Runners Connect http://runnersconnect.net Wed, 01 Oct 2014 12:35:43 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 How to Return to Running after the Flu or a Fever http://runnersconnect.net/running-injury-prevention/how-to-return-to-running-after-the-flu-or-a-fever/ http://runnersconnect.net/running-injury-prevention/how-to-return-to-running-after-the-flu-or-a-fever/#comments Mon, 29 Sep 2014 10:00:13 +0000 http://runnersconnect.net/?p=11168 A while back, we looked at some research on whether or not running while you have a mild illness, like a cold, has any detrimental effect on your recovery.

As it turns out, the research says no: moderate exercise, like easy running, has no impact on the duration or severity of symptoms from a mild upper-respiratory infection.

But what about more significant illnesses?

Obviously, you’re not going to get out and run normally when you’re laid up in bed with a fever and an unruly stomach, but what about after you’re over the worst of the flu?

Do you need to be more careful when returning to running, or can you you ramp back up to full training right away?

Returning to Running After Flu and Fever

There isn’t much direct research into this topic—although intentionally infecting willing volunteers with the common cold for the sake of research can pass muster with a university’s scientific ethics board, using influenza or another serious viral or bacterial infection treads into the ethically-questionable zone.

And given that more significant infections can take abrupt turns for the worse, it’s also not tenable to actively encourage people who’ve contracted these infections naturally to exercise for a scientific study.

What’s left is animal studies, along with observational papers and retrospective studies on the few hard-headed individuals (most often young men) who undertake vigorous exercise despite suffering from an infection.

Effects of exercise after being sick

The effects of exercise on the course of a significant viral or bacterial infection are unclear. The only study I could find which directly addressed this issue was a 2005 paper by three researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and The Ohio State University.

This study looked at the impact of moderate exercise, prolonged exercise, or no exercise on the course of an influenza virus infection in mice. The mice were injected with influenza virus, then induced to exercise on a treadmill either for 20-30 min per day or 2.5 hours per day for the next four days.

The course of the viral infection was compared among the exercising mice and a control group which did no exercise. The severity and lethality of the influenza infection in the mice broadly mimicked the immune response seen in human athletes in other studies.

The moderately-exercising mice had improved survival rates and less severe infections when compared to the control group, while the mice who did prolonged exercise had a marginally lower survival rate and significantly worse symptoms.

Heat management

Another well-documented impact of infections is their ability to interfere with your body’s internal heat management.

A healthy athlete is astoundingly good at tolerating exercise even in oppressive heat: by increasing perceived fatigue, the brain is able to limit heat buildup in the body during a long session of exercise in hot weather, which usually makes running or racing in the heat a very safe, though perhaps unpleasant, proposition.

But when you’ve recently had a significant viral or bacterial infection, your risk for serious heat illness rises markedly.

A 2007 review of 994 cases of heat stroke hospitalization in the US Army concluded that “prior infection is a risk factor for heat illness,” and Tim Noakes cites other research which supports the same conclusion in his 2012 book, Waterlogged.

So, what should your plan be if you come down with a significant illness like the flu?

Doctors Göran Friman and Lars Wesslén of Uppsala University Hospital in Sweden authored a 2000 article which provided guidelines for exercise and illness in sick athletes.

  • In the case of a fever over 100° F, Friman and Wesslén recommend complete rest until the fever subsides.
  • They also recommend that athletes use caution in the first three days of an illness (even when fever is absent), because even quite significant infections can appear mild for the first day or two. Your takeaway – once completely better, run easy and short for at least 3 days
  • Friman and Wesslén also advise being cautious with exercise in the week following a bacterial infection treated with antibiotics. Once your symptoms clear up, you should be cleared to ease back into training, but don’t jump into hard workouts or racing just yet. Your takeaway – wait at least a week before resuming hard workouts after a fever or the flu.

Takeaway message

Keep in mind, a recent illness predisposes you to developing heat illness, and fast running is by far the most significant causal factor for heat stroke in runners.

Even cool weather isn’t a guarantee of safety—Dr. William Roberts, the long-time medical director for the Twin Cities Marathon, reported a case of heatstroke in a well-trained marathoner on a cool 50° F day in Minneapolis.

The runner had suffered a viral infection in the days leading up to the race but decided to run anyways: the decision landed him in the hospital for five days with a core body temperature of over 105° F.

Don’t make the same mistake as him!

Do not do a hard, continuous run, or race until you’ve been fully recovered for at least a week from a significant viral or bacterial infection, especially if it included a fever.

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The Effects of High-Altitude Training on Running Performance http://runnersconnect.net/running-training-articles/high-altitude-training-running-performance/ http://runnersconnect.net/running-training-articles/high-altitude-training-running-performance/#comments Thu, 25 Sep 2014 10:00:28 +0000 http://runnersconnect.net/?p=11274 You’ve probably heard of pro runners heading to high-altitude training camps for several weeks, sleeping in “altitude tents” at night, or even installing a whole-house altitude simulation system to get an extra boost in fitness.

Elite runners go up to altitude to get ready to run fast, but if you’ve ever been to high altitude, you’ll know that running there is slow going, at least at first.

The beneficial effects of altitude training take weeks or even months to manifest, so they aren’t really relevant to most runners. After all, who’s got the time to take a 12-week sojourn to Flagstaff?

On the other hand, the negative effects of altitude are relevant to a lot more people.

A lot of runners take vacations, run races, or visit family at cities and towns at substantial elevations above sea level.

At what point does altitude start to take its toll on running performance, and how big of a drop in performance should you expect for a given elevation?

Performance and elevation

The announcement of Mexico City, elevation 7,300 feet, as the host of the 1968 Olympic Games kick-started a swell of research into the short-term and long-term effects of altitude on exercise and human performance, which continues to this day. So fortunately, the scientific literature is fairly well-equipped to answer our questions.

Altitude and edurance

According to a 2008 review article by Bärtsch and Saltin, the effects of altitude on endurance performance can be observed at elevations as low as 2,000 feet above sea level. The first impediment to endurance performance at modest altitudes like this is a drop in the oxygen content of your blood.

Because of the reduced air pressure at higher altitudes, oxygen diffuses into your red blood cells more slowly.

This means that your blood passes through your lungs without being completely recharged with oxygen from the air. This drop in blood oxygenation corresponds with a drop in VO2 max, a direct measurement of the oxygen absorbed by your body during exercise.

It’s important to note that a drop in VO2 max doesn’t always correspond to an equal drop in actual running performance. As noted by running coach and physiology researcher Jack Daniels, the decrease in air resistance in the thinner air at higher elevations slightly counteracts the endurance-hampering lack of oxygen.

This is most relevant when running fast. Indeed, sprint times in the 100m or the 200m are significantly faster at altitude, and are disallowed for record-keeping purposes.

But for long distance races and training runs, which are run at much slower speeds, the oxygen-deprivation of high altitude dominates, slowing you down.

Daniels also reports that, in his coaching and research experience, most runners do not notice the effects of altitude until about 3,000 feet above sea level.

