Squats

We’ve all seen those guys (and increasingly women) at the gym in the squat racks lifting several times their body weight.  They hold the bar behind their neck (back squat) or over their collarbone (front squat.)  It can be intimidating to watch this, and we might easily conclude “that’s not for me.”  But I’d like to convince you otherwise, based on my own experience. First, let’s look at the squat and why it is considered by most strength and conditioning coaches the most complete strength exercise.  For starters, it’s a multi-joint exercise involving at least the hip, knee, and ankle joints.  The squat also builds our balance and flexibility.  In total, you get more bang for your buck – the squat is efficient!  In addition, the involved muscles get a dose of concentric, isometric, and eccentric contractions.  And speaking of muscles all of the big ones in the lower extremity are engaged: quads, hamstrings, calves, front and back leg muscles, as well as those in the ankle and feet.  And the back gets a quality workout too, assuming good form and depending on the type of squat done. With this kind of payback, why do most runners avoid squats?  It’s … Continue reading

It’s a Stretch!

In our Biomechanics of Human Motion class, we’ve been looking at the topic of flexibility and range of motion – i.e., stretching.   I thought I knew a thing or two about this topic.  In reality, I knew a smidgeon.  Humbling! Let’s walk through what we’ve covered in class.  As with most biomechanics, it’s important to start with the micro and build up from there.  In describing this, I’ll draw heavily on Joseph Hamill’s book Biomechanical Basis of Human Movement, 4th edition, p. 116-118.   This text is an amazing compendium of everything biomechanical, from anatomy and physiology to muscular force production.  Not an ideal nighttime read, but after a good night’s sleep and with a strong cup of coffee, this book has plenty worth exploring. Hamill defines flexibility as “the terminal range of motion of a segment,” such as a hip or leg.  This is comprised of both active and passive elements.  For example, during the running stride, our hamstrings actively engage to pull our leg behind us and then passively engage as we reach the top of the range to terminate the forward “swing phase” in preparation for the quads to pull the leg down.   If we are inflexible, then … Continue reading

It’s a Panacea

We’ve all heard the word panacea thousands of times  — “that’s a panacea for this or that,” meaning all-healing, the total solution.  Perhaps an ointment, treatment, or even a good thought.  Often used in the negative, something may be said to not be a panacea.  And we’ve been told to keep good hygiene to stay healthy (and presentable!).  But where do these words come from.  The Greeks! I was looking for background on a research project I’m working on relating to gait and pulled ACSM’s Advanced Exercise Physiology off the shelf at the Dana Medical Library at UVM.  The first chapter was entitled Historical Perspective: Origin to Recognition.  As interesting as any novel I’ve recently read, this chapter presents where concepts and words we use freely today come from, especially as it pertains to health and science. Over time, what constitutes health, how it is maintained and reasons for illness and poor health, has been posited in different contexts.  Healers in ancient India and China promoted exercise and health to prevent sickness, not to improve performance, though warriors were provided with good nutrition, quarters, and encouraged to get adequate sleep. However, what we consider modern medicine and exercise science has … Continue reading

Take a Knee!

Football season is about to begin.  You may recall, when a player’s knee hits the ground and he’s touched by a defender, play is called dead.  Often the quarterback “takes a knee” to stop the clock.  But this post is not about football!  Rather a look at our marvelous and incredible knees, the mid-point of our lower extremities — the runner’s drive train.  Since knees are the most common site of running injuries, it’s worth reviewing how they function.  Pictured below, the knee is the largest joint in the body.  The knee actually has three joints:  the tibiofemoral (largest, lying between our thigh and lower leg and generally thought of as the knee joint), the patellofemoral (kneecap), and the tibiofibular (below the kneecap and not directly part of the knee movement.)  I’ll focus first on the tibiofemoral joint here, which functions as a hinge. Unlike the hip joint, where there is significant bony structure, most of the knee’s stability comes from soft tissue – ligaments, tendons, muscles, cartilage, menisci, bursa, and fat pads.  This constitution allows for significant range of motion – for example, we can bend our knee to touch our butt with our foot. When looking at knee … Continue reading

Self Talk

Sports psychologists have developed various theories about what motivates athletes to train and compete at their best.  Weinberg and Gould define motivation as the “intensity and direction of effort.”   They suggest intrinsic motivation drives us to be competent, drawing from self-determination and a belief we can succeed.  In sport, that does not necessarily mean winning.  Rather it means performing to our potential.  An athlete cannot control who shows up at a race but they can control whether they show up, in top form and ready to compete. I’ve been thinking about this recently as it pertains to my own training and performance.  And from conversations with my peers, I know they think about it too.  The conundrum as we age is how much we fall off from personal bests and training volume and, most importantly, how we process that so we don’t get trapped in a spiraling sense of disappointment and failure.  I’ve concluded the “secret” is to maintain a sense of joy and optimism about our athletic endeavors.  As trite or obvious as that may seem, I recall recent conversations with aging peers as they lament about their current level of fitness compared to earlier years.  And note it’s … Continue reading

Gait Keeping!

