Why is processed food such a problem?

Please read this, if only to get to the notes at the bottom which may help you lose weight and feel healthier. This is not a post banging on about the damaging effects of sugar etc. Etc. It is hopefully designed as a window to help you appreciate what's going on so that you can make an informed choices, which when add up should result in improved health.  

Why is processed food so bad?  

Briefly, let's go back to how things were, let's call it a paleo time, for arguments sake. We were hunter gatherers, we ate some meat (note not all meat) some wild veg and fruits etc. We foraged for food and it was all unprocessed. We ate whatever we could find, and crucially we became very adaptable and able to consume pretty much anything. 

But as we know as society grew in it's ability to do most things food processing increased. We worked out how to refine things, this is the key. Salt, sugar, fats etc. Things which previously had been bound up within various foods were now extracted. This started to become a problem. Salt not so much, this was done for millennia to help preserve food, but sugar and fat were being allowed to be consumed in a completely different way. 

This is when people started getting fat, the rich, who loved sugar particularly, and even more the combination of fat and sugar, got fat, it was a sign of wealth.  

But why? 

Why does refining sugar cause a problem?  

I read a fantastic article which although a tad biased in places gave a great view as to why this is the case and it all comes down to what happens in your cell.  

Here is the article -  

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4975866/ 

In a nutshell -  

  • cells use b vitamins to produce energy from sugar  
  • whole foods (grains etc. ) provide both b vitamins and sugar  
  • refined sugar does not, so depletes cells of vitamins  
  • cell struggles to process all the un-vitamined food  
  • cells also need magnesium/zinc etc.  
  • Same process as above as many whole foods contain this.  
  • We become nutrient hungry as we become magnesium deficient (and other nutrients)  
  • We slow body processes deemed unnecessary  
  • WE GET SICK

Simple!  

So this is one argument as to why it's a problem. 

Argument two  - homogenisation 

Homogenisation is the process of making everything the same,  essentially liquidisation is homogenisation. This is a massive problem because our digestion begins in the mouth, as we chew our food. As we chew this happens - 

  • We prime the digestion system with enzymes etc.  
  • We prepare the body for nutrients through the phase 1 insulin response  
  • This phase one response seems to govern how we deal with the subsequent food
  • If you don't chew a sugar/carb meal then you don't produce enough insulin when the sugar hits the blood - this is a massive problem and could be driving diabetes 
  • Chewing also improves blood flow to the brain, dementia accelerates when sufferers stop chewing food  

Ever wondered why protein shakes make you fart? 

Its because you don't chew them! This means there are less proteases, the enzyme that breaks down the protein in your gut, therefore more protein gets through to the bacteria at the bottom of your gut and hey presto, horrible smelling wind!  

Processed food is heavily homogenised and we don't chew it most of the time! 

By the way, it takes 30-40 chews to initiate the right response, count them next time, you'll be suprosed how few you are taking.  

 

Argument Three - it's been designed in a lab

Not all processed food has been though a lab, but lots of it has.  

This lab has 2 purposes -  

  • Stop the food from killing you (preservatives) 
  • Make you want to eat more of it

We cannot get away from this fact, that health food is not designed to make you healthy it's designed to make you buy it. This is a large part of why we over-eat these foods.  

Argument Four  - Flavour Enhancement 

As a continuation of the above it turns out the right combination of some of the preservatives used in food production (including salt) increase food flavour and drive reward/wanting to eat more of said food! 

This can be as basic as the classic flavour of salted caramel, it's a tantalising taste that your brain just can't work out, is it salty? Is it sweet? So it wants more!  

 

Argument Five - We are designed to eat high calorie food for survival  

This is an important point. IF we can consume more energy then we can burn more energy, this is how the brain and body works. So eating more gives us the rewards of sex, children etc. So we driven to eat what we can find in our environment. This wasn't an issue when we didn't have much, but with Morrisons over the road and a relatively cheap food supply I think you can see the problem. 

 

So the issues with processed food may not be quite as they appear. 

Here is the go to guide.  

  • Limit processed foods where you can
  • Pick your battles - don't spend hours making mayonnaise if you don't have it often, spend that time wisely and prepare veg etc. Instead.  
  • Appreciate that food is designed to make you eat more, so choose how much you want to eat and stick to it.  
  • Eat slowly! It should take 30 minutes to eat a meal not 5!  
  • Chew your food thoughroughly
  • Don't drink smoothies/shakes if you can avoid it, if not then make them thick and chunky. This means you have to chew them slowly. OR eat a smoothie with a carrot/celery on the side which you have to chew. 
  • Avoid protein powders if whole food proteins are available. Same goes for liquid proteins like milk etc.  
  • Enjoy a bit of sugar and sweetness occasionally, but don't eat the cheap rubbish, either make your own brownie or get a small amount of the best one you can find. Bad economy? Yes! But better for your health than the whole back of cheap nasty Jaffa cakes that your brain tells you taste good.  
  • Try an unprocessed minimal sweet diet for a month, trust me you will find processed food quite chemically and off putting.  
  • Enjoy the process of processing (cooking) your own food!  