VO2 max and altitude

Altitude also has a predictable effect on performance as the elevation increases. A 2005 study by Jon Peter Wehrlin and Jostein Hallén examined the effects of six different simulated altitudes ranging from 1,000 to 9,200 feet above sea level on running performance.

The researchers had eight endurance athletes undergo VO2 max testing in an altitude chamber in their laboratory on several different occasions and plotted the drop in oxygen absorption during each treadmill test.

Wehrlin and Hallén found that increases in altitude had a predictable, linear effect on oxygen consumption and exercise performance.

For every thousand feet of elevation increase above 1,000 feet above sea level, VO2 max max dropped by 1.9%.

Additionally, time to exhaustion on a constant-speed treadmill run decreased by 4.4% per 1,000 feet of altitude.

These values were quite close to the results gleaned from similar previous studies, though the authors noted that there is some variability (to the tune of about 1% change in VO2 max per 1,000 feet elevation gain) in individual tolerance to high altitude.

This means that two equally-fit runners could have wildly different results if they both ran the Bolder Boulder 10k, a storied road race in Boulder, Colorado, elevation 5,300 feet.

If you’re a lowlander taking a trip to a high- or moderate-altitude city, the thin air will undoubtedly affect your running while you’re there.

If we approximate a drop in VO2 max as a direct drop in running ability (which is not strictly true, but will work as an estimate), an eight-minute mile becomes an 8:45 mile at 5,000 feet above sea level.

Conclusion

  • If you’re at altitude for several days, the effects will be lessened as your body adapts, but you still need to acknowledge that you won’t be able to claw your way back towards your sea level paces until you’ve had time to adapt.
  • You should also be aware that you’ll be slowed even at more moderate altitudes of 3,000-4,000 feet above sea level. Unfortunately, as an endurance athlete, the performance-hampering effects of moderate altitude are more sharply-felt when compared to sedentary people.
  • Finally, if you are traveling to very high altitudes (above 8,000 feet), Bärtsch and Saltin caution that you should take a few days to rest before you ease into running again; they also note that altitude sickness becomes a risk at this elevation as well.

Need help planning how to best race or utilize a training trip to altitude? Check out our complimentary guide on altitude training for sea level runners.

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How Fatigue, Illness, and Overtraining Impact Your Resting Heart Rate (and Whether You Can Use this Information to Train Smarter) http://runnersconnect.net/running-injury-prevention/overtraining-resting-heart-rate/ http://runnersconnect.net/running-injury-prevention/overtraining-resting-heart-rate/#comments Mon, 22 Sep 2014 10:00:01 +0000 http://runnersconnect.net/?p=11311 When I was in high school, my cross country coach issued us custom-made running logs. Each page had four columns: date, workout & comments, hours of sleep, and resting heart rate.

These first three columns are all good things to track, but what about resting heart rate?

My coach believed that checking your resting heart rate every day when you wake up in the morning could alert you if you were overtraining or beginning to get sick.

Was he right?

Sheepishly, I have to admit I was never diligent enough to actually track my resting heart rate every day. I’d check it every now and then, so I’d have a ballpark of what was “normal” for me, and my resting heart rate definitely rose—sometimes increasing by 70-100%—while I was sick. Intuitively, this makes some sense, as illness puts more stress on your body.

Unfortunately, when it comes to illness and resting heart rate, there’s very little in the way of scientific research.

Online sources like WebMD and the American Heart Association assert that being sick does indeed raise your resting heart rate, but there’s no hard data that I can find on how reliable this is, whether the magnitude of the increase in heart rate is related to the severity of the illness, or whether resting heart rate spikes before the onset of other symptoms.

Fortunately, with the advent of cheap, wearable heart rate monitors, a study investigating these questions shouldn’t be too hard to conduct. If you’re a doctor or researcher, here’s your chance to get published!

However, the research on resting heart rate and overtraining is a different story.

In this article, we’ll examine what the research says and whether you can use this information to train smarter.

Overtraining and resting heart rate

In a healthy runner, the body responds positively to a new stress in training, like increasing your mileage or going further on your long run. But if you’re in a state of overtraining, or “overreaching,” its less-severe cousin, your body rebels against the training stimulus and you feel listless, abnormally sore, irritable, and fatigued.

Additionally, you may have trouble sleeping, and your workouts and races will go poorly.

Since overtraining is difficult to observe in a controlled fashion when it “naturally” occurs (i.e. when athletes unintentionally overdo it by training too hard), most studies instead intentionally induce overtraining by having a small group of athletes vastly increase their training load over a short period of time.

In many cases, this reliably induces the same symptoms as unintentional overtraining.

One such study by Asker Jeukendrup and other researchers at the University of Limburg in The Netherlands observed seven male cyclists who upped their normal training intensity for a two-week block. Among other things, Jeukendrup et al. measured the athletes’ heart rate while they slept at night.

After the two-week jump in training, all of the athletes were fatigued and performed worse in a time trial when compared to the testing done at the study’s outset. Additionally, sleeping heart rate increased from an average of 49 beats per minute to 54.

In contrast, a similar study of distance runners came to a different conclusion.

Verde, Thomas, and Shephard of the University of Toronto in Canada studied 10 runners with an average 10k PR of 31:04 who undertook a 40% jump in training over a three-week period. Six of the 10 runners reported sustained fatigue during the increased training block, and two suffered upper respiratory infections.

There was a very small and statistically insignificant trend towards higher resting heart rates during the period of heavy training, and a similar (though also non-significant) drop during the recovery period after the three-week block, but the authors noted that the magnitude of the change—less than two beats per minute, from about 51 to 53 beats per minute—was far too small to be a useful measurement for athletes in the real world.

Sleeping heart rate fluctuations

A 2003 review article by Juul Achten and Asker Jeukendrup (lead author of the first study we examined) cited four other scientific studies which found no correlation between overtraining and increased resting heart rate.

They did, however, cite one additional study which found an increase in sleeping heart rate to be associated with overtraining.

Achten and Jeukendrup hypothesize that heart rate during sleep is a more reliable marker of your body’s recovery state.

Resting heart rate can jump up or down by several beats per minute for any number of reasons, and nighttime heart rate measurements can be measured and averaged over much longer durations than the typical 30 seconds or one minute that it takes to measure resting heart rate.

Conclusion

The research suggests that by itself, your resting heart rate is likely not all that useful of a measurement.

If you are worried about overtraining, it’s probably better to pay close attention to things like your fatigue level, workout times, and sleep quality.

If these start going poorly, you should watch out, regardless of what your resting heart rate is doing.

When it comes to illness, the jury’s still out—there’s no good research on resting or sleeping heart rate when you’re sick with a cold or the flu.

It will probably go up when you get sick, but it’s not clear by how much, and whether heart rate spikes before or after other symptoms of illness appear.

More research is also needed on the value of sleeping heart rate—is it a more reliable and sensitive predictor of overtraining or illness?

Perhaps in the not-too-distant future, you could wear a small sensor to bed that would automatically log your overnight heart rate data to your smartphone and alert you if anything changes. But until then, don’t sweat small changes in resting heart rate, absent other symptoms of overtraining or illness.

