Archive for core stability

048: Listener Questions: Becoming a Better Runner, Swim Training and More! [Podcast]

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Team PURSUIT triathlete Megan Pennington, on her way to the OVERALL WIN at the Litchfield Hills Triathlon!

Team PURSUIT triathlete Megan Pennington, on her way to the OVERALL WIN at the Litchfield Hills Triathlon!

Today we dig into some great questions sent in to us from listeners.  The first has to do with becoming a BETTER runner, something nearly every triathlete and pure runner has thought about at one time or another (or a few thousand times!) :)

Whether it’s right here in our Pursuit Athletic Performance lab during a gait analysis, or out on the trail or road OR over a beer at the local pub, we always relish the opportunity to talk to anyone about running.  (Anyone who knows Coach, KNOWS how much he can talk, talk, and talk some more about this topic!). No apologies necessary though – running has been a passion of Coach Al’s since first running “Boston” in 1983.

Every so often though, a conversation with a frustrated triathlete turns to a sort of self depricating exchange where they end up telling us (trying to convince us, or themselves, perhaps?) why they CAN’T be as good a runner as they really would “like” to be.  Whether this self-doubt stems from a long period of training struggle or chronic running-related injury, the bottom line is that most triathletes have much more running ability inside of them waiting to get out than they realize! They just don’t know how to GET it out!  In the podcast, we offer some real and practical suggestions to take your running to a new level.

In case you’re one of those who is impatient and curious and can’t wait to listen, here are some hints:

  1. No! It isn’t necessarily about planking, more of it, or doing it differently.
  2. No, it won’t necessarily be “easy.”  While we offer some practical suggestions that you CAN implement tomorrow in your training, the truth is that it generally takes a long time to “get good” as a runner, all things being equal.

Also, we jump in on some questions about all things swim training for the triathlete.

  • Is it REALLY worthwhile to spend time doing kicking sets if I am racing in a wetsuit and generally never kick in a race?
  • Why is the coach writing “hypoxic” sets for us anyway? Is it really valuable, and if so, why?
  • And more!

Thanks for joining us! Make it a great day!

~Coach Al and Dr. Strecker

045: Butter, Brains, and Better Health and Performance! [Podcast]

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Avocado

Today’s podcast is positively packed with powerful pearls of wisdom that are applicable in team sports, triathlon and life!  Coach Al and Dr. Strecker start off with a discussion of the role of fats in the diet on the heels of the TIME magazine article entitled, “Eat Butter.”  And while fats are often vilified, they play an important part in good nutrition.  Just wander through any grocery store and you’re sure to see product packages boldly emblazoned with the words “LOW FAT” or “FAT FREE!”  We have been programmed to believe that fat is the root of all dietary evil, yet a close look at the hard evidence reveals that this is not the case.

Great training involves more than just good nutrition, of course, and mental preparation is one key to success that can’t be overlooked.  In sport, at work and in life, stuff happens.  That much is certain.  It may be a bad call by a ref, a flat tire on your bike, or an obnoxious driver on the freeway that challenges us, but how we react defines who we are and what we’ll accomplish.  Let’s face it, spending the rest of the day obsessing about the truck driver who cut you off only detracts from your productivity and peace of mind.

Sit back, relax, eat an avocado, and listen in as Coach and Doc take you on a little journey filled with good fats and happy people.  :-)

Thanks for joining us on the podcast! Happy Trails!

~Coach Al and Dr. Strecker

044: More Listener Questions: Comparing Ourselves To Others; The Psychology Of Suffering [Podcast]

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Doc Strecker pushing toward the finish!

In today’s podcast, I jump right into some great questions posed to us by some listeners. As we’ve said before, we really appreciate it when you contact us and ask great questions – keep them coming!

Comparing Ourselves to Others:  We all know and understand that each of us is, and will always be, on an athletic and personal  journey unique to us. Most of us are very comfortable accepting the idea that some athletes might be “ahead” of us on their journey, while others are of course, at a starting point that might be thought of as “behind” us.  Now I suspect that as you’re reading that sentence, you might be thinking, “aren’t you emphasizing comparing ourselves to others by phrasing it that way?”  Yes, and that’s the point. Comparing ourselves to others is rarely ever a good thing, although the nature of competition inevitably puts us smack dab right in the middle of comparisons.