Have a great weekend!  

 

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Why I'm eating oats like they are going out of fashion!

Oats are a great thing, they really are. I'm going to tell you very very briefly why and why I am eating on average twice a day at the moment.  

Oats are probably one of the most digestible grains, for humans at least.  

The problem with most grains is they are either painfully indigestible in their raw form (wheat) or they have been GMO'd or worse irradiated (wheat) and covered in pesticides (wheat!) or they are highly allergenic (wheat!!!). You get my point! Because of the changes wheat has undergone over the last half century it's really not what it once was. Super high in gluten (not an issue if you have a good gut microbiome) but still have tonnes of zonulin in (a molecuke which increases gut permeability/leaky gut). The thing about leaky gut is, it's not a problem if you have all the right bacteria there and it's not an issue if you only take in molecules like gluten in low doses, as they will break it down. The issue we have is giant doses of high gluten wheat, our bacteria can't cope, our gut becomes leaky and everything we don't want to let in comes in. 

Ok, that was a slight aside. So what about other grains, like oats for example? Well they haven't changed much. Yes, they may have a few things in them our body doesn't like, but they are in low doses and we deal with them fine (at this point I would recommend organic oats, as if you are eating a lot the pesticide residues can add up) .

 

So why are oats so great? 

  • They contain a substance called beta-glucan, it's the stuff that makes the oats go gloopy when you soak them. This stuff helps feed good bacteria, helps reduce gut permeability and enhances the mucus lining of our guts for protection, win win win!  
  • They have good amounts of fibre and carbs, but not too much and not too little. The fibre type is also more soluble as opposed to the insoluble type which could actually be quite distruptive to the gut (think celery) 
  • They fill you up - good for those trying to reduce food consumption from snacking and habit eating
  • They are cheap! Even buying the organic type they come in much cheaper than most foods calorie for calorie, so great for those on a budget.  

 

how can you make your oats even more awesome? 

  • Soak them for 1-12 hours - this increases the beta-glucan concentration, ready for when it hits your stomach, makes them more digestible too, and if you like rice pudding it makes them taste even better! 
  • Combine with goats milk. Goats milk is great thing, it can help reduce gut permeability as well, even better than colostrum which is 10x the price!  
  • Add in some mixed spice, I like a bit of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and pepper in mine. Tastes like Christmas!  
  • A dash of raw honey to taste!  
  • Finally, a controversial one. I add a whisked egg to mine, once the oats are almost cooked, on a super low heat I add in a whisked egg and cook for a minute or so, stirring lots, like you would make custard. Otherwise the egg will scramble, not good! It tastes incredible, don't knock it till you have tried it! It makes the porridge taste like custard, yum! Or eggnog if you add the above spices! 

So I have this bowl of loveliness after most sessions, as exercise increases gut permeability so this is part of my protection against that!  

I hope you had a great weekend! 

 

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Testing - the most feared word in the English language!

Testing is a scary word to all of us, bringing up flashbacks of sitting in exam halls, sweaty hands on the steering wheel and numerous other occasions when we have had to prove that we can do what we need to do.
It is a word that literally strikes fear into the athlete, sure to bring out a cold sweat and a trembling hand. Anyone who does not have this reaction to this word has never been through a CP20 on the bike, a test lasting 20 minutes where you put out your absolute maximum effort for that time. Trust me, when you don't have much to look at 20 minutes is a ridiculously long time. Start to fast and you may not finish, start to slow and the last 5 minutes will be pain like you have never felt.

However testing in some form is essential. Why? Because without testing you may just be wasting your time, you may be going backwards or you may be creeping into over-training.

However, too many people put too much pressure on testing, conducting formal testing protocol at a set interval and then a complete overhaul of training as a result.

This post is about how to simplify testing, how to use it appropriately to guide your training.

First things first, fitness is not a straight line. It happens in peaks and troughs, it hits plateaus and sometimes there is a mighty crash before the biggest peak of all. This is the issue with formal testing. If it does not come at the correct time you can often get misleading values, be it too low or too high. Too high and you will risk sending yourself into over-training, too low and you will not be pushing yourself.