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The Research on the Effectiveness of Foam Rolling http://runnersconnect.net/running-injury-prevention/research-effectiveness-foam-rolling/ http://runnersconnect.net/running-injury-prevention/research-effectiveness-foam-rolling/#comments Thu, 18 Sep 2014 10:00:25 +0000 http://runnersconnect.net/?p=11323 Earlier this week we published an article on the 4 common mistakes runners make when using the foam roller. In that article, we simply brushed over the idea that foam rolling works.

Of course, we got a lot of emails from savvy readers like you that wanted to see the proof.

And we appreciate it! After all, we’re not about fluff here at RunnersConnect and we want to substantiate every piece of advice we give you.

Since foam rolling is so new, there hasn’t been much research published on it until recently. But with several studies coming out in the last two years, it’s now possible to learn more about what foam rolling can do for your running.

The Science of Foam Rolling for Recovery

A study published this year in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise sought to find out whether foam rolling can reduce soreness and boost recovery by investigating the impact of a foam rolling program on post-exercise soreness following a series of squats.

In the study, twenty men with weight lifting experience were split into two groups. Both groups underwent a very fatiguing squat protocol, which consisted of ten sets of ten back squats at 60% of one-rep squat maximum. After the initial bout of squats, both groups were evaluated for their soreness level, quad and hamstring range of motion, performance on a vertical leap test, and a variety of measurements of muscle electrical activity. These measurements were repeated one, two, and three days after the squat protocol as well.

After the initial post-squat soreness and range of motion tests, half the men did a five-exercise foam rolling routine targeting the muscle groups in the thigh, while the other half did no additional exercise.

In the foam rolling routine, each muscle group was rolled twice for sixty second on each leg, for a total of about twenty minutes of foam rolling. This foam rolling routine was repeated after the one- and two-day post-exercise evaluations as well.

Designing the experiment this way ensured that the study did not merely identify a short-lived effect of foam rolling: for a difference in soreness or range of motion to be detected, it would have to be the result of the previous day’s foam rolling routine.

In the results, foam rolling had a statistically significant impact on three important measurements when compared to the control group.

  • First, it reduced muscle soreness one, two, and three days after the squat routine.
  • Foam rolling also resulted in a small but statistically significant increase in quadriceps range of motion.
  • Finally, it led to better performance in a vertical leap test.

While it’s hard to apply these results too directly to running, it does look like good news: less soreness and better performance on a vertical leap test both suggest that foam rolling can give your recovery a potent boost, and allow you to run better in subsequent workouts.

And improvements in range of motion could open up new possibilities for treating and preventing injuries, which often are associated with poor range of motion in a particular muscle group.

Foam rolling and range of motion

The range of motion issue was investigated more directly in a study published last year by Graham MacDonald and other researchers at Memorial University of Newfoundland in Canada.

This study looked at the “acute” effects of foam rolling—the immediate benefits you get within a few minutes of finishing a foam rolling routine. To do so, they evaluated the range of motion and maximum strength of the quadriceps muscle in eleven men before and after two sets of one minute of a foam rolling exercise which targeted the quads.

Like the previous study, foam rolling had a small but noticeable impact on range of motion.

  • After only two minutes of foam rolling, quadriceps range of motion increased by ten degrees, but less than one degree after a control trial of two minutes’ rest.
  • Moreover, the increase in range of motion persisted for at least ten minutes after the foam rolling; the study participants still had nearly nine degrees more motion at their knee joint after foam rolling, versus only one and a half degrees after rest.

Ongoing research

Still, there’s a lack of scientific evidence on foam rolling for runners specifically. Undoubtedly, lifting weights is very different than doing a hard 10k on a hilly course.

Can foam rolling help in these kinds of situations too?

That’s the topic of research currently underway at the University of Minnesota. A study led by Emma Lee, a graduate student in kinesiology, is examining whether foam rolling can boost recovery after a session of downhill running.

Downhill running is a form of eccentric exercise, which is where muscle fibers lengthen and contract at the same time, and has been shown to cause soreness and impair running economy,” she says.

Lee’s study aims to uncover whether a one-time session of intense foam rolling after a downhill run will have a detectable effect on running economy and performance in a 3k time trial. If it does, this study will further cement foam rolling as an invaluable recovery tool after a hard workout, long run, or a race.

Why foam rolling works

The underlying biology of foam rolling is not yet clear—what’s the mechanism by which foam rolling decreases soreness, boosts recovery, and increases range of motion?

According to Lee, manipulating connective tissue may be the key to foam rolling’s success.

Eccentric exercise damages connective tissue, which stimulates pain receptors and inhibits muscle activation,” she explains. Using a foam roller might help repair damage to your connective tissue, thereby decreasing soreness and preventing a drop in performance after a hard workout—a hypothesis also forwarded by MacDonald et al.

However, more work needs to be done to confirm this theory.

Conclusion (and tips for foam rolling)

Our knowledge on foam rolling is still in its infancy, but there are still some useful tips to be gained from the research done so far.

  • Foam rolling is a fairly effective way to increase a muscle’s range of motion in the short term and decrease soreness when done daily. Current research supports rolling for two one-minute segments per muscle group every day following a tough workout or a hard race.
  • There also appear to be some benefit to using a dense foam roller: MacDonald et al. cite research which proposes that a hard foam roller, made by wrapping a thin layer of foam over a solid PVC pipe, is more effective at manipulating connective tissue than a softer all-foam roller, but it’s unclear what firmness is ideal, and whether a roller can be too hard.

There’s sure to be more research published in the next few years, but so far, foam rolling looks like a cheap, easy, and very promising recovery method.

Also, as a reminder, Lisa Hamilton and I will be conducting a free 30 minute webinar on Foam Rolling (followed by an unlimited Q&A) on the evening of September 22nd at 8pm EST.

If you want to learn more about the right way to foam roll, how to avoid the common pitfalls, foam rolling for specific injuries and more, join us for our FREE webinar by clicking here.

Even if you can’t join us live, signup to get the webiar replay and some exclusive free content we have planned.

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The 4 Mistakes You’re Making When Foam Rolling (and How to Fix Them) http://runnersconnect.net/running-injury-prevention/foam-rolling-for-runners-mistakes/ http://runnersconnect.net/running-injury-prevention/foam-rolling-for-runners-mistakes/#comments Mon, 15 Sep 2014 10:00:49 +0000 http://runnersconnect.net/?p=11301 I can still remember a time when foam rollers were the latest novelty in training rooms across the country. Using one in public usually got you quite a few stares.

Nowadays, foam rollers can be found almost everywhere you look – gyms, physical therapy clinics and on the living room floors of most runners I know.

And that’s great because, unlike many training fads, foam rollers actually work!

Plus, as they become more ubiquitous, new runners are introduced to the awesomeness of foam rollers every day.

However, just like any other effective training or recovery tool, it is possible to use foam rollers in the wrong way.

In this article, we’re going to look at exactly how foam rollers work so you can understand the mechanism and physiology behind the tool for better results. Then I am going to show you four of the most common mistakes runners make when using the foam roller (and how to fix them).

