Weight training makes muscles younger.

Last week I had my first strength training session with Alan, a 65 year old cyclist.  It wasn’t difficult to establish a good rapport with someone who has a  mutual passion for  cycling. We could have talked for hours about past and present  cyclist, the highs and the lows,  we enthused about classic riders such as Indurain and we were wondering why Nairo Quintana is not riding in The Tour de France.

Let’s get to the point, despite having had a few serious injuries in the past, Alan is fortunate to have the health and fire in his belly to keep going and embark on a strength training programme without hesitation. He takes part in races almost every Sunday which are not leisurely by any stretch of the imagination and he  always aims to be competitive, always at the top end of his category.

He has inspired me to write this post about strength training for the mature athlete.  Hope you enjoy it and more importantly, hope it motivates you to strength train.

I am not beating around the bush anymore and I am going to present you the facts:

In 2007, researcher Simon Melov examined the mitochondrial function (mitochondria are the ‘power stations’ in the muscles)  of muscle of men and women who were 65 and older and compared the results with those of men and women in their late teens and 20s. He took samples of muscle tissue before and after six months of resistance training and found that the old muscles had genetic characteristics similar to the muscles of the younger population. He concluded that Strength training may be one of the more dramatic conditioning modalities to help fight the aging process, allow greater sport performance, and improve health profile in older adults.

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EFFECTS OF AGING

Muscle size

  • Aging contributes to the progressive decline in muscle mass that begins as early as 25 years of age and continues throughout life.  After approximately 50 years of age, and specifically between the ages of 50 and 80, muscle mass is reported to decline by 30–40%, with a corresponding decrease in strength in the range of 40–60%.
  • Reduced muscle size and strength tend to further exacerbate a loss  in aerobic capacity, since it may exist a relationship between age-related muscle atrophy and decline in VO2max.
  • It also  appears that strength and muscle mass in older persons are better maintained in the upper body than in the lower body.  (This last two facts are not good news for cyclists and runners).
  • Women typically have less muscle mass, greater amounts of body fat, different body fat distribution and less bone density  when compared with their male counterparts, which  predispose women to an increased incidence of injury to the lower extremities.

Muscle Strength

  • The loss of strength occurs at about the same rate as the age related decrease in overall lean tissue mass, suggesting a relationship between weakening of the muscle and its decrease in mass.  However, strength levels can be relatively well maintained between the ages of 30-50 with strength training.
  • Hormones also play a role in muscle strength. It has been found that as people age, their bodies make less testosterone and less growth hormone. Both hormones are anabolic, which means that help maintain muscle mass. The decrease in testosterone may be a factor in the diminished muscle strength  in older people.

BENEFITS of STRENGTH TRAINING:

Resistance training is one exercise mode that has been reliably shown to be a safe and effective method for conditioning the neuromuscular system, improving muscle strength and power, and maintaining and modestly improving bone mineral density in older adults. These physiological changes are also linked with improved sports performance.

Adding a resistance program to endurance training can occur at almost any age, and it should be an important component because other modes of exercise do not provide sufficient overload to produce increases in muscular size and strength. The specifics of a resistance-training program should take into account individual limitations and prior exercise history.

These are the benefits of a well-planned resistance training programme:

  • Weight training can induce dramatic increases in muscle strength in older persons. Women may show a greater percentage improvement in strength gains because they would be starting from a lower level and have a larger ceiling for improvement.
  • Some of the strength gained through weight training is due to an increase in muscle mass, as is the case with younger adults.
  • The increase of body fat associated with aging can be reversed through resistance training. It increases lean body mass, which in turn elevates resting metabolic rate and burns fat.
  • Increases the strength of  tendons, reducing the incidence of injury.
  • Improves mobility.
  • Reduces bone loss, which is especially important for  menopausal women, because the decrease in estrogen can lead to osteoporosis.
  • Improve mood and general well-being.

The take away message of this post is clear: Age should never be an obstacle to embrace strength training. Hey Pete, see you in the gym tomorrow.

claremont-senior-fitness(1)

Victor Sarramian

  • MSc Strength & Conditioning.
  • BSc (Hons) Sports Science.

http://www.victoriaparkfitness.com

 

 

REFERENCES:

Brooks, S.V., and J.A. Faulkner. Skeletal muscle weakness in old age: underlying mechanisms. Med. Sci. Sports Exerc. 26:432–439. 1994.

