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Friday, February 14, 2014

Triathlon Research: Bike intervals to improve your run? {} Do compression socks work?

Couple of interesting articles I came across, and while no research article is perfect and can tell the whole story, these provide some interesting information:

European Journal of Sport 2013 Nov 9. (published online ahead of print)
High-intensity cycle interval training improves cycling and running performance in triathletes.
Etxebarria NAnson JMPyne DBFerguson RA.

Subjects:  14 moderately trained triathletes

Pre- and Post-Test: 
{1}  16 X 20sec bike sprints
{2}  1 hour bike time trial followed by a 5k run

Training Variable:
Subjects split into two groups; one group did 3 weeks of twice weekly SHORT intervals (9-11 X 10s, 20s, and 40s efforts) on the bike and the other had also 3 weeks of twice weekly LONG intervals (6-8 X 5min efforts) on the bike.

Both groups showed improvements in mean (average) power during the last 8 of the 16, 20sec cycle sprints.  they also had lower heart rate, perceived exertion, and blood lactate during the 1-hour bike time trial.  Only the LONG interval group showed substantial improvement in the 5k run following the bike.

Take-away:  Triathletes should add some long interval efforts to their training to help on the bike......and the run

European Journal of Applied Physiology 2013 Dec 13. [Epub ahead of print]
Compression stockings do not improve muscular performance during a half-ironman triathlon race.
Del Coso JAreces FSalinero JJGonzález-Millán CAbián-Vicén JSoriano LRuiz DGallo CLara BCalleja-Gonzalez J.

36 experienced triathletes

Training Variable:  Subjects split into two groups -- one that wore compression socks, and the other didn't for a half-iron distance event.

Pre- and Post-Test:  
{1} Numerous blood markers -- myoglobin and creatine kinase among others
{2} Jump height
{3}  Leg muscular power -- thru a counter-movement jump
{4}  Perceived exertion

There was not a significant difference between the groups for the blood markers, jump height, muscular power, or perceived exertion.

Compression socks may not provide any benefit in maintaining muscle function in half-iron distance races

I have a pair of compression socks that I've worn for some long workouts, and while I didn't notice anything huge, I wondered if my feet were a little more comfortable in my shoes after a long run with them.

Anyone care to share their personal experience here?

Monday, February 3, 2014

Dealing with plantar fasciitis

I haven't been injured much.  Probably the physical therapist in me keeps me in check a bit more than average and I've also always had pretty fair body awareness.

The past four or five months, though, I've been dealing with a very stubborn plantar fasciitis.  Normally a very consistent runner and cyclist -- I had been working out nearly every day doing one or the other or both for almost two decades.

But the last 18 months have been much less consistent for me.  New additions to the family and a growing small business have interfered, making workouts difficult.  And I think that my lack of consistency has led to this injury.

When you run every day, and have been for many weeks, months, or years, tendons and connective tissue are more resilient.  On again off again schedules lead the soft tissues to go through more of a roller coaster -- those same tendons are not getting the input and so they're thinner and exhibit less tensile strength.  Because of the weaker tissue, each workout creates a greater than average amount of tissue tears.  There is also the inevitable weight gain as you work out less, which means more force on the tissues as well.

It's ironic -- I've spent a career treating injured people and here I am somewhat foundering in the face of a recalcitrant injury.

I'm improving each day and each week, and it seems that the healing has gone in stages.

Stage 1:  I can still run, and have no soreness afterwards.  It's at night that I notice it and I wasn't paying enough attention to it so it worsened to the point that it did begin to hurt after runs (actually felt like someone had taken a hammer to the bottom of my foot after a run).  I  also now had soreness after a bike ride for the first time.  Night time was the worst as I hobbled to the bathroom every time I stood up on it.  At the end of this stage is when I began a hiatus from running to give my foot a chance at healing without continually causing inflammation.

Stage 2:  Aggressively stretching of the gastrocnemius muscle.  This is PT 101 for plantar fascia issues, and it does help.

If my foot was sore during the day if I did one long (45 seconds) calf stretch on the stairs, I would be pain free -- for a while.  I also invested in a Straussburg Sock, which is a comfortable night splint that holds your toes up to keep a consistent stretch on the plantar fascia.
This approach helped for a while.  It helped me get the symptoms under control -- no more pain on on the bike -- and while it got me close to running, I wasn't able to keep symptoms under control so the running hiatus persisted.

Stage 3:  Hip mobility.  I was getting more diligent with my stretching overall.  For most of my athletic career I was a dedicated stretcher, but as my life got busier, and there were more demands on my time, stretching was bumped down the priority list.  This injury motivated me to get back to my previous good habits.  I noticed one day stretching, that if I stretched my hip adductors and hip flexors (which are common areas hit with some of the Warrior poses in yoga) I could eliminate my foot pain entirely

Stage 4:  Neurological effect.  Another day stretching revealed something that would also completely rid me of acute symptoms.

