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

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Hi Everyone!

You might be surprised to read that I think the front plank could be considered a sort of "dumb" exercise, IF YOUR goal is to improve your durability as a runner and reduce your risk of injury.

As an 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 if your goal is to improve durability and speed, the front plank fails miserably.

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.

In addition to this podcast, click on the image below to check out a 59-second video I did for Instagram and Facebook, where I show you one other, different but much more productive way to train core stability!

To your success,

~Coach Al

This might help answer every nutrition question you have.

    If there’s one consistent message or controlling idea in everything I do and say as a coach, it’s this:

    The majority of the benefits from any training you do will always come from the development and mastery of the basics and fundamentals.

    This is something I’ve learned after nearly 40 years as an athlete, coach, and, well, experimenter and thinker. In other words, I’ve made a lot of mistakes and have a lot of experience. 😊

    It’s not only true for our movement and strength work, it’s true for nutrition.

    So many look to complex ideas, to try and understand what they should eat, and when. I say when in doubt, come back to some basics and fundamentals.

    For example…in no particular order:

    • There’s no such thing as a “bad” food, there are only less than optimal eating “habits.”
    • Whenever you think about completely eliminating a certain type of food (like red meat) from your diet, think about how long humans have been consuming what you might be eliminating. And then ask if the thing you’re eliminating is really the root cause of your problem. It may not be, and eliminating it might create a much bigger problem.
    • Calorie restriction NEVER works for long term sustainable fat loss. What does? In my experience, one thing that can help is time-restricted eating. And it only makes sense: give yourself a window of time, such as 11 am to 6 pm for example, to get in all of the calories you need, and you accomplish two important things: 1. You normalize insulin levels (a hugely positive thing to do) by having a longer period of time during the day when you aren't eating, and 2. You inevitably consume less total calories throughout the day without making calorie restriction your goal.
    • Extremes in dieting or nutrition, NEVER work long term, ever. Going keto or the opposite, high-carb, takes you down a path where the pendulum will inevitably swing to an extreme. The right answer is to balance carbs, protein, and fat, based on your activity levels/training hours, and body composition and competitive goals. Hint: no one will ever train at a high intensity consistently and successfully on a fat only diet. Conversely, rarely will anyone ever get as lean as they hope on a pure carb diet.
    • Junk food is, well... junk. And there’s a lot of truth to the saying, junk in-junk out. That’s not rocket science. It does, however, require you to be somewhat honest with yourself. 😊  You can’t have your cake and eat it too.
    • The biggest hurdle for people wanting to get leaner is hunger, plain and simple. The minute you start to limit calories, hunger kicks in. Here’s a fact for your consumption: If you’re eating junk and/or processed foods any more than very occasionally, you're going to have problems - among other things, your cravings will increase (because junk foods are all high in processed sugar). If you’re going to get leaner AND be healthier, you need to be able to recognize the difference between a craving and actual hunger. Hint: a craving will go away after a short while. Hunger will tend to linger. Learn to know the difference. Ignore one, pay attention to the other.
    • One more thing on time-restricted eating (a term I much prefer over intermittent fasting by the way): in my opinion, the “secrets” that many people ought to be seeking for good health, a lean body, AND extending not only our lifespan but especially our healthspan, surround the hormone insulin. The more sensitive you are to it, the better things will be. The less sensitive, e.g. resistant you are to it (resulting in more of it needing to be secreted), the worse things will be. What increases sensitivity? 1) Exercise. 2) Training or exercising in a fasted state.  3) A low amount of glucose (sugar) floating around in the bloodstream. #2 is why I have always trained in a fasted state. And why I’ve always recommended a 3-hour window between a meal and an exercise session. #3 is accomplished very nicely with time-restricted eating.
    • If you believe any of the myths out there about the supposed dangers of training fasted, remember a basic and fundamental tenet of science-based exercise physiology: Your body stores ~2000 calories of glycogen (plus or minus depending upon training status and body size). That stored glycogen is almost always your body’s preferred source of energy whenever you begin a training or exercise session. That’s enough calories to get you through ~20 miles before you hit the “wall.” And that’s assuming you aren’t burning any fat at the same time (which is unlikely). (In other words, run away from anyone, regardless of the letters after their name, who tell you training "fasted" isn't good for you or worse, is dangerous).
    • Think about every specialized diet you've heard of and really consider whether or not it makes sense to you from a "common sense" perspective. For example, protein only? Lettuce only? Blood type? Zero carb?  I mean, come on. Most of the fad diets out there sound absolutely ridiculous to anyone with a brain. Think!  There's no secret sauce that can make something wonderful happen to your body overnight. There ARE daily habits, which are sometimes hard to break. 😊 And cravings. (I talked about those already).

    I could go on, but I'll stop there for now because I know you have your day to get to! 😊

    You see, it’s always going to come back to the basics and fundamentals. 

    Are there other important details worth knowing? Sure, you can definitely get deeper into nutrition science, talking micro-nutrients and other cool stuff. The point is, what I've shared with you here are the basics - they'll get you most of the way to where you want to go if you apply them consistently.

    These ideas aren't trendy, gimmicky, or faddish. They're science-based and time-tested and they make sense. Following them over a period of time will absolutely help you have more energy throughout the day, and you'll sleep better, age more gracefully, and get leaner too.  I guarantee it.