Daniel A.G  & Edith C., Resistance Training for the Older Adult: Manipulating Training Variables to Enhance Muscle Strength. National Strength and Conditioning Association.Volume 27, Number 3, pages 48–54. June 2005

Haff G., Roundtable Discussion: Resistance Training and The Older Adult . National Strength and Conditioning AssociationVolume 27, Number 6, pages 48–68. December 2005

Hedrick, A.  Resistance Training with the older populations: Justifications, Benefits and Ptotocol. Strength & Conditioning:  Volume 20 – Issue 2 – ppg 32-43 . 1998

James W. B ,  Age Related Motor-Unit Remodelling and Its Effect on Muscle Performance. National Strength and Conditioning Association. Volume 26, Number 4, pages 34–37. August 2004.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why distance runners should lift heavy

In recent years, distance running has been growing in popularity across the world. Running  is an inexpensive , and accessible activity that helps participants to stay healthy and find their sense of belonging  into a like-minded community.  According to the most recent Sport England  figures, participation in athletics (including running and jogging) has grown by 604,200 from 2006. (http://archive.sportengland.org/research/active_people_survey/active_people_survey_7.aspx)

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With such an increase in runners hitting the roads,  the  available  information   that surrounds any topic  related to running is huge.  Sport journalists, scientist, brands, athletes , coaches, bloggers, we all have our views about any running related  subject  such as  training methods, diet, hydration, material… Everything is open for debate.

However,  there is little doubt that strength training is beneficial for endurance athletes and more importantly, there is a consensus on the way it should be implemented.  The idea of combining strength and endurance training into one programme has been the focus of much research,  and I can confidently say that  there is no question that runners in the gym should  aim to lift heavy and forget about the light loads and high reps approach . Amazing! We finally agree on something! There is no   Light weight/high reps  vs  heavy loads/low reps  debate.

In the past, working on muscular endurance seemed to be the logical approach  for distance runners. Consider a marathon , how many strides does a marathon runner take over the 26.2 miles?  Our immediate thought was to include muscular endurance training  in our programme , so we started to train this parameter with light weights and 20-25 reps , supposing that because of the concept of sport specificity, we should be training the component that is the closest to the competition.  Clearly, muscular endurance is desirable for endurance athletes; however, their volume of endurance training is already outstanding.  There is no value in continuing to train this parameter in the gym, runners get the muscular endurance from running.  Our training programme shouldn’t be  designed to increase a parameter such as muscular endurance or VO2max but  to help them run faster.

 

So… What shall we do in the gym?

We should aim to lift heavy for only a few repetitions  (1 to 6 reps.)

Improvements in maximal strength  boosts aerobic endurance performance through coordination and neural adaptations and changes in recruitment patterns, without muscle growth.   When lifting heavy for 1 to 6 reps, we challenge the nervous system to recruit more fibres in a muscle, and the low repetitions ensure that we don’t cause enough of a protein response to increase muscle size.  An improvement in  maximal strength lowers the actual demand of motor units  recruited for the same force output, which means that  a smaller section of the muscle is utilized to perform the same task, and as a result, a motor unit reserve is created to carry out extra work.

In running terms,  a smaller percentage of our maximal strength would be needed in each stride. If a male runner who weighs 65kg is able to improve his backsquat’s maximal repetition from 60kg to 100Kg, his  legs will be less taxed for each stride, meaning his  bodyweight represents a smaller share of his maximal capacity to extend the legs.

If you are a novice lifter, start with perfecting and mastering the technique before lifting heavy. It is advisable that  a qualified strength & conditioning coach assesses your strength  levels, mobility and  motor  skills.  (You can see a sample of assessment and  strength & conditioning programme here:  http://victoriaparkfitness.com/cedric-programme)

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Skinny runners squat heavy too. Chema Martinez (above) and Galen Rupp in the gym.

 

Are bootcamps  beneficial for runners?

Boot camps are usually advertised as  highly successful systems for developing strength  and  cardiovascular stamina,  while lowering body fat percentage and improving shape. However, this claim is not accurate. Generally, circuit training/boot camps  rely  on  light loads and high repetitions with reduced resting intervals, therefore strength and power  gains are very limited. Furthermore,  the improvements produced in cardiovascular fitness can’t compete with those of traditional running.  Participants can improve their fitness, but the amount of strength gained  will  be less than a typical resistance program, similarly  the amount of endurance achieved  will be less than a typical cardiovascular programme.  So, don’t mix up strength and stamina in one session!

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What does Mo Farah’s coach think  about strength training?

