Sports Science Lab

SPORTS SCIENCE LAB

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  • AFTER MARATHON – Resuming Training After a Marathon: After months of toil, you’ve accomplished your marathon goal, and are blissfully content. After a few days, however, the initial euphoria wears off, and post-partum depression sinks in. You ask yourself the terrible question, “what now?” Last month, we looked at ways to improve your recovery after running a marathon. This month, we look at the next stage, how to re-motivate yourself and safely resume training after the marathon. Specifically, which types of workouts to do, which to avoid and why [continue reading…]

 

  • AGE – Mother Nature and Father Time: Age is less kind to some of us than others. High school reunions often dramatically illustrate this point. Among runners, declines in performance plague some runners in their early thirties, while others (notably Carlos Lopes who won the 1984 Olympic Marathon at age 37, and then ran 2:07:12 at age 38) remain at their best much longer [continue reading…]

 

  • ALTITUDE – Living High and Training Low: Training at high altitudes has been popular among runners since the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City. From the results of those Games it was obvious that to compete well at high altitude it is necessary to train at high altitude. It is not clear, however, whether training at altitude provides an advantage for competitions at sea level. The few well-controlled studies have found mixed results when athletes train at altitude to prepare for sea level races. Yet, places such as Boulder, Colorado, and Albuquerque, New Mexico are practically shoulder-to-shoulder with world-class athletes and wannabes seeking the high altitude edge. Let’s take a look at the physiological effects of altitude training and the latest ideas on how to improve your performance with high altitude [continue reading…]

 

  • BACK TO BACK – Strategies for Back to Back Hard Days: In last month’s column, we discussed the hard-easy principle, and that sometimes the best plan is to train hard two days in a row followed by two or more recovery days. Two specific situations in which back-to-back hard days can be effective are during weeks when you are racing, or when you are so busy during the Monday to Friday work week that you must get in most of your high quality training during the weekend. Or, you may have a race on Saturday, but still need to get in your long run on Sunday. Back-to-back hard days come with the danger of wiping yourself out on the first hard day. If you are dragging the next day, then the quality of your training will suffer, and you will probably not obtain the necessary training stimulus to improve your running [continue reading…]

 

  • BAREFOOT – Should You Try Barefoot? Running shoes are wonderful things. They protect your feet from nails and broken glass, allow you to run on concrete, and are particularly useful in ice and snow. While protecting your feet, however, running shoes also treat them like planks that only bend a bit at the ball of the foot [continue reading…]

 

  • BASIC – Basic Training Principles for Runners: The running mentality lends itself to extremes. But the motto “Anything worth doing is worth doing to excess,” ultimately leads to disaster. To fulfill your potential as a runner, you either need a seasoned coach who can prescribe and monitor your training, or to learn to design your own well-balanced training programs [continue reading…]

 

  • COOL DOWN – Cool Down for Quick Recovery: You have just completed six repetitions of 800 meters at your goal 5 km race pace and are feeling pleasantly exhausted. Next, should you: A) jog once around the track, get in the car and drive home; B) head straight to the nearest bar for a well-earned beer; or C) do a thorough cool-down? [continue reading…]

 

  • CROSS BENEFITS – Should You Cross-Train? As I rode the exercise bike in the lab this morning, it occurred to me that there are 3 good reasons to cross train: 1) you are injured and can’t run, so you need to do something to keep your sanity; 2) you want to improve your cardiovascular fitness without getting injured; or 3) you want to improve your running by doing other activities (such as weight lifting or yoga) that do not target your cardiovascular system [continue reading…]

 

  • CROSS INJURY – Cross Training to Prevent Injury and Improve Technique: Here, we looked at several forms of cross training that help you maintain or improve your cardiovascular fitness while avoiding injury. Other types of cross training can enhance your running performance too, by improving your muscle balance and running technique. Long distance running develops muscular endurance in specific leg and hip muscles and is wonderful for your cardiovascular system, but tends to make some muscles strong and tight while others remain weak. “Proximal stability” training, drills, and flexibility sessions can eliminate these imbalances, not only preventing injuries, but improving your racing times as well [continue reading…]

 

  • DEHYDRATION – The Dangers of Dehydration: Summer is here, along with the twin menaces of heat and humidity. Running in the heat can quickly lead to dehydration, which ranks up there with dobermans among runners’ worst enemies. Dehydration hurts your performance, and slows your ability to recover for the next workout. Continuing to run when dehydrated can lead to heat stroke and death [continue reading…]

 

  • DETECTING – The Over-training Detective: Over-training is a danger for any motivated distance runner. In striving to improve your performance, you progressively increase the volume and intensity of your training. When races go well, the positive reinforcement spurs you to train harder. When races go poorly, you figure you aren’t fit enough, and train even harder. At some point, you hit your individual training threshold. This is the amount of training stress above which you start to break down [continue reading…]