    It’s why the controlling idea I started this with above, permeates everything I do, as well as how I live.  And it's also why so many folks have seen incredible success with our work together.

    To your success,

    ~Coach Al

    Is Fasting a “Fountain of Youth?”

      Various forms of intermittent fasting have become all the rage recently. And there's good reason for it - too many of us consume too many calories daily - with 30% of the American population now categorized as clinically obese, the time HAS come for us to make some real changes.

      For me, I've done some form of fasting for the last 30+ years, but honestly, I'd rather think of it as TRE, e.g. "time restricted eating." 

      Whether you prefer that term or like to keep it simpler, the reality is it's a simple concept. You are taking longer periods of time between meals or eating.

      Are we losing sight of the bigger picture? 

      It is very easy to lose sight of what we are trying to do with this fasting thing. There's no one-size-fits all, my friend. After all, there's the whole dealio of someone with a distorted body image or unhealthy relationship with food hearing from an "expert" that they should eat LESS, or even feel like they're starving themselves - that that is a good thing. That's a very bad situation (with potential to get worse in all kinds of nasty ways).

      With that being said, let me ask you a question: Is the best possible RESULT FOR YOU, which is to say leaner, healthier, stronger, younger, faster, etc., going to come from restricting eating? Or is it going to come from progressing your training?

      Think about that.

      At some point in time, every person who looks at micro-fasting, 24 hr fasting, or simply limiting their eating, with the idea that it is the fountain of youth, is going to be majorly disappointed. 

      Think about these two kinds of people.

      1. Athletes who are very careful how much they eat and when, but also doing high quality training and have gobs of muscle on their frame. 
      2. Many of the elderly and frail who struggle to move or even survive, NOT EATING very much.

      Naturally, those from the 2nd group - we encourage them to eat more! Food is a source of life after all, right?

      So let me ask another question: Do we want to be more like the athlete with lots of muscle and also youthful, or do we want to be more like the elderly we see who really struggle to move?

      The answer is obvious. 

      The key is this: The training we do to get stronger and move better is, in actuality, the "secret" to making fasting or TRE work to get us where we want to be.

      And the dichotomy that often exists, is that we will have a harder time actually training to the level that we need to, to get stronger, if our primary goal is to eat fewer calories.

      It really is a very delicate balance.

      So what's the take home for you?  GET STRONG. and then... GET STRONGER.

      And along with getting stronger, learn how to.....

      • extend the time period between meals....
      • limit or eliminate (depending upon energy levels and training load of course!) snacking between meals....
      • make breakfast simply happen "later" in the day, vs. earlier, most days of the week....
      • cycle in and out of periods of less eating, and more eating, depending upon training load...
      • FREE YOURSELF from the NEED to take in calories in order to function normally! This is a powerful feeling!
      • remember that glycogen (stored sugar in your muscles and liver) is the PRIMARY source of energy for working muscles.
      • always listen to your body and don't succumb to CRAVINGS, yet at the same time, remember that without FUEL, you won't be able to train well and in a progressive manner that helps you get what you want most: a body that gets better, looks better, feels better, and performs better, the older you get!

      To your success,

      ~Coach Al

      What is the ONE THING You NEED to both survive this pandemic and reach your potential?

      I did a conference call recently with a group of triathletes who were seeking advice.

      They wanted to talk training, "secrets" to success, how I got to Kona, and definitely DID NOT want to talk about Corona! I for one, was happy about that!

      I do think that, in a way, it all comes back to the same kinds of principles - a way of thinking, of doing things, so I tried to bring it back to what they most wanted to learn.

      So I asked them point blank:

      What was the one thing they needed to do, or pay more attention to, that would help them realize their ultimate potential? 

      Of course this highly competitive group of high achieving type-A athletes, all with big future aspirations for racing, enthusiastically dug right in and started bantering back and forth.  🙂

      They tossed around lots of ideas including reflecting  on their experiences and what they've learned.

      We talked about things like...

      • hard work and consistent training
      • their desire to continually learn
      • the need to be increasingly honest about things like movement quality and maintaining life balance.
      • and their immune system health and vitality! 🙂

      They agreed that the stakes seem to have been raised. That tends to happen as time goes on, you know? In some ways, it is harder now than ever.

      Along with it, the external and internal pressure to achieve more - to go faster or farther  - and make it look easier, seems to also be increasing like never before.

      Are you feeling it, too? If you are, is it coming from inside of you, or is it outside?

      Things have changed and they'll continue to change

      One thing they collectively agreed on was that training and racing (while maintaining life balance) are different now and in some ways, more challenging than ever.  The "game" as we might have known it once, has clearly changed.

      We live in an "information age"

      Athletes and coaches now have access to more information than in the past. There are more "experts" than you can count, and because of the growth and pervasiveness of social media, we know more about what each other is doing than ever before.

      (Is it me, or do you also feel like your Facebook "friends" are running, swimming, or riding faster, easier, and farther than you are?) 🙂

      Technology (equipment, power meters for bike and run, GPS devices, etc.) continues to advance at an incredible rate of speed, and along with it, the software to analyze what the technology is telling us about how "good" we are.

      Still, despite all of these things and the fact that it seems to all be moving at breakneck speed....they all struggled to identify that one thing which would make the biggest difference?

      When I sensed that they were getting frustrated, I shared with them what I thought the key was.

      Instant gratification anyone?