Bring the leg up (as pictured but not quite as far) and then
across the body, keeping toes pulled up.
If I did a neural tension stretch on my leg, my heal pain would disappear.  A neural tension stretch is exactly what it sounds like -- the leg is put in a position that doesn't stretch the muscles and tendons as much as it puts the nerve in a fully lengthened or tensioned position.  When you do this stretch correctly you'll get some annoying, sharp, sometimes burning or buzzing sensations down your leg and into your foot.  These are typical nerve sensations, and you have to be careful not to over-do it, but it can be really effective.  Again I was amazed at how quick and effective this was at relieving acute symptoms.  Moreover I could feel the foot improving long tern with this -- I wasn't just temporarily relieving acute pains.  I began to run a little in this phase.  Never two days in a row -- actually only twice a week -- and only about 15-20 minutes at a time, but at least I was starting.

Stage 5:  Aggressive soft tissue massage.  How aggressive?  I use a golf ball and, sitting on a carpeted floor, use both hands to press my foot into the ball and roll the foot around to hit different sore spots.
When I find a really sore spot I stay on it and oscillate back and forth on it.  I generally try to cause as much pain as I can tolerate.  After about a minute or two of this torture, then I  bend the foot and toes up with ,y hands and hold a stretch for about 30 seconds.  Then repeat a couple times.  I might do this 2 or 3 times a day and especially before or after runs.  I still have pain but this work has really helped me manage symptoms after runs.  If I stay consistent with my golf ball I can run an hour or more and have little to no tightness or pain at night.

So this is where I'm at right now.  I think I'm on the way to full recovery, but I have to stay on top of things.  I've carried forward all the treatments from previous stages.  So while I don't do quite as many neural tension stretched or hip mobilizations, I still work them in every week.

That's it for now -- I've been sitting at this laptop long enough.  I'm off to stretch and golfball my foot....

Thursday, January 16, 2014

What training should I do over the winter?

One of the more frequent questions I get is what an athlete should do in the off season over the winter?

Doesn't matter the sport -- runners, cyclists, triathletes -- it can be confusing when to start ("should I be doing trainer intervals on Thanksgiving?) , how much training to do ("my friend is putting in 18 hours in early January"), and what type (should a cyclist be only on-the-bike, a runner only run?) you should focus on.

The first question you need to answer is, are you doing your sport for a living?  If you're a pro or an aspiring pro then I think it is pretty obvious, you'll likely be best served by starting earlier, getting in some decent hours in the dead of winter, and spending around half your time specifically working in your sport.  Which isn't to say that pros can't have some fun. On the contrary, this time of year I tell my athletes to go skiing if they want, go on vacation and learn to surf, jump on a snow bike and do some fun fat tire races, hit the weight room, go to the pool -- doing something different can be incredibly helpful.  Mixed in correctly, cross training can work on weaknesses, refresh the body and mind, and build some off season foundation strength on which to start the new season.  But there's no doubt that an athlete who depends on the paycheck from their races ought to get serious sooner rather than later.

If you're like most of us, and your mortgage doesn't depend on how you place at your races this coming year, then there's a lot of leeway.

So some additional questions you can ask yourself:

How familiar are you with your intended race(s)?

  • If you've competed at the distance in the past then you might be able to get away with easing into the season.  If you've done multiple iron-distance races in the last few years and you plan to take it easy this season and stick to 70.3s in July and August, then starting to get serious in March (or even April) is do-able.

What was your motivation like toward the end of your season this past year?

  • If you had a tough time getting out for workouts in August and September because you'd been going hard for months and just didn't feel like it, then take that as a cue that you may have started too early.  Many endurance athletes get motivated early and hit the ground running (literally) early in the season and are burned out by August.  Having low motivation in the middle of summer is a severe hamper to the late season and fall races.

Do you have some weaknesses to work on?

  • A great way to get a head start is to spend some of the dormant winter months working on weaknesses.  Are you a triathlete who needs to cut some time off your swim?  Then spend January in the pool working on your form.  A road racer who had some knee issues this past season?  Go see a specialist and work on your mechanics on and off the bike.

How early are your key races?

  • If you've got a big iron distance triathlon or ultra-run in early May or even April, you're going to want to get moving early in the year.....perhaps even in November/December if the race distance is new to you.
One common situation I walk athletes through is dealing with a big early race and a big race in the late summer.  This is especially challenging for long distance triathletes and runners, because of the overall impact those races have on the body.  Bike-specific races are much easier to recover from, so cyclists can generally race much more often.

For a triathlete, though, having to peak in mid-April or early May and then again in August may be a tall order, and few people can start in January, build up to May, recover briefly and then immediately begin building again all the way to August.  It's just too much.  A simple solution is to take a longer break after the early race.   Take an extra week or two and ease back into the training.

For instance, if your races are May 1st and August 1st, get thru the May race and take a good week or so off.  You could then begin to do easy workouts just to get the legs moving, but try to keep your efforts easy for another week or two.  The tricky part is working enough to keep your system primed, but not enough to be adding any fatigue.  This mild "vacation" after the first race should leave you chomping at the bit to get back to work (and if it doesn't then you might need a bit more time off) to prep for race #2.

In general, I find it's best to err on the side of caution.  Starting too early or going hard too soon can lead to injury and burnout.  Have fun over your off season and experiment with  different sports -- keep it fun. You can enjoy a new sport, and ensure that you're still enjoying yourself during the dog days of summer as well.