 

  • DE-TRAINING – What Happens If You Stop Training: Please answer the following question: When you take a break from training, your body starts to turn to mush: a) after a few months; b) after a few weeks; c) after a few days; or d) almost immediately. Most runners apparently believe the correct answer is (d), and that the fitness gains of years of running are in danger of quickly vanishing into thin air. This behavior is manifested in phenomena such as running streaks, double workouts, and a propensity to run through such potentially life-threatening conditions as blizzards, electrical storms, and bronchitis [continue reading…]

 

  • EAT DRINK – Eat, Drink and Finish Strong: You train for 5 months for the big day. You’ve done 23 long runs, worn out the inside lane on your local track, spent a small fortune on massage and new shoes. You are the fittest that you have ever been. The gun fires and you feel great. You are on personal best pace for 18 miles. Then something starts to go wrong. You feel progressively more sluggish. By 22 miles, you’ve slowed down to the old familiar death trot. Guess you need to train harder next time [continue reading…]

 

  • EFFECTIVE PLAN – Developing Effective Training Plans: A 10 Step Process: Improving your running performance requires you to set goals and develop plans to achieve those goals. Your training plan describes the steps involved in reaching your goal. Your progress as a runner, therefore, is only as good as your ability to plan [continue reading…]

 

  • EPO – Illegal, Effective and Deadly: The scandals that plagued the 1998 Tour de France largely surrounded the systematic abuse of the synthetic hormone EPO to improve performance. Early in The Tour, Team Festina cyclists Alex Zuelle and Laurent Dufaux admitted taking EPO, and their team director confessed organizing doping under medical control. While the popular press expressed shock over the widespread use of EPO among top cyclists, those close to the sport indicated that EPO abuse has been pervasive in the top echelon of cycling for the past decade [continue reading…]

 

  • EX-PHYS – Concepts of Exercise Physiology for Runners: Capillaries. Myoglobin. Slow-twitch fibers. Glycogen. These are the stuff of long-distance running. The Kenyans have lots of them. President Bush (#1 and #2) has them. And you have them too. This is also the stuff of exercise physiology [continue reading…]

 

  • FAT – Fat Facts: Burn fat. Lose fat. Fat free. Fat-related messages bombard us constantly. Yet, much of what is written about fat metabolism is hogwash. There is a lot of misinformation circulating about how our bodies store and lose fat, and when our muscles use fat to produce energy. Two concepts that are often confused are: 1) the role of fat as a fuel during exercise; and 2) how to reduce body fat. Most RT readers shouldn’t be concerned with reducing their already low body fat levels, but distance running performance will benefit from training your muscles to use more fat, thereby sparing your carbohydrate stores. Let’s try to clarify these issues [continue reading…]

 

  • GOALS – Setting Goals for Runners: With the 3rd Millennium upon us, it seems appropriate to dream grand dreams, reach for the stars, or at least set a goal to reach a personal best. The problem when reaching for the stars, however, is knowing how high to reach. How much can you realistically hope to improve in a few weeks, a few months, a year? [continue reading…]

 

  • H.A.T. – Guide to High Altitude Running: Elite endurance athletes around the world train at high altitude to try to improve performance. Assuming you are a serious runner, should you train at altitude? To help determine whether high-altitude training is right for you, consider the following questions and the answers that follow [continue reading…]

 

  • HEART RATE – Factors That Effect Heart Rate While Running: At the September 1999 Pre-Olympic Sport Science Congress in Brisbane, Australia, I met with Mike Lambert, PhD, who is one of the world’s leading experts on using heart rate monitors during training and competition. Mike is an exercise physiologist who also has impressive running credentials, having run South Africa’s 56 K Comrades Marathon many times. Mike and I discussed the key factors that affect heart rate during running, which are explained in his excellent article published in the Journal of Sport Sciences in 1998. Although some of the information is a bit technical, understanding these factors will allow you to use your heart rate monitor more effectively to optimize your training [continue running…]

 

  • H.R.M. – How to Obtain Optimal Results Using a Heart-Rate Monitor: Heart rate monitors are a simple and effective training aid. By running within specific heart rate training zones, you help ensure that you train at the appropriate intensities for optimal results. Without realizing it, however, you may be training harder or easier than planned unless you know your true maximal heart rate, your resting heart rate, and take into account the various factors that influence heart rate while running. In this column we will look at how to determine your maximal heart rate and your individualized training zones. In next month’s column, we will look at several important factors that affect your heart rate during running [continue reading…]

 