How Foam Rolling Works

Let’s start with a lesson in fascia

fascia-runnersRunning causes your muscles to go through a constant process of breakdown and repair.

Over time this causes the muscles to become tight when the fascia, the connective tissue that surrounds the muscles, starts to thicken and shorten to protect the underlying muscle from further damage.

Sometimes the fibers and fascia contract so much they form trigger points, which manifest as sore spots needing to be released.

Fascia also has the ability to contract independently of the muscles it surrounds. It responds to stress without your conscious command.

That is a problem.

Why? Because it means fascia is impacting your movements, for better or worse. It means that this stuff massage therapists and physical therapists and orthopedists have right at their fingertips is the missing variable, the one they’ve been looking for.

Fascia is made primarily of densely packed collagen fibers that permeate your muscles, bones, nerves, blood vessels and organs.

There isn’t a place in your body where fascia doesn’t exist.

When fascia becomes restricted, adhesions form causing soreness, restricted movement, gait change and potential injury.

For example, tight fascia around your IT band can cause your knee cap to track incorrectly; loosen the muscles around your it band and magically, your knee cap begins tracking correctly and your knee stops hurting.

So, how does foam rolling help?

Foam rolling, also known as myofascial release, is the application of pressure to eliminate scar-tissue and soft-tissue adhesion by freeing up your fascia.

The good news is fascia and trigger points can be released. Even better, once released, every one of the problems tight fascia and muscles have caused usually clears up.

The goal of myofascial therapy is to stretch and loosen the fascia so that it and other structures can move more freely.

This results in decreased muscle and joint pain, increased circulation and improved mobility, balance and gait for peak performance.

In short, myofascial release through the use of a foam roller helps you become a stronger, faster, less injury-prone runner.

4 Critical Foam Rolling Mistakes

Sounds great, right? Foam rolling can be the savoir for injury-prone runners and those training extra hard — if used the right way. If not, you risk irritating, and possibly injuring, your body further.

To help you get it right, here’s a breakdown of the four most common mistakes I see runners make when using the foam roller.

Mistake #1: You foam roll directly on an injured area

It would seem to make sense that if your IT band is hurting then rolling directly on the IT band would help alleviate that trouble spot.

However, the body doesn’t work this way for a number of reasons.

First, when it comes to foam rolling and myofascial release, constantly working the area of pain could create more inflammation and tension in the area, further tensing the muscles and fascia.

Second, where you feel the pain is not always the source of the injury. IT band trouble, for example, isn’t typically a result of the IT band itself being tight. Rather, IT band issues are typically a result of tightness in the muscle groups that attach to the IT band, like the gluteus maximus (your butt).

What to instead

Rather than constantly working directly on the area that causes pain, slowly foam roll your way away from the pain center to the connecting muscles.

Once you hit the attachment areas, work those thoroughly. Then proceed back to the area of pain and work gently at first. Visualize yourself “melting away” the tightness.

Not only will you avoid inciting excess inflammation this way, but you’ll target the real source of your injury.

Mistake #2: You foam roll too quickly

Foam rolling hurts. Period.

Runners that know they should foam roll sometimes speed over areas because it hurts less than using slow, deliberate movements. Or, runners short on time will breeze through a session to check it off their list.

Unfortunately, foam rolling quickly doesn’t accomplish the objective – releasing fascia and relaxing muscles.

What to do instead

While it feels better to go fast, and you do circulate blood flow, releasing fascia takes time.

Fascia is a thick, fibrous web of tissue. As such, it can’t be released with a quick pass of the foam roller. You need to be slow and deliberate in your movements.

Once you find a sensitive area, slowly work back and forth over the spot. Again, be thoughtful and think of foam rolling like melting through the muscle and fascia.

Mistake #3 You stay on one spot too long

Ok, so this seems like a contradictory statement to mistake #2. But it’s not. Stay with me.

Runners take things to the extreme. Case in point; in college the trainer told me I needed to ice my achilles as much as I could when it flared up on me.

I asked her how long between each icing was needed. She said 90 minutes.

I set my watch to 1 hour and 45 minute intervals. Every 90 minutes I iced for 15 minutes. I did this all day 6 am to 10pm when I went to sleep.

I woke up the next morning with freezer burn on my achilles.

That’s just a little story to illustrate I know how runners think.

With foam rolling, you’re instructed to work over and sometimes pause on very tight spots in your legs.

I’ve seen runners take this advice and sit on the foam roller for 5 or 10 minutes, directly on the point of pain. However, staying on one spot for too long might irritate a nerve or damage the tissue, which can cause bruising and further inflammation.

What to do instead

Be gentle at first. Start with half your body weight, using your hands or other leg to adjust pressure, and slowly work into full body weight.

The maximum amount of time you should spend on any one area is 20 seconds or so. After this, you only risk irritating the spot more than you’re helping it.

If you have a really troublesome area you can always come back for another session in the evening when the muscles has had time to relax.

Mistake # 4: You use bad posture and form

Foam rolling is hard work. I almost guarantee you’ll break a sweat.

The IT band position places almost all your body weight on your one supporting arm. Rolling the quads is basically the plank position.

It’s easy to let your form deteriorate, especially if you are tired after a run. Your pelvis might drop from not having tight abs when doing quad work or your hips my sag while working the IT band.

This can exacerbate existing injuries, form flaws or muscles weaknesses

How to prevent

Don’t approach foam rolling haphazardly. Stay focused on your form throughout your entire session.

If you find yourself too tired after a hard workout, come back to foam rolling after you’ve rested or maybe in the evening.

You can also videotape yourself using your phone. It’s quick and provides immediate feedback after your session to see if you need to improve any of your positions.

Conclusion & How to Learn More

As you can see, when done right, foam rolling is one of the most effective recovery tools in a runners gear box.

That’s why I’ve partnered with Lisa Hamilton at Conscious Runner to produce the Foam Rolling Guide for Runners.

The program will show you the right way to foam roll and help you avoid the most common mistakes so you can make the most of your time on the foam roller.

The program launches on Monday, September 22nd. You can signup to get notified here (it’s free).

As a bonus to those who express interest, Lisa and I will be conducting a 30 minute webinar followed by an unlimited Q&A on the evening of September 22nd at 8pm EST.

If you want to learn more about the right way to foam roll, how to avoid the common pitfalls, foam rolling for specific injuries and more, join us for our FREE webinar by clicking here.

Even if you can’t join us live, signup to get the webiar replay and some exclusive free content we have planned.

Hope to see you then!

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The 2 Simple Reasons Your Easy Days are Ruining Your Training http://runnersconnect.net/running-training-articles/easy-days-easy/ http://runnersconnect.net/running-training-articles/easy-days-easy/#comments Thu, 11 Sep 2014 10:00:34 +0000 http://runnersconnect.net/?p=11239 One of the simplest concepts of successful long distance running also seems to be one of the hardest for many runners to grasp.

Running easy helps you race faster!

If you are invested in your running, it is important to run with a purpose each and every time you step out the door, even on easy days.

