Changing Mechanics might be the cause of age associated slowdown among Runners

Ask anyone older than yourself and they will likely give you a long list of things that change as we age.  While not thrilling to know most of them are negatives we are powerless to change, we are never-the-less obligated to cast a critical eye on all of them to see if current wisdom may just be wrong.

Case in point may be the slowdown runners appear to experience as they age.  While world class runners are often still able to maintain amazing times in their events, those times are no where near the times they clocked one, two, and three decades prior.  While most of us would except this is true, the better question is why does this appear to be so and is there anything we can do about it?

These are the questions a few researchers set out to answer.  Researchers found stride length shortened and ground force reaction decreased as runners age.  These things together significantly impact speed.  The mechanical basic for these changes could be the body seeking to shift force generation away from the ankle.  At walking speeds, older adults shift force generation away from the ankles and up into the hips.  Extra hip action helps keep walking speeds up as ankle action decreases.  Initial research seems to indicate this natural shift in force generation does not occur in older adult runners at running speeds and may be the biomechanical reason top speeds decrease as runners age.

As we age, the lower extremities are prone to injury at a greater rate than areas closer to the trunk.  The Achilles tendon and calf muscles experiences changes on a tissue level that leaves them vulnerable.  Science is wondering if the body may alter our running gait (unbeknownst to our conscious selves) in order to protect the more vulnerable tissues.

But what can be done about this?  The jury is still out but common sense tells us tissues will be healthier, more elastic, and better able to repair if the network of blood vessels serving those tissues stays dense and strong.  This can be accomplished (like most things) through proper diet and exercise.  Add to that a program designed to keep the muscles, tendons, and ligaments strong and properly flexible and you will be making the most of the common sense tools available to any age body.

If you have questions about what a proper lower leg and foot strengthening program entails, you can check out this article written by the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.  It gives several stretches and exercises that may just keep you PR-ing for years to come!

Interested in reading the biomechanical study?  Click here!

Fatigue v. Failure

A few years ago, I attended a series of lectures on medical exercise.  The program emphasized dosing prescriptions that optimized strengthening and repair of tissues.

To me, one of the most impactful sections of the discussion was the difference between taking your reps to failure (being unable to lift the weight) and taking your reps to fatigue (being unable to lift at pace and with solid form). From a health and injury prevention standpoint, this is a huge distinction.

Lifting until failure means you have already kicked into compensatory modes of movement — cheating if you will, in which muscles you normally would never use for a movement have been recruited to “get the job done”.

When pushing yourself to fatigue, you are isolating only the muscles designed to perform that movement.  When taken to fatigue, you stop doing reps before you kick into any compensatory mode and therefore limit your risk of injury because you are always maintaining form.

In weight rooms everywhere, we are taught to lift to failure.  But I’d like to ask you to think about fatigue.  Pay attention to your lifting cadence — everyone has a pace which, when left to our own devices, is highly repeatable, innate cadance.

When you start to slow from that pace, when your movements become less symmetrical, or any other first sign of form decay, give yourself a moment to get your form and pace back on track.  If you can’t get it there, it’s time to stop that set — you’ve pushed your musculature to the point it cannot successfully complete the lift.  Take a break and do another set until your form breaks down.  This is a technique that maximizes the use of the target muscles while keeping the risk of injury low.  You are also going to pay attention through the whole set, which will improve the quality of your repetitions, leading to greater strength gains.  All upsides, right?

Keeping yourself injury-free and maximizing your strength gains are key to successful training.  Your training principles should reflect this!  Why would you mindlessly take yourself well past safe technique?  Pay attention to where fatigue sets in and stop your reps there.  You’ll reduce your risks and your training program will become more effective.  Win -win.

Hydration options

Last week, I talked about Gatorade’s hydration “education”.  Besides sports drink and water, what other options do we have?  Fooducate has a two graphics that may give you a few ideas for easy, portable hydration options packed full of nutrients proven to improve your health while keeping you hydrated.  Check them out:

hydrate with fruits


veggies high in water

It’s takes hard work to make sure you are fueling properly.  Choosing the healthiest versus the easiest or more convenient options is what performance is all about.  Successful athletes don’t cut corners.  Take the time to fuel and hydrate with real food whenever possible.  You will be a better athlete for it!

Hydration Eduacation or Sales Pitch? What’s Gatorade doing inside our high schools?

Several weeks ago, I was speaking to a room full of Physical Education instructors and I was asked my take on sports drinks.  As I’ve said on this blog before, sports drinks can be a great tool to aid in performance.  Like any tool, however, they can also be used inappropriately.

And, inappropriately is the way I see them being used by most of us most of the time.  National health guidelines from organizations like the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend sports drinks over water for rehydration only after vigorous exercise lasting more than an hour.  And just to be clear — that’s not a 60 minute game where an athlete spends a portion of that time standing on the sidelines.  It’s 60 minutes of actually moving vigorously the whole time.  Otherwise, water is a better choice for rehydration.