  • H.R.M. Pitfalls – Pitfalls to Avoid While Using a Heart-Rate Monitor: Like any tool, a heart rate monitor only helps you if you know how to use it. The more experience that I have working with runners who use heart monitors, the more I realize that many athletes are training too hard or too easy because they do not realize the variety of factors that can affect heart rate. Let’s look at five points to help you use your heart rate monitor effectively to improve your running performance [continue reading…]

 

  • IMMUNE – Lymphocytes, Immunoglobulins, and Running: You run the best track workout of your life. Four repeat miles, and you feel like Moses Kiptanui. You hang around in your sweat-drenched clothes, talking splits with the other runners, and savoring the atmosphere. The next morning you wake up with the Russian Army marching down your throat. You have the flu [continue reading…]

 

  • INCREASE OR NOT – How High Should You Go? The best distance runners in the world train from 100 to 160 miles per week. Yet, the belief has developed among some runners that high mileage is not necessary for high level running performance. Scientific evidence has even supported this belief-studies show that you can maximize your VO2 max on less than 40 miles per week. So, why does almost every world class distance runner do high mileage? Are they wrong? [continue reading…]

 

  • IRON – Running and Rusting: You head out the door for an eight-mile run. Right from the start, your energy level is down, and your legs feel heavy. After 2 miles of uncharacteristic drudgery, you stop-then jog and walk home [continue reading…]

 

  • LESSONS – Training Lessons I Learned the Hard Way: Youth brings with it boundless energy and enthusiasm, and the opportunity to make mistakes. Age brings experience, scar tissue, and occasional glimpses of wisdom. During 34 years of running, I have made many mistakes and learned many lessons (some of them, unfortunately, more than once). Through hard work, determination, and a healthy dose of luck, I enjoyed a successful competitive career. Good luck was definitely involved in reaching peak fitness for both the 1984 and 1988 Olympic trials. The problem with good luck is that you cannot depend on it. If I could relive my running career, I would, hopefully, avoid making the same training mistakes all over again. If I knew then, what I know now, here are seven things I would do differently [continue reading…]

 

  • LISTEN – Listen to Your Body: When RT Editor Gordon Bakoulis and I discussed “listening to your body” as the topic for this month’s column, I hesitated because it sounded a bit soft for my tastes. After further thought, I agreed and, as usual, searched the scientific literature for supporting information. Not surprisingly, there was no data on the benefits of listening to your body for athletes because those benefits are impossible to measure. Thus, the insight that follows relies on over 30 years of running experience. As a two-time Olympian, you might think I had training figured out right from the start. Au contraire. The mistakes have been plentiful, and, alas, some lessons have had to be learned over and over again [continue reading…]

 

  • LONG RUNS – The Many Benefits of Long Runs: The snow melts. Your Gore-Tex suit is back in the closet. Spring marathons loom on the horizon, and runners everywhere are putting in long runs to prepare. But, why run long? What do these annual rites of spring do for you? There are at least 7 physiological benefits to long runs, and there are other advantages as well. Let’s start with the physiology [continue reading…]

 

  • MARATHON DECISIONS – Decision Making During a Marathon: Achieving your marathon goal requires numerous factors to come together on race day. Much more than in shorter races, the decisions you make during the marathon often have a large impact on your result. That is one of the reasons that the marathon is not just another race. Two key decisions during the race are: 1) whether to run alone at your own pace or speed up/slow down to stay with a pack; and 2) on an off-day whether to persevere or drop out. Let’s take a look at these two important race-day decisions [continue reading…]

 

  • MARATHON RECOVERY 1 – Recovering from a Marathon, Part 1: You train for six months, taper perfectly, and run the marathon of your life. It’s the next morning. You wake up stiff and sore. Now what?Well, for the next couple of days, try walking downstairs backwards. Why do you walk downstairs backwards after a marathon? Because that’s where the kitchen and the rest of the world are, and your quads scream at you if you try going downstairs the conventional way. But hey, they’ve earned the right to scream. You just pounded your legs on the hard pavement over 25,000 times [continue reading…]

 

  • MARATHON RECOVERY 2 – Recovering from a Marathon, Part 2: After running a marathon, there are basically 3 options. You can: 1) vow never to run again; 2) take some time off and then gradually get back into training; or 3) jump into full training as quickly as possible. Option 1 is not recommended, and option 3 should be chosen with caution. Option 2 is almost always the wisest choice. Your best strategy for future success after a marathon is to take a well-deserved break. A few days of no running followed by a few weeks of easy training will help your body to recover and your mind to develop new challenges. There is little to gain by rushing back into training, and your risk of injury is exceptionally high after the marathon, owing to the reduced resiliency of your muscles and connective tissue [continue reading…]