If you don’t believe what I have written in this post, you can see with your very own eyes what does Mo Farah’s coach (Alberto Salazar)  think about strength training for distance runners: http://www.flotrack.org/coverage/249744-Workout-Wednesday-Season-7/video/684139-WOW-Rupp-in-the-Weightroom#.U0HHWfk7ssA

(Transcription of video)  “…Back on 30 years ago there was an old philosophy about strength training for distance runners that used to say, yeah,  light weights and lots of reps, and I really don’t  believe in that. When you do something like that , at some point there is no stimulus for further growth.  If you are just doing lots of reps and light weights, you are going to maintain where you are at but you are not going to grow.

(Regarding bulking-up) It’s very hard to bulk-up. I’ve never seen a single athlete of mine bulk-up by doing this stuff. Bulking up means  not only lifting very hard but  eating a ton of stuff and it is very hard to gain weight. (…)The only ones that may have gained a little bit of weight have been the girls, maybe a couple of pounds because they  muscularly  haven’t been as toned and sometimes  they lean up  and weight a little  more , but is muscle, is good functional muscle  that actually allows them to compete better…”

 

Victor Sarramian

 

Core strength for runners and triathletes (part 2)

This post is a follow-up of my previous entry on core strength for runners and triathletes. I have   have put together some tips and exercises to work your core effectively and safely. I’d be great to   hear your views on the post. Enjoy the read.

1. LIFT HEAVY 

As I have mentioned in my previous post, athletes who perform ‘‘traditional’’ resistance exercises with the correct  technique are probably getting enough core training.  The squat and the deadlift exercises will activate the longissimus, multifidus and external obliques muscles to a higher degree than core exercises such as the bird dog, pelvic thrusts, planks or bosu ball work.

2-OPTIMIZE YOUR TIME IN THE GYM:

(1) Incorporate core work during the warm up:  Perform one or two sets of Overhead/back squats  with a light load and hold the bottom position for 5 seconds in each repetition. It will improve your trunk stabilization under load and you also warm-up for your main set of lower body lifts.

Fig 1.Overhead squat.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(2)Use up the rest periods  between main  sets.

We can utilize the rest intervals between sets of major lifts  to do some core work. For example, I like to include 1 minute of  core work such as the “barbell roll out” within a 4 minutes rest period between sets.

(Note that it is advisable to rest 3 to 5 minutes between sets  when performing major lifts with endurance athletes.  Long rest intervals produces greater increases in absolute strength and muscular power and does not promote muscle growth, which affects running economy negatively)

Fig 2. Barbell roll-out: Great exercise for triathletes and swimmers, it mimics the pulling action of frontcrawl.

Fig 2. Barbell roll-out: Great exercise for triathletes and swimmers, it mimics the pulling action of frontcrawl.

 

 

 

 

 

 

3-RUN

Running is the most specific exercise you can do to work your back extensors, the erector spinae is more activated during running than during a specific “core” exercise intended to target this muscle.

4-VARIETY IS IMPORTANT.

Front  and  side planks are great  exercises but they tend to get monotonous. You can progress and spice up the plank in many different ways: (1) Reduce base of support  by lifting one arm and the opposite leg without compensating your flat back position. (2) Add movement to the plank. Extends one leg at the hip, while keeping the knee flexed 90 degrees, to lift the foot toward the ceiling  for two beats and then return to the start position for another two beats. The hip flexion makes the plank exercise more challenging and develops the gluteus maximus. (3) Plank on an unstable surface: Place the elbows on the ball and perform a “stir the pot” motion. (4) Add weight: Have a partner sitting on your back or placing a weight on your back. You can add weight to a side plank too by holding a kettlebell  or a dumbell. (5)Add a twist: Start on a side plank position to move into a front plank.

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Fig3. The side plank challenges the athlete’s body against gravity in the coronal/frontal plane, and is an ideal exercise to train the quadratus lumborum. Fig 4. Stir the pot.

5- INCORPORATE ROTATIONAL & MULTIPLANAR  MOTIONS

Although runners move predominately in the sagital plane, there still is body movement in the transverse and frontal planes that must be controlled adequately by the neuromuscular system. During midstance of the running gait cycle, the foot and ankle unlock to allow absorption of ground reaction forces. During this phase, the body is challenged   to control excessive or abnormal motion in the frontal and transverse planes.

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Fig 5.Russian twist on swiss ball.

Fig 6. Standing reverse wood chop with a medicine ball. This exercise is a resistive diagonal pattern of the trunk that demands a high level of lumbo-pelvic stability and combines upper and lower-chain integration as the ball is moved in a diagonal pattern across the body.