We all get enough sugar, salt, and artificial colors in our diet — we don’t need to replenish any of these most of the time we train.  And we certainly do not need to consume sports drinks as a “healthier” alternative to soda.  They aren’t.  But, if Gatorade has its way, kids will be hearing a different story about sports drinks from sales reps –in their schools.

Gatorade has launched a campaign to provide “hydration education” in schools around the country.  These sessions are complete with speakers “educating” our kids about the products Gatorade provides to improve hydration when in reality, these programs are about marketing products to our student athletes in the school environment playing off the work educators have done to diligently establish trust in the quality of the information dispensed during the school day.

The question is, do we want for-profit companies coming into our schools to actively sell their products to our students when these same products not recommended for most of these athletes most of the time?  Where is the ethical line drawn here?

Need more information on Gatorade’s “education” plans or sports drink usage recommendations?  Click here, here, and here.

Tired is normal — chronic fatigue is not

Next week is the official kick off for Fall and the high school sports season is in full swing around here.  With the hustle and bustle that comes with school, practice, homework, games, and weekend tournaments, it wouldn’t be surprising if, in a couple of weeks, athletes everywhere are feeling run down and worn out.

Sleep plays a critical role in recovery but if you’re getting enough sleep and still do not feel like you have the energy you should, perhaps you should take a look at a very common problem, especially for athletes: anemia.

Anemia occurs when blood has a lower than normal number of red blood cells or (most commonly) the red blood cells do not contain enough hemoglobin.

Hemoglobin is a protein that allows the red blood cells to carry oxygen to the cells of the body.  Without enough hemoglobin in your blood, your cells do not get enough oxygen and therefore cannot create energy to fuel activity, resulting in excessive fatigue.

There are many ways to manage varying degrees of anemia but if you’ve ruled out sleep deficiency, bad dietary habits, and abnormally large amounts of stress as the culprit for your fatigue, it’s time to make an appointment with your medical provider and get your iron levels checked out.  With as many as 50% of our female athletes and 21% of our male athletes deficient in iron, low iron would not be unexpected reason for fatigue.  Your healthcare provider will be able to give you guidance on whether iron supplementation is right for you and how to improve your diet to ensure you are taking in appropriate amounts of iron through your diet.

In our busy day and age, so many of us are chronically tired is almost seems like tired is normal.  Tired is NOT normal.  Tired is a sign we are not taking care of ourselves in the ways our body required.  Rest, nutritious, whole foods, appropriate amounts of exercise and work should make us feel tired at the end of the day but not chronically fatigued.  If you’re feeling fatigue day after day, it’s time to get some help and figure out why your body’s needs are not being met.


Young Women at higher risk for Overuse Injuries

Overuse injuries occur when the same motion is performed repeatedly over time.  Some common overuse injuries are tendonitis, joint pain, and stress fractures.  Likelihood of experiencing this type of injury go up for athletes specializing in one sport at an early age and for those who do not follow a training cycle that allows for active recovery after competition season.

A new study from researchers at The OSU Wexner Medical Center have found girls participating in track, field hockey, and lacrosse were most likely to experience overuse injuries.  And while these might have the highest rates among the sports young women play, these are, by no means, the only sports to cause this type of injury.

Playing multiple sports, getting appropriate amounts of rest, good nutrition, and a well-rounded strength training program can go a long way to ensuring these nagging injuries do not occur in the first place.  While common sense says an athlete should be doing all of these things anyway, when schedules get busy and life gets hectic, most of the best preventative measures go out the window.

As we head into fall and our youth athletes head back to practice, keep common sense at the forefront of your training principles.  Rest, good nutrition, and a quick trip to the trainer if the athlete is feeling a slow, creeping injury coming on goes a long way to keeping these athletes in the game and having fun, not only for the season but for a lifetime.

But they’re so cute! — a hidden danger for some athletes

We all  know proper footwear is essential for performance but have you ever stopped to consider what your shoe choice during off-training times is doing to you?

If you’re a woman who likes high heels, you may want to give this some thought.  According to research, the number of injuries related to high heels has doubled in the years between 2003 and 2012.  Anyone who has ever donned a pair can attest to heels adding a new wrinkle to mobility in grass, on ice, broken sidewalks, and when trying to keep up with a fast walker in flats.  Everything from sprained ankles to stress fractures in the small bones of the feet are reasonably common place.

Additionally, while heels may, at first, act to strengthen the muscles stabilizing the ankles, after the body adapts to these demands, muscles do not gain addition strength.  During prolonged wear, the muscles of the calves and the achilles tendon can shorten while the muscles of the front of the shin lengthen and this imbalance can play a role in decreasing the muscular strength of the lower leg.

Even as I’m writing this, I don’t expect many of you heel wearers will change your mind about strapping on that perfect pair for an evening out!  With that in mind, and like everything else we do here, there are ways to limit your risk of injury and keep your feet and legs in great working order.  What do the experts recommend?

Stretch: we want to keep those calves and Achilles long and relaxed.

Strengthen: As I said above, while initially the muscles of the lower leg gain strength, unless you started wearing high heels for the first time two weeks ago, you’re probably out of the phase where just walking around in those heels is going to do much strengthening.  Calf raises, one legged stands, and ankle exercises done with a resistance band is a great place to start to keep your lower legs strong.