A listener sent in a great question, asking what strategies she could use to not fall into the trap of constantly comparing herself  to other athletes, especially if the athlete that she’s comparing herself to is, in her viewpoint, stronger or faster than she is. To use her words, “sometimes I find that when I hear of others doing more, or progressing faster, my first reaction is that I SUCK.”  That’s a common reaction in our worst moments, so I felt it was a good topic to discuss on the podcast.

The Psychology of Suffering: Training hard and learning how to handle discomfort is certainly a key to improving as an endurance athlete.  A listener wrote in with a great question on the topic. Here it is:

“Yes, I know in my heart that to perform at my best, I need to suck it up when it starts getting hard, whether its in a race or in a workout.  How do I effectively control that voice in my head that is telling me to slow down or go easier? Or just quit?  Also, how often do I need to “go to the well” and suffer in order to learn better how to do it? The weather also always hinders me from accomplishing what I want to, or plan to. I find it easy to use weather as an excuse to do less than my best. How do I over come that?”

I jump in with my thoughts on the matter – important stuff if you DO want to reach your ultimate potential!

Thanks for joining me on the podcast! Happy Trails!

~Coach Al 

040: Listener Questions: Downhill Running and Nutrition [Podcast]

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Flatten the course!

Flatten the course!

In today’s podcast, we once again respond to some listener questions. We really appreciate it when you contact us and ask great questions – keep them coming!

Going down: The topic of downhill running, both from a technique perspective and also from a pacing perspective, is often glossed over in favor of the opposite, which is running up. A listener sent in a link to an article titled “Efficient Running Up and Downhill in Triathlon,”  (triathlon.competitor.com and the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport), which discussed some research conducted at the University of Connecticut on competitors at this past October’s Ironman World Championship. Specifically, the researchers looked at how “various types of pacing can effect overall performance.”

The author states, “researchers took a random sampling of Hawaii-qualifying athletes and measured their predicted personal pre-race goal time against their finishing time on race day. Using Timex Ironman Global Trainers and TrainingPeaks software, they analyzed nine segments of the bike course and 11 segments of the run course.  Their goal was to determine whether any of the segments predicted performance, and they were surprised at the results—the downhill portions (on both the bike and run) proved to be most influential on overall time. They found that athletes who maintained faster relative speeds on the downhill sections of the course, and who had smaller changes in heart rate between consecutive up and downhills, were more successful relative to their goal times.” 

How you pace your downhills and uphills in a race is critical, and the research, both anecdoatal and scientific, and practical experience, support this.  In today’s ‘cast, we’ve got lots more to share on this topic!  Its a good one.

Also, a listener wrote in with some questions regarding his nutrition planning as he prepares for the Alcatraz Triathlon next weekend. We believe his questions are common and important, so you’ll want to listen in to hear what they are and our responses.

Please tune in and join us for today’s talk, where we discuss these topics and a few more as well.

Have a great Memorial Day weekend everyone!  Thank you to ALL of the men and women in uniform who, through their selfless service, make enjoying our sports possible.

Happy Trails!

~Coach Al and Doc Strecker 

039: More Listener Questions! [Podcast]

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Did someone say running shoes?

Did someone say running shoes?

In today’s podcast, we respond to some listener questions on running shoes. This is always a popular topic for discussion regardless of the circle of athletes you’re in. We sure do LOVE OUR SHOES, don’t we? :)

We get a regular stream of questions on shoes, including the merits of certain brands of shoes, when they should be replaced, and whether it’s a good idea to rotate them. And without a doubt, it seems that from one month to the next, there’s always a “hot” shoe amongst certain groups of athletes.

We’ve talked shoes in previous episodes of the podcast. For those of you who haven’t listened, in this episode we told you how to pick the best shoe for YOU.

In this blog post from March of last year, we offered some tips on which ones you should buy.

And in what has been one of the most frequently listened to podcasts we’ve done to date, in this episode we discuss the merits of minimalist/barefoot running and hash out our differences and similarities with our guest, well known coach/athlete Ben Greenfield.

Join us for today’s talk, where we get into the Altras, Hokas, the weather :), whether to rotate (the shoes), what’s the key to knowing WHAT IS the right shoe for you, and much more!

Join us!

Happy Trails!

~Coach Al and Doc Strecker 

 

 

 

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

021: Why The Front Plank Is A Dumb Exercise (Podcast)

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Hi Everyone!

