Monday, June 24, 2013

Technique is the Key To Your Running Form

We’re always hearing about the importance of technique when we swim and while this is extremely important, so too is having good form and technique when we run. Most triathletes are pretty conversant with swimming drills and how to hold themselves correctly in the water, even if they struggle to do so. On the other hand, ask a triathlete to do some running drills and what constitutes good running form and often you’ll be met by a blank stare. Here, we shed some light on the topic.


Inefficiencies can creep into your running stride for a number of reasons: (i) Fatigue and simply not concentrating on holding yourself correctly when you run over time, will make you a less efficient runner. (ii) Often, an injury can change the biomechanics of your running style. (iii) Maybe you’ve developed some subtle abnormalities in your gait that detracts from your efficiency (e.g. one leg has zsecome stronger than the other, or you’ve started swinging your arms across your chest rather than bringing them forward and back).
Running drills can help with all of these issues and improve your running form, helping you to run faster for the same amount of effort. In fact, most world class runners and triathletes use running drills as part of their daily workouts to hone this efficiency.
The simple exercises and drills outlined here can help optimise your running gait and make it second nature. Your running movement becomes more fluent and less costly from an energy perspective. In effect, you’ll run faster with the same energy expenditure.
Here’s four stride drills designed to help you out, followed by some key points to remember about your form when running.
It’s best to do these drills on a flat grassed area, ideally as part of your warm-up and/or cool down before or after a session. Aim to do two-to-four of each drill per session and cover at least 50 meters when you do each one.
Drive your knees skyward with each stride. Don’t worry about your forward speed. Simply lift your knees high. This drill strengthens your hip flexor muscles, improves your drive and increases your range of motion.

High heels

Almost the opposite of high knees in that you’re doing an exaggerated back kick. Literally, you should be kicking your butt with the heel with each stride. This drill stretches your quads and strengthens your hamstrings.

Skipping

Use a slightly exaggerated arm motion to propel yourself upward and forward. Skipping improves your coordination and push-off power by using a form of plyometrics.

Bounding

This is a progression of your skipping drill and again makes use of plyometric training. In this drill, simply exaggerate your normal running stride’s height and length. Run in slow motion and allow each foot to do all the work of absorbing impact, then pushing off. This drill improves coordination and strengthens glutes and calves.
Now that you’ve got some drills to work with. How about your running form? All too often I see triathletes running with really poor form. Some of this is due to being fatigued by running off the bike, some of it is due to pure postural laziness. Here are a few points to think about.
How you hold your head is key to overall posture. Look ahead naturally, not down at your feet, scan the horizon. This straightens your neck and back bringing them into alignment. Your should be able to drop a plumb line down through your ear, should and hip when you run. Think about running tall.
Shoulders play an important role in keeping your upper body relaxed while you run, which is critical to maintaining efficient running posture. Focus on keeping your shoulders low and loose, not high and tight. So many people I work with look like boxers when they run. Relax your upper body and make a conscious effort as you tire, to not let your shoulders creep up toward your ears. If they do, shake them out to release the tension.
Arm carriage – this is one of my personal favourites. Even though running is primarily a lower-body activity, your arms play an important roll. Your hands control the tension in your upper body, while your arm swing works in conjunction with your leg stride to drive you forward. Keep your hands in an unclenched fist, with your fingers lightly touching your palms. Imagine yourself trying to carry a potato chip in each hand without crushing it. Your arms swing forward and back, not across your body. Remember, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction so when you swing your arms across your body, your shoulders follow and your upper body starts to rotate from side to side, rather than the momentum being carried forward. Bend you elbows to about a 90-degree angle and relax your hands – don’t clench your hands into tight fists. If necessary, drop your arms to your sides and shake them out for a few seconds to release the tension.
Your torso and back naturally straighten to allow you to run in an efficient, upright position that promotes optimal lung capacity and stride length. Many coaches describe this as running tall and it means you need to stretch yourself up to your full height with your back comfortably straight. In short, don’t slouch during a run.
Your hips are your centre of gravity, so they are crucial to good running form. By keeping your torso running tall, your hips should automatically come into the right position. They should have a slight forward tilt. When thinking of your pelvic position, think of your pelvis as a bowl of dried rice, you don’t want to tilt it forward or back, or side to side as you’ll spill the rice. This is where functional or core stability becomes very important.
Finally, your legs. While sprinters need a high knee lift to generate power, distance runners and triathlete don’t. It costs too much energy and it is impossible to sustain. Efficient distance running requires just a slight knee lift, a quick leg turnover and a short stride. When running with the proper stride length, your feet should land directly underneath your body, not out in front. Landing under your body lowers ground force reaction and hence decreases the chance of overuse injury. When your foot strikes the ground, your knee should be slightly flexed so that it can help absorb the impact shock. If you’re extending your lower leg (below the knee) out in front of your body, you’re over-striding and this is a recipe for disaster from an injury perspective. To run well, you need to push off the ground with maximum force. With each step, your foot should hit the ground lightly landing on the outside portion of the heel then quickly pronate and roll forward. As you roll onto your toes, push forward from the toes. You should feel your calf muscles propelling you forward on each step. Make sure your feet aren’t ‘slapping’ the ground and landing heavy. A good running gait should be relatively quiet.