      From my perspective, more athletes than ever before want IT, NOW, whatever "it" might be at that moment in time. Think of it as instant gratification.

      I explained how frustrating it sometimes is when I talk with an athlete and realize that while it is clear they can see what it is they need to do, they rarely perceive or understand. 

      Because you look at something or think about it, doesn't mean you truly perceive or understand it. Because something is instantly available to your vision doesn't mean that it is instantly available to your consciousness.

      Seeing is direct, immediate, uncomplicated. To perceive the details, the order of things, the connectivity and integration, takes time.

      And time... is the one thing we just don't afford ourselves of, anymore.

      Listen...I know what you're thinking, and I get it.

      Life is short, there's little time to waste.  You'd better jump now or your chance might slip away....right?

      The problem is, very often in a well intentioned effort to achieve or do more, we end up with a lot less.

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      • We rush through, refusing to take the time to work on basic and fundamental skills. We're more inclined to just hammer away and attempt more volume, and then wonder why we get injured or never go as fast we would like.  
      • We don't take the time or have the patience to hold our effort in check early on in training sessions, races, or entire seasons, and then wonder why we fatigue more quickly or finish slower than we had hoped, sometimes crashing and burning all together.
      • We "want" things like a kettlebell swing, barbell deadlift, pull up, or good health and movement quality, NOW, so we skip the process that's required to learn and develop these difficult-to-obtain abilities and attributes.
      • When injury happens, we don't have the patience to get to the root cause of it, preferring instead to just treat symptoms so we can rush back as soon as the pain subsides, only to discover that the injury inevitably returns, causing even more frustration. genius-is-eternal-patience-quote-1(In an even worse case scenario, we do something stupid which ends up permanently shortening our athletic lifespan).
      • When it comes to racing, as endurance athletes we think it's normal to go from racing shorter sprint distance to longer distance events almost overnight, disrespecting the longer distance and the time it takes to build the requisite skill and stamina to do well. What often results are much slower performances than we are capable of, and injury (again), accepting either as "the norm. " 
      • Some are now so short of patiencethat after a race goes bad or they end up injured (again), they try to justify the poor choices that led to the predicament they're in with self-deprecating and/or self-defeating talk (most often to themselves). a712ca9973609f97a6e93bd92e51697e
      • We never seem to take enough time to work on ourselves or have patience with ourselves, OR take the time to develop a foundational philosophy that reflects our core values and will guide us when things get hard. We just leap from one thing to the next, or look to the next fad, secret sauce, or quick fix, hoping that it will be THE thing that finally leads us to success.

      a-man-who-masters-patience-masters-everything-else-quote-1Ironically, in a world that now seems to be speeding by at 1-million miles an hour, the thing that we need most to be successful and reach our ultimate potential, is patience...

      ...patience to do things the right way and stay the course...patience to perceive, not just see...

      ...patience to truly enjoy the journey and not just focus on the destination...and patience to embrace the process of learning and growing into the person & athlete that we were truly meant to be...

      To your success,

      ~Coach Al

      Today was supposed to be Boston Marathon Race Day: Still, Old Habits Die Hard!

      "Mistakes are the portals for discovery."  - James Joyce
      "There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order to things." - Niccolo Machiavelli
      "The obstacle is the path."  - Zen aphorism 


      Covid-19 has had a devestating impact on the lives of so many around the globe, the running community along with it. Races and training groups have all but dried up completely, and who knows when things will return to normal?  In fact, the question has to be asked - what WILL NORMAL look like when this is all behind us?

      Today was supposed to be Marathon Monday in Boston - Patriots Day. This was one of the most important races in my own journey as a runner - I always miss it when I'm not there lining up in Hopkinton!

      Today's post isn't about this year's race or even about Covid-19 (thank God!). It is about training for the marathon, or any other long distance race. Because when it comes to LONG RUNS prior to a marathon, Ironman, or some other long distance race or run, old habits sure die hard.  

      What's the old habit I'm referring to? Running your last long run 3 or even 2 weeks out from race day.   

      Its amazing to me that in this day and age, with all we've learned about how our body functions best, the idea of doing a "longer" run within 3 and even 2 weeks prior to a marathon is still very prevalent out there in the running community. As the title of this post states, old habits (like being afraid of doing any strength training, or counting mileage as the primary predictor of performance!) die HARD!    

      So When Should You Do Your Last Long Run? 

      I was first exposed to research about the amount of time it actually takes for deep cellular tissue (muscle) damage to heal (from training) around 1990.  That's 30 years ago! One study, conducted at Harvard at that time, showed that tissue remained significantly damaged even after 4 or 5 weeks of "recovery" after that "long" run.

      After learning about that study and then discussing these concepts with our former podcast guest and running expert Owen Anderson, PhD (who at that time was the editor of Running Research News) I decided to adjust my own training to reflect that longer taper period prior to race day. I immediately felt the benefits of it with my first 2:40 marathon in 1991.  To that point, I'd been able to run a 2:50, but with this new approach to tapering, I ran a full 10 minutes faster and felt better on race day.  I don't necessarily credit that taper and distance between the last long run and race day as the sole reason for the 10 minute drop, but I do believe it was a huge factor.

      Without a doubt, I am convinced that a huge percentage of the runners who are running marathons in this day and age, and in fact many of those lining up in Boston this fall (when the race will be run), toe the line with "still damaged" muscle cells from a longer run, too close to race day.