In this article, we’ll look at the purpose of different types of workouts, how easy runs fit into the training puzzle, and why keeping them slow is essential to staying injury-free and running faster.

The purpose of each of type of run

Long runs

Long runs help you to reap specific benefits after a certain amount of time on your feet. They also help to grow capillaries and increase muscle enzymes.

Long runs not only build endurance, they help your body to develop the strength it needs to handle hard, race-specific workouts.

Hard workouts

Your hard workouts are the real “meat “ of your running program.

The VO2Max intervals, the anaerobic threshold building tempo runs, even the hill sprints and strides are all designed to make you faster by breaking down your muscles and/or raising the point at which your body creates lactic acid faster than it is cleared away.

In essence, the hard workouts exist for the purpose of damaging your legs so that they can learn from being broken down and fighting through the heavy, burning feeling in the muscles when racing hard.

Easy runs

Let’s do the math; if your hard workouts are designed to break your body down, it makes sense that your easy days are there to build your body back up.

It is important to think of your recovery days as just that “recovery”.

With that in mind, there is a very simple rule regarding recovery runs: You cannot run too slowly on a recovery day, only too fast. Make sure you understand that. It is a simple concept that is notoriously hard to grasp.

Slow, easy running helps to flush oxygen-rich blood through the legs and also heals micro-tears and other damage that a workout creates. As soon as you begin to push the pace, you are creating more damage to your legs rather than helping them heal.

Common problems when running too hard

Many runners have one long run each week, 1-2 hard workouts and 4-5 easy recovery/rest days. This training schedule is set up and spaced specifically to offer your body the adequate amount of hard work and easy recovery running.

When you run too hard on your easy days, there are two distinct problems that arise.

Running too hard before a workout

When you push the pace in the days leading up to a workout, you run the risk of fatiguing your body to the point that you compromise the pace of your hard workout.

When you stand on the starting line of a race or hard workout, you want to feel fresh, like a horse chomping at the bit to run. Putting “junk” into your legs means that you won’t be able to reap the full benefit on your hard days.

This is one of the most common mistakes I see in beginners of the sport, especially young runners. To kids, every run is a race. In high school, I would often race my easy days around 6:45 mile pace and run my workout days around 6:30 pace.

Ten years later, as a professional runner, I run many of my hard workouts at 5-minute mile pace or faster and my easy days at 8:30 pace or slower.

With time and experience, I realized that in order to get the most out of my hard days, I had to get the most out of my easy days too.

It finally hit me that my easy, recovery days are just as important, if not more so, than my hard workouts.

Running too hard after a workout

As mentioned previously, the days immediately following a hard workout are when your legs are at there most damaged and vulnerable.

One of the easiest ways to get injured is to run too hard following a workout.

Think of your training as a set of stairs, just as the hard workouts are a steep climb that propels your fitness higher; your easy days are a plateau that allows your body to rebuild and reset after the hard workout and before the next big climb.

Imagine how much easier it is to climb a set of stairs than to walk up the side of a wall. We need the plateau in order for our fitness to climb.

How hard is too hard?

Rather than following a complex heart rate formula or a specific pace equation (like max HR minus a certain amount of beats or marathon pace minus 2 minutes), my advice is to simply leave the watch at home, choose a route you are familiar with and allow your body to run at a pace that is easy and light.

Your easy pace (and heart rate) may vary from day to day or even within a run, that is normal.

It is perfectly natural to feel sore an stiff following a hard workout, and it is important to remember that there is a difference between soreness and stiffness and the pain that comes with pushing the pace too hard.

If you need an additional checkpoint, you should be able to say the Pledge of Allegiance, or keep a conversation with a friend, without being short of breath on an easy run.

If you really listen to your body, it will tell you when you are running too hard on your easy days. Let’s learn to pay attention to our easy days so our fast days can become our fastest yet!

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Can Altitude Masks Really Replicate Altitude Training? http://runnersconnect.net/running-training-articles/altitude-masks-running/ http://runnersconnect.net/running-training-articles/altitude-masks-running/#comments Mon, 08 Sep 2014 10:00:16 +0000 http://runnersconnect.net/?p=11272 Wouldn’t it be great to get the benefits of living and training at altitude without having to uproot your entire life?

One way to do that is with an altitude tent, which uses compressed nitrogen gas to thin the oxygen in the air to replicate high-altitude living in a tent-like shroud around your bed.

Aside from the obvious drawbacks of a claustrophobia-inducing plastic canopy, altitude tents are also extremely costly—upwards of $10,000 for some models. So unless you’re a pro runner with a big contract from a shoe company, tents are out of the question too.

But recently, companies marketing “altitude masks” for very reasonable costs have made claims that these relatively simple masks can provide the same benefits of training at altitude.

These masks don’t actually generate lower oxygen concentrations in the air that you inhale, like an altitude tent; they use mechanical valves to generate resistance to inhalation instead.

Can this respiratory muscle training produce the same benefits of living or working out at altitude?

Studies that show altitude masks don’t really work

There’s been a flurry of scientific studies looking into the potential benefits of altitude masks.

There are a few drawbacks to all of this research, however: the quality of the studies varies considerably, and some studies are authored by people with vested interests in the results (like owners of a company that makes an altitude mask!).

So we’ll have to be a little more discerning than usual when reviewing the science.

A 2002 study by researchers at Texas Tech University investigated the effects of “respiratory resistance training” (the mechanic behind altitude masks) in seven collegiate distance runners.

The athletes undertook a slew of performance tests before and after a four-week respiratory muscle training program to identify whether the program had any effect on their fitness.

After the four weeks, the runners showed marked gains in direct tests of their respiratory muscle strength and endurance—basically, how “hard” they could breathe—but showed no change in their maximum oxygen consumption during exercise (as measured by VO2 max) or in their performance over a run to fatigue at 85% of VO2 max pace.

One drawback of this first study is its lack of a control group.

A better-designed study would have another group of subjects which did not undergo respiratory muscle training to serve as a comparison; fortunately, a study with just this design was carried out by D.W. Morgan and coworkers at Arizona State University.

In their study, nine moderately-trained cyclists were divided into two groups, one which underwent a three-week respiratory muscle training program, and a control group which continued their regular training.

As with the first study, the cyclists had their breathing muscle strength and endurance measured before and after the training, as well as their VO2 max and their performance over a cycling ride to fatigue.

And again, the results were the same: the respiratory muscle training significantly improved performance on breathing-related tests like maximum ventilatory power, but led to no improvement compared to the control group in the cyclists’ VO2 max or their performance in the endurance ride.

Several other studies, many of them well-designed, have also found no significant benefit to respiratory muscle training.

Studies that show altitude masks may work

In contrast, another set of studies have found beneficial effects of respiratory muscle training.

One example among these is a 2004 study by researchers at the University of Arizona which also looked at cyclists, parsing 20 trained subjects into a respiratory muscle resistance training group, a “sham” group, which did simulate breath training against no resistance, and a true control group which did no breath training.

This study did find an increase in VO2 max in the experimental group compared to both the sham and controls. A number of other studies have supported respiratory muscle training in rowing, swimming, cycling, and intermittent shuttle-run tests.