article courtesy of R. Cedaro

Monday, June 17, 2013

Keys to pace yourself during a Triathlon

Years ago I heard an interview with Mike Pigg. For those unfamiliar with the Piggman, let me just say he was one of the greats – an accomplished swimmer, a beast on the bike and a competent runner. In the late 80s and 90s, Pigg won more than his fair share of Olympic distance non-drafting races around the world. During an interview in relation to the Hawaii Ironman, Pigg said “this is completely different to racing an Olympic distance race. In an Olympic distance race you can just let it all out. Here [Ironman], you have to be a little smarter and pace yourself”.
Pacing over any distance is crucial, but the distance of the event will determine your pacing strategy. Horses for courses.
The keys to a successful race are appropriate:
  1. training
  2. pacing
  3. nutrition.





Pacing and nutrition are particularly important as the distances start to get longer and longer. The only similarity between a sprint distance triathlon and an Ironman distance race is the fact you swim, bike and run in both. Physiologically and nutritionally speaking, they are two completely different animals – Olympic and half IM distance events sit somewhere between the two. In fact, in relation to the demands they place on the body, half IM events are more akin to Olympic distance races than they are to the Ironman.
So, let’s begin with a look at some basic background information.
The human body uses two energy systems:
  • aerobic (in the presence of oxygen), which uses fat as a principal energy source; or
  • anaerobic (without oxygen), which uses carbohydrate as a principal energy source.
In the anaerobic system there are a further two sub-systems:
  • lactic (or glycolytic) – produces lactic acid as a by-product. For example, during an 800 metre track race; and
  • ATP-PC (or alactic energy). For example, sprinting 100 metres.
Energy to fuel activities in most sports, triathlon included, have contributions made from both energy systems. The onus varies and is based on the interplay of (a) the event distance and (b) speed of the athlete. As such, a sprint distance event has more reliance and use of the anaerobic system(s), whereas an Ironman is more reliant on aerobic metabolism. Therefore, the emphasis placed on developing these different systems in training needs to reflect the demands of the race distance.

How do you determine this?

For many athletes, trial and error is often the method employed. Train, go out and do the Ironman as hard as you can and blow up midway through. Sound familiar? There are smarter ways of attacking such events.
As a starting point – freshen up, then go out and do some time trials or lab testing (see: www.weshealth.com.au and follow the links to the Peak Performance Lab). Brad Beven and I work with athletes in and out of the lab. The athletes who don’t come through the lab do a series of simple field-based tests to ascertain their pacing strategies. We can use these to optimise their training programs for their specific distance event as well as their pacing on race day. To further validate these tests, if available a blood lactate reading can be taken during the efforts.
The testing includes:
Swimming – five sets of 200-to-300 metres at maximum effort. Only take a break between efforts to record you split times.
Cycling – maximum effort time trial on flat terrain for 40-to-60 minutes recording average heart rate, power output (if you have a power monitor) and cadence.
Running – maximum effort for five-to-six kilometres. Record each one kilometre split time, heart rate per kilometre, average heart rate for the effort and overall completion time.
All of these tests are designed to identify the anaerobic threshold – the point where the body shifts from producing energy predominately from aerobic metabolism to having a greater contribution from the anaerobic system(s). From a training/pacing perspective this is a crucial point to know as working at the anaerobic threshold burns carbohydrate quickly and our bodies only have a limited amount of carbohydrate stored as muscle glycogen. If you exhaust the glycogen store, you’ll hit the wall and have to slow down. This is because you become more reliant on the aerobic energy system, and fat, which requires exercise to be slowed.
Typically, Olympic distance athletes use a lot of muscle glycogen and struggle initially to step straight up to Ironman distance races – certainly at an elite level. They need time to refine their training to develop their aerobic metabolism, fat burning and glycogen sparing capacity, pacing and race day nutrition strategies.
Here, I’ll help you short circuit the trial and error merry-go-round with some helpful hints for training, racing and nutrition strategies to fast track your understanding of the energy system approach.
Once you have run through the tests and recorded all the info you need (i.e. split times, heart rates, etc.), here are some useful tips:

