Wednesday, February 17, 2010

My Training Manifesto - Part 3

My intent of this series is to document my thoughts (as of today) about what I know and how it is influencing my training moving forward. I have read quite a bit recently, as I mentioned in my previous post. After having the time to think about all of the information and map it to myself, I have developed a few principles that I plan to follow and believe apply to most others

Part 1
Part 2

Each Athlete is Different

Simply performing a workout because it has worked for someone else or because someone said it will do "x", I believe, is BS. Those of us who follow blogs and are online a lot tend to read this a lot in advice columns and publications. I do realize that advice is helpful for those who don't know enough to get started, but often times, there is no caveat within the advice, specifically, the advice from experts, to help anyone apply it to themselves. Add to that fact, that most people don't even realize that each athlete is different.

I've read countless numbers of advice columns, and since starting to compose my thoughts here in this series, have really been paying attention to the details of the advice with regard to applying it to myself. In most cases, that information is missing in these articles. All we are left with is some advice on "How to improve your run", or "The top 10 running workouts". But what does it mean? Can anyone just jump right in and do this type of stuff? What are the risks?

You almost never read about the risks of doing specific activities within the context of advice columns. It is almost always focused on the benefits only, because that is why people will take that particular piece of advice. Sure, it sells books/magazines, but does it work and will it help me in the long term?

Sometimes, it does. But it depends....on the ability of the individual performing these workouts and what their goals are. The bottom is this: WE ARE ALL INDIVIDUALS AND DIFFERENT. Become aware of your body and understand how the stress you put on your body during training affects your ability to perform tomorrow and more importantly, next week, next month, and next year.

Once again, let me talk about how this applies to me. I reason I feel I am different is because of my athletic history. I have been running competitively for a long time (15+ years), but not all of it being as an endurance athlete. I played soccer growing up and I was a sprinter in high school, focusing on the shortest of distances (55m up to 400m). After running in high school, I played rugby in college, another sport that I wouldn't exactly call an endurance sport. It wasn't until 6 or so years ago that I truly started getting into endurance sports.

While many newbie runners have a clean slate to start from, my transition to endurance sports has been a challenge. Over the years, my body has known itself to rely in the fast twitch muscle fibers. All of the sudden, I'm switching gears and relying more on the slow twitch side of things. What I've come to learn through this process is that my slow twitch muscles have a pretty low threshold. In other words, they tire easily when asked to work. Obviously, the focus on the shorter stuff all my life has something to do with this.

The majority of my training over these past 6 or so years has been built around the advice I read online and in magazines, as well as from the training plans I have followed and lessons learned being applied to each new season. I like to think that I learn from my mistakes, but I know all too well that once I feel confident in knowing something, a new concept pops up that flips everything upside down. That, of course, is why I am writing this!

Because I am different in that I have a long history of running in the fast twitch muscle variety, my training should address the inherent weakness - the application of slow twitch muscles (ie more focus on endurance vs speed).

My training logs over the years have shown a focus less on volume and more on shorter, faster workouts. But once I started to dip my foot into the longer distance arena (ie marathon, half IM, etc.), it seems that my body was not ready for the load. I've made steady progress each year and have no doubts that what I have done thus far, has moved me in the right direction. But I may have built up too quickly each time, which resulted in injury. long term focus is to enhance my body's ability to handle volume (ie building the base) first, before going back to any of that fast twitch stuff. Let me clear here though - this does NOT mean plodding along all the time doing slow, long distance stuff and putting in junk miles. It just means that short repeats and intervals are unnecessary. I've done that and my ability to throw down solid times regardless of my fitness is evidence of my capacity for that. What I need to show, is that I can translate comparative times as the distance increases. Currently, I am not there.

This type of training will incorporate fast twitch muscles during times, but the focus here is to build out my endurance capacity. Evidence suggests that until I do this, my ability to transfer my success at the shorter distances will not translate at the longer distance.

Strengthening and Maintenance

If there is one thing I can take away from the 5 times I have been to physical therapy (not all from overuse injuries), it is that maintaining strength in the supporting muscles of whatever sport you do is important. This isn't a situation about power and getting stronger though. It is about being balanced. When one muscle becomes dominant over its opposing muscle (ie hamstring vs quad), the stronger muscle compensates for the weaker muscle. This can only last so long though, before for the strong muscle raises its white flag to surrender, typically in the form of acute injury. This means you have to go back to the drawing board of strengthening again. In order to reduce the likelihood from this happening, frequent strengthening exercises are important to keeping everything balanced.

For me, this includes stretching and strengthening exercises. My goal is to get up and do these first thing in the morning, because often times I'll forget otherwise. I aim for 3-4 times a week, though if I am feeling particularly sore, I'll do them immediately, which always seems to clear things up.

Almost all of the exercises you need to do can be done with minimal equipment. I use a foam roller, elastic bands, and a big rubber ball (like the ones you use for core work). Everything else can be done on stairs, against the wall, or on the ground. Examples can be found here. In addition, I also do some leg lifts, squats, etc.

Running FormWhile I am not a proponent of the groups who say "X is the only proper form to run", I do have plenty of thoughts on beneficial form versus poor form. Everyone has a different style of running form. Once again - what works for you, may not work for someone else.

When I am out running around others, I have a problem - I can't help but pick people's running form apart. It is almost second nature. You can ask Rebecca. The thing is, is that so many people do not have a clue about proper running form and/or the negative effects their form has on the ability to run properly. I don't mean to tell people that their form is wrong though, because everyone runs differently. But there is a big difference between acceptable running form and blatant harmful running form. Afterall, I just want to help!

I think a large reason why there are so many running related injuries is because of many of the issues I have pointed out throughout this series. But the focus here in this sectionis on form.

My natural running form has always been more of a mid-foot strike than the heel strikers most people tend to be. Based on the tons of information available today, it would appear that some type of a mid-foot strike is ideal for running. This style of running minimizes ground contact time and also propels the runner forward versus the heel striker, who is putting the brakes on with every heel strike. I get that concept and believe it to be true. I would call this difference in running form, a difference in running efficiency though and not a hard rule of running properly.

I do not believe that all heel striking is a bad thing necessarily. Some people try to dramatically change their running form from a heel striker to mid-foot and get injured very quickly. Each style uses slightly different muscles and doing too much too soon will likely cause tighter muscles and eventually an injury. Part of me believes that people should run the way it feels naturally. The other part, says that you should focus on being as efficient as possible. It is confusing, I know. I believe that both are correct, but any effort to be more efficient without significantly changing things, is probably the best approach.

Next time you are at a race with elite runners, take a video of the ground as the elites run by or just focus on their stride as they fly by. You will be shocked to find that nearly everyone has a DIFFERENT style of running. Some of them are fore-foot strikers, some are mid-foot, and some are heel strikers. It is all over the place. So while they may not have the ideal, efficient form, you can't argue that their form should be changed. Afterall, they are elite runners and they have become pretty darn fast with whatever form works for them.

What you will notice however, is that most elite runners tend to land (whether heel, fore-foot, or mid-foot) under their center of gravity. As that, I believe, is the key to efficient running. So long as your balance remains strong (by keeping our landing under the majority of your body), it ensures efficient running form.

So that is the end of Part 3. I believe Part 4 will be my final conclusions and summary of this long whole list of blabbering.

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