Wednesday, March 16, 2011

To stretch or not to stretch...

That is the question. For years, runners have been taught to stretch after every run. I've always done it, and always thought I was doing a good thing. It feels good and it would seem to be the right thing to do. Lately, however, I'm starting to change my thinking.

A good deal of evidence is starting to suggest that static stretching--the kind we all do post-run--may be doing more harm than good. It seems that when you stretch a muscle statically, you may actually be causing micro-tearing in the muscle. This leads to weakening, and the weakening can lead to injury. Not what anybody wants, to be sure.

So what should you do instead? Try performing dynamic moves at the beginning of a run, for one. There are lots of good articles out there that can lead you through some of these moves--about 10 to 15 minutes of high knee walking, butt kicks, leg swings, etc., can get you out the door ready to run. Then post-run, try walking for about 10 minutes to actively cooldown and get your legs ready to stop.

Yoga and Pilate's are another great way to stretch. These forms of exercise produce slow, easy motion that can help keep you a bit looser. Again, however, make sure you come in with warm muscles to these classes--just 10 to 15 minutes of pre-workout walking or easy cycling can do the trick. Then approach the class with patience, working through the moves at an unhurried, relaxed pace.

As athletes, we are on a constant learning curve. After 13 years of running, I feel that I still have so much to learn. This rethinking of stretching is just one example of why it pays to stay on top of the latest findings and information available.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

How's your balance?

How long can you stand on one leg with your eyes shut? I'm betting you can't make it to 30 seconds. That's bad news, because when you think about it, what is running, really? It's standing on one leg, over and over again.

As we age, our balance starts to get progressively worse. If you can't make it 30 seconds on each foot, it's time you started working on your balance. The good news is that incorporating balance into your life is really quite easy and doesn't require much extra time.

I've been working on mine lately and after just about 4 weeks, I can already see a big difference. How have I gone about it? I sneak it in throughout my day. A few approaches:
  • Whenever you lift weights with your upper body, do it on one leg. Or try using a bosu ball.
  • The next time you brush your teeth or dry your hair, do it on one leg.
  • You probably spend a fair amount of time each week standing in lines--at the grocery store, the bank, wherever it may be. Do it on one foot.
  • You can also make more concerted efforts at balancing, like doing the 30-second closed eye drill several times each day.
You'll find that it's really quite easy to find the time to work on your balance. The benefits--better stabilizing muscles. As more studies are showing, these are very important to injury prevention. Not only that, but it's a great way to slow down Father Time. I can now challenge my kids to balance contests and guess what? They don't have much of an edge any more. That's pretty cool, I think.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Get Hip

If you're a reader of my other blog, then you know I've been out for a while with an ITB injury. Aside from whining about it (quite a bit!) I am also working to fix the things that got me to this point in the first place. One of them is a lack of hip and butt strengthening exercises in my strength routine.

Turns out, I'm not alone in having weak glutes and hips--most runners neglect these areas and it sometimes comes back to haunt them. To avoid ending up with an injury that is partly the result of weak hips and glutes, try some of these strengthening exercises that I've recently added to my routine:
  • Hip thrusts--Lie on your back with knees bent and feet on the ground. Lift one leg and point it towards the ceiling. Slowly lift your butt off the ground and thrust your leg up. Repeat 10 times on each side.
  • Bridges--You can do these in the same position as above, or make it even tougher by placing your feet on a stability ball. Simply raise your butt off the ground until your body forms a line, pause, and return slowly to the starting position. Repeat 10 times.
  • Lateral raises--Lie on your side with legs out straight. Slowly lift your leg up and back down again (think old Jane Fonda videos!). Repeat 10 times on each side. To make it tougher, place a Theraband around your ankles.
  • Clam shells--Lie on your side with knees bent to about 45 degrees. Keeping your feet together, lift your top knee up and then back down. Repeat 10 times on each side. Again, make it more difficult with a Theraband, this time around your knees.
  • Lateral steps--Place a Theraband around your ankles in a standing position. Squat slightly and take 10 steps in one direction, stop and then take 10 steps in the other direction. That's one set.
Start with one set of each move and work up to two or three as you get stronger. There are other exercises you can find as well, but these are a few basic moves that can go a long way to helping neglected muscles. I hope it helps keep you on the road!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Do as I say, not as I do!

I'm a big believer in the idea that injuries don't just "happen." That is, 99 percent of the time, if you're injured, it's probably something you did wrong. So as a coach, I'm a bit embarrassed at the fact that I am currently sitting out right now with an ITB injury.