1 Slow down!

The vast number of athletes I see train too hard, too often and subsequently fail to develop their aerobic energy system. Even if you’re training for a sprint distance race, you need to develop an aerobic base. The best sprint distance athletes in the world take more than 50 minutes to finish an event. Try holding your breath for 50 minutes. If you can do that – train intensely all the time. If you can’t, then you need to develop your aerobic metabolism. Do this by training at least one-to-two sessions per week at 80-to-85 per cent of the heart rates/split times recorded during your tests. The longer the event you’re training for, the more sessions of this sort of training you do and the further distance you go. However, whatever triathlete you are or want to be, you need to train for an aerobic base.
When the working heart rates are set (for example on the run), many athletes initially find themselves walking. However, the walk quickly becomes a jog, which then becomes a run at the same heart rate. This is how you know the efficiency and aerobic system is responding, improving and developing. Also, you’ll very quickly start to become more lean as fat is used for fuel rather than muscle glycogen.

2 Periodise your training

At 12 weeks out from competition, training is completely different to the sessions you perform two weeks before the event.
Your training should progress through three active training phases:


  • Base where the onus is on developing the aerobic system and peripheral function (longer, slower miles).
  • Pre-competitive where you start to trade longer, slower miles for some shorter, more intensive work. However, you still need to do some of the longer, easier stuff to maintain your aerobic base.
  • Peaking where the onus of the training is on quality – higher intensity training with plenty of recovery between the sessions. This prepares you for the specific demands of racing.

3 How hard?

I remember posing this exact question to former Olympic cycling gold medal winner Kathy Watt in relation to the 40-kilometre time trial event and Kath’s response hit the nail on the head. To paraphrase, she suggested riding at a couple of beats per minute above and below your anaerobic threshold for a 40-kilometre time trial.
Many athletes make the mistake of going out too hard, beyond their anaerobic threshold, creating oxygen debt and are forced to slow down. They blow up two thirds of the way through the event and then limp home. It is far more effective to go out at your anaerobic threshold and then build beyond the threshold during the closing stages of the effort. Then the inevitable repayment of your oxygen debt occurs AFTER you cross the finish line rather than before.

4 Pacing guidelines

  • Sprint distance – Provided you are well-trained and have a sound aerobic base, you should be able to red-line it from wire-to-wire. In other words – flat out. All you’ll need nutritionally is water because your body should have stored adequate muscle glycogen to see you through the event. If you’re looking at this from a blood lactate perspective you’d be aiming to keep your lactate levels beyond your anaerobic threshold of 4mM. For the average, well-trained sprint distance athletes, operating lactate levels would be in the range of 6-to-8mM.
  • Olympic distance – As Kathy Watt suggested, start out at your anaerobic threshold (lactate reading 4-to-5mM) and build over the closing stages of each discipline (lactate readings more than 6mM by the end of the event). An Olympic distance event takes most people between two and three hours to complete. Aim at ingesting about 60-to-80 grams of carbohydrate per hour for the duration of the event. For example, this could be one litre of sports drink per hour or three gels per hour (20-to-25 grams of carbohydrate per serve).
  • Half Ironman – Aim at racing at 90-to-95 per cent of your anaerobic threshold (lactate readings of 3.4-to-3.6mM). Just as you would for Olympic distance, you need to replace about 60-to-80 grams of carbohydrate per hour. During the closing stages of a half Ironman you should be able to force the pace up close to your Olympic distance race pace (i.e. anaerobic threshold) with your lactate levels approaching 4mM.
  • Ironman – Back off the pace a little further with Ironman events. Aim at racing the first three quarters of the event at 85-to-90 per cent of your anaerobic threshold (lactate levels 2.8-to-3.2mM). This helps you spare valuable muscle glycogen. Remember, if you use it all up, you’ll be forced to slow down. Also, start eating early in an Ironman event, 60-to-80 grams per hour is optimal. Electrolyte balance is also important for Ironman distance athletes, specifically sodium. You should aim to consume about one gram per hour of competition to stave off the possibility of hyponatremia (low blood sodium levels). Low sodium can have devastating performance implications and worse still, health issues. Again, during the closing stages of each discipline in an Ironman you can crank it up a little if you have anything left. Aim to maintain your pace over the closing stages so you finish as quickly as you started.
From a pacing perspective, maintaining a higher average speed throughout the race is far more important than your pace for any one segment or individual discipline. The only way of ensuring this is to:
  • Train appropriately.
  • Focus your energy inwards on what YOU need to be doing and not getting sucked in to what the competition is doing.
  • Perfect your lead-up, race day and recovery nutrition, particularly for the longer events.
All the best for race day - go and smoke ‘em.