Too many people rely on rigid tests such as the CP20 to guide all power values, without looking at the bigger picture. As I mentioned above pacing can have a big impact on the outcome.

Example - You have a powermeter and want to do a CP20 on the bike. You start of at a conservative level, but by 15 minutes you still have a fair amount to give, the last 5 minutes is an all out effort, with the last 2 having a big anaerobic component. You get a value of 300 as an average, but you were at 280 for most of it and only when you were hitting 400 at the end did it start to rise.

Is 300 your real CP20? Possibly, but probably not, it could have been too low, by you being conservative for too long. Or it could have been dragged up too far if you are one of those athletes with a big anaerobic capacity.

Next time you do the CP20 you pace it much better, as you know you can hit 300, this time you start at 295 and gradually ramp up over the last 10 minutes, you end up with 320. Are you really 20 watts faster or did you just pace it better?

This is the key issue with this kind of testing.  

A different kind of testing

What if I told you that everyday was a test? It wasn't a formal test it was just an addition to the big picture. This was a scheme that was tried out in a school in the states, they still did the exams at the end of the year but their ACTUAL grade came from their day to day work, where there was no pressure on them to perform. Some students were miles ahead of what their exams suggested, they just had stage fright, they deserved to get a better grade and they did.


The same goes for your sport, everyday is a test of sorts, but each day does not have to be better than the last, it's just part of a gradual progression. As long as things are generally moving in the right direction then stick at it, as long as you are feeling good.

How to apply this to the 3 sports -

Swimming -

There are many options for this but here are my favourite 2 -
1. Swim 100m all out at the end of EVERY swim session
write all of the times down, sometimes they will be up and sometimes down, depending on how hard the session was, but a weekly trend SHOULD be on the way up. If it is not then you need to address your training.

2. Have 1 session per week that you do a tester set, something with a bit of length. Mine is 1000m, alternating 50m band and 50m normal freestyle. I record the time at halfway and the time at the end. Again, this should show a weekly reduction in time.

Biking -

Have one session per week where you push as hard as you can in one segment, be it for 5 minutes or 10 or even 20. Don't look at the session on its own, add it to the other 3 sessions (or however many) in the month and get the average. Then compare month to month.

Another great way of testing on the bike is to use power AND heart rate to produce what is called efficiency factor, this is power/heart rate = EF.

EF can give a great long term metric of how you fitness is progressing. As you become more efficient which should happen with better training, your EF will go up. This can also get you out of the habit of power chasing in sessions, sometimes you can't put your max power out in a session for whatever reason, but if your EF is still improving then you are on to a winner.

Running -

There are so many elements to running how do you test?

Again, there are 2 options.

1. Parkrun - or similar a weekly 5k against the clock on the same course, how much better can a test get? Again, try not to get stuck on one result to the next as conditions will dictate this sometimes, instead look over the monthly average.

2. Aerobic threshold testing - Find your aerobic threshold heart rate, see Phil Maffetone test for this. But as along as the heart rate is the same each time you are probably ok. Go to a track or a similar looped course, flat and sheltered is best.
Run 20-30 minutes to warm up then conduct a test over 3 miles or similar. Note down you pace and heart rate. If you do not have a GPS then use the same loop course and use time.
The beauty of this test is the way that all elements of running play into it. So if you biomechanics have weakened or you have gained weight your time will worsen, however if you have lost a little fat or you have become stronger you time might improve.
Using this methods helps stop you getting bogged down in each session and helps you see the bigger picture.
If you aerobic speed is improving you will be getting faster across all distances.


Until next time!

High carb? Low carb? Moderate carb? Cardboard? Dust?

In the last few days I've become embroiled in a twitter debate regarding low carb and high carb. 

The most frustrating part of it all is the fact that many proponents of either side are so adamant they are right that they want to argue and just don't read what's being said.  

So, I've decided to write this post to display some clarity on my thoughts and my position regarding this debate.

 

Firstly, why is there a debate? It's generally because carb consumption has increased over the last few decades, this has coincided with an increase in diabetes and obesity. So, it has been assumed that increasing carb intake is the culprit. Journalists like Gary Taubes have written extensive books about how saturated fat isn't bad for us, and it's all down to the evil carbs.  

I am also led to believe that taubes himself has issues with insulin resistance (I'll come to that in a minute) so we have to approach his view with a slightly sceptical eye as it's often hard to see the whole forest when you are stuck in the trees. 

So what is insulin resistance? Surely it IS due to too many carbs.  

I'll level with all of you, I believed this for a while. The argument seemed sound. Consume too much carbs/sugar and you produce too much insulin for the body to handle, evenaturally it can't handle this and builds up resistance. 

