To treat injuries and nagging pain, it’s all about blood flow

I often get asked whether an athlete should ice or heat a minor injury or ache.  The simple answer is: it’s all about blood flow.

For example, if you’ve just sprained your ankle on the practice field, the treatment goal is to keep the swelling down.  That’s where ice and elevation come in.  Both of these treatments reduce the flow of blood to the injured area and keep fluid from pooling at the injury site.  This, in turn, reduced pain and allows the body to start to heal the damage done to the muscles.

For nagging, chronic aches, we aren’t worried about large amounts of swelling.  We want to have muscles able to stretch and contract smoothly — this is a job for heat.  Heat will reduce muscular tension and allow the muscle fibers to stretch and contract more effectively.

For those chronically achy areas that get inflamed after a workout, we may want to use heat before we start and ice after our workout.  Again, the goal is to manage blood flow — loosen things up before we start and reduce swelling once we are done.

And what if we opt to leave the swelling untreated?

Chronic swelling causes changes to the surrounding tissues making them less pliable and more rigid.  These are not changes we want to see!  On the other end of the spectrum, icing too long or with a pack that’s too cold  an cause damage to the skin in the form of frostbite.  Balance is the key, which is why the adage has been 20 minutes of icing each hour for the first 72 hours post injury.

Learning to balance ice and heat is a critical component to injury management.  We want some blood flow to the injury site because that blood contains the cells that will repair the damage but we don’t want too much blood rushing to the site because the fluid build up actually works to compress the blood vessels and nerves causing prolonged pain and impairing the body’s ability to heal.

Understanding and following through on appropriate injury management is the fastest way to maximize your healing process and get back to performance enhancing training!


You want to be in this 2%

According to research, only 2% of Americans are getting enough potassium.  Why does that matter to you? Potassium:

1. helps to build muscles,
2. balances fluid and electrolytes in the body
3. controls the electrical activity of the heart
4. regulates blood pressure

All of these are important for the general public but even more so for athletes!

And, it’s not tricky to make sure you are getting the levels you need from the foods you eat.  According to WebMD, high levels of potassium can be found in these foods, as well as many others:

  • Winter squash, cubed, 1 cup, cooked: 896 mg
  • Sweet potato, medium, baked with skin: 694 mg
  • Potato, medium, baked with skin: 610 mg
  • White beans, canned, drained, half cup: 595 mg
  • Yogurt, fat-free, 1 cup: 579 mg
  • Halibut, 3 ounces, cooked: 490 mg
  • 100% orange juice, 8 ounces: 496 mg
  • Broccoli, 1 cup, cooked: 457 mg
  • Cantaloupe, cubed, 1 cup: 431 mg
  • Banana, 1 medium: 422 mg

Ask most of our grandmas and they will tell you bananas are a great source of potassium but you can see from the list, there are many foods packing an even greater potassium punch!  And, while you could get your levels up by using a supplement, these foods all come packed with fiber and additional vitamins and minerals that are easy to absorb and easy on the wallet!

If you want to be better than average, this is a great place to start!  Be one of the 2% of Americans ensuring you get enough of this important mineral in your diet!

(ht: Fooducate!)

4 Tips for More Effective Recovery!

This is a repost from last year but for those 1200+ Run Campers who up-ed their miles this year and for everyone else who decided this was the year they would start or re-start their athletic journey — it’s important to understand how critical intentional recovery is to improving your performance! Here are some tips to make sure you are recovering properly:

1. Water

Obviously, water plays a huge role in recovery.  The body needs plenty of water to flush out the lactic acid and other waste products of metabolism.  Although it’s likely the runners won’t be heading out for a long run today, hydration needs still need to be met to provide the optimal internal environment for recovery.

2. Nutrition

For most recreational athletes, just eating a healthy diet of fruits, veggies, whole grains, and lean meats is going to be enough to meet all of the nutrition requirements to rebuild and repair after your event.  Extra protein powders, recovery shakes, and those sorts of products (products as opposed to foods) really aren’t necessary if your are making it a priority to eat well-balanced meals and snacks.

3. Don’t stop moving

Keeping the blood flowing is a good thing.  Walking, swimming, or biking is a great way to keep the blood circulation while recovering. Blood flow brings nutrients to the cells which speeds cell repair and will help ease muscle soreness.  Yoga is another great way to make sure you are lengthening those muscles, increasing your blood flow, and staying strong while you recover.  If you don’t have access to a class close to you, try YouTube.  There are lots of videos to chose from but this one is one of my favorites for recovery.

