 week trial memberships for ONLY $1. Come join me and check it out!

 

Four TIPS For The Aging Endurance Athlete (Hint: Yes, You Can Still Keep Playing!)

Coach Al (showing his back-side) at a Pisgah Mountain 50k aid station. Keeping it young!

Coach Al (showing his back-side) at a Pisgah Mountain 50k trail race aid station. Keeping it young!

Some of the readers of this blog know I raced this past weekend at the Pisgah Mountain 50k trail race up in New Hampshire (I finished 2nd  in my age-group and 26th overall), and will again be racing THIS coming weekend, tackling the very challenging Vermont 50 mountain bike race.  These events are just a small sample of what I’ve got planned for myself over the next few months and into 2015!

Today, more than ever, athletes are performing at a high level well into their 50s, 60s, and beyond! How are they doing it?  How do I (a nearly 55 year-old endurance athlete/coach with 35+ years of training and racing in the legs) maintain the ability to keep “playing” even as I’m aging well into my 50s?

To help YOU maintain the ability to keep playing, here are FOUR tips for the aging athlete. These could be YOUR secrets to success! (I’ve learned much of this through trial and error - take advantage of my mistakes and get started now).

  1. Maintain Your Mobility and Flexibility: The single thing we lose most as we age is the ability for our joints to move FREELY. Freedom of movement is what we associate with being young, isn’t it? Flexibility is related and is also something we lose as we age. Mobility and flexibility suffer as the miles pile up, too, so if you’ve been running or training for a few years, its likely you’ve lost some of that freedom of movement.

When you lose mobility:

  • Your body loses its ability to absorb pounding and attenuate forces that work on it while you're moving, such as gravity and ground reaction.
  • Your stride shortens and you feel every “bump” in the road that much more.
  • You enjoy your training less because it becomes more of a struggle to do simple things such as bend over or step up.
  • Your risk of injury sky rockets!

To avoid these, first seek to find out where you’re tight or imbalanced, and then get started on a specific targeted program to address these restrictions.  This is absolutely your #1 priority as you get older.

A Helpful Video: One common area of unwanted tightness as we age is in our hamstrings.  Hamstring tightness can develop for a number of different reasons (including dysfunction of the glute region or extreme tightness of the hip flexor region). However, very often it develops simply from the overall loss of flexiblity as we age (or from too much sitting in a chair!).

Try this effective and safe movement (stretch) for the hamstrings demonstrated by our own Doc Strecker.

 

(To learn more about WHY mobility is so vital to your success, listen to Doc Strecker and I discuss the importance of this element of human movement!)

  1. Get Stronger: Like mobility, strength (as well as the pre-requisite to developing true functional strength, which is basic core stability) often decline as we age and the miles pile up. Along with staying mobile, the key to maintaining YOUR ability to play comes down to getting stronger!

Many athletes aren’t familiar with the difference between strength and stability. Its important for sure, and something you will want to KNOW as you age. To learn more, check out this blog post we did on the topic.

So what is the best way to get stronger?

There are as many programs and exercises as there are stars in the sky, or so it would seem. I like to keep things simple at first, by going straight at bodyweight exercises. After all, what is better than a pull up or push up to develop trunk strength? Not too much!

(If you’re unable to do a single pull up, start by doing “hangs” and then doing “negatives” as part of your progression!)

Whether it’s a kettlebell, floor based exercises, suspension training, or simply lifting and moving rocks or flipping tires, the best path to optimal strength development and good health is to start with simpler, more foundational movements and progress to more complex as you improve and gain strength.

One last thing: don’t get INJURED trying to get stronger. That happens all too often. Start at a smart level, and progress intelligently.

  1. Get Massage: With increasing age (and more miles along with chronic injuries) come the development of micro trauma in the muscle, which leads to the development of scar tissue and a loss of elasticity. Scar tissue, which forms in response to that micro trauma and tearing of the muscle fiber, reduces elasticity and leads to weaker and shorter, more injury prone muscle.

One key to overcoming the long term negative impact of scar tissue development (and keeping muscle healthy and young), is massage, from a qualified competent massage therapist of course.

Yes, your foam roller used routinely, can help.  But your foam roller can’t do the same things the sensitive and educated human hands of a qualified professional can, digging deeply into the muscle to strip it down and help the tissue remodel. Massage can literally be THE secret for the aging athlete whose goal it is to maintain healthy tissue.

(One additional tip about massage: In my experience, if you have been battling injury or know you have a significant amount of scar tissue or have lost flexibility, getting massage only occasionally won’t do the trick.  You need to commit to successive sessions where the same therapist can work progressively to restore tissue health. With repeated sessions, the therapist will learn more about your body and be able to address YOUR specific issues more effectively).