But, new evidence has come to light which seems to suggest it's not as simple as all this.  

The best analogy I have heard is - a cell is like a house party. IF the house party gets out of control in the cell, the cell will block the door so no more guests can come in (those guests knocking on the door are sugars and amino acids and the gatekeeper is insulin).  

So the cell INTENTIONALLY becomes insulin resistant to stop this getting worse, to protect itself. Unfortunately by doing this it may be damaging other cells in the body due to rising blood sugar levels.  

 

They key to all of this is that going low carb/low sugar at this stage can really help. It can lower blood sugar levels which are doing lots of damage, so in this context LCHF works! 

But that doesn't mean carbs were the problem to start off with.  

What causes high cell energy that is essentially going out of control? Over-consumption relative to energy expenditure. As we do less and less movement (note movement not exercise) the mitochondria in our cells (the eergy powerhouse) becomes more dysfunctional. Added to that we keepjng piling energy in there, for MOST of the day. 

This is key, as often there is more of an issue with when we eat than how much.  

If you have time look up Sachin Panda's work on time restricted eating, it's truly eye-opening. Not only are we eating for about 16 hours a day, so ONLY not eating at night, but by reducing this to 12 hours (that's only stopping at 7pm and having coffee - which DOES break this fast - at 7am) we can dramatically improve health. Why is this? 

Well it's all about the mitochondria again, they only repair when the cell energy status is low, when we haven't eaten in a while. I like to this of this as a furnace with cracks in it. You have to stop shovelling wood in and let the fire die before you can repair the cracks. 

ATHLETES TAKE NOTE - in Sachin's studies they found when mice had the window restricted to 9 hours their endurance massively improved, again due to more time for mitochondrial repair. So this may be worth adding in to your schedule.  

 

So where does this leave us? Should I go high carb or low carb. 

It doesn't matter, really, unless you already have issues with insulin and/or obesity. The key is not to eat too much, particularly in the evening when more sedentary. Move lots, just keep moving. Only eat till you're satisfied and generally stay away from foods which tend to drive hunger/reward. As a rule this is processed food in a nutshell! It has been through a lab to make you want more of it remember. 

Eat proper whole foods from scratch when you can. CHEW YOUR FOOD! This is a massive one, as chewing 20-30 times improves the insulin response, and promotes feelings of satiety as well as readying the digestive system. If you are going to have smoothies then make them chunky and crunchy so you have to chew them. Take your time, enjoy your food, relax and be happy! 

 

Until next time!  

 

Time - do you value yours? Or mine?

Time, it's the thing we can't get back. We often seem so besotted by stuff that we forget that time is all we have. Time in our lives, time with our loved ones. Any person on their death will never say they wanted more money, more fame or more stuff, only that they wanted more time.  

But honestly I'm not sure we value it anymore.  

We get more stuff to fill our time. We veg out in front of the TV to waste our time. We spend countless hours shopping for rubbish on amazon for Christmas presents, when maybe we could use that time to spend with the loved one we are shopping for? Just an idea.  

That's what I'm doing this Christmas. I'm going to take every person I love out for a drink, a walk, a coffee and maybe even a sneaky cake. I'm going to enjoy every second with them. IF (and I doubt this very much) they still want the rubbish I will hand them whatever note I have in my wallet and tell them to go buy something pretty.  

Ok so rant over. Where did this come from? 

I had an amazing conversation with a client on Saturday, thank you Sarah it truly made my week/month. 

We were talking about time. Both from our own perspective, but also the time of professionals like me. 

When you are coming to see me you are buying my time, you are not here to be fixed, you are here to LEARN.  

Learning how you move, how you run, why you run the way you do. You're here to learn down to fix yourself, so you NEVER have to see a person like me again. I'm trying my best to save you time.  

To all my clients have you noticed I never mention gym? I never mention finding MORE time, all the exercises are so simple you do them at home, whilst brushing your teeth, or squatting down to pick up your shoes. These are designed to save you time, save you the time you loose trying to fix an injury, the wasted time going to physio or the gym.  

I want to give you this gift of time, it's my present to you, it's my present to your loved ones  (who probably sacrifice a fair bit so you can do the sport you love). 

You won't go away from me with shiney stuff, sorry, all you will have is a head of ideas and hopefully an exciting new outlook on making yourself the best you can be.  

But am I worth it? That's for you to decide. It's not just me! We often painstakingly spend hours doing DIY that we hate to save money, but loose so much time in the process. Think about it next time, maybe consider giving a little money to an expert, not for their sake, but for yours. Let them buy you TIME the thing you can't get back.  