Can’t see the video?  Click here!

And the most underutilized tool for recovery?  We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again:

4. Foam rolling

Can’t see the video?  Click here!

Foam rolling is another way to gently get the blood flowing and break down knots in the muscles.  Knots can form when the damaged muscle fibers clump together in an unorganized pattern.  Foam rolling along the length of the muscle causes the body to reabsorb the fibers not oriented inline with the muscle fibers. This produces a healthier, higher functioning, less painful muscle.

Just remember, as you’re rolling, it will likely be uncomfortable but should not be painful.  This is a gentle process where it is better to take it slow and repeat multiple times a day rather than trying to crush those knots out in one intense session.

Borgess Athletic Performance wishes all the Borgess Run for the Health of It/Kalamazoo Marathon athletes a quick recovery!  We look forward to seeing you back out on the streets soon but for now, enjoy your rest — you’ve earned it!!

Going Pro

What does it mean to go pro?

To be a professional means to organize your life (and finances) around around a chosen set of job skills.  For pro athletes, that means their education, training, nutrition, the way they approach their health, and their everyday activities and behaviors play an important role in their success in their chosen career path.  It’s what they focus on for the greatest number of hours in a day.

The same holds true for other professionals: teachers, accountants, artists, writers, and even performance coaches.

Now let’s be honest – I can do math. I can balance my checkbook.

If I had to I could do my own taxes — but it takes me a lot longer and I wouldn’t feel as confident about the outcome because I am NOT a CPA.  The tax code in no way plays even a medium size role in my day to day life.  I spend lots of hours reading, talking, and practicing my coaching abilities but it’s likely I average less than 5 minutes a day thinking about how my behavior will impact my tax burden.  I am a professional coach and I recognize the need for a professional accountant in my life.

My question to you is: are you expecting yourself to get the results of a professional performance coach while putting in the same amount of education, training, discussion, and practice I do with my accounting skills?

Although you won’t face the financial penalties I would if I screwed up my taxes, I can safely say you won’t get the same results from your training as if you were under the care of a professional, either.

Want an example?

You may know that the quads need to be stronger than the hamstrings for your legs to function optimally.  You may even know that the optimal ratio for quad strength to hamstring strength is roughly 1 to .65-.75.  This means your hamstrings are about 65-75% as strong as your quads.

But did you know that shoulder mechanics are affected by the speed with which the glenohumeral joint and the scapulothorasic joint coordinate their movement? If this movement pattern is off, an athlete could potentially ”cheat” when trying to complete a back squat by adding additional lumbar extension –putting his or her back into a compromised position?  If you’re like most athletes, this is a nuance to human anatomy that has escaped you until now.

As performance coach professional Michael Boyle says “It’s amazing what you learn when you listen and think.”  The question then becomes, do you want to results of a person that listens and thinks a little on matters of athletic performance?  Or do you want the results that come from engaging a person whose sole job it is to be an expert on athletic performance?

5 Questions Athletes should ask Themselves at the End of Each Day

Reflection and review are important to any successful training program.  You have to have an accurate sense of your training status because we all know, just going through the motions is not the pathway to success.

Like a great training program itself, you will be more effective in your analysis  if you use a systematic approach to reviewing your program.  This means a system of questions and a systematic time of day to ensure the review gets done completely and thoroughly….daily.  When done daily, you can be nimble and responsive as your training needs change.

Here are 5 questions every athlete should be asking themselves every day to make sure they are doing their best for themselves and their team.

1. Did I do my best?

This is a yes or no question.  Sometimes, we get so caught up in justifying why we didn’t do our best, we forget to acknowledge we just didn’t give it our all.  I’m not asking you to beat yourself up — I’m asking for honesty.  If you didn’t give it your all, you have room for improvement tomorrow.  At this point, reasons do not matter.

2. How do I feel?

This addresses your physical and mental sense of well-being.  Athletes are encouraged to push through the discomfort during training and competition.  However, you need to make some time to assess your aches and pains.  Are you feeling the beginnings of an injury in the making?  If you never take time to listen to the quiet signals of what your body is telling you, the signals will get louder and louder until you’re dealing with an injury that sidelines you.

The same set of assessment skills needs to be applied to your mental state.  All of us get burned out on training from time to time but if you start to notice burnout taking a solid hold of your mental state, it’s time to address the cause and take action to alleviate it.  Action could be something as simple as making sure you get extra sleep for the next day or too —  or as complicated as needing to revising your training schedule to give yourself some deep recovery.  Either way, your performance will suffer if you don’t address the issue.

