Monthly Archives: April 2009

From TI Blog: How long can you sustain Fast Swimming?

I just read this off of the Total Immersion blog and had to comment immediately:
How long can you sustain Fast Swimming?
I found it to be extremely interesting in its discussion on adaptation and about neurological training. He states regarding adaptation:

These days, the coaches of elite swimmers are far more likely to give a moderate training load, let the swimmer adapt to it, then give a slightly more demanding load, adapt to that, etc. Rather than one major peak per season, they’re looking to produce a prolonged series of carefully-calibrated smaller advances in capacity and performance.

I’ve always thought that shocking the system as in the past was only going to wear somebody down and I’ve adjusted my own training to reflect an approach that is very similar to what he describes. I up my training load, then spend about 3 weeks to cement that adaptation into my system before raising it again.
The other important point is here:

The seldom-acknowledged weakness in this approach is that, while it may work reasonably well for the metabolic systems (aerobic capacity, muscle strength, etc.), neurological capacity was poorly served. A swimmer who is barely surviving workouts, because of prolonged intensity or volume, is far more likely to “practice struggle” in their movements, hurting the neuromuscular imprint needed to swim fast.

Lately, I’ve really come to realize the importance of neurological training. This is not only practicing and imprinting proper form in swimming, but also in the way my legs move in running, and also getting my nerves to fire faster so that my legs are more comfortable in cycling fast, even when tired.
Driving your system to exhaustion so that you can’t even focus on form is just dumb. I’ve discovered this as well where I would get to a point of tiredness and can’t even maintain form while running. The result is that I start stomping more, heel striking, my legs start moving slower and slower: this is all bad not only for racing fast, but increasing the likelihood of injury.
This is why I am mentally extra focused on maintaining form in all 3 sports. It’s super important to practice this, especially when you get into tired states because the body just gets lazy as you focus on “keep moving” versus proper form. The worst thing that can happen, as the TI blog entry suggests, is that when you get tired, you start imprinting improper form or you never gain the ability to imprint proper form because you’re always tired and you can’t.
Love this blog entry and love how it validates some of my own personal discoveries.