So what’s the bottom line?

Resolving the controversy is problematic because there are many different studies with vastly different protocols:

  • Some use respiratory training for three weeks; others, 15 weeks!
  • And that’s not even accounting for the wide range of sports evaluated—surely, the shuttle run is not the same as competitive rowing or swimming or long-distance cycling
  • And let’s not forget the experience level of the studies’ participants, which ranges from totally sedentary to NCAA Division I distance runners.

Given all this, it’s no surprise that the results vary so much.

Some researchers have attempted to pool the results from several studies to discern whether any net benefit can be detected

One such “meta-analysis study” published in 2012 concluded that there appear to be some benefits to respiratory resistance training, but these are more strongly exhibited in unfit subjects, and less so in trained athletes.

This effect is fairly common—when you’re an out-of-shape couch potato, pretty much any kind of training will get you in better shape. In contrast, a high-level athlete requires a very sport-specific stimulus to elicit further improvement.

There is also evidence that the scientific literature on respiratory muscle training is skewed by an effect called publication bias, where studies with a negative result (i.e. no benefit to respiratory muscle training) are not published.

This is either because scientific journals deem them not noteworthy enough or because the authors themselves decided not to publish. This could artificially inflate the apparent usefulness of respiratory resistance training, as measured by review article and meta-analyses.

Does breathing harder help you run faster?

One common misunderstanding about the studies on altitude masks is the potential benefit of improving the “strength” of your breathing.

Sadly, improving your respitory muscles (how hard you can breathe) will not lead to an increase in performance.

This seems backwards, since we certainly breath hard when running fast.

However, in running, the main problem isn’t usually getting air into your lungs anyways—it’s getting oxygen from the air into your blood, and then putting that oxygen towards a useful purpose in your leg muscles

Improving your lung strength and being able to exhale and inhale more forcefully will not help with this.

Takeaway message

At this point, there isn’t enough evidence to support using an altitude mask or other breathing muscle training device as part of your training regimen. The wide range of study quality and design are just too shaky to put faith in.

Given that there are so many better things to spend time and money on to improve your performance, like lighter shoes, interval workouts, a strength training routine, or better nutrition, getting an altitude mask is not a worthwhile investment unless better research comes out supporting its use in well-trained distance runners.

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How Donating Blood Impacts Your Training and Racing (And 4 Strategies to Mitigate the Impact) http://runnersconnect.net/running-injury-prevention/blood-donation-running-performance/ http://runnersconnect.net/running-injury-prevention/blood-donation-running-performance/#comments Tue, 02 Sep 2014 10:00:23 +0000 http://runnersconnect.net/?p=11237 There’s not much that’s more essential to your running (and your life) than your blood.

The more oxygen-carrying power your blood has, the faster you can run. Without enough oxygen, your body is quickly plunged into acidosis, the deep burning sensation in your legs that you feel at the end of a race or a hard workout.

Doing anything that would decrease your body’s oxygen-carrying potential would be crazy right?

Well, maybe not if it can save somebody’s life.

Donating blood is an admirable endeavor—according to the American Red Cross, over 41,000 blood donations are required every day in the United States, and given the short shelf life of whole blood and plasma, there’s a constant need for blood.

Though blood donation is lifesaving, runners are often hesitant to give blood because of its potential impact on their training and racing.

So, how much does giving blood or plasma affect your performance? How long do the effects last?

For some answers, we’ll look to the scientific literature.

Blood and plasma donation and running performance

A 2013 study by David Hill, Jakob Vingren, and Samatha Burdette examined the short-term effects of donating blood and plasma on a cycling endurance test in nineteen test subjects. Each subject underwent a ride to exhaustion on a stationary bike before giving blood or plasma, and again two hours, two days, and seven days after the donation. The researchers measured both time to exhaustion and maximum oxygen consumption, or VO2 max, during each of the four tests.

Unsurprisingly, they found that both VO2 max and time to exhaustion were negatively impacted in the immediate aftermath of a whole blood donation.

VO2 max dropped by 15% and time to exhaustion decreased by 19% during the exercise test two hours after a blood donation. VO2 max was still 10% and 7% lower than pre-donation levels at two and seven days post-donation, respectively.

The results of plasma donation are more interesting.

Although the plasma donation resulted in no change in VO2 max at any point, time to exhaustion was decreased two hours post-donation, but not two days or one week out.

Hill et al. hypothesized that this was because the drop in overall blood volume from the plasma loss interfered with anaerobic capacity. Plasma volume is restored rather quickly, which explains why this phenomenon was not seen two days or a week later.

Hill et al. showed that whole blood donation still impaired performance a week after giving blood, but how long do the effects linger?

How long is performance impacted?

This issue was addressed by a 2011 study by T.B. Judd and other researchers at the University of Saskatchewan in Canada, who studied 12 subjects’ VO2 max before a blood donation and once every week for a month following the donation.

Like the previous study, Judd et al. found a marked decrease in VO2 max the day after blood donation.

Over the following weeks, the subjects’ VO2 max gradually returned to normal, reaching its pre-test value three weeks out from the date of the blood donation.

The one drawback to the above studies is that they used only moderately active people from the general population, not trained athletes. It stands to reason that a well-trained runner might experience a greater drop in fitness with loss of blood.

A 1995 study examined well-trained cyclists who gave blood, but only followed them for one week post-donation, with findings mostly in line with the previous studies. Aside from this, there’s no long-term research in whether blood donation more seriously hampers a well-trained athlete.

Changes in iron levels after blood donation

There’s one more issue with blood donation that deserves to be mentioned, and that’s iron levels.

When you donate blood, your body replaces the lost red blood cells by synthesizing new ones, a process which consumes iron stored in the form of ferritin.

A rigorous analysis of almost 3,000 blood donors by Clement Finch and other researchers at the University of Washington found that your body’s iron levels (as measured by serum ferritin) are negatively correlated with how often you give blood.

Frequent blood donors are much more likely to be anemic, and this relationship is especially true in women. Even among the general population, donating blood more than once every 8-12 months can lead to a high incidence of low ferritin levels in women.

Men can donate more often, but if they exceed three blood donations per year, they too run the risk of having low ferritin, which has a negative impact on your ability to train and race. The authors suggest that increasing the amount of iron in your diet could help counteract this effect.

Recommendations

  1. A good time to donate is during the recovery time after your goal race when your body isn’t under the constant demands of a training season.
  2. Plan the donation around a rest day and follow with several days of short, easy effort workouts until you begin to feel 100%.
  3. In the 4-5 days following your donation, throw out your watch! Your times are going to be slower (the research shows it) so just forget about pace and put some time on your feet.
  4. Stay hydrated and eat well before and after the donation. This will help you recover faster from the donation itself.

Conclusion

The bottom line when it comes to blood donation is that there will be a notable drop in your performance, but the research to date indicates that your body returns to normal after about three weeks.

Recovery from plasma donation is even quicker—less than two days and you’re already back to pre-donation fitness.