Have a great week - here's a reminder - 

 

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Why am I being asked to squat?

I get asked this one a lot, "why am I squatting?" 

Yes it's true, you don't squat while you run. 

But what squatting does is prove you have good hip mechanics, it can help loosen and open up the hips by activating the muscles. It can really help to show any weakness here. Plus it can help work on calf and Achilles strength and control which is so so important to running, 

 

So, how should I squat?  

 I don't think you need to squat with your heels on the ground, we are also not talking about weights here. I think the best type of squatting you can do is campfire squatting, heels on or off the ground, but not with a rounded back, if you have to round your back to hold your heels off the ground it's better to bring the heels up. 

Plus I think having the heels up actually works the Achilles and calf better.  

Look at this picture, notice how the person on the left has raised his heels? I'm not sure he's bothered about this and neither should you!  

 

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They key is to spend time in this position, 10-15 minutes a day is ideal. Read a book or something.  

Get used to it, it will do wonders for your hips which will do wonders for your running!  

 

Happy running!  

Searching for the 'root cause'

I bang on about this ALOT when it comes to running injury. Firstly most injuries aren't actually injury, in terms of tissue damage etc. But this is a topic for another post.  

But if you do have some kind of pain, discomfort, tightness etc. then you have to search for the root cause. It is no good papering over the cracks. 

When I talk about 'papering over cracks' what do I mean?  

I mean things like massage, stretching and standard exercises. I'm not going to start a rant about stretching here, but I generally don't approve, mostly because a muscle feeling tight is not a reason to pull on it! 

I am also not against massage, it has its place, but it's not meant to be used to get an ailing muscle straight back in the game, it's to be used in conjunction to get that thing working properly! 

 

Why is that muscle/body part hurting/feeling tight? It's generally because something has gone wrong somewhere along the line.  

I bang on about stability, well here's an example, see if this matches anything in your own life. 

 

2 weeks or so ago I was noticing an aching pain in my hip, it would niggle me at night, but when I was moving around it all felt ok. I did a little mobilisation on it, felt fine, yet it was still nagging. I needed to find the root cause. 

I wrote down when it hurt, what I had done previously in terms of exercise etc. This is what I found.  

 

1. It ONLY ached after I had biked in the early evening.  

2. It seemed to get worse when I biked and sat in my chair afterwards (where I have the tendency to cross my left leg under my right)  

3. It seemed unrelated to running, if anything it improved with it.  

What did I deduce? The bike may be the cause, I went to look at my bike, sure enough there was a small crack under the left wing of the saddle. 

I fixed this with epoxy glue. 

Pain has disappeared. 

 

Now this is an isolated story, but it underlies my philosophy, you HAVE to go right back to the root cause. Be that something in your life, your shoes, your sitting or sleeping position. It is no good expecting a bit of massage and exercises to fix things, it won't fix the underlying problems.  

 

Until next time!  

Happy running!  

Polarisation training in running vs cycling

Cycling is predominantly an aerobic sport (fitness based) biomechanics do play a role, but often once you adapt to any position, provided it's not too extreme it's your engine which holds you back.

Polarisation works in cycling in some athletes by stimulating the aerobic system, through overtaxing all elements of oxygen provision and energy production (HIIT). Combing this with a large amount of low end work which works in part on efficiency of movement on a muscular level and to some degree structural changes (although the extent to which this happens over a certain age is a little debatable)

The threshold model, seems to be more related to the metabolic side of things, working on mitochondria (cell energy power stations) amongst other things to increase the ability to produce energy and maintain contraction of muscle fibres.

 

So what's the difference with running? Running is a very very different activity. Yes it does involve and require a great aerobic engine to supply oxygen, and yes it requires the need for lots of well functioning mitochondria to provide energy, but biomechanics start to play a much greater role.

Partly because you are free form, not fixed to pedals etc. So how you move and land etc. Becomes important. But mostly because in runnnig you 're-use' some of the impact energy by using your tendon complexes as a spring type system.

There is also the control element, I.e. Neuromuscular control, as the movements are so fast, require incredible balance and proprioception, that training this element is crucial.

So polarisation of running (which is essential imho) involves long easy running (combined with ballistic movements such as plyometrics) which works on tendon and soft tissue structure and stiffness. This allows greater recoil ability (whilst building the aerobic engine at the same time of course), combining this with very very fast short reps on treadmill or track ideally which focus on training the neuromuscular system to balance, control and use that recoil.

Hence why running polarisation is very different from aerobic type cycling polarisation.