Starting Out with Pose Method and Switching to Forefoot Running

A buddy of mine was trying Pose Method running for the first time, and was having problems with calf and shin pain. I sent him these tips on starting out with Pose Method, which is changing to a forefoot runner and improving on form, strength and balance and thought that these tips might be worthy of posting to my blog as well:
1. After watching the Pose video (my buddy also bought and watched the video), I tried some of his drills. Personally I felt that I could get there without many of the drills. The essential take-away from Pose Method is to run more forefoot and to stop heel striking.
2. The static drills I found most useful are those that involve balance and core. These involve standing on one leg for a period of time, standing on one leg and moving the free leg through a running motion, etc. They improve your balance and stability and build up both the large muscles (ie. quads and calves, etc) and the tiny muscles that you never hear about. Often its the tiny muscles that are involved in efficient balance and you want them to be stronger. But if they are not, then they tire out and transfer the stress to the big muscles and once they tire out, your form goes to hell and you eventually can get injured or strained.
3. Form is key. You need to now change the way you’re running to a more forward stance. So Pose’s leaning concepts and the way they say you should move your legs under you work well. You have to burn this into your brain and body until it’s natural. This is what takes time and practice.
4. This unfortunately means some possibly very sore calves, and it sounds like shins, in your case. Pose says this should last about a month. For constant runners and young people, I think this may be true.
But I will tell you that I am an edge case because in the first year it took months for me to adapt, plus weekly physical therapy to work out tightness in my calves. Then each year, after my off season, my calves would become sore again for some months before adapting, with PT working out the tightness. I think after my 3rd year into my 4th my calves FINALLY stopped protesting, although this year I have tightness with my flexor hallicus which is one of those small muscles that runs along the achilles tendon and under the bottom of the big soleus calf muscle. The unfortunate thing is that I can only manage it with PT and never give it time to fully heal; I am training every week and hope it doesn’t get worse, which as long as I go to PT it does not.
Non-tight calves and shins are essential for shock absorbtion and the return of spring energy back into the stride so that you are light on your feet and you are running fast. Otherwise, it will feel like your stomping around in army boots, which basically means you’re not lightly and efficiently running but transferring a lot of force into the ground, which returns that force back up into your legs, knees, hips and body as pounding stress which will lead to injury.
Other form tips:
Run with a head that is always level and not bouncing up and down.
Move your legs under you as if they are just brushing off the ground and you’re not stomping into it. Your stride should feel light and fast. Leg turnover is the name of the game, not lengthening your stride to compensate. Thus your heart rate will rise as more leg turnover raises your heart rate but you will get used to it.
You also want a slight body lean forward to enable gravity to help you in the run, not lean back so that gravity pulls you backward as you’re trying to go forward.
Your arms should be held loosely by your side, swinging only forward and back, not side to side across your body like you’re trying to do the watoosi (sp?). The arms help you maintain your balance as your legs are moving under the body. Don’t hold them stiffly down by your side or tense them.
Your body should be upright with your chest presented proudly, but not overly forward. This helps in the forward lean and also keeps your head up and not hunched over. You should have a slight tension between your shoulder blades to pull your shoulders back slightly; not too tensed but just a little. This also helps in opening up your chest for better breathing and maintaining posture.
5. If you can find an ART practictioner in your area, I would go weekly to work through your calves and shins if you can afford the time and money, until they adapt. Once they adapt you can back off to once every two weeks or once a month plus on demand if things pop up.
6. If regular PT is not for you, then I would get a foam roller (you find one at amazon) or better, the TP Massage Roller. I would get the longer one which is more versatile and gives you more room to roll different parts of your leg. You can then roll your calves and your shins (the meaty muscle part, which are the peroneals and anterior tibalis, not the shin bone). The rolling will help take out the tightness in a big way, and it’s also a great way to warm up which is to roll before you stretch and go out and run.
7. Stretching is always good, but often you’ll find that you can’t stretch out some of the tightness. But keep stretching nevertheless as it’s good for you, even if the protesting muscles won’t stretch out.
8. I would also start out more moderately. For example, in the balance exercises, he says to balance on the ball of the foot immediately. I think this may be too much for beginners. You can start by just standing there with your foot flat on the ground first. When you get used to balancing, then you can lift the heel up. Also, I would start being more conservative on the time you balance, maybe so short that it feels dumb, like 10 seconds. Your body may need more time building up the strength in a way that doesn’t leave you with sore calves and shins. So you can start with 10 seconds for 3X a week for maybe 1-2 weeks and then add 10 seconds to that for another 3X week for 1-2 weeks and so on. Jumping to 30 seconds may be too much.
9. This also goes for running, especially if you’re not used to running. You can go to a flat surface like a track and then practice keeping your Pose method form. Run and walk so that you give your calves a break from holding your body up, like run for 20-30 seconds and then walk for a minute. Later you start adding to your run time and reduce your walk time as your strength and fitness builds.
Also you can start out very low in time, like 10 minutes total for running (or run/walk) straight through not counting some drills time. Then keep the 10 minutes for a 1-2 weeks, and then add 5-10 minutes every 2 weeks. I know it sounds so short, but I found during my early days that my body would just keep getting tighter and tighter until something really got sore if I ran normal workouts so early in my training. You really have to listen to your body and do what it needs, and we also have to remember we’re older now and recover slower, and build up muscle slower too.
10. Doing core exercises are really good also. I am trying to find a good book which shows a lot of good exercises but don’t know of any that are really great. You can try Idiot’s Guide to Core Conditioning which is pretty good. I would stick to bridges and planks and avoid the twisting exercises which can stress the discs in your back. I would also go to the section with the medicine ball which has some really great exercises to build up both your stomach and back muscles. Having strong core muscles allows you to hold your body upright and not slouch during running, which ruins your form.
Or you can find a personal trainer as most of them train core these days, if you watch them work with others in a gym.
11. Don’t forget to take a day off in between working on this stuff to rest. If your calves are overly sore now, then you might want to take enough days off to make sure they are finally not sore, and then start again. Hopefully this will be in 2-3 days of not running. If you find that after a week they are still sore, you might want to find a PT person to help you out.
Hope these tips help all you beginning runners too!