Fig 6. Standing reverse wood chop with a medicine ball. This exercise is a resistive diagonal pattern of the trunk that demands a high level of lumbo-pelvic stability and combines upper and lower-chain integration as the ball is moved in a diagonal pattern across the body.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

6-TRAIN YOUR CORE ECCENTRICALLY.

Functional movements require acceleration, dynamic stabilization and deceleration (eccentric contraction). The  wheel/barbell roll-out exercise activates a big portion of the trunk musculature, include eccentric and concentric phases and also incorporates a pulling action of the arms that mimics frontcrawl & butterfly strokes.  Great drill for triathletes and swimmers.

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Fig 7. Abdominal wheel roll-out.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

7-DON’T FORGET YOUR GLUTS.

Given the anatomic and biomechanical synergy with the pelvis, the gluteal muscles may also be considered to be essential components of the core musculature as primary power generators. Besides, the gluteus maximus and medius are hip abductors that promote suitable knee alignment on  foot contact. Elastic-band side-steps and hip extensions are two good choices to activate your gluts.  Needles to say that the gluteal complex is fully activated in a deep squat,  when  the centre of the hip joint passes below the top of the knee.

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Fig 8. Deep squat.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

8-DON’T WEAR A LIFTING BELT

A  lifting belt squeezes your abs in tight as you activate your core to stabilize the spine. The problem is that belts can be overused and can lead to a weaker core. This is because your abdominals won’t fire as hard if you have a belt that supposedly does the job for you.

Research has shown that weight belts do not elicit the biomechanical benefits in trunk stabilization and support that they are commonly thought to provide and they don’t help to minimize the risk of lower-back injury. Moreover, the false sense of security provided by a belt may make you feel invincible and you could end up pushing yourself beyond your capabilities.

Fig 9. Lifting belt.

Fig 9. Lifting belt.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

9-AVOID SPINAL FLEXION

Unfortunately, common practice amongst trainers and coaches is not always based on evidence, but widespread beliefs and opinions. Work-outs  that incorporate  repeated spinal flexions make up  a good example of  poor exercise  selection without  a solid theoretical foundation.

The rectus abdominis and the abdominal wall hardly ever function as spine flexors, they are more often used to brace and stabilize the spine.

In addition, repeated bending of the spinal discs is a potent injury mechanism, evident in individuals who do actively flex the torso,  such as cricket bowlers and gymnasts.

In today’s society we spend countless  hours  in front of a computer or a TV and we often do it with some degree of spinal flexion, which in return may  cause low back pain, rounded shoulders…

Why do we need  to replicate the cause of pain or potential pain with exercises that promote more spinal flexion?  We have literally dozens of exercises to choose from to work the core in a safe manner.  Exercises such as abdominal crunches and bicycle crunches  replicate an injury mechanism and doesn’t create the athleticism that enhances performance. Keep the spinal bends for essential tasks such as tying shoes rather than using them up in training.

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Fig 10. Poor  exercises to work your core.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

REFERENCES

Bauer, J.A., A. Fry, and C. Carter. The use of lumbar-supporting weight belts while performing squats: Erector spinae electromyographic activity. J. Strength Cond. Res. 13(4):384–388. 1999.

John M. Cissik . The Role of Core Training in Athletic Performance, Injury Prevention, and Injury Treatment. Strength and Conditioning Journal. 33 (1) 2011.

McClay I, Manal K. Three-dimensional kinetic analysis of running: significance of secondary planes of motion. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1999 Nov;31(11):1629-37.

McGill S. Core Training: Evidence Translating to Better Performance and Injury Prevention. Strength and Conditioning Journal. 32 (3) 2010.

Michael Fredericson, Tammara Moore. Muscular Balance, Core Stability, and Injury Prevention for Middle- and Long-Distance Runners. Phys Med Rehabil Clin N Am 16 (2005) 669–689.

Salles BF, Simão R, Miranda F, Novaes Jda S, Lemos A, Willardson JM. Rest interval between sets in strength training. Sports Med. 2009;39(9):765-77.

Víctor Sarramian

Is Core Strength so important for runners?

“Core training” is a hugely popular but controversial topic. In the past few years, athletes, running magazines and fitness “professionals” acknowledge core training as an important factor to improve performance and prevent injuries. Despite these claims, the scientific literature is hardly conclusive about the benefits of core training, since there is not enough evidence to support that this mode of exercise should make up a substantial part of a strength and conditioning programme.

First of all, what is the “core”?