To much tempo running is not only not required in most (unless you are a pure runner, even then it's debatable) and it is almost always the intensity which leads to injury.

 

Happy running! 

My issues with 'maximal cushioning'

I could easily have called this the 'HOKA hatred' post. But I have no issue with the brand, there are plenty of others offering the same level of cushioning so it would be unfair to single out this brand. Although, that being said they have done their best to promote the idea of maximal cushion and it's perceived benefits to the masses. 

So what's the deal? Why do I dislike OVER cushioned shoes? 

Well. It's all about context, this is the main problem. Another way to look at context would be to appreciate how each person is different, I.e. What I mean by this is, if you have fantastic hip stability and land in a perfect position, on a flat surface, all the time, in a shoe which is the right width for your foot, then you probably won't have a problem if you increase the depth of cushion. But how many of us regular people are like this? In my experience, in hundreds if not thousands of clients, very few of us are like this.  

But what about these professional athletes running in cushioned shoes? Did you see the shoe for the Nike sub 2 project? It was huge! Yes! That is because the elite runners with their fantastic hip stability can get an increased economy from cushion, cushion does have some good sides!  

They would also likely wear a new set of shoes for each race, why is this important? Because the greater depth/softer the cushion the more the shoe will deform. This happens DURING a run, and with repeated runs, so a brand new shoe will behave very differently. 

Take this example -  

This is a well worn HOKA, actually, I say well worn I think it had done less than 100 miles! Which is barely worn at all. Look at the compression of the foam! No wonder this client had knee and hip issues!  

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I hope this is starting to illustrate my problem, it's not that cushioning is a bad thing, it's that too much in the wrong place can cause greater instability. 

 "But my HOKAs are so comfortable!" Yes I know! They are like wearing two pillows on your feet! But unfortunately with this comfort they give you instability. They may feel great for the first mile or so, but soon your hips will start to ache, those niggles will come back and all those stability muscles are doing so much work to keep you upright that they are starting to fatigue. I see this time and time again. 

This is the equivalent to the office chair, or sofa, it feels so comfortable but in giving you comfort it makes your muscles (brain actually) quite lazy. Hence why it's so hard to move after you've been sat in it for a while.  

Maximal shoes give you short term comfort for long term loss, in my honest opinion and experience.  

Don't fear the ground/impact. Feeling this ground impact is an important part of running, it allows you to feel the impact energy it and reuse it. 

That will do for now, but I'll be back to this topic soon! 

Happy running!  

"My glutes are weak"... "No they're not!"

This short post is about one of my most annoying bugbears. When clients are told that their glutes are 'weak'. I hate this phrase, it not only doesn't mean anything but it's generally wrong. In the absence of nerve damage to the nerve that supplies the glutes it's very unlikely that they are weak. 

How does the client know they are weak? Because they have been tested, in an isolated environment/ position and told that one side is weaker than the other.

Quick detour here - we have lots of body parts that come in 2s and in all cases they are no symmetrical. Finding out one side is 'weaker' than the other means very little. 

So what's the problem? 

Are the glutes not firing?  

Yes and no, no they aren't is sometimes the case, or possibly they aren't needed? Or maybe they are being used in the wrong way?  

All these things can happen, all at the same time. It's often not that they are weak it's just they aren't coming to the party for whatever reason. Often it's due to posture, if you are tipping your head forward and looking down, then you will sit back to counterbalance on landing, this will require the glutes to kick in early. They work hard to stabilise you, when they have done all that stabilising work they probably don't want to extend your hip very much, so they don't. 

We also have the issue of pelvic side stability, if you are crossing over  (bringing the foot into/past the centreline on landing) then you will HAVE to use the glute maximus to stabilise as you aren't getting the best out of the glute medius (side stabiliser). 

This is also not an advantageous position to extend the hip.  

What can you do about it? Well working on the glutes will help, somewhat. But you really need to address posture, where your head is, and work on side stability (glute medius). This will put the glutes back in control and give them the power they so rightly deserve.  

Practice standing on one leg and driving the knee slowly forward, standing tall. You will feel the glute of the standing leg activating. This is far better way of approaching this than silly convoluted glute exercises that rarely translate to actual running. 

Until next time! Happy running!  

How much back strength do you need for running?

 

I'm going to make a bold statement, most runners/triathletes have weak backs that are actively holding their running back.

This is ridiculous no? Surely you run with your legs and your back can't be doing THAT much work when you run?
You would be surprised.