You might be surprised to read that we think the the front plank is a dumb exercise. The triathletes and runners on our team RULE the plank, but a focus on the front plank is not part of our training. Here’s why….

As you’ve undoubtedly seen, the front plank is common in training venues and gyms. Problem is, it’s not the best exercise to create core STABILITY. As a competitive, endurance athlete, core stability is what you’re after. Certainly, the front plank can help develop strength and endurance in the front of the body, but here’s the problem…. The exercise is over used, and if you’ve looked around your gym, it is often poorly done.

Lots of people like to work on the muscles that make them look good in a bathing suit. If that’s your aim, carry on.

BUT… if your mission is to create a good, solid, stable core in three planes of motion, the half front plank with a reach AND the side plank will give you a much better payoff for time and energy spent. These plank exercises challenge transverse and frontal plane motions respectively, and they are too often ignored.

If you’re not familiar with the half front plank with reach, here’s Dr. Strecker in a training video for our triathlon team. We don’t usually share these, but OK, just this once–it’s that important. :)

If you want to know more about core stability, we have a podcast here on the topic. We also have a three-part series of posts on “What You Don’t Know About the Core CAN Jurt You,” which you can find here.

We hope you enjoy our podcasts and find them useful for your training and racing. Any questions? Hit us up in the comments, or on Facebook. Let us know of any topics you would like us to cover too.

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019: Core Stability: It’s Not About A Muscle (Podcast)

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Hey Everyone!

When we start talking about core stability, let’s start with this….

It’s not about a muscle.

side plankCoach Al and I recently discussed an article where the author had examined a large body of research and claimed to have elucidated the most important exercises for “core training” in runners. The studies looked at the multifidi and transversus abdominis using electromyography (EMG), which measures muscle activity. With this information the author concluded that dead lifts and back squats are the best core exercises for runners.

The trouble is, core stability is not about a muscle. Body parts do not function in isolation. You are a person, an entire human being. You are not a knee or a hip or an ankle. You are not a bicep or a tricep or a quad. Your movement is orchestrated by an amazing brain and nervous system. The whole is most definitely greater than the sum of the parts. To judge the efficacy of a core exercise by the activity of a muscle or two is completely ludicrous! EMG measures muscle activity, not core stability. Stability is a skill, it is well-orchestrated motor control. Assuming otherwise is a huge mistake.

Take, for example, a rowing team. Nine athletes in a long skinny boat with oars. Eight of those athletes row while the ninth steers and directs the activity. All of the guys with oars are strong and fit and capable of producing a great deal of force, but unless they work as a team in synchronicity they don’t move at all. Core stability is no different, folks.

Here’s what you need to know about the core, how to train it and work that stability! Enjoy!

Helping YOU Be Great!

Dr. Kurt Strecker

We hope you enjoy our podcasts and find them useful for your training and racing. Any questions? Hit us up in the comments, or on Facebook. Let us know of any topics you would like us to cover too.

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What You Don’t Know About the Core Can Hurt You (Part 1 of 3)

This is the first post in our three-part series on core development. There others are Core Training: Why Hard Effort Does Not Always Equal Success and Core Class, Boot Camp… Great Ways to Get Stronger? Not Necessarily….

The lumbar spine is not meant to greatly twist and flex, and the disks in the back are harmed by those movements. Sit ups, crunches, leg lifts and the like are completely counterproductive to your goal of becoming a better athlete.

The lumbar spine is not meant to greatly twist and flex, and the disks in the back are harmed by those movements. Sit ups, crunches, leg lifts and the like are completely counterproductive to your goal of becoming a better athlete.

There is so much misinformation out there about core “strength” and core “training.” Athletes have been misled by years of improper training guidance, including any number of popular core (fad) “strength” programs that are at once deceitful in their marketing promises, and often very harmful.

If you are an athlete interested in good health AND better performance, it is time to learn the real story of the core–what it is, how it works, what it is designed to do, and how to develop proper core strength and stability.

What Is the Core? What Is Its Purpose?