There’s still more research needed on whether blood donation has an especially large impact on well-trained athletes, as is the case with some other performance inhibitors (like altitude), but if you don’t have any races for the next month, and you’re okay with your workouts being a bit slower for a few weeks, go ahead and donate blood.

One final consideration is your iron status: if you donate often, make sure you have your ferritin checked to be sure it’s not too low, especially if you have a history of low iron.

 

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The Importance of Setting the Right Race Time Goal (and How to Find Yours) http://runnersconnect.net/running-training-articles/setting-right-race-time-goal/ http://runnersconnect.net/running-training-articles/setting-right-race-time-goal/#comments Mon, 25 Aug 2014 10:00:10 +0000 http://runnersconnect.net/?p=11170 You’ve picked out the race, booked your hotel, and confirmed your flights. Everything is ready to go for your next big race.

Now it’s time to set a time goal so you can get training!

If you’re like most runners I coach, picking your goal time is a somewhat arbitrary process.

Usually you pick a goal designed to get you under some barrier like two hours for the half marathon, four hours for the marathon – or to qualify for a specific race (Boston being the most common).

While this seems reasonable – after all, how critical can selecting a goal time be – I believe setting a time goal that is too ambitious is the most common reason runners get injured, plateau, and race poorly.

So, if choosing the right goal is that important, how do you determine what your goal time should be? What’s wrong with shooting for the stars and laying it all on the line?

In this article I’ll walk you through why setting an arbitrary goal time is a dagger to your training and provide you with a simple 3-step system to make finding your goal time a breeze.

The dangers of setting the wrong goal time

1. Not targeting the right workout efforts

The most immediate problem with choosing the wrong goal time is that almost all template plans are based on your goal finishing time.

As such, the workouts and the paces you are assigned to run all assume you’re targeting and hitting a specific physiological effort. However, if you are not at that level of fitness, then the workout is wasted because you didn’t accomplish the objective. Here’s an example:

In marathon training you’ll be assigned workouts called aerobic threshold runs. Aerobic threshold is defined as the fastest pace you can run while using the aerobic system as the primary energy pathway. Aerobic threshold is important because it’s the pace that is the perfect balance between fat and carbohydrate utilization. The faster your aerobic threshold pace, the faster you can race the marathon without bonking.

To target aerobic threshold you need to run at aerobic threshold pace, which is roughly current marathon pace. If you run too fast you’ll actually be running a lactate or anaerobic threshold run – a workout that targets a different energy system. Here is a specific example:

Let’s say your goal is to break 3:45 for the marathon (8:35 per mile pace) and you base your training off this. But, your current fitness is more like a 4:00 marathon, which is 9:09 pace.

That means when you’re trying to run aerobic threshold runs at 8:35, you’re WAY too fast to target your aerobic threshold properly. At almost 40 seconds a mile quicker, this is more a high end or anaerobic threshold run.

Sure, it’s going to get you fitter overall, but it’s not going to help you improve in the marathon. This is exactly why you keep getting fitter and maybe even PRing in shorter events but bonk or fall apart during the marathon.

In short, when your goal time is off, all of your paces are going to be off. That means you’ll be running all the wrong effort levels and negating the most important benefit of your harder workouts. You’ll be wasting your time training.

2. Increased risk of injury

The second major flaw in training for the wrong goal time is that it dramatically increases your risk of injury.

Typically, runners will choose a goal pace that is too fast. As such, the balance of hard work and recovery is thrown off, which leads to overtraining. Here’s another example to exemplify this idea:

A tempo run is designed to be a moderate or medium-effort workout. Your training plan therefore assumes that you’ll be recovered and ready to run hard again or perform a long run just a couple of days later.

However, if the tempo run was too fast for you, then the effort level was also increased. This means you won’t be as recovered for your next training session as planned. This fatigue slowly builds up throughout the weeks of marathon training until you become overtrained or your muscles, tendons, ligaments and bones give in and get injured.

3. Ruining race day with bad pacing

Finally, race day pacing is one of the most crucial elements to having a successful race. In fact, studies have shown that running the first mile of a 5k race more than 6% faster than goal race pace considerably reduces performance; so much so that almost all the subjects that ran faster than 6% failed to even finish the race.

In the marathon, running too fast for the first few miles will burn through your glycogen stores faster. This will lead to you bonking and having a terrible race.

Once again, we’ll use the example from the aerobic threshold run to illustrate this concept.

To hit your goal time of 3:45 for the marathon, you start out at 8:35 or 8:45. However, if your fitness is currently is more like a 4:00 marathon (9:09 pace) then you’re already running 20 to 25 seconds faster per mile at the start of the race. You’re race will be doomed from the start. It won’t matter how “bad you want it”, you’re going to bonk.

How to find your goal pace

Now that you understand the pitfalls of choosing the wrong goal time, how the heck do you decide what pace you should shoot for?

Step 1: Establish a baseline

The first thing you need to do is determine what your current fitness level is.

If you’ve run a race recently, you can use this time to extrapolate what you could run for a longer or shorter distance. Greg McMillan has a great calculator on his site here.

If you plan to race the same distance again, no calculations are needed. We can simply use this time as your data point for step 2

If you haven’t run a race recently that you feel reflects your fitness or a good effort you have two options:

  1. You can race a 5k. This is your best choice if your goal race is more than two months away. The race doesn’t have to be big or fancy. You just need a race effort.
  2. If you have no races available, you can do a one mile time trial. This option is recommended if you have 1-2 months between now and your goal race because it can be incorporated into training quickly and a mile won’t leave you too tired to pick up training where you left off.

Whichever method you choose, just enter your time in the calculator mentioned above and you can extrapolate to any race distance.

Step 2: Factor in your likely rate of improvement

Now that you have your fitness level established we can use your training history to help determine your rate of improvement.

If you’ve been running less than a year and improving with each race, you can expect about a 6 to 8 percent improvement in performance over the course of your training. As an example, if your data point shows you’re in 4:30 shape for the marathon, you’d be looking at a goal time of about 4:08 to 4:13.

If you’ve been running for more than a year but you’re still PRing in most races and increasing your commitment to training, you can expect a 4 to 6 percent improvement to your performance. As an example, if your data point shows you’re in 4:00 shape for the marathon, you’d be looking at a goal time of about 3:45 to 3:50.

If you’re more experienced and have been training for many years, then you should expect a 2 to 4% improvement in performance. As an example, if your data point shows you’re in 3:20 shape for the marathon, you’d be looking at a goal time of about 3:12 to 3:16.

Since I know calculating percentages of race pace and goal times can be difficult, you can download our calculator here if you need help.

Step 3: Adjust and adapt

Finally, your rate of performance isn’t something that is standardized. While I’ve given you some good guidelines to follow, every runner is going to be different.

After three to four weeks, if you think you’ve gotten fitter or you want to measure your rate of improvement to determine if you’re making progress towards your ultimate goal, run another race. Try to keep the race as integrated with your training as possible (for example, run the race in place of a hard workout) so you don’t impact your long-term progress.

With the new race data, you can plug your time back into the performance calculator from step 1 and see how much your goal pace has improved.