Webster’s defines a gatekeeper as “one who controls access.”  And in a sense, this is what our gait does.  Regardless of whether we are running or walking it determines how we move through our day.  Several things come to mind when looking at gait: To walk or run we engage the entirety of our lower kinetic chain, from the hips to our tippy-toes. The muscles, ligaments, tendons, and joints in that chain are intricately designed to do certain things and if those elements are not functioning properly, our gait is compromised. Gait deteriorates with age.  However, vigilance can allow us to forestall many common effects and even partially reverse some of what may have taken hold.  First, let’s underscore the importance of gait.  A. E. Patla, a reknown researcher in gait, notes “nothing epitomizes a level of independence and our perception of a good quality of life more than the ability to travel independently under our own power from one place to another.” Aside from our ability to think, being mobile is arguably the most joyful thing we do.  It’s a rare person who has not been laid up for a time.  We go stir crazy!  And can’t wait to … Continue reading

Water Works!

Growing up I liked playing Monopoly. Most everyone wanted to buy Boardwalk, Park Place and the expensive properties hoping to put houses and a hotel on them. And collect big $ when someone landed on them. But I also liked Water Works, one of the utilities. The payback was decent – averaging about $28 and up to $48 rent (based on a roll of the dice) on a $150 investment. Chances were in the course of a couple of trips around the board someone would land there. Nothing fancy, but a dependable return. And that is what deep water running offers to runners. I was reminded of this twice in the past two weeks. The first time I had gone for a fairly hard run in the cold rain.  Came back to the gym, warmed up and thoroughly stretched, planning on a hard track workout the next day.  But that night I didn’t sleep well and woke up with some back pain.  It seemed wise to delay the track workout a day.  So I headed to the gym and since the pool schedule didn’t allow for a water run, I jumped on the StairMaster.  If anything, that made things worse … Continue reading

Smart Recovery

I wrote a blog post in 2015 entitled the Art of Recovery.  The gist of that post was to run slow, really slow, a couple days a week and particularly after a race.  Well enough, but there’s a whole lot more to consider.  Also, that post was not specifically geared to masters runners whereas this one is.  I’m drawing some points made by Peter Reaburn in his comprehensive book, The Masters Athlete. The main purpose of recovery is to avoid injury.  As masters runners, we are particularly vulnerable to injury after races and an extremely intense workout or series of workouts.  For a 5K, the recovery period is three to five days, for a half marathon a couple weeks, and several weeks for a marathon.  Research suggests one day of recovery for every mile raced.  However, this assumes the following: We went into the race sufficiently trained and rested.  If we trained long and hard up until the day or two before the race, then we likely had muscle and tissue damage lingering, which the race added to.  This means more than the standard time to fully recover. Our fundamental biomechanics are sound.  If we excessively pronate, for example, and … Continue reading

Milling It!

Many runners (including you perhaps!) emphatically declare, “I hate the treadmill.”  Some opt for the elliptical or stationary bike in lieu of stepping onto a moving belt.  To be sure, few would choose the mill over a nice outdoor run.  But adding to my prior post, Inside Out, the past couple of weeks have been unusually cold and windy in Vermont.  For both safety and comfort I’ve been spending time on Treadmill #53, a Cybex 770T at the UVM Rec Center.  It’s one of a bank of six high-end Cybex and Woodway treadmills that look over the UVM soccer/lacrosse field, where hardy UVM athletes often practice in extreme conditions. And there are clear views of Camel’s Hump, the second highest peak in Vermont some 30 miles away.  #53 is a pretty new machine with a cycling display of time, distance, pace, calories, calories/hr., watts, and METS.  Plenty to watch! Well and good.  But to be honest I do find it hard to get started.  An inner voice asks – “can I stand doing this?”  That was the case last Sunday when I was planning to do a 12-mile run.  But with outside temps at minus six and 25 mph winds … Continue reading

Inside Out

Perhaps you’ve seen the Pixar film with this title.  It was about how our emotions (the inside) affect our lives (the out.)  I’m sure the creators of the film would see that as too simplistic!  But perhaps there is a corollary to running. It’s the time of year when it can get really cold in Vermont, especially when windy.  I moved to Boston in 2005 in part to bask in the 10° warmer high and low average temps compared to Burlington.  And now I’m back in the colder clime!  When you consider that between December 21st and February 18th the daily average high temp in Burlington is below freezing, it’s not surprising there are many days between snow melts.  While streets are plowed (and increasingly the bike paths!) this can lead to treacherous conditions for runners.  I know too many who have strained muscles or broken bones by taking a hard fall.  While many “true Vermonters” run outside year round, consider the treadmill an anathema, and perhaps strap on skis in lieu of running, I regularly ran on the treadmill during the 16 winters I lived here before.  And with sub-zero temps recently, have started to do that again. Seven … Continue reading