article courtesy of R. Cedaro

Monday, June 10, 2013

Lauren Olson: A different way to wear compression sleeves

SLS3 Team athlete Lauren Olsen finished 6th place at the ITU Long course worlds in France. "It was so cold and rainy it was turned into a duathlon- which worked really well for me, even though I had never done a duathlon before!  I'm pretty happy about that result considering it was a world championship!" Lauren was racing in her signature blue and pink SLS3 Butterfly compression socks, "AND since it was so cold and I packed poorly, I had to get creative- so the SLS3 Day sleeves turned into arm warmers" 

Monday, June 3, 2013

How to repair the body and mind

There are only 24 hours in a day, and for many age group athletes, each hour of the day is crammed until overflowing. They typically juggle a full-time job, a demanding training schedule and family commitments, and then find time to pay their bills, buy groceries, pick up dry cleaning, run to the bank and then, hopefully, grab a few hours of sleep.
Often the combination of these day-to-day activities in conjunction with training, can become too much. The triathlete starts to complain of feeling overwhelmed, tired and burnt out.
But there is good news – it’s common for athletes to feel this way during the competitive season as workload and intensity is far greater. And you will be pleased to read that your triathlon season is not doomed. Outlined below are several techniques pro-cyclists use to get out of that fatigued state and feel ready to successfully complete the remaining season. You can apply them to your triathlon activities too.


Complete days off

The simplest and easiest solution to repair the body and mind is to rest. Taking complete days off and not doing any strenuous activity may be the solution for many of you. In addition to forgoing your training schedule, try and clear your mind by going to a movie or heading to a local café for brunch. Getting out of your routine will help to relax your body and mind.

Hot/cold treatment

The contrast of soaking in hot water immediately followed by very cold water quickens and then slows the flow of blood throughout the body, thus aiding muscle recovery. This can be done at home by standing under a hot shower for two minutes and then standing under a cold shower for 30-to-45 seconds and repeating this process three-to-four times. If you have a shower and a bath, you could fill the bath with cold water and a few bags of ice and transfer back and forth between a hot shower and a cold bath.

Hydrotherapy

Hydrotherapy such as walking, kicking and swimming in water is recommended by many coaches, masseurs and physiotherapists as a method of rehabilitation and recovery. Many studies suggest that the feel of the water on the body relaxes the athlete and puts them in a better frame of mind, while also making the muscles feel better. Walking in the shallows at the beach really helps – just ask the many football teams who regularly do this.

Elevate your legs

Propping your legs above your head helps the blood flow back towards your heart. Many professional cyclists, after hard training, lie on the floor and prop their legs up against the wall to help the blood flow and speed up recovery. Another great recovery tool are compression socks.

Yoga and stretching

Yoga is an activity used by many athletes. Learning to control your breathing, while stretching and often using imagery are powerful relaxing techniques. Many of the low-impact yoga exercises can be used daily to cope with stress management.

Massage

Getting a regular massage will not only assist muscle recovery, but may also help prevent injuries.

Routine health check

In more serious cases, the athlete may not feel any better after a period of rest and it’s worth considering a visit to your doctor. It could be poor nutrition combined with heavy training and long hours at work that has led to a decrease in iron and/or other minerals and vitamins. Low iron is more frequently experienced by female athletes, but once diagnosed, can be treated quickly.

Watch for warning signs

It’s important to listen to your body and recognize when you are pushing the limit too far. Try not to ignore the warning signs so your body doesn’t go into the red zone. When I was competing in national-level triathlons, I had built regular rest weeks (light swimming only, no running or cycling) into my season to ensure I didn’t drop into a fatigued state. Sometimes it’s good to take a day off, and rest your way into faster times for the remainder of the triathlon season.
The table below shows a typical working athlete’s week in detail.
Activity Hours
Work 40
Sleep 50
Travel to work / training 10
Preparation of meals / eating 20
Domestic duties 14
Family & friend commitments 14
Total time in week for living 148
Time for training 20
Total hours in a week 168