A Survey of External Recovery Aids

These last few years I’ve been thinking about proper recovery in between workouts a lot, and how it affects my ability to increase my performance. A lot has been written about recovery and how improper recovery can really detract from a race result and lead to injury. As I have explored recovery, not much has been written about some of the other aids to recovery that can speed it up.
Recovery really became important for me as I discovered that, at 40+ years of age, I would require up to 3 days of recovery after my long bike and long run days. Conventional training wisdom states that 1 full day of rest would be enough, and that by the day after I’d be able to hit workouts at normal paces and wattages with no problem. This wasn’t the case for me!
The other piece of wisdom that people fear is that you need at least 3 workout days for each sport to improve in triathlon. I’ve also found this to be false as I increase my long run and bike days, I still improve with only 2 days per week per discipline (not counting recovery workouts in those disciplines). But this is under specific conditions as I would love to move to 3 strong days during my build and peaking phases and not just during the base phase. Those conditions are the fact that I’m 40+ years of age and I don’t recover fast enough, that I never was an athlete in my youth so I can’t draw upon early years of athletic conditioning and ability, and also because I started so late to build my body and we just don’t build strength as fast as we do when we’re younger.
So if you don’t match those conditions, you should still go for 3 good workouts per discipline per week to try to improve and not just move to 2 simply because you’re lazy.
One of my aims became finding ways of recovering faster from my long bike and run days. I’ve also discovered recovery happens in the aerobic system, the muscles in both healing tissue damage and relieving tightness, and there is mental recovery as well. There have been many instances when recovery has happened separately in these areas and not all at once. For example, I may feel good in my lungs and body, which is a sign that my aerobic system has recovered, but my legs still feel tired and tight, which is a sign that my leg muscles have not.
Mental recovery is when you brain needs time to recover from mentally focusing on a long ride or intense training session. Doing hard workouts over and over can fatigue your ability to want to sustain a long and/or intense workout and sometimes you just need a brain break so you can hit the next workout with proper determination and not weakened willpower.
With respect to muscle tightness, many researchers are now working on the neurological basis for recovery, which is to figure out how to get the nerves to stop firing and to let go, which reduces or eliminates muscle tightness. This is tightness that you can’t stretch away; it stays around despite stretching. This tightness is also very dangerous in that if you don’t remove it, over time this will transfer shock and stress to the ligaments and joints which don’t absorb that very well and cause further damage to your body, leading to injury. Muscle tightness also prevents the transport of blood flow to your muscles, so exercise by-products stay around longer (hence soreness), and hinder the flow of nutrients back into your muscles for healing and energy replenishment.
In the last few years, the techniques and devices for recovering have become more sophisticated. While this survey is by no means exhaustive, I will talk about some of the ones I’ve encountered and have used here now:
Time and Rest
The easiest and cheapest way to recover. You just don’t do anything until your body comes back, besides sleeping, resting, taking lots of vitamins, and eating properly. My issue, of course, that just sitting around isn’t good training practice for the 3 days I need, even if it does work.
Ice Baths
This is one of my favorites. Immediately after my long bike or run, I jump into the bathtub and fill it with water and ice cubes and sit in it for about 10 minutes. The ice stops the muscles from creating more exercise by-products and also numbs any pain from training. Then when I get out, I hop into the shower and the hot water restarts blood flow and helps flush any remaining exercise by-products from your muscles.
The one downside is getting enough ice to do this. I need probably around 15 lbs in the summer time when the cold water coming out of the faucet is warmer, but only 9 lbs in the winter time. So either you gotta run to the supermarket after training to buy some bags of ice, or you have to fill up plastic bags with ice cubes during the week.
Compression Clothing
I love wearing compression socks and tights. I do find that these are very effective at helping fluid move through my legs and increase circulation, while reducing that swollen feeling when fluid pools in my legs.
I did do this once or twice but I don’t do it very often. Massage on tired muscles does help blood flow through those areas, creating recovery. It also feels good having someone loosen them up in the process. But it is expensive and I don’t find many massage practictioners do the right thing on the muscles as there are many forms of massage and not all work well on specific muscle recovery.
Active Recovery
This is a great way to increase blood flow and loosen up tight muscles. You just do very light workouts in any discipline. While just going out for a light swim, bike, or jog is good, I also think you can train while practicing active recovery so you’re actually getting some benefits beyond recovering. I am a big proponent of neuromuscular training, so active recovery sessions are a great way to train the neuromuscular system while not stressing your overall physical system. This is doing track drills while out jogging, or doing one legged spinning drills and practicing perfect form during fast spinning on the bike, or doing swimming drills. I also find that stimulating the muscles to fire fast again after getting all stiff and tired from a hard training session is crucial to making sure you don’t slow down, so I like to do fast turnover running/swimming and fast pedaling to get my muscles back to firing fast again.
Physical Therapy, ART, Graston
Anyone who knows me knows that I am a big proponent of weekly physical therapy sessions with ART and Graston to help remove tightness and smooth out muscle adhesions to get the muscles functional and loose again. I have found nothing better to get my muscles prepped for another week of hard training than ART and Graston.
Foam Rolling, TP Massage Rollers and Balls, Lacrosse Balls, Softballs
Another form of massage is using these tools to help get into muscles and knead out tightness and soreness, as well as promote blood flow to those areas. Foam rollers are great for overall massaging and can be used for warmup as well. TP Massage Rollers from Trigger Point Performance are excellent for deeper massaging of muscles, as foam rollers can be too broad in surface area and too soft to really get deeper into muscles. TP Massage Balls and lacrosse balls are even better to get into specific points in muscles. Sometimes I also use a softball to massage my quads and to get into my psoas. The idea is to press hard into those tools and move the tool or the muscle underneath to help smooth out adhesions and make the muscle functional again.
Port-a-Vibe and Vibration in Recovery
Newest in my collection of toys, I bought a Port-a-Vibe which is a consumer version of some of those larger much more expensive vibration units you find in big gyms. Researchers have found that vibration stimulates the nervous system, increases metabolic rates, and promotes circulation. I stand on this unit for 10 minutes and it’s great for increasing circulation to my muscles and help with recovery. I have also used it to warmup. Many other benefits are cited, like working out while standing on the unit has shown to increase muscle stimulation and performance enhancements occur.
Deep Muscle Stimulator (DMS)
This gizmo has been around for a long time. The Deep Muscle Stimulator (DMS) is a heavy duty unit weighing about 5 lbs and vibrates at a certain frequency found to be optimal in affecting muscles neurologically. Specifically, when you direct the gun-like unit to your muscles, it pummels the muscle until the muscle’s nerves can’t keep up their firing, hence tightness, and the nerves just tire and relax. Not only does it do that, but it also has normal massage benefits like stimulating circulation to the applied area. I am lusting after one of these, but it costs $2500!!! My PT guy uses one on me and I love it.
Normatec MVP
Check these out – Normatech Sports originally created these out of a need for patients with medical conditions involving poor circulation, or healing after surgery. After giving some units to sports teams, they started using these for recovery and have found some fantastic results. The booties work by using air to create a pumping action against your legs (there are booties for your arms too) that increase circulation. This accelerates the movement of exercise by-products out of your legs and brings in new blood faster. Athletes use these for 20-30 minutes and have apparently achieved amazing results. The Garmin cycling team have used these and they love them. I am also lusting after a pair of these – they require a doctor’s prescription and they cost $5000 a pair! Sometime next year, they intend to create a more consumer version which will cost somewhere between $1000-2000 a pair. Not sure I can wait that long…also the consumer version has less control over the frequency of the pumping against the legs.
Technology is advancing by leaps and bounds. It’s all we can do to keep up with these advances, but us crazy athletes who want to get faster can only continue to lust after these fantastic techniques and devices.