  1. Get Off Road: When it comes to staying young and fighting father time as a runner or cyclist, nothing beats getting off road! Trails offer variable terrain that challenges the mobility, flexibility and strength you’re working to retain, while also minimizing the repetitive stress that comes from road running and riding.
  • Mountain biking and trail running (and hiking) require very specific skills which keep you young!
    • Glute and hip strength, balance, handling, and leg strength all improve when you ride off road.
    • Agility and balance, elasticity, and leg and hip strength all improve when you run off road.
    • And since every footstrike is different and the surfaces are softer than asphalt, your risk of repetitive injury goes way down!
  • Best of all, you get to PLAY in the woods and keep it fun! Trail running and riding is just plain fun!

Even if you’re not quite as old as I am, you will be sooner than you realize! You'd be smart to start NOW to begin following the recommendations I’ve shared today. The same things that keep you young will also help the younger athlete stay healthier, perform better, and go faster.

 

~Coach Al 

ps: Do you have questions, comments or feedback about these four tips to help you stay younger? Or your own tips to add? Leave your thoughts below or on our FACEBOOK page. 

Variety Is Greatly Overrated. Here’s Why! (Including TIPS On How To Progress!)

Despite what some believe, strength is NOT the goal with the movement training we do. Strength is a symptom ....a symptom of moving well.  In a similar vein, speed training is not the optimal path toward improving our fitness.  Improved fitness leads to improved speed potential. Speed is a product of moving well and improved fitness.  

~Coach Al


Strength isn't the goal! Strength is only a symptom of moving well!

Strength isn't the goal! Strength is only a symptom of moving well!

Here at Pursuit Athletic Performance, Kurt and I believe the true value and benefit to movement based strength training resides in digging DEEPER into the basic skill and integration of  a movement.

In this day and age, with athletes becoming bored so easily and instant gratification being so prevalent in every phase of our life and culture, digging deeper into a movement vs. moving "on" from the movement is often difficult (and even frustrating) for the individual athlete to fully embrace.  We seem to frequently fall victim to the mindset of always looking for the next "great" exercise, the next great "tip," or how we can blast on to the more "advanced" stuff, thinking its a magic bullet to the success we seek.

Whether or not you like it, the truth is that the devil is in the details and the magic to optimal progression and exploding your potential is in true mastery of the basics and fundamentals.  This single concept, while easy to read, might be the most challenging for the average person to accept and embrace, but it IS the key to long term, meaningful success.

So, yes, variety is greatly overrated.  To reiterate, once the shiny newness of an exercise wears off and you’re “bored” with it because it's not “new” anymore, you’re forced to get deeper into it, or bail out and just move on to something else “new” and “exciting.”  I’d argue the best choice is the former, not the latter. 

Of course, that being said, there are a great many ways to enhance the quality (and thus results) of the training you are doing, rather than to change exercises.  For example:

1. Use a slower rep speed. 

  1. It’s common for folks to move in and out of movements quickly.
  2. It’s common to see folks come out of the bottom of a movement quickly, rather than “owning” that bottom portion.
  3. Use a count of 4 – 1 - 3 seconds: 4 seconds lowering – 1 second pause at the bottom – 3 seconds raising.
  4. Removing the ‘elastic’ or rebound component to better own each phase of the movement.

2. Decrease your leverage. 

  1. Think about the HUGE difference in difficulty between a double arm push-up with a wide arm position, and a single arm push-up! Huge difference in leverage.
  2. On the topic of stability, a tiny difference in how wide your arms or knees are really changes how difficult the exercise is to do well!

3. Improve your focus and tension! 

  1. Where’s the hard in your exercise coming from?
  • From inside of you? Posture, breathing, focus?
  • Or is it coming from OUTside of you?  Are you thinking a different exercise, or more weight (outside of you) will automatically make you stronger? Not going to happen.
  • We need to consciously PRODUCE that tension, even when moving a relatively small amount of weight.
  • Focus, tension management, radiation of tension throughout!
  • “Intensity” and “strength” isn’t just about moving more weight. Its about bringing a certain level of whole-body tension and focus into every movement.
  • In RKC/HKC circles as well as in power lifting circles, there’s a saying: “If you make your lighter weights feel heavier, your heavier weights will feel lighter.” Practice the focus and tension skills with lighter resistance, you’ll get more benefit from every movement you do!

Happy Trails!

~Coach Al

We Are All An Experiment of One: Find Out What YOU Need The Most and Then Get It Done!

TEAM Pursuit Athletes at the 2013 Timberman Half Ironman triathlon!

TEAM Pursuit Athletes at the 2013 Timberman Half Ironman triathlon!

In order to be able to run as fast and as long as you would like to and remain injury-free while doing it, your running body must be BOTH strong and flexible. Think about this fact: approximately 50% of the energy that propels you forward during the running stride comes from elastic and reactive “energy-return” of your muscles! While you’re taking that in, think about this: at the same time that certain muscles are required to be elastic and reactive, others need to be very stiff and strong, to prevent your body turning into a wet-noodle as your feet hit the ground!