The “core musculature” can be defined generally as the muscles that support the lumbo-pelvic-hip complex in order to stabilize the spine, pelvis, and kinetic chain during functional movements. Core exercise is one which channels motor patterns to ensure a stable spine.

 Which muscles make up the “core”?

 The core is composed of the lumbar spine, the muscles of the abdominal wall, the back extensors and quadratus lumborum. Also included are the latissimus dorsi and psoas that pass through the core, linking it to the pelvis, legs, shoulders, and arms. Given the anatomic and biomechanical synergy with the pelvis, the gluteal muscles may also be considered to be essential components as primary power generators.

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Why should I strengthen my core?

In theory, the core impacts athletic performance in several ways:

  • Stabilizes the trunk and pelvis, which could be beneficial to technique.
  • It is a vehicle to transfer force from the lower body to the upper body, the dissipation of energy through the core is minimized during movement, allowing for an improved power potential.
  • Lower back injuries may be prevented as a result of a stronger and more efficient trunk. The muscles of the trunk control the pelvis, and poor control in this area can contribute to lumbar injury.
  • Finally, the core’s muscles may actively be recruited to perform an athletic movement (e.g., one involving rotation)

.The research looking at core training and performance would seem to suggest that if core training has a role in performance, it is very small. This means that if the goal is performance enhancement, the S&C   coach should not be investing a great deal of time on core training. In fact, improvements in this area are likely skills specific, and the athletes who perform ‘‘traditional’’ resistance exercises with the correct technique are probably getting enough core training. If the goal is performance improvement, coaches can probably achieve this effect through the use of major lifts such as  cleans, snatches, jerks, pulls, deadlifts, and of course, squats.

.Additionally, some technique flaws that are typically associated with a lack of core strength are caused by fatigue elsewhere. For example, we don’t over swing the arms because the core is weak, we are just trying to compensate the fatigue of the legs by changing something at the upper body. In fact, the trunk doesn’t fatigue first when we race.  When we lean forward of backwards when  running under heavy fatigue, we are just compensating for a loss of stride frequency and/or length.

.The erector spinae is more activated during running than during a specific “core” exercise intended to target this muscle. Therefore, don’t waste your time performing back extension exercises because running is the most specific exercise you can do.

.The squat and the deadlift exercises will activate the longissimus, multifidus and external obliques muscles to a higher degree than core exercises such as the bird dog, pelvic thrusts, planks or bosu ball work.

.In conclusion, athletes who perform ‘‘traditional’’ resistance exercises with the correct technique are probably getting enough core trainingy (read my previous post to know more about it).  I am not saying that you shouldn’t do any core training at all; some exercises to target the abdominal wall would be advisable. On the other hand, extensive core work outs may be pointless, providing that you run and know how to perform some multi-joint lifts.

.If you don’t have the time, skills or access to a gym or qualified strength and conditioning coach, you can take advantage of the core exercises I will post in a few days. In the meantime, keep running and have a happy new year.

KEY FACTS:

  • The scientific literature is hardly conclusive about the benefits of core training, since there is not enough evidence to support that this mode of exercise should make up a substantial part of a strength and conditioning programme.
  •  Athletes who perform ‘‘traditional’’ resistance exercises with the correct technique are probably getting enough core training, this training may be supplemented with some specific core work.

A BIT OF TRIVIA:

  • Leonardo da Vinci first described the concept of muscle grouping around the spine. He suggested that the central muscles of the neck stabilized the spinal segments, whereas the more lateral muscles acted as guide ropes supporting the vertebrae.
  • The spine is inherently unstable. The ligamentous spine (stripped of muscle) will fail or buckle under compression loads of as little as 2 kg or 20 N  Level walking can produce up to 140 N of compression force to each side of the spine with each step.  A 90kg athlete lifting a barbell loaded to 145kg during a half-squat would be applying 900kg or almost 8,900 N of compressive force onto the lumbar spine. Extreme lifting also has been shown to produce loads on the lumbar spine of up to 36,400 N.

References:

Barr, K.P., M. Griggs, and T. Cadby. Lumbar stabilization: Core concepts and current literature, part one. Am. J. Phys. Med. Rehabil. 84. 2005.

Brown, T.D. Getting to the core of the matter. Strength Cond. J. 28(2). 2006

Faries, M, Greenwood M. Core Training: Stabilizing the Confusion. Strength and Conditioning Journal. 29 (2) 2010.

John M. Cissik . The Role of Core Training in Athletic Performance, Injury Prevention, and Injury Treatment. Strength and Conditioning Journal. 33 (1) 2011.