My Favorite Neuromuscular Treadmill Workout

I’ve been doing this workout for a long time now. I do it through my offseason to keep my legs moving fast, and I also do it as a recovery workout since it’s of such short duration. It incorporates running drills on the treadmill, and then uses the treadmill relentless speed to get your legs moving and get you used to moving them fast with less effort:


Walk to EZ jog (~4 MPH)


:20 (:10 right leg kickbacks, :10 left leg kickbacks), then :20 EZ jog, repeat 3X


:20 both leg kickbacks, :20 EZ jog, repeat 3X


:20 (:10 high knee one leg skipping right leg, then :10 left leg), :20 EZ jog, repeat 3X


Option 1: :30 high speed, :30 EZ jog recovery, every repeat increase by .5 or 1 MPH until you reach your max that you can still recover with :30, and then repeat at max until you hit 18:00

Option 2: :30 high speed, :30 EZ jog recovery until you hit a speed that you need more recovery to maintain, then do :30 high speed, 1:00 EZ jog recovery until you hit 18:00.

You can also take either option out longer for more repeats, but probably not more than 30:00.


Cool down

This is a great workout to stimulate your neuromuscular system in your legs and get them used to moving at faster speeds. You also practice relaxing so that you move your legs fast but don’t burn out your aerobic or your anaerobic capacity.
When you first start out, do Option 1. You’ll find that maintaining high speeds is really tough and that your heart rate is leaping to your lactate threshold fast. This is OK and natural. You may find that you have set it too fast to get to 20:00. Keep dialing the max speed until you find that you are able to do repeats out until 20:00. Once you have done this workout at these speeds a few times, then try increasing the max speed.
I found that it has taken me 2-3 years to get to a point where I have maxed out the treadmill. The first time through I could only get to 11-12 MPH by having a 1:00 rest interval. But another year passed and now I could get to 11-12 MPH with only :30 rest interval.
Other details:
1. You may find that your legs feel restricted and that you’re having problems moving them fast. If it’s a physical problem, you may need extra rest before doing this workout, or it could be a more systemic problem where you have restrictions in your muscles. This was my issue, and I solved it by having a competent ART specialist work my psoas, hip, and glutes to remove the restrictions that have been there for decades and my speed naturally increased once the restriction was gone.
2. In order to gain high speeds, you may find that you want to start doing :15 or :20 intervals at super high speeds – speeds that you can’t maintain a :30 interval with. So perhaps an Option 3 would look like:
:30 high speed, :30 RI, keeping increasing the speed until you reach a speed where you can’t do the speed for :30 but you can only do :15-:20 with a :45-1:00 RI.
Alternate this workout with workouts that maintain a max speed for :30 only for the entire workout.
Remember: you can’t run fast without actually running that fast (if that makes sense).
Once you get into the groove of doing this workout regularly, I guarantee you will find that your normal running times will increase dramatically as your legs and your aerobic system get used to moving your legs fast with minimal effort.