      Maybe its me, but it always made sense that if I wanted to have an opportunity to run my best on race day, that my legs needed to be healed from what I had done to them in training. That might sound like a simple concept, but again, old habits die hard.

      Keep in mind as you think about this, that a "long" run can mean different things to different runners. Someone running 90 miles per week can run longer, relatively speaking, than can someone who can only handle 30 miles per week. But in my opinion, even on an elite level, a lot of the country's best marathoners are still running too long, too close to race day, even with their lofty weekly mileage totals. I've employed this taper strategy or some variation there of, with every person I've coached since I began coaching, and as I mentioned, used it myself since the early 1990s.

      Obviously, doing this requires that you do GET IN those longer runs early enough in your preparation. But even if you fall short in either the number or length of those longer runs, trying to "squeeze in" one last long run too close to race day, ensures that you will toe the line with less than 100% of your capability that day, and that's a shame.

      The best chance any of us have to run our best "on the day," is to show up 100% healthy and healed and motivated to do well, with a solid strategy in place.  The key words are "100% healthy." If you're not, even with the best training and highest levels of motivation, you will very likely do less well than you might otherwise be capable.

      Why Do Runners Continue To Run Long Too Close To Race Day?

      Big Confidence Boost?: At first glance that close-to-race-day long run seems like a smart idea. Many runners believe they need to prove to themselves that they can go the distance on race day, and what better way to show you’re ready than to knock off a 20-miler just a couple of weeks before you go to the starting line! What a great shot in the arm to your confidence, right? Wrong.

      It might sound logical to lay one last long run down to boost confidence, but that would be a mistake, and the reason is simple: You need recovery after your long runs.

      Many runners dismiss the amount of pounding we put our bodies through running those miles. As I often say here in our Lab, a mile of running is the equvalent of 1500 one-leg squat jumps! That's a lot of repetitive trauma.

      In an article Owen wrote in RRN some years ago, he referenced research conducted by Dutch exercise scientists with a group of marathon runners. "About two thirds had significant signs of muscle injury on the morning of the race, before they had run just one mile of the marathon!"

      According to the study, "the reason for this muscular mayhem, for the most part, was the long running the Dutch had carried out during the month before the race. The Dutch-athletes’ muscles were totally non-recovered on race day." The Dutch researchers found that training runs with durations longer than 15 kilometers (~ 9.3 miles) were the ones which seemed to produce the greatest amount of muscle damage. Below 15K, little muscle damage accrued.  (The reason why I started back then, making 9-10mile runs my longest within four weeks of the race).

      The BIG Myth.

      The biggest myth that exists out there among runners getting ready for the marathon is that a long gap between the last long run and the actual marathon will make our body "forget" how to run long.  

      Going a full four weeks without a true "long" run, will cause our body to lose its ability to efficiently cover the distance, right?  Not so much! The truth is that provided you've done the necessary periodic long runs prior to that 4 week period and built to a distance of 20-22 miles on average, your body will not "forget" how to complete the distance on race day.   

      In fact, if you approach your training in the right way, you can use this long-run-free four-week period to truly boost fitness and be more prepared than ever for a great race day! As your muscles heal and recovery progresses, you can...

      • step up the intensity of your training, allowing you to do more of the kinds of training sessions which will have a direct impact on marathon readiness. Those are sessions focusing on lifting vV02max, running economy, and threshold.
      • focus more time and energy on your overall fitness, specific mobility and flexibility needs, and topping off your running specific strength.

      Most runners are so used to running on battered and bruised legs and being exhausted, that they never actually FEEL what it feels like to run on legs that are recovered and 100% healthy. What a shame!

      The Bottom Line?

      A smart marathon or long distance run training plan is one that builds fitness progressively and THEN ALLOWS for adequate recovery prior to race day.

      Many typical race training plans I see on the internet or written by other "experts" often leave out this critical recovery aspect, having runners run long 2 or 3 weeks out from race day. As a result, the runners following those plans or trusting that guidance end up toeing the line with damaged muscles, even though they "believe" they are 100% ready to have the best race possible.  If you're reading this thinking "that guy is an expert running coach," or "my fast friend does it this way," stop and think for a moment.

      Simply put, 3 weeks isn't enough time for healing for the majority of runners, and 2 weeks is flat out absurd under normal circumstances. The exception might be if your weekly mileage totals are over 80 to 100 per week.  If your weekly mileage is below those numbers, you'll be very smart to leave at least 4 weeks from the last long run you do until race day.

      Train smart in this way, and you'll feel better and run faster as a result!

      ~Coach Al 

      Runners: What is Core Stability and why does it matter?

      If you're a runner who wants to avoid an injury or is coming back from one, listen up! This is for you!

      The words "core stability" are thrown around a lot in training circles, physical therapy clinics, and in online programs.

      It's unfortunate that so much of what is said about what it is, and why it matters, is flat out, WRONG. 

      If you're a runner who'd like to get OUT of an injury cycle or avoid an injury in the future, this is important stuff.  A stable core is your foundation for everything that comes later in terms of your fitness.

      It's one important element (arguably THE most important) to running injury free and faster and farther.

      Want to know more?

      Well, you're in luck. 🙂 I put this video together for the inside of my new program, “Restore Your Core Stability and Strength.”

      In it I give you a bird’s eye view of stability, energy leak, and injury risk in action.  In real time, side by side.  