I hope this in-depth look at the science of choosing your goal pace helps you avoid one of the most common pitfalls and sets you up for a great training segment!

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The 5 Recovery Mistakes You’re Making That Are Hampering Your Recovery From Hard Workouts http://runnersconnect.net/running-training-articles/recovery-mistakes/ http://runnersconnect.net/running-training-articles/recovery-mistakes/#comments Mon, 18 Aug 2014 10:00:10 +0000 http://runnersconnect.net/?p=11161 Recovery is one of the most important elements of training. In fact, I’d argue it’s even more important than the hard workouts you do.

Without recovery, training is just wasted time with no opportunity to actually improve. It’s no wonder then that runners focus, or should be focusing, so much of their attention to recovery.

Unfortunately, like many aspects of training, many runners are unintentionally hampering their recovery thanks to pervasive myths based on outdated science. In this article, we’ll look at five of the most common ways runners get recovery wrong and how you can make sure you don’t fall into these traps.

Mistake #1: You’re taking Ibuprofen or Advil

Like many runners before you, when faced with a slight twinge, inflamed tendons, or delayed muscle soreness from training, you may have popped a few non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs for short), such as ibuprofen and Advil.

However, as our understanding of inflammation has evolved, we now know that anti-inflammatory drugs can actually limit or cancel out the very training benefits we’re so desperate to achieve.

Our outdated view of inflammation suggested that inflammation delayed healing and removing it as quickly as possible would aid in the recovery process. But, we now understand that inflammation is a crucial first-step in the body’s natural healing process.

Inflammation is the body’s way of activating specific cells (mainly leukocytes, monocytes and macrophages), which help to repair the muscles. You can still recover without inflammation, but it will likely take longer without the help of these cells.

Moreover, we also know that anti-inflammatory drugs can actually limit training adaptations. One study on the effects of Ibuprofen on skeletal muscle showed that taking ibuprofen during endurance training canceled running-distance-dependent adaptations in skeletal muscle. Another study confirmed in the laboratory that the use of NSAIDs after exercise slowed the healing of muscles, tissues, ligaments and bones.

The research is clear. Taking anti-inflammatory drugs such as Advil and ibuprofen after a workout will result in slower recovery times.

Mistake #2: Ice baths

Now that we understand a little more about the role of inflammation in recovery and for training adaptations, we need to reassess the use of ice baths as well.

Like NSAIDs, the goal of an ice bath is to reduce inflammation following a workout. But, we now understand that inflammation may actually help promote recovery and training adaptations. Moreover, reducing inflammation may inhibit fitness gains.

So, where do ice baths fit in now?

The Nike Oregon project (thanks to Steve Magness and Dr. Jeff Messer for outlining how the Oregon project uses ice baths) actually changes their use of ice baths depending on the phase of training they are in.

In the adaptive phase, when the athletes are trying to derive as much benefit from workouts as possible, they do not ice bath.

For the average runner, this type of phase would be when you’re hitting your hardest workouts (i.e. after a gradual build-up) and before the taper or the last 2 weeks of training.

In the restorative phase, when athletes are preparing their body’s for competition, they do use ice baths.

This is because in the last two weeks of training, you’re not looking to enhance fitness from a workout (since you can’t benefit from a workout in that short amount of time) but rather to feel as fresh and strong as possible.

You’re takeaway – don’t ice bathe after your hardest workouts or on a daily basis. Use ice baths in the final weeks of your training to help your body feel rested and strong for race day.

Mistake #3: You’re taking antioxidants to reduce oxidative stress

Oxidative stress, a term used to describe the release of hormones and other chemicals in response to physiological stress, is believed to inhibit recovery and suppress the immune system. As such, many runners take antioxidants, like vitamin C to help reduce this oxidative stress and therefore recover faster.

But , like inflammation, our previous understanding of how antioxidants work is being challenged. It’s now understood that trying to block or reduce all oxidative stress can be detrimental to training adaptations.

First, “oxidative stress is essential to the development and optimal function of every cell,” write Peternelj and Coombes in their research.

In the context of exercise,these reactive oxygen species are part of the stress on your body that induces improvement. Blunting that oxidative stress will lead to less adaptation from the stress.

Moreover, further research has demonstrated that Vitamin C supplementation prevented the creation of mitochondria, the “power plants” of your muscle cells that are essential for endurance performance.

Therefore, loading up on antioxidants after a workout is not recommended. You should still eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables that provide a healthy, natural source of antioxidants, but skip the pills.

Mistake #4: Not eating correctly after a workout (no food or not the right ratios)

Providing your body with the right nutrients to recover after a hard workout is essential to repairing the muscle fibers and providing your body the fuel it needs to stimulate recovery.

Many scientific studies have determined the optimal time and the amount and ratio of nutrients needed to be consumed in order to maximize the recovery process.

Ideally, nutrient intake should begin at least 30 minutes after you finish your run and continue for about an hour to 90 minutes after. (read more here)

During this time, you should consume a 4 to 1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein. This means that for every 4 grams of carbs you consume you also need 1 gram of protein.

The first mistake many runners make is not eating anything within this recovery window. The most common reasons include (1) not being prepared with something to eat or drink; (2) not being able to stomach foods after a hard run; (3) or trying to lose weight and believing this will help.

To optimize recovery after a workout, you must eat within 1 hour, ideally within 30 minutes. If you can’t stomach solid foods, try recovery beverages (almost every company makes one) or even chocolate milk.

The second, more common mistake, is the consumption of too much protein post-workout.

Like most runners are hard-wired to think, more is better right? Not in the case of protein post-workout.

The consumption of too much protein after a workout will inhibit your body’s absorption of the carbohydrates by slowing the gastric emptying rate.

That’s why the optimal ratio is set at 4grams of carbohydrate for every 1 gram of protein. You should aim for 100 to 300 calories total.

Mistake #5: Not stretching, massaging or foam rolling

The concept of stretching has caught some major flak in the past few years (and rightfully so), which has resulted in many runners finishing a workout without properly treating their muscles.

The problem is that we lump all types of “stretching” into one big group with static stretching; yet, not all types of stretching are bad.

In fact, other types of “stretching” such as yoga, mobility drills, active isolated stretching and even foam rolling and the stick (which I consider akin to stretching) can be immensely helpful when it comes to promoting recovery.

Incorporating dynamic stretching after a run (active isolated stretching, drills, and mobility exercises) has been shown to help improve flexibility to help you execute the biomechanically sound movement patterns when running (such as proper hip extension).

Drills and mobility exercises have also been shown to help improve neuromuscular function and can serve as a cool down to help deliver blood and oxygen to the muscles that are in need of repair.

Foam rolling can also be a huge benefit. And, I am excited to announce a new guide to foam rolling we’re producing in a few weeks. It will be the most comprehensive guide available, so stay tuned.

In the end, you must expand your concept of stretching to better understand how it fits in with your recovery from hard workouts.

I hope this article helped open your eyes to some of the potential mistakes you’ve been making in your quest to enhance recovery. I know I certainly made all of them in my running career and I am grateful to know better now!

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