3. How stressed out am I?

Competing priorities add stress exponentially.  Although we are used to handling a certain amount of stress, sometimes levels get out of control and end up taking a toll on our bodies.  Stress reduces blood flow and increases blood pressure –both of which can impede healing.  Stress can cause tight muscles, extra fatigue, and lack of concentration.  All of these not only make us less effective athletes but also increase our risk of getting hurt!  So pay attention to your stress levels!

4. How did I treat my teammates and coaches?

Even if you compete in an individual sport, you still have a team that supports you.  Whether it’s the people you train with, your coaches and trainers, or, in the case of recreational athletes, your family and coworkers.  How you treat them matters!  One of the greatest skills an athlete can bring to the table is the ability to set aside all non-essential details in pursuit of a goal.  Your team IS essential but it’s easy to forget just much of a role your team plays in your success.  You don’t want to treat them poorly — you need their support!

5. What do I need to change for tomorrow?

Once you’ve gleaned the data of your day through asking yourself these questions, what are you going to do with it?  The only way you’ll improve your athletic outcome is to act on the information you’ve discovered.  Based on what you’ve learned, what needs to change tomorrow for you to be able to answer question #1 with a resounding yes and no “yeah but’s”?

Experiencing Hip Pain?

Play sports long enough and you’re going to experience some pain.  Hopefully, with the right diagnosis and treatment, the time you spend away from your sport will be short but what happens if a nagging injury persists?  According to a recent report, this can be a common situation with hip pain.

The first thing to realize with hip pain is although you probably don’t spend a lot of time thinking about your hips (unless they are causing you pain), the joint and structure supporting it is amazingly complicated.  Think about how much range of motion the joint is designed to provide.  Add to that the amazing amount of force that can be transferred through the joint (running causes impact forces of 2-3 times your body weight!).  To get both strong and flexible means there’s a lot going on in this joint.  When someone is experiencing hip pain, the source could be as near as the joint structure itself, as distant as the back or could be sourced any place in between.

One often misdiagnosed issue is hip impingement.  This results from the ball or socket of this joint being out of round and impeding the movement of the joint.  Under many conditions, this abnormal movement can lead to a tear in the labrum (the rim of cartilage around the edge of the socket that helps keep the ball in socket).  This tear then causes pain in portions of the hip range of motion and, often, is initially diagnosed as a groin pull.

One tell-tale sign that it is something other than a groin pull is if the pain seems to persist even after taking the standard muscle pull precautions of ice, rest, massage, easy movement and gentle stretching.  If left untreated, this injury could potentially lead to arthritis development within the joint.  Treatment often consists physical therapy or perhaps, a minimally invasive surgery.

As with everything else, the real key is to make sure the muscles surrounding your hips are as strong as possible making it less likely that an injury will occur in the first place.  However, if you’re experiencing hip pain that last more than a couple of days, it may be time to visit your trainer, physical therapist, or orthopedist to make sure you’re doing everything possible to get those hips pain-free and healing correctly.

What’s your Best By date really telling you?

So you’re a busy athlete with a full training schedule and a life on top of that.  Add to that your desire to eat more whole foods (which necessitates shopping and cooking) and the occasional stress of having a fridge full of food about to go bad.  Not a recipe for stress-free living, right?  Maybe this can help.

The general thought is that many whole foods are expensive to purchase but often, the largest part of that expense is the food waste that comes with having to throw out food about to go bad!  (to the tune of 33 pounds of food waste per person per month!) Ultimately, whole foods are a great investment in your body’s health and performance but not if that food starts to go bad before you have a chance to use it or figure out how to store it for later.

That’s where Eat By Date comes in.  The website states:

It may come as a shock, but printed food dates are not federally regulated and do not refer to food safety. Thus, it is usually safe to eat your “expired” food after its printed date has passed.  Getting to the bottom of whether a food is okay it eat is as easy as clicking over to their website and searching for the food or browsing the food categories.

The articles for each food are filled with tips to determine when something is getting ready to go bad and tips on what you can to do save that food before it has to go in the garbage.

If you’re committed to improving your nutritional profile through eating more real food, it’s worth the time investment to improve your understanding of the foods your buying.  This is a an easy to use website designed to do just that!

Training to Change the World

Hey – all you endurance athletes — Here’s a cool app that let’s you train and improve your world!