      If you're unsure what instability looks like (or the opposite - a runner that's really solid), go ahead and CLICK on the image below to check out the video!  (Just in case the image link doesn't work, CLICK HERE for the direct link).

      When you’re done watching this, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about!

      Let's look at these runners and see which are stable and which aren't. Will you be able to guess?

      To your success,
      Al

      PS: If you're not following me on Instagram, pursuitathlete is my IG handle. I plan on continuing to share more cool training ideas and concepts in the future.

      PSS: If you believe this post has been helpful and you'd be interested in hearing from me on a more regular basis via email, you can CLICK HERE to subscribe to my email newsletter. I hope you've considered the time it took you to read this as time well spent. 🙂

      Masters Runners: FOUR Tips to help you go faster as you get older

      If you're a Masters age runner or triathlete who is in your 40s, 50s, or beyond, and willing to admit you're aging a little bit, you might acknowledge your fastest running days may be behind you, but....that doesn't mean you don't want to still run as fast as you can for as long as you can.  

      Am I right? 🙂

      In an earlier blog post, I shared a specific track workout designed to sky-rocket run fitness by improving your body's ability to both utilize and clear lactate from the bloodstream. (After recovery of course).

      Today I'd like to continue sharing a few more recommendations gleaned from many years of experience and study, and some trial and error, too. (And a boatload of mistakes!) 🙂

      In future posts, I'll share even more details about some of the workouts I'm doing and programming for my Master's athletes. Think of it as an overview of one of a few possible ways to approach trying to get faster (or to not slow down as much) as you age. 🙂

      You with me?

      Great, let's get to it.  Here's some general run training guidelines for "older" runners...

      • Consistent, short, faster-than-5k pace segments during the course of your training week are essential. If you don't use it, you lose it (leg speed as an example). Lock in on these two things routinely: 1. Be consistent.  2. Include faster-than-5k pace segments.
      • Total run volume is secondary to everything else. And I mean everything. How many miles you actually run has nothing to do with fitness. And nothing will hurt your run fitness and speed more than slow miles, for the sake of volume.
      • Work on technique as much or more than you ever have before. By "technique," I mean doing a regular dose of drill work and considering elements such as knee drive/elbow drive, posture, turnover/stride rate, sweep (the distance between maximal shin angle and shin angle at touchdown), and footstrike to name a few.  Formwork is awesome for optimizing coordination, skill, and general running/training "rhythm," especially at a time in your life/training when those things can tend to worsen.
      • When doing "quality" workouts that might include 400s or 800s, plan on fewer reps than you might have done in the past when you were younger, but keep rest intervals short. A good rule of thumb for segments at or faster than 5k pace is a 2 to 1, work-to-rest ratio. For example, if a work interval takes you 3 minutes, plan on a 1.5-minute rest interval. (You're NOT showing weakness or an unwillingness to train hard by making compromises, you're demonstrating training smarts!)
      • During the course of your training week, minimize the amount of time (miles) you spend running slowly. Yes, you need an easy gradual warm-up and cool-down and you also need to occasionally "just run" easy for running's sake. But to keep or even improve your ability to run fast(er), "quality" running speeds need to occupy a greater overall percentage of your total run miles than they might have in the past.
      • Other than quality running at 5k or faster speeds, recovery between sessions is your most important priority. And it will likely take longer than you think. 🙂  If your fitness is lower, you will need more easy (or total rest) days between harder efforts. As your fitness improves, you will gain the ability to get in more quality sessions. The biggest takeaway? Where you might have fit in 3 or 4 quality run days in a 7-day training week in the past, now it may take you 10 days to fit in the same percentage of quality training. And that's ok!
      • More than ever before, focus on differentiating speed and intensity daily.  Make sure easy is just that, easy! And conversely, work hard and go much faster on any quality segments or workouts you do. Differentiate daily!
      • And finally as a general rule, err on the side of caution and do ONE LESS REP than you might be able to do.  As a Master's age runner, your primary goal is to "stay in the fight" for the long haul, so to speak. The surest way to accomplish that is to finish each session knowing you could have done more. Here's a tip: as soon as you see your speed drop off on a stride or repetition, take that as a signal to shut it down and return to easy running. Survive to fight another day. Consistency rules.

      That's it for now.

      To your success,
      Al

      PS: If you're not following me on Instagram, pursuitathlete is my IG handle. I plan on continuing to share more cool training ideas and concepts in the future.

      PSS: If you believe this post has been helpful and you'd be interested in hearing from me on a more regular basis via email, you can CLICK HERE to subscribe to my email newsletter. I hope you've considered the time it took you to read this as time well spent. 🙂

      Here’s one cool way to build hip and leg strength.

      This past week on Instagram I posted a short video of an athlete I coach doing an Oscillating Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat.

      In that post (my handle is pursuitathlete), I mentioned I'd be writing about why I came up with this variation as part of a progressive 3-block approach I use with the athletes I work with, for building leg and hip strength.

      Check the video out by clicking on the image up to the left. The athlete's name is Arne - he's one of the top 50+ triathletes in his home area of Oslo, Norway.

      So what's the deal with this somewhat gimmicky looking variation on the Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat?

      I'll start by saying that I believe this variation (one of a few different variations I am employing with my athletes right now) can be highly effective training if done correctly and progressed smartly. I also believe it's potentially very helpful in building the kind of strength that will help you run and ride much faster and more powerfully.