McGill S. Core Training: Evidence Translating to Better Performance and Injury Prevention. Strength and Conditioning Journal. 32 (3) 2010.

Rennie, G, Yule, S. The Barbell Rollout. UKSCA. 17, 2011.

Víctor Sarramian

Self Myofascial Release aka Foam-rolling

I am sorry to have been absent for a few weeks, I have been very busy developing my new website, which you can check out here: http://victoriaparkfitness.com/

Enjoy the read!

 

What is fascia?

  • Fascia is connective tissue that spreads throughout  the body in a 3D web. The fascia surrounds every muscle, bone, nerve, blood vessel and organ, all the way down up to cellular level.

What are its functions?

  • Provides support, stability and cushioning. It is also a system of locomotion and dynamic flexibility forming muscle.

How does it respond to trauma?

  • The fascia tightens due to micro-trauma over time (mileage) or acute injury such as contusion or tendon strains.  The fascia loses pliability, becomes restricted and is a source of tension for the rest of the body.  Fascial restrictions can create abnormal movement patterns that can pull the bone structure out of alignment. This phenomenon  prevents normal muscle mechanics (i.e., joint range of motion , muscle length, neuromuscular hypertonicity, and decreased strength, endurance, and motor coordination) and reduces soft-tissue extensibility.

What can you do about it?

  • Myofascial release is a hands-on  technique  performed by a therapist that reduces adhesions seen between layers of fascial tissue. In other words, elongates and softens the fascia.
  • The good news  is that you don’t have to pay a therapists every time you want to release your fascial tissue. Self Myofascial Release (SMR) has become of increasingly common practice for treating soft-tissue restrictions.  You can use your own body mass on a foam roller to exert pressure on the soft tissue. The SMR technique (also named foam-rolling) involves small undulations back and forth over a dense foam roller. The small undulations place direct and sweeping pressure on the soft tissue, stretching it, and generating friction between the soft-tissue of the body and the foam roller. The friction  causes warming of the fascia, provoking the fascia to take on a more fluid-like form, breaking up fibrous adhesions between the layers of fascia and restoring soft-tissue extensibility .
  • Foam rolling can be implemented as a recovery and maintenance tool  into a number of different rehabilitation and training programs to promote soft-tissue extensibility, potentially enhancing joint ROM and promoting optimal skeletal muscle function. Furthermore,  foam rolling may correct  muscular imbalances, alleviates muscle soreness, relieves joint stress, improves neuromuscular efficiency, and improves range of motion. All that  without a loss in muscle activation or force.
  • It is commonly  advised to foam-roll the desired  area at least two times (60 to 90 seconds bouts). Foam-roll slowly,  starting at the proximal portion of the muscle, working down to the distal portion of the muscle or vice versa.

Find below some examples:

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REFERENCES

  • Barnes M. The Basic Science on myofascial release. J Bodyw Mov Ther. 1997;1(4):231–238.
  • Healey, K; Dorfman, L; Riebe, D; Blanpied, P; Hatfield, D. The Effects of Foam Rolling on Myofascial Release and Performance. J Strength Cond Res. 25():S30-S31, March 2011.
  • MacDonald, GZ, Penney, MDH, Mullaley, ME, Cuconato, AL, Drake, CDJ, Behm, DG, and Button, DC. An acute bout of selfmyofascial release increases range of motion without a subsequent decrease in muscle activation or force. J Strength Cond Res 27(3): 812–821, 2013.

Free weights vs Machines

If you have read my previous  post  in this blog,  you already know how important is strength  training to improve your running. When it comes to decide what facility is best to train, you need to consider how well the equipment will meet your needs as a runner.  I have seen many gyms  full of screens playing different channels, neon lights everywhere, loud music that is supposed to be motivational, useless power  plates,  treadmills with a built in screen that recreates courses in remote destinations… but despite this display of expensive machinery the gym lacks  a free-weight area or it is reduced to a few square meters to bench-press.  Why? Because fitness is a big  business and unfortunately it is not driven by integrity but by fads.

In this post I will number the advantages of free-weights (barbells, weight discs and dumbbells)  over machines.  I hope it helps you to make an informed decision.