I know what I am saying here is not completely out of left field, as everyone knows the importance of 'core strength' in sport, but do you really know what that means and how much you need?
For extreme simplicity the core can be thought of a front, back and sides (although there is so much more to it). The front is normally not a big issue, we generally have enough strength in this area so there is very little point in all the crunches! (we'll get to this more in a minute)
The sides or obliques are often fairly weak, this is driven in part by the minimal twisting that occurs in running, cycling and swimming. However, it has always been noted that swimmers work on their obliques more than many other athletes, this is due to the generation of a powerful kick which can place a twisting load on the lumbar (lower back region and therefore a powerful kick requires excellent oblique strength).


But it is the back which everyone almost forgets.
It becomes weak throughout our daily life as we sit down, drive etc. etc. Its strong enough that we don't notice it. We walk around and it supports us and keeps us upright.

But what happens with the back when we run?

It not only stabilises us as we run upright, but it allows the huge gluteal muscles to do their job. Extend at the hip.
If the back is weak and the gluteal muscles contract then nothing much happens, very little extension at the hip, this is REQUIRED for fast running.
It is often said that it is this gluteal extension of the hip that seperates fast runners from not so fast, this is very true. But a fast runner CANNOT extend without a strong back, even with very very strong gluteal muscles.

NB. A study which compared the strength of the gluteal muscles with running performance (in racehorses, whom we surprisingly share a significant amount of running mechanics) found a direct correlation between the two, so stronger glutes = faster running. Its likely if they had extended the study to the lower back it would have shown the same.


So, I hope I have convinced you that the back is important. Its almost always the key problem/cause of poor posture and bending forward at the hip (bad!). Its not that the runner doesn't want to stay upright, its just they can't.
This becomes more apparent the longer you run, so in half-marathon and onwards it becomes a real problem that has a dramatic effect on performance.


What can be done about it?

The answer is pretty simple really, the back needs to be strengthened. But there is more to it than that! The back needs to develop isometric strength, understanding this is critical.
There are 3 main forms of muscle contraction (there are 2 more which we will not concern ourselves with here).

Concentric - where the muscle shortens as it contracts
Isometric - the muscle remains the same length as it contracts
Eccentric - the muscle lengthens as it contracts (used to decelerate limbs)

Whilst there is an interplay between these a muscle can have significant strength in one area over another, so we must train the muscle for what it is required to do.

The core and back are contracted isometrically for swimming and running. Therefore there is little need in working the muscles concentrically if we need isometric strength.

So, the back needs to be worked isometrically, not only this but you need to appreciate that when running (and swimming) the limbs are moving around a rock solid core. Your limbs weigh a lot, far more that you appreciate, this puts significant strain on your core and its ability to hold you firm with these flailing limbs.
Therefore, just doing planks IS NOT ENOUGH!

Test - Can you hold a plank position for 30 seconds? Yes? Can you hold the same position and alternate lifting the left leg/right arm and visa versa? Its much harder isn't it? That demonstrates a small amount of the strength required at the back.

Once you can do this comfortably there is one exercise which rules them all when it comes to bringing the back up to scratch, that's the dead lift.

Either with dumbbells, or a barbell a dead lift with a decent weight (a weight you could lift about 6 times but then require a rest) will do more for you back than anything else.
But you NEED to learn proper form, otherwise you risk injury. I will find a video and post it here of proper form, but that's not enough really. The best thing to do is find an experienced personal trainer, who knows a thing or two about strength and conditioning.
It is critical during a deadlift to keep the back isometrically contracted, with a slight inward arch, keeping the chest up and out.
The back remains isometrically contracted throughout using the glutes and hamstrings to extend the hip to lift the weight.

If you only ever did one weights exercise this is the one (although when you are proficient a clean and press/clean and jerk/muscle jerk, is the ultimate exercise, taking the barbell from the floor to over your head combines a deadlift with a full body workout).

Ok, that's it for today. I will be expanding the weightlifting topic further.

When you come in to see us at Tri-mechanics we can both assess you functional back strength and help simulate what it would be like to increase that strength, this would give you a picture of how important it is to work on this!

Till next time!



A new take on interval training?

 

Ever wondered why you work really hard but seem to go nowhere?
This could be part of the answer

A recent study showed that when 2 groups underwent VO2max training it was the group who were prescribed slightly shorter intervals at VO2max speed that came out on top.

Group 1 were asked to complete intervals of 60% Tmax, (Tmax being the time they could hold THEIR Vo2max speed till failure) improved far greater than the 70% Tmax group.

Why was this? It's not instantly apparent, but when you delve into the study you find the 60% group actually completed MORE time at VO2max pace than the 70% group, completing 96% of the interval time per session they were prescribed, compared to the 86% in the 70% group.
So, each session the 60% group spent on average an extra minute at this pace.