      So today, if you're willing to dig into this a little bit with me, let's get into this variation in a bit more detail.

      Because, after all, the secret (as always), isn't the exercise itself...but rather, it's how the exercise is done.

      The Oscillating RFESS: Let's take a closer look

      The first thing to recognize is that the "oscillating" movement at the bottom of the squat position is in what is a very challenging (and disadvantaged) position. Why does that matter? Keep reading!

      Here's the deal: The intensity of any exercise (including this) is drastically increased if an athlete is required to spend a longer duration of time in a range of motion that is commonly considered to be weaker. I believe this disadvantaged, e.g. lower to the floor position, is weaker in all of us comparatively.

      As such, and as has probably become apparent, an "advantageous" position (stronger) would be one much nearer to the top of the squatting movement. Make sense?

      One of my most influential teachers, thinkers and researchers is Dr. Stu McGill. This man has done more research on the spine than anyone else on the planet and has also had the unique opportunity to work for years on elite athletes and weekend warriors alike. He’s forgotten more about the human body than most of us will ever know.

      One of the things he’s often stated (based on his research predominantly) is that the BIGGEST DIFFERENCE between elite athletes and everyone else, ISN’T their individual strength or flexibility – rather, it’s actually how they RELAX.

      Say again? How they relax?

      Yes. To put it more succinctly, it is the speed at which their muscles relax in between muscle contractions.

      Elite athletes have the ability to relax much faster between contractions. This is one of the reasons why they look smoother, silkier, and generally more relaxed, whereas some of us look stiff and rigid comparatively.

      The Paradox of Muscle Force and Speed: 

      Dr. McGill, in an interview, had this to say about this paradox: “When muscle contracts it creates force, but also stiffness. Force creates faster movement but the corresponding stiffness slows the change of muscle shape and joint velocity. For many, the instruction to relax to obtain top speed seems counterintuitive. But this becomes instantly apparent hitting a golf ball. Try and hit hard using muscle and the ball never goes far. This is because muscle stiffness slows the motion down. The great long ball hitters relax through the swing gaining top speed but rapidly contract at ball contact to create a stiffness that is transferred to the club and ball. This is the “pulse”. Then the musculature instantly relaxes to maintain speed of follow-through.”

      It makes total sense that the same “rules” apply to both running and cycling. Which is to say, it isn’t just about the amount of force you can create when your foot hits the ground or when you are pushing on the pedal…

      …it’s as much or more about how FAST you can apply that force (call it Rate of Force Production) and how quickly your muscles relax in-between contractions.

      It’s worth noting that while we could argue as to the existence of Sherington’s Law in this day and age (a topic you may be familiar with – and one I’ve written about quite a bit – if you need to, google it), this simple idea that when a muscle is contracting (shortening), the muscle opposite it must lengthen to some degree to allow for movement around a joint.

      We KNOW that both muscles are contracting – one is doing it concentrically (shortening) and the other is doing it eccentrically (lengthening). And there are likely some elements of isometric action as well (no change in actual length of the muscle).

      Let’s use a very simple example to look at what I’m hoping to convey: a basic bicep curl.

      During a bicep curl (elbow flexion) it is clear that the bicep is shortening. However, the tricep must also allow lengthening for the elbow to complete flexion. If the tricep does not relax in a rapid enough fashion, whether that be due to a lack of strength or motor pattern, the bicep is not capable of producing the maximal level of force possible.  If we’re talking about a relatively high-velocity setting such as fast running or pedaling very fast, the slower relaxation of the opposing muscle (in this example, the tricep) will cause even greater difficulties as the speed of elbow flexion will be greatly reduced.

      Although this is an over-simplified, single-joint example, the same contraction and relaxation rules apply within all movements. It is the ability to control this task of rapid contraction/relaxation in the “push-pull” mentality that separates the elite from everyone else. 

       Accelerating=Concentric / Decelerating=Eccentric

      When you push down on the pedal on the bike, or when you’re pushing off to propel yourself forward in running, there’s a definite concentric (acceleration) series of muscle actions going on. At the same time, the muscles opposite those producing that force are acting as decelerators. They’re resisting forces acting on your body and also working to control the rate of acceleration or force production.

      Here's the bottom line Al: these oscillations as part of this Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat, are simply about teaching the muscles of your hips and legs, as well as the proprioceptors such as the golgi tendon organs, to function more quickly and efficiently. (If you're thinking of this as training a skill, I think you'd be right!).  Strength (and power) production is a skill. 😊

      Getting a bit deeper:

      Large Nerve Proprioceptors called Golgi Tendon Organs

      Also known as "GTOs," these are the large nerve proprioceptors located in tendons. If you've been on my email list for a while, you've heard me discuss the "small nerve proprioceptors" in our feet when discussing barefoot training. Today we're talking about the large nerve “dudes.” Large simply means “slower,” compared to small nerve (those in our feet – much faster!).

      Anyway, GTO’s act as neuromuscular inhibitors and are sensitive to the forces developed within the muscle. If muscle tension increases sharply, which can obviously happen and does happen in cycling and running, the GTO reflex responds. The key here is that this response can and often does lead to an inhibition of muscle action, ultimately decreasing tension to prevent the muscle and/or tendon from incurring damage due to the rapid, high levels of force.

      Every GTO is set to a specific, trainable, activation threshold. Think of this activation threshold as a governor on a truck. It is in place to ensure the safety of the structure and reduce the likelihood of injury.