You may think of the core as isolated abdominal muscles such as the familiar transverse abdominals, obliques, and anterior abs. In fact, your core is the ENTIRE trunk from your hips and pelvis to your neck and cervical spine. Its purpose is to be your body’s foundation for

all of your sport movements. The purpose of this foundation (your core) is to STOP or control motion, not create it. This is critical! In fact, athletic stability stops or controls motion (in the pelvic girdle for example) in the presence of motion somewhere else in the body (such as in the swinging arms and legs of a runner). This is a hugely important concept that we will cover more in-depth below. We will also talk about how the core is designed to provide “reactive stabilization” and work as an integrated unit synergistically with every other part of your body.

Your Core Must Be Stable

The true goal of core development is to create STABILITY, which is central for superior athletic performance, protection from injury, and overall good health. The pelvis and the lumbar spine, in particular, must be rock solid. Why does this matter?

Most athletes have no idea, but core stability is how you transfer power to your arms and legs. Without stability in the pelvis and the lumbar spine, your big agonist muscles, or prime movers (glutes, quads, hamstrings, lats) cannot activate. Most athletes haven’t a clue that their ability to generate ballistic output and speed originates from a neutral pelvis and a stable lumbar spine–never from the limbs alone.

The more stable the core, the more power you can generate with your extremities.

Pursuit Athletic Performance On Core Strength and Stability

The lumbar region in the human skeleton

Core stability allows your entire kinetic chain to fire at optimal efficiency. So if you swim, bike, run, moving from a neutral pelvic position with a stable lumbar spine is the fundamental basis for your ultimate performance potential. All your hopes, dreams, and goals for training and racing start with a stable core.

Reactive Stabilization. What’s That? And Why Should I Care?

The core is also designed to reactively stabilize during dynamic movements. In other words, the core kicks in to prevent inefficient motion in the presence of motion elsewhere in the body. For example…

As a runner swings her arms and legs, a properly-functioning core reacts to stabilize the spine, pelvis, and shoulders and allow for the transfer of power to the legs. This reactive stability, coupled with proper mobility, muscular balance, and overall functional strength, allows for the optimal firing of your big prime movers. The supporting stabilizing muscles can then go to work to keep good biomechanical form over long distances.

Reactive stabilization of the core is very close to the silver bullet athletes are constantly searching for.

Employing a stable core is how your true athleticism emerges as you stop wasting energy and are able to transfer EFFORT from your sport-specific movement into SPEED throughout your training and racing.

Have a Strong Core? It Can Still Be A Weak Core

This is a really important paradox for athletes to be aware of. Even if your core is strong–i.e. isolated abdominal muscles are well developed–if it is UNSTABLE, there is no doubt you are LEAKING SPEED. The instability is guaranteed to lead to compensation in all of your movement. As a result, you are forced to use the wrong muscles to power your way through training and racing. Your risk of injury is also much, MUCH higher.

Working the Abs

Many athletes have been led to believe they are enhancing their training by doing exercises like sit ups and crunches. Many popular “cult” training programs that are thought to be “cutting edge” and cool, include these kinds of exercises.

Core stability has no relationship whatsoever to working abdominal muscles in isolation.

Exercises like these allow motion to occur through the lumbar spine, negating, as we explained earlier, the functional purpose of that area of the body. The lumbar spine is not meant to greatly twist and flex, and the disks in the back are harmed by those movements. Sit ups, crunches, leg lifts and the like are completely counterproductive to your goal of becoming a better athlete. Strong abdominal muscles in an unstable core do nothing to stabilize you at the precise moment you need to mitigate unwanted movement to create power and speed.

To ignite your core into the wellspring of powerful athletic movement that it is designed to be, you must train the “core” in a functional, sport-specific, and authentic way. Quality functional movement and strength training is the way to go.

Training Core Stability

To build a stable core we recommend you have a scientific gait analysis conducted at a reputable institution. Find the root causes of your weakness and imbalances then, with help from a carefully-selected trainer, objectively and scientifically rebuild thorough core stability. You need to carefully research various trainers and select one who has a deep understanding of core stability and functional strength training. Rather than crunching, you should be working a perfectly executed (we can’t stress the perfect execution part enough) planking regimen. A well-designed regimen will include front and side planks,  moving planks, and longer continuous plank holds.

When you have a truly stable core, it is then–and only then–that you can safely and effectively increase load and dynamism in training. It is then that your sport-specific training will really begin to work, and the results you have been searching for will begin to manifest.

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We will continue this series on the core with two additional posts. We will examine the insidious infiltration of the “training” mindset into core development. Then we’ll delve into how core development is more than just picking some random exercises and expecting great results.