Charity Miles, started in 2013, rounds up corporate sponsors willing to donate to great causes, all in the name of publicity.  You and I can harness this power-for-the-good next time we head outside or to the gym to train.  These sponsors are willing to pay $.25/mile for walking and running and $.10 for each biking mile you log, to a charity of your choice, while the app is running!

The app uses your phone’s GPS and accelerometer to calculate your mileage and shows you the amount you’ve raised for your charity of choice during each workout.  And speaking of charities — there are plenty to choose from:

  • Girls on the Run
  • Wounded Warrior
  • Standup to Cancer
  • Feeding America
  • World Wildlife Fund

and 27 more…. so lots of options!

The only downsides to this app seem to be getting into the habit of turning it on before you start to workout out and that the use of the GPS adds some battery drain to your device.

On the upside, it’s available for both Apple and Android devices, it’s easy to download and set up, and with every session, you hard work is paying off not just for your performance but also for the charity of your choice!

Want to know more?  Get the FAQs!



Injury Prevention — how are the pros doing it?

For any athlete, the key to a long athletic career (even if it’s only ever your hobby), is to stay healthy and injury-free.  You may think with all the great advances in medical options, minimally invasive surgeries, and physical therapy techniques prevention is not as important as it once was.

Not true!  And to prove my point, let’s look at a company just names one of the Top 50 Most Innovative Companies by Fast Company: Catapult Sports.

Catapult is selling a specially design wearable gadget to elite Teams like the New York Knicks, Orlando Magic, and Baylor University that can measure, according to the company, heart rate, speed, distance traveled, player load, and acceleration and deceleration force.  This information is then processed into usable data to help coaches make informed decisions about practice schedules, recovery needs, and rest states of their athletes — all in an effort to keep those players healthy and injury-free.

I know most of you are not playing to this level…yet…but if you have aspirations of taking your performance to the next level, you need to make injury prevention a priority just like those who manage the pros!

This means making use of the data tracking available to you right now.  Are you monitoring your sleep to understand and ensure proper rest and recovery?  Monitoring your daily activity, as well as, the efforts your putting into training?  Are you logging your nutrient intake — and then taking the next step of pulling all of that data together to make sure the 22 hours a day you aren’t actively training are still inline and supporting your training goals?

You may not be able to afford the Catapult system but there are any number of wearable devices that will help you collect and analyze all of this data.  From FitBit to Garmin to Jawbone, depending on what you really want to monitor, there are options available in many price ranges.

Don’t lose out on getting the edge you need because your not taking care of yourself.  Injury prevention is key to athletic performance and knowing how your training is effecting your body is key to staying injury-free.

Maximalist Shoes….really?

We’ve officially come full circle.  From the minimalist shoe movement of the recent past, the pendulum has now swung to the opposite end of the arc with the advent of ……wait for it….. that’s right — the maximalist shoe.

As the name implies, these shoes can have up to 2.5X the volume in the sole as traditional running shoes.  This creates a really tall, highly cushioned shoe designed to give maximum cushioning while still providing rebound to help speed you along.

But before this trend follows it’s natural course and those of us left disillusioned with the minimalist shoe revolution jump on this new, much softer, bandwagon, let’s take a minute to think about this little piece of advice:

“To me, maximalist shoes fall right in the line of every other shoe trend,” she said. “There’s some good reasoning, but we don’t know enough about how it affects the body longer term, and we won’t know until everyone has been using it a while and all the other research comes out about how it destroys your body or whatever, and then there’s a lawsuit, and then there’s a campaign about how to use the technology properly, and then in the midst of all this confusion the next trend takes off. There is no shoe savior coming for us.”  –Lauren Fleshman

I think that quote says it all.  Many of the injuries athletes suffer happen over the long term.  Short duration studies may give you the mechanics of what a new shoe can do but it isn’t going to tell you how this action is going to effect the body when repeated over hundreds of thousands of strides.

There isn’t a shoe out there that’s going to be able to take an average runner and make them great.  A shoe is a tool — no more and no less.  While a shoe can provide protection and comfort, it can’t completely compensate for every biomechanical peculiarity of an athlete.  Shoes may play a part but so will training volumes, strength, and movement patterns.

So before you get caught up in this new trend, take a moment to examine what your expectations for these shoes really are.  I suspect most of us are better off staying away from either end of the shoe sole spectrum and, instead, focusing the financial resources we save on additional coaching and guidance to help us maximize our strength and running efficiency.

HT: Jay Dicharry an athlete’s body