      (I know this is getting a bit technical, but this is important stuff to chew on if you're considering adding these to your training mix, so keep reading!)

      It's all about the relationship between inhibition, muscle action, and relaxation!

      Generally speaking, most GTO’s are set to inhibit a muscle up to 40% below what that structure can actually handle. For example, if a muscle structure is capable of handling 100 lbs of exerted force, the GTO system would reach its activation threshold at 60 lbs of force. This leaves 40 lbs of untapped performance potential.

      Through appropriate training of the weaker points within range of motion the activation level of GTO’s can be elevated, as the body adapts and is taught to handle higher loads in specific ranges of motion.

      Ultimately, the ability to reduce the activation of GTO’s at high force levels will lead to increased force output from the muscle and improve strength.

      Bottom line – these are about teaching our tissues to function more quickly and effectively and efficiently to hopefully allow for greater force production and speed of that force production.

      Ok, let's wrap this!

      With ALL that being said, let's wrap this with a few practical tips for how to approach these RFESS oscillatory reps…should you attempt to dive in.

      • I always use these on top of (or after) a base of strength. It's really "frosting" on the cake. The cake is building strength with this exercise using good form, first. (I'll share more about this in an upcoming email, so stay tuned).
      • With these, the goal is to move as quickly as possible when oscillating. With a relatively short range of motion. Think of flicking a light switch on and off rapidly.
      • Should you want to attempt these, don't use any load. Master the fast oscillations first, then consider adding load as your skill improves.
      • Stay as low as you can. You are weaker, the lower you go. It’ll be harder.

      For what it's worth, it is also smart to train in an advantaged position every so often. Just sayin!

      Phew. That was a LOT of technical stuff to digest, right?  After typing all of that, I think I'll go take a nap! 😊

      Seriously, I hope this gives you some idea of the really cool (and valuable) ways in which we can vary some fundamental strength moves like this one, to "teach" our body to relax more quickly and thus generate more force when it matters the most. 

      To your success,
      Al

      PS: If you're not following me on Instagram, pursuitathlete is my IG handle. I plan on continuing to share more cool training ideas and concepts in the future.

      PSS: If you believe this post has been helpful and you'd be interested in hearing from me on a more regular basis via email, you can CLICK HERE to subscribe. I hope you've considered the time it took you to read this as time well spent. 🙂

      Does Your LowBack Ever Get a Little Cranky or Stiff?

      Low back stiffness and pain is epedemic in this day and age. And the truth is, there are SO many potential causes for stiffness or pain in the low back. So, let's get this out of the way - it's not in my job description to diagnose, and even if it was, I'm sure as hell not going to try and diagnose in a blog post  - that'd be kind of ridiculous.

      However, what I CAN do...is share a video that I shot this past week for my coached athletes. In it, I get right to the heart of ONE of many reasons why our back can get a little cranky.

      I've seen this over and over again in a variety of people, from all walks of life and activity levels, especially, runners....OR (gasp!)...pain-addicted sickos who, for whatever reason, like to do side planking!

      We ALL love to hate that one - it sucks so good, right?

      THREE Common Causes of Low Back Stiffness and Pain

      Before I get to the video I mentioned above, know this: In my experience working with athletes from different backgrounds and age groups who occasionally struggle with low back pain or soreness...

      ...in the majority of cases (that aren't the result of a traumatic injury like a crash) the issues are usually related to these...

      1. The hips aren't as mobile as they need to be:  We need the hips to move or the back will have to. As I have often said, the body will absolutely get movement from somewhere - the question is, is it the right somewhere. (This is the biggest culprit if you're typically "tight" or "stiff" or consider yourself inflexible).
      2. The hips aren't as stable or strong as they need to be: This is another way of saying the low back ends up having to compensate - and "pretends" to be the butt! Not a good thing.
      3. The core/trunk isn't as stable as it needs to be: Without a stable core, the low back WILL take a beating. In other words, if those smaller muscles throughout the trunk (whose job it is to make sure the spine and entire trunk functions as it should) aren't in synchrony with each other and integrated holistically with the other parts of the body, it's not if you'll have back pain, it's simply when.

      To be sure, these aren't the ONLY reasons, but they're the top three.

      Or are they?

      As I think of it, there's also a FOURTH common cause.

      And that is????

      To get the answer to that question, you'll need to CLICK on the image to the left...

      ...and check out a 12-minute long video that I referred to above.

      In it, I get right to this FOURTH reason for low back stiffness.

      And, I give you four specific movements you can do to alleviate that stiffness right now.

      You and I know any kind of low back pain and stiffness sucks. And if you can relate, then maybe I can help.

      What are you waiting for? Click the above image and get right to it.

      To your success,
      Al

      PS: If you're not following me on Instagram, pursuitathlete is my IG handle. I plan on continuing to share more cool training ideas and concepts in the future.

      PSS: If you believe this post has been helpful and you'd be interested in hearing from me on a more regular basis via email, you can CLICK HERE to subscribe. I hope you've considered the time it took you to read this as time well spent. 🙂

      Three Mistakes Many Beginning Runners Make (and How To Avoid Them!)

      So today's post is straight forward: I'm going to talk about some of the "mistakes" I typically see beginning runners make.  If you're interested in learning what those are (and what to do to avoid them), keep reading.