FREE WEIGHTS

.Def: A weight used for weightlifting, as a dumbbell or barbell, whose motion is not constrained by external apparatus

.Advantages:

  1.  Often used for exercises that involve large portions of body’s musculature.
  2.  Allow for large variations in user strength.
  3.  Versatility: Can be used for ballistic or ‘explosive exercises’ as well as maximal strength.
  4.  Specificity: Involve ranges of motion and muscle activation patterns similar to those in many sports movements,      particularly for the lower body. Require balance and coordination much like actual sporting events.  The development  of training protocols in which the exercises have a high degree of mechanical specificity (with appropriate training    design) is the major advantage of free weights.
  5.  One size fits all. No need to make adjustments to fit different body sizes.
  6.  Are safe when used appropriately.
  7.  Low in cost and easy maintenance.

Disadvantages:

  1. Can be intimidating to people who lack confidence in their athletic ability and knowledge. Free weights  require more knowledge of proper exercise form than do machines
  2. Provide resistance only in the downward direction. (in running gravitational resistance is a major factor thus barbell training is perfectly  suitable)
  3. Sometimes require a spotter for safety.

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.Oregon University. Strength & Conditioning facility. Impressive!

WEIGHT MACHINES

Def: Exercise machines that may guide or restrict the direction and extent of a movement. Thay use cams, lever arms, pulleys  or cables to redirect or alter the resistance, or generate the resistance through springs, hydraulic or pneumatic pistons or magnets.

Advantages:

  1. Can be designed to provide resistance in any direction.
  2. Usually provide a quick and easy means of changing resistance.
  3. Do not generally require a spotter for safety and require little knowledge of proper exercise form.
  4. Some machines may offer resistance through a greater range of motion compared to any one free-weight exercise.  This  may be an advantage in hypertrophy development with some machines. Distance runners don’t want to get  bigger muscles. Do we?

Disadvantages:

  1. Limited adaptability, the machine will only allow performance of the exercise (with few variations) for which it is designed.
  2. Most machines do not have sufficient adjustment capability to be able to fit all sizes or populations. Even cursory observation of athletes or non-athletes reveals differences in height, weight, limb length, and so on that will affect the way in which many, particularly variable- resistance devices, are able to effectively apply resistance.
  3. Provide for sequential training of isolated muscle groups rather than training major muscle groups in unison.
  4. Do not lend themselves to ballistic or “explosive” exercises.
  5. Do not simulate real-world lifting movements.
  6. Do not simulate complex muscle activation patterns characteristic of sports.
  7. High in cost and maintenance .If the cost of outfitting a major training facility with typical machines (each one performs essentially 1 function) were used to purchase barbells, dumbbells, and associated benches, then this would allow substantially more people to train simultaneously at the same cost or less.

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 You still have to pay a memership to work out in there. Has anyone seen: Black Mirror (series 1 episode 2…)?
 
KEY FACT:
The major contributing factor to the superiority of free weights compared with machines is the ability of free weights to mimic and overload most athletic (and daily task) movements. Because of this aspect, there can be a greater transfer of training effect. Having reviewed numerous scientific papers concerning strength training for distance runners I have not come across any author considering the use of machines to enhance running performance in elite or recreational runners.
Victor Sarramian (MSc Strength & Conditioning)
 

Plyometrics: Train to get springy legs (Part 1).

“Plyometrics is defined as exercises that enable a muscle to reach maximum strength in a short a time as possible. This strength-speed ability is known as power” (Donald A.Chu)

While strength training  creates the muscular and nervous system adaptations required for power development, plyometrics focuses on the speed element of power.  The significance of plyometric training has been extensively discussed for middle distance runners but plyometric training has also been recommended for longer events and even for cross country racing.

 What are plyometrics?

Plyometric exercises are mostly targeted at improving the body’s ability to develop force rapidly in order to enhance athletic performance.  Box jumps, drop lands, drop jumps, hops, skips, bounds… are classified as plyometric drills. The stretch-shortening  cycle (SSC) is the underlying mechanism that explains plyometrics. Basically, it is a spring like mechanism with storage and discharge of energy superior than if just muscle contraction occurred, and always follow the same specific phases.

(1) Landing phase:  Upon foot strike, the muscle lengthens. The eccentric  contraction (g) of the muscle serves to stretch the muscle and activate the stretch reflex (explained below).

(2) Amortization phase: Represents the foot’s ground contact time or the turnaround time from landing to take off.  The time delay must be short  because if a eccentric  muscle action is not immediately followed by the concentric (g)  phase, the stored energy from the muscle-tendon unit and the potentiating ability of the stretch reflex will be negated.

(3)Take-off: During this phase the stored  elastic energy is used to enhance force production.

ssc

How does it happen?

There are two mechanisms that contribute to potentiate muscle contraction/force production.