This explains how the 60% improved more over the 4 weeks. Physiologically this is explained by an improvement in running economy in the 60% group (3.3% compared with 0.8% in the 70% group) and a huge improvement in Ventilatory threshold int he 60% group (6.8% compared to 1.7%).

Why did this happen? Its likely related in part to the increased amount of work the 60% did per session. But I also think the increase in economy is related to the fact that the 60% stopped the interval BEFORE they were to fatigued. This is great for running economy as the one thing running economy hates is when fatigue builds up resulting in a loss of technique and damage to the neuromuscular control (I will be covering this in a whole series on running economy and why you should care about it, ALOT!).

What can you do with this to enhance your training? Firstly these results show that significant improvement can result very quickly with high intensity training, so its worth including in a training plan.
Secondly, if you are going to implement these sessions its worth paying attention to how much work (the interval part) you are completing in each session. In this study the participants were completing about 13 minutes hard work. For VO2max and running that is about right. Aiming for 15 minutes is a good target. If you are only able to complete 10 minutes or less you could be going too hard and possibly too short.
The runners in this study had T-maxs of around 4 minutes, so were completing intervals of 2-2.5 minutes long, with a work rest ratio of 1:2.
This is about right for running (but too short for cycling, in running you ramp to Vo2max faster due to you having to support your body weight and using more muscles).
And aim for around 6 or 7 of these.
If you are failing at 5 you are going a little too hard. But, the best way to find this pace is to test yourself and see how fast you can run for around 4 minutes (it may take a few goes to get the pace right).
The work at this pace for around 2 minute intervals, or 2.5minutes if you have been running/training for a good few years as your capacity to hold VO2max pace will likely have increased.

Keep a check on how much work you are getting done each week at this pace. If its not going up then you may need to change things around, either running faster or running slower for slightly longer.

Hope that was interesting!
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12736843

Running Technique - Paralysis by Analysis?

This may seem a very strange topic, coming from a running technique coach.
Have I gone stark raving mad on a Monday morning?

No, it is my belief that running technique has a 'middle zone' when it comes to analysis. More common is to do too little, but you can also do too much.

I have never, ever told or suggested to an athlete how their foot should strike the ground.
I just don't think its necessary.

The footstrike is a function of posture, particularly the hips/pelvic position, coupled with cadence and its impact on knee drive.

If you are upright and not leaning forward, or collapsed at the pelvis, your cadence is quick (thanks to a quick arm movement) and you have a snappy knee drive (where you are driving the knee not striding forward) then you are hard pressed to land anywhere but beneath your body.
To land anywhere else would quickly imbalance you and your body would correct.

Telling someone how to strike the ground is always going to end in disaster. If you tell them to land on their forefoot they will reach forward and land in front of the body on their toes. A few weeks later they will have a good going Achilles injury.

I was told in the distant past to heel strike, this caused me to reach forward with my heal and land in front of the body, causing a massive brake.

Where you land is far more important than the details of how you land, in terms of which bit of the foot lands first. How you use the energy from the impact, now that's a different story!

So,stop worrying too much about how you land. Work on your posture (see articles on posture) and you cadence/knee drive and the rest will take care of itself.

Born to Run?

Ever since the release of Chris McDougall's book 'Born To Run' debate has raged over whether humans are born runners and whether we should be running barefoot or in minimalist footwear.

Significant evidence does seem to suggest that running was not only part of our distant history, but it may also have shaped our evolution and development.

Fossil records have supported the development of humans as relatively proficient endurance runners in comparison to other species creating the hypothesis that we used endurance running as a method of catching our food (Bramble and Lieberman, 2004).

Added to this we have the anatomical traits such as the nuchal ligament (positioned perfectly at the back of the neck to stabilise the head whilst running) and an incredibly long Achilles tendon (for the return of elastic energy).

Without these elements we would not be very good runners at all and indicate that running had a prominent place in our distant past.

So with this in mind, why do we find it so hard?

Wander down to your local athletic club for the juniors session and you'll see that we didn't always find it so hard.
Better still, watch a game of tag on the streets and you will get an even better idea.
Children love to run, they don't think about it, they just do it.

They don't care what shoes they are wearing (and will happily run around barefoot), they don't move their arms in a specific way, they just use them to maintain balance. They don't heel strike, or land in front of their body.
They land in the way that is most comfortable and will provide the most speed.

So, why do we find it so hard? We've lost it. We WERE born to run but we beat that out of ourselves with regimented training, supportive shoes, desk jobs with endless hours sitting.

BUT, all is not lost. It can be found again, you just need to find out how YOUR body wants to do it.