Muscles tense and lengthen and release and stretch (helping to facilitate rotation around your joints while doing all of that!) as they prepare to store energy and absorb outside impact forces and turn that stored energy into forward propulsion. There’s a lot more going on during the stride than you could ever imagine!

And while all of these things are happen within each of our bodies while we run, they happen at different rates of speed and relaxation and ease for each of us. We are, at once the same, and yet very different.

Some of us need more STRENGTH and STIFFNESS in our “chain,” while others need more FLEXIBILITY and ELASTICITY and MOBILITY.  We each have our own “limiters” and weaknesses which may be making us either more prone to injury, or limiting our speed and endurance potential.

So given all of that, do YOU know what your weakness is?

For example...

  • Are you prone to calf injuries because your calves are forced to absorb impact forces due to “too tight” hips?
  • Do you lean back on downhills and “hurt,” suffering from painful quadriceps during those downhills because your quads are too weak to absorb those impact forces and prevent your body from collapsing against the forces of gravity?
  • Are you still landing out in front of your center of mass, even though you know you shouldn’t, because your hams and glutes are not “reactive” enough (too slow) and weak to contract quickly, getting your feet UNDER your hips as you touch down?
  • Does your low back hurt during the late stages of your longer runs or rides because its trying to do the work your butt should be doing?
  • Is your stride short and choppy because your hip flexors are so tight they can’t release to allow your pelvis to rotate forward so that your legs can extend behind you as you drive horizontally forward with each stride?

These are the questions and issues we ALL need to consider, and for each of us, it is different. If you take the time to listen to your body and consider what YOUR weakness or limiters are, then you’ll be able to address it and as a result, improve and run to your true potential!

The answers you are seeking are not always found through “harder” training. Sometimes the answers come when we listen within.  Sometimes things like YOGA or revisiting the BASICS and FUNDAMENTALS, are the path to exploding our true potential, rather than another hard track session.

Our unique Pursuit Athletic Performance “Gait Analysis” system was designed to help us help YOU, learn what it is that YOU need the most! To learn more, go here to learn more about our analysis packages.

Check out our testimonials page here to learn more about the success stories of so many athletes who learned what THEY needed to do to truly explode their potential!

Happy Trails!

~Coach Al

Functional Strength Training: Key to Generating Power and Speed

This is the final post of a four-part series on functional strength training. Click below to see other posts in the series.
Is Functional Strength Training A Fad? A Gimmick?

Stop Leaking Speed!
You Need To Be Stable To Perform Your Best


IBoston_Menf parts one, two, and three of our series on functional strength training haven't convinced you that you must be a strong and stable athlete in order to perform at your potential, consider this:

1. Becoming functionally strong will make you faster. Guaranteed.

2. Together with a solid training program and time spent on sport-specific drills, being functionally strong will make you an all-around more powerful athlete.

3. You will NEVER unlock your ultimate athletic potential by simply putting in mega-hours practicing or training.

These are the simple facts.... By becoming functionally strong you will teach your body how to generate power AND move effectively and efficiently. Focused functional strength work will get the big prime movers moving, and the stabilizers stabilizing. You will build more effective and solid biomechanics to move you efficiently and speedily in your sport.

So how does functional strength help you generate power?

For one, it allows you to build and use "elastic return" when running. Here's what we mean.

A runner—let's call him John—is functionally strong. In his running he is reaping the benefits of good biomechanics, sound stability, and enhanced mobility and flexibility—all afforded by adopting and adhering to a functional strength plan over time.

John looks as though he runs effortlessly. He always looks like he's in the zone, and never seems to be expending great effort for the speed he is running. When you see him you think, "Mr. Smooth."

Of course no one can run without effort, not even John. But what runners like John have—that you likely do not—is the ability to minimize the energy and effort used to run by having a musculature that efficiently stores and returns energy—elastic return. That's how they generate POWER. And that comes from being FUNCTIONALLY STRONG, in all the right ways.

Here's a simple explanation of elastic return:

Your muscles are like big rubber bands. When you stretch the rubber band you are building elastic energy. Let it go, and the force built up in the band is suddenly released and it, literally, flies. That concept is the same for your muscles. "Elastic return" is the ability of your muscles to store energy and return the force that is built up.

When you run, your leg and hip muscles stretch, just like a rubber band. Force and power build up in the stretched muscles. Your muscles then release the force, which propels you with forward motion—elastic return.

A muscle with higher elastic return will return more stored energy allowing you to run faster and longer while using less energy. It makes you more EFFICIENT and POWERFUL.

Faster running, fewer heartbeats. Win-win.

The ability to be a more efficient, powerful, and faster athlete with great elastic return in the muscles is available to anyone willing to commit to becoming functionally strong. What are you waiting for?