(1)Mechanical: Muscles and mostly tendons, have the ability to extend and store energy and recoil and release energy. During the ground contact phase of running, tendons act as a spring, storing elastic energy and  then, subsequently, releasing  that energy via recoil during the take off phase of running.

(2)Neural reflexes:  It has been thought that the muscle spindle is also responsible for the potentiation after a pre stretch.  Muscle spindles  are located within a muscle near the point that   joins the tendon and consists of a modified skeletal muscle fiber with a sensory nerve wrapped around one end of it.  The muscle spindle senses the rate and magnitude of stretch in a muscle. A signal is sent  to the spinal cord where motor nerves  are stimulated and the muscle that was stretched contracts. This is called the myotatic or stretch reflex. The most frequent  example of this, is the knee tap examination that doctors carry out during  a check-up.

However,  a number of recent studies don’t support the fact that muscle spindles contribute to potentiate the subsequent muscle contraction. These papers reveal that the role of the muscle spindle is to counteract  the effect of an inhibitory reflex regulated by the Golgi Tendon Organs (GTO) , which are sensitive to muscle tension.

The following example explains this phenomenon : During foot landing  , the stretch applied to the leg extensor causes the muscle spindle to contract that muscle. However, the abrupt high muscular tension causes the GTO to concurrently inhibit its activity to prevent damage in the muscle.

It seems that neural reflexes may not account for the potentiation after the SSC but they may be able to limit it.  Plyometric training may have the potential to  inhibit  the GTOs and enable the potentiation of the muscle spindle, if it certainly  does occur.

How can I benefit from plyometric training?

-Hops, skips, jumps and bounds are effective training strategies since sports activities consist of   exactly these types of movements.

-Plyometrics can boost explosive power over a short period of time, particularly if a strength base has already been accomplished.  Power appears to be irrelevant for 10k and marathon runners but…

-Distance runners can exploit the potential improvements from plyometrics in speed and running economy ( the longer the distance, the greater the benefit of improved running economy). Plyometric training  increase the stiffness of the structures of the lower leg making the leg better able to store and reuse elastic energy which might explain the increases in running economy

- Several researches have revealed that the proficient usage of the SSC can recover up to 60% of the total mechanical energy spent  on each running cycle . The remaining 40%  is supplied  by metabolic processes. Verkhoshansky  reported a high correlation  between the tendon’s capacity to store elastic energy and the performance of distance runners.

Am I ready to perform plyometric training?

Plyometrics are a very high intensity type of training, placing  considerable stress on the bones, joints, and connective tissue.  There is a great risk of injury  when performing this form of training. Prior to starting a program  you should consider the following variables:

-Needless to say,  you shouldn’t be injured.

- You shouldn’t attempt jumping if you don’t show proficiency at  landing.  Knees should be  aligned over the toes, the trunk inclined forward slightly, the head up, and the back flat.

- Having a good lower body strength foundation is fundamental to perform plyometric drills effectively and safely. Most sports scientists recommend a lower body strength that allows the athlete to squat 1.5 to 2 times their own body weight, although low intensity plyometric exercises such as jumps in place an ankling drills can be used with the majority of the athletes. Therefore,  the development of maximal strength and strength–speed through weight lifting are necessary pre-requisites.

(inclusion of plyometric in a training plan, classification of plyometric exercises, sets, reps…are issues that will be addressed in future posts)

post 4 key facts

post 4 atrivia

REFERENCES:

.BERRYMAN, N, MAUREL, D, AND BOSQUET, L.(2010). Effect of plyometric vs. dynamic weight training on the energy cost of running. J Strength Cond Res 24(7): 1818–1825.

.CHU, D (1998). Jumping into plyometrics (2nd ed. ed.). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

.CLEATHER, D. Plyometrics and Distance Running. UKSCA

.EBBEN. W.,(2001)  Maximum Power Training and Plyometrics for Cross-Country Running. Vol 23,  N5, p 47–50. NSCA

. SAUNDERS, P.U., R.D. TELFORD, D.B. PYNE, E.M. PELTOLA, R.B. CUNNINGHAM, C.J. GORE, AND J.A. HAWLEY. (2006) .Short-term plyometric training improves running economy in highly trained middle and long distance runners. J. Strength Cond. Res. 20(4): 947–954.

 .TURNER,A., JEFFREYS, I.,(2010).  The Stretch-Shortening Cycle: Proposed Mechanisms and Methods for Enhancement. Strength and Conditioning Journal. Vol 32.N 4

. VERKHOSHANSKY YV.(1996) Quickness and velocity in sports movements.N Stud Athletics.11:29 37.