Looking back, I can see where my errors were: Laziness in my strength routine, neglecting important areas like my hips and glutes. And even bigger than that, not stopping running for a week or so when my leg started really flaring up. Here's how you can avoid the same mistakes:
  • It's been said 1,000 times, but here I go again--don't run through pain! If you're hurting somewhere--not just sore--running isn't going to make it go away. This applies to those pains that seem to subside as you get into your run, too. You simply can't run through an injury.
  • Take time off as soon as you realize that you're really hurting. The longer you run through the pain in denial (like I did), the longer you'll have to take off. Nipping it in the bud at the onset is your best bet for a speedy recovery.
  • Examine how you got the pain in the first place--With my ITB, I know now that I had not paid enough attention to my hip and glute strength. Often times, injuries are simply the result of too much/too soon or not enough rest. Figure out your root cause and fix it.
  • Take the time to strength train and stretch, regularly. I read recently that elites spend twice the amount of time on strength and flexibility that they do actually running. Yes, it's not the fun part of training, but if it keeps you out there, it's worth it.
  • Make ice your friend. When you do have a nagging pain, pull out the ice packs asap.
It's really that simple. 

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Rest is not a 4-letter word!

If you look around the blogosphere these days, you'll see that there are plenty of people out there on the D.L. Heck, I'm trying to stay off of it myself right now. One thing that can help all of us is to step back and rest when we need it.

I know it's a hard thing to do; no one wants to miss training. But sometimes, when we're run down, or when we're aching, it's the right thing to do. A couple of days off in these cases is usually worth it's weight in gold.

Rest is important even when you're not feeling tired or sore, too. Unless you're an elite, you need to schedule in at least one rest day per week. When you work your body hard, that's great. But if you want all the benefits of that hard work, let it rest for a day and catch up. Skipping rest can lead to a downward spiral of overtraining, injury and burnout. Don't go down that road.

I'll leave you with one final thought--a couple of times in the past when I've been injured, I could look back at when that injury first started bothering me. I said to myself, "I wish I'd just taken a couple of days off." Had I done just that, what turned out to be long-term injuries might have only amounted to a few days off. Learn from my mistakes!

Monday, November 15, 2010

On race day--DON'T overdress!

Coming off this weekend's marathon, I was reminded once again of how many people overdress for their marathons. People--just say no!

The general rule for running is to dress as if it is 20 degrees warmer than it is. If it is sunny, then take it down even more. I know it can be cold at the start of a race, but that's where throwaway clothes come in. Don't give into the temptation to overdo your clothing--you'll only pay for it later.

An example--at my marathon on Saturday, the start was only in the upper 30s, but it was sunny, not a cloud in the sky. I dressed in shorts, a singlet, and added a long-sleeved throwaway shirt on top. Standing at the start in the sun, it became apparent that I wasn't going to need that shirt even for one mile, so I tossed it before the gun went off. I did, however, keep my gloves on. This was perfect. By about mile 6 or so, I had taken off the gloves. By the final miles, I was a bit warm. I can't imagine how I would have felt if I had more on.

As the miles passed by, I saw runner after runner overdressed, some in full tights and long-sleeved shirts. And you know what? Those were the people who faded. You see, when you overdress, you sweat--a ton! And that sweat contains valuable electrolytes that your muscles need. Don't throw your race by overdoing the clothing.

Remember--if you're not cold when you start and for the first 10 minutes or so, you've got too much on. Practice it until you get it right. Your legs will thank you!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Mastering Master's

As I've pointed out before, I'm a master's runner. For me, and most people over 40, that means that running today is a bit different than it was 10 years ago. Not different bad, but different in the sense that I've had to make a few changes to how I train.

Here, in no particular order, are some of the tips I've learned and recommend for staying healthy, and speedy, after 40:

* Recover after races and hard efforts--It used to be that I could race a 1/2 Ironman on a Sunday and be back on the track doing speedwork two days later. No longer! I find that recovery takes longer these days so I always reward my race efforts with an easy week. I also make sure I am feeling fresh before adding in a second day of speed; often I stick to just one speed session/week. I don't find this hurts my times any, but it goes a long way towards keeping me healthy.
* Strength train--Once you're in your 30s, you begin to lose muscle mass. If you don't do adequate strength training, that loss can add up to injury from muscle imbalances.
* Stretch--Just like muscle strength, flexibility takes a dive as you age. Take the time to stretch after each run. Bonus points for yoga or pilates.
* Cross-train--I love to swim and I find that getting in the pool even once or twice a week helps my body work out the kinks from running. A short spin on the bike can help as well. It's all about keeping those non-running muscles engaged to help support your running muscles.
* Eat a healthy diet--It's important no matter what your age, but as you get older, getting those nutrients, carbs and protein into your system at the right time and in the right quantity count more than ever.
* Rest--Time off your feet, preferably asleep, helps your muscles repair damage.
* Get a massage when needed--If you have the time and money, do it regularly. If not, get one when you feel your body breaking down or after a long/hard race.

I hope these ideas help. Feel free to add any others--I'm always in the hunt for ways to keep my body healthy and feeling like it did 10 years ago!