Limit your time in heels:  This is where your common sense comes in.  Don’t wear heels when you know you’re going to be standing and walking over a great deal of uneven or unstable ground.  And reconsider your choice if you know you’re going to be under a great deal of pressure to get from point A to point B as quick as possible.  If you do find yourself in those situations, make sure to pay more attention to where and how you’re walking.  Walking gait in heels becomes markedly less fluid than flat shoe walking, add instability or fatigue to the mix and you may find yourself sidelined from training for something as dumb as vanity.

No athlete I know wants to have to admit they can’t play because they fell off their shoes — Don’t be that athlete.  Like so many other aspects of your training, what you wear on your feet during your time away from training matters.

Knowledge gaps — are they hurting your performance?

When you show up at the weight room, do you know why you’re there?  I know you’re thinking, “to get stronger, duh!!”.  While that’s true, if you look a little deeper, do you know what you are trying to accomplish that particular day?  Are you there for endurance training, improving your explosive speed, training your body to switch between energy systems?  Are you in the maintenance phase of your training (meaning you’re maintaining your strength but not prioritizing the building of muscle since you are in the middle of your competition season)?  Or have you just finished up your season and have moved into the active recovery phase?

If you can’t answer these questions (and truthfully about 100 more), any positive results you get will be dumb luck.  And while we should take all the luck we can get, we shouldn’t rely on it as a staple of our training program.

You need a plan — every day.  The minute you hit the weights, you should understand not only what you’re doing that day but why you’re doing it.  This will focus you mentally and physically for shoring up your weaknesses and honing your strengths.  That is what athletics is really about, right?

Get a plan.  Train smart.  If you can’t, honestly, say why you’re doing what you’re doing, get some help from a professional that can guide you through the process of training through an entire athletic macrocycle.  And if you don’t know what a macrocycle is?  Email us right now and we will be glad to help you get started!

Added Sugars: soon to be appearing on a nutrition label near you?

Recently, the Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) proposed adding a Daily Value (maximum amount of consumption) to the already existing food labels.  Added sugars are those carbohydrates not naturally occurring in the foods we eat.  For example, in your Chobani Fruit on the Bottom yogurt, the current nutrition label may read 15 grams of sugars per serving.  It will not make the distinction between how many grams of sugar are naturally occurring as part of the blueberries and how many of those grams have been added, in the form of evaporated cane juice (a form of sugar).

The Daily Value (DV) proposed is no more than 10%, meaning no more than 10% of our daily calories should be coming from sugars added in to our other foods.  For a person eating 2000 calories per day, this means they should be eating no more than 200 calories in added sugars daily.  That’s 50 grams or 12 teaspoon. And if you’re really paying attention, that’s the amount in one 16 ounce soda. If you drink one soda per day, you should not have any fruit on the bottom yogurt, no spaghetti sauce, no ketchup, no balsamic vinaigrette, no other foods with added sugar because you’ve reaches your DV for Added Sugars.

Don’t drink soda?  Although Gatorade has fewer grams of added sugar per ounce, you still would only be able to drink 28 ounces (not even the whole 32 oz. container) of one Gatorade to stay under the proposed DV.

While you could argue many athletes in training need more than 2000 calories per day, the idea still holds we are eating a lot of Added Sugars and need to bring down our numbers.

I, for one, am looking forward to a nutrition label that makes me consider the amount of added sugar I’m consuming.  Those products adding more whole fruit and less juice flavored syrup are going to come out winners with consumers.  Athletes, especially, will have one more piece of nutrition information on which to improve their food choices.  There is really no good reason to choose added sugars over naturally occurring sugars that come bound up in fiber, vitamins, and minerals.  We will only become healthier as we decrease our added sugar intake.


What more can we do to keep our Football Athletes safe?

The American Orthopaedic Society of Sports Medicine recently published a study investigating how coaches with education in injury prevention impact the injury rates of the athletes under their care.  In the 2014 football season, players from Arizona, Indiana, Massachusetts, and South Carolina were divided up into three categories:

According to their respective websites:

Heads Up Football® is a comprehensive program developed by USA Football to advance player safety in the game of football.

Pop Warner Little Scholars, Inc. (PWLS) is a non-profit organization that provides youth football and cheer & dance programs for participants in 42 states and several countries around the world.

After comparing the injuries experienced by 2100+ athletes in this study, researchers found programs with no coach education program experience 7 times as many injuries as programs having instituted the Heads Up and Pop Warner programs in practice and 75% fewer injuries during games.

This research shows the powerful impact of a coaching staff’s education in the cutting edge science of athlete injury prevention both during practices and at game time.  One injured athlete is one too many, but when we can expect 3 million kids between the ages of 7 and 14 are going to be playing tackle football this fall.  Conservative estimates say 5% of those will end up with an injury before the end of their season.  That’s A LOT of injured kids!  It’s time to recognize the important role a coach plays in player safety and encourage our coaches to get the formal training that can help them perform to the highest level of their ability — especially where safety is concerned!