      One of the things I really enjoy as a coach is helping someone not only begin a running program, but most importantly be able to continue it so that they successfully reach the point in time I refer to as the "satisfying" stage of running. If you've been running for any length of time, you know first hand what I mean. It's that point when you finally start to feel better as you run and can really feel some of the fitness benefits. Those early days and weeks AREN'T easy. With time, determination and consistency however, there's very few things we can do for our health that are more rewarding and satisfying than running!

      The secret to getting to the "satisfying" stage of run development is doing it the "right way."   One major step toward doing it the “right way” is to make sure you avoid injury.

      If you can manage to avoid injury, you'll build your fitness steadily and consistently and be able to enjoy the benefits of an incredibly satisfying fitness activity. And you'l smile a LOT! 🙂  On the other hand, if you end up injured, you'll soon learn what it's like to be SO frustrated and angry, wondering where to turn for answers as to why you have that pain, and most importantly, what you can or should do about it.

      If you STOP running, you start to lose that fitness and the momentum you worked so damn hard for. On the other hand, if you try to KEEP running right through the pain, it will inevitably only get worse, setting you up for even more frustration, anger, and fear about your future as a runner.

      Before I go on, I want you to ask yourself an important question: Do you know why you want to do this? Whether it’s to gain more energy, feel younger, be healthier, look better, lower your blood pressure, lose weight, or finish a marathon, recognizing WHAT your primary motivation is may be the MOST important element for success, because it is THAT reason that will inspire you, drive you, motivate you, and create the burning desire that YOU WILL NEED to achieve the rewards you desire!

      So, now that I’ve got that out of the way, let's get to some of those mistakes. Avoid these and you'll be well on your way to an enjoyable life of running.


      Mistake #1: 

      Doing too much mileage - progressing too fast, too soon.  “Patience and fortitude conquer all things.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

      The most common mistake many beginning runners make is to let their initial enthusiasm "run" rampant by running too many miles too soon, going farther and more frequently then their bodies are truly ready for. The risk of this happening is much higher, earlier, when motivation is high and there are no aches and pains in your legs!

      However, as the days turn into a week, and then two weeks, the knees, hips, shins, and low back begin to feel some tweaks. If those runners don’t heed these warning signs that the body is beginning to rebel, before too long they will most surely have an injury, and then BAM!, just like that, the new passion for running is stopped DEAD in its tracks. Game over!

      How do you prevent this mistake from happening?Be more conservative than you think you need to be with how often, how long, and how much you run, especially early on in your development.

      If you are completely new to running or just getting back into it, start with walking first, and then slowly and progressively add small amounts of running into the mix.  For example, I typically recommend a runner take a minimum of 10 weeks to progress to 30 minutes straight running. Start with 30 seconds of walking and 30 seconds of running for 10 or 15 minutes and progress conservatively from there.

      Be aware of the warning signs of injury.  If you feel ANY pain that you don’t think is normal for what you are doing, STOP immediately and walk home, or call for a ride home. Doing this could literally SAVE you weeks or months of down time away from the sport.

      Be aware that very often injuries sneak up on you; they don’t always happen when you might expect them to. Be aware, listen to your body!
      Take AT LEAST one complete day off from exercise each and every week.  Take REST days seriously! It’s when you rest that your body adapts and gets stronger!


      Mistake #2:

      Not developing core stability or doing any strength training. 

      “A terrace nine stories high begins with a pile of earth.” – Lao-tzu

      Many beginning runners think that running will make them stronger, so they start a running program without realizing this fact: running in and of itself will not make you stronger!  Rather, running actually breaks you down making you weaker in many ways!

      As you may know, with each stride you are landing with about three-times your body-weight in impact forces.  Not only that, the less optimal your running form is, the higher the impact forces are. What is helping to absorb this pounding and keep your body from taking a tortuous beating? The answer is, your CORE should be!

      The real true secret to avoiding injury and improving as a runner is to develop a stronger, more durable and stable FOUNDATION.  When your foundation is weak, your form deteriorates as you get more tired. You are forced to slow down or even stop, while your risk of injury goes up because your legs are forced to absorb the pounding your core should be absorbing.

      If you don’t improve the stability and strength of your core in a running specific way, and treat your legs to some running-specific functional strength training, you will eventually find yourself injured. How can you develop your entire trunk and core for more powerful and injury free running?   Make the choice TODAY to incorporate as little as 10-minutes of core training, 2 to 3 times per week, into your weekly running routine.
      Not sure what to do? Keep it simple, not complex!  Get in touch if I can help.


      Mistake #3:

      Not making the effort to learn what your inherent risk of injury might be, or where you might be weak, unstable, or out of balance.  

      “To thine own self be true." – Shakespeare

      The simple truth is that unless you take the time and make the effort to learn about your own body, where you might be imbalanced, weak, or unstable, and then take the steps to correct whatever those things are, you're going to get injured. It's just a matter of time.

      No one in their right mind would invest in or buy a house without first checking to ensure the foundation is strong and the mechanicals in the house such as the plumbing and electric are sound and working well. Why don't we do the same thing when it's our own bodies, especially when it's our long term health and happiness that's at stake?

      So how do you avoid making this mistake? If you REALLY want to know what the answer is and what your options are, get in touch with me directly via email and I'll tell you what I've learned the hard way.

      Have a great week!
      To Your Success,
      ~Coach Al