Runners Connect Tue, 21 Oct 2014 11:51:09 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Reason You Need to STOP Icing Your Running Injuries Right Now Mon, 20 Oct 2014 10:00:13 +0000 Icing: there’s probably no injury treatment that’s more ubiquitous.

At high school cross country meets, you’ll see ice bags and ice cups littered everywhere. At running stores, you’ll find reusable ice packs and specially-designed icing sleeves. And if you ask a doctor what to do about a running injury, the response will almost invariably include “ice it.”

However, as researchers and coaches are starting to learn more about how inflammation works, our understanding of how to treat injuries is changing.

For example, about 18 months ago we published this post on why you shouldn’t use anti-inflammatories (one of the go-to treatments when runners get hurt).

In short, the research shows that some inflammation is a natural and good thing so inhibiting it actually hinders the healing process.

But, what does the research say on icing? Is it the same effect as anti-inflammatories? Is icing useful in every situation? If so, what’s the best way to go about it?

Icing and overuse running injuries

Given the near ubiquitous recommendation to ice when injured, you’d expect there to be reams of studies on such a universal injury treatment. But, astoundingly, there aren’t.

There’s a moderately-sized collection of controlled experiments on using icing (or “cryotherapy” as it’s known in medical circles) for acute injuries, like ankle sprains and post-surgery recovery, but research into icing for overuse injuries, like the ones runners get, is quite limited.

Some papers mention cryotherapy as a treatment for tendon injuries, plantar fasciitis, or shin splints, but it’s only in passing—there’s been essentially no rigorous testing of icing as a treatment for running injuries.

Icing was used as control treatment in a 2007 study on eccentric exercises for Achilles tendonitis; the rehab exercises were vastly more successful than icing. Aside from this, nothing!

Because of the lack of research, we can’t conclusively prove whether or not icing is a useful therapy.

However, this doesn’t mean there’s nothing to take away from the research about icing.

Instead of looking to direct studies on icing for running injuries, we’ll have to learn from research on icing for acute injuries with the understanding that we are operating under the assumption that icing helps with overuse injuries.

Going by the anecdotal experience of many thousands of runners in the real world, this seems to be a safe assumption, but until the science is in, it’s nothing more than that.

Quick icing therapy for ankle sprain

One thing appears certain: quick icing is definitely the proper response to an acute injury like an ankle sprain. (*acute injuries are those that occur suddenly, like when you turn your ankle, while overuse injuries are those that occur due to repeated stress)

A 1982 study of 37 people with ankle sprains investigated the effects of ice and heat on time to recovery. The researchers reported that the patients who heated their injured ankle during the initial days following the sprain took over twice as long to recover as those who iced immediately.

The timing of the icing had a big impact, too—delaying icing for a day and a half similarly resulted in a greater than two-fold increase in recovery time in serious ankle sprains when compared to icing within the first 36 hours following the injury.

Other research suggests that doing “intermittent icing” is more effective than longer continuous blocks of icing. A clever 2006 study by three researchers in the UK split 89 people with ankle sprains into two groups.

The first group was instructed to ice their injured ankle continuously for 20 minutes every two hours over the first three days following the injury. The second group also iced every two hours, but iced for ten minutes, removed the ice for 10 minutes, then iced for another 10 minutes.

This small difference in icing strategy resulted in significantly less pain during activity in the first week following the injury. After this, both groups reported the same levels of pain, which dropped off over the next five weeks.

Takeaway message

If icing is beneficial for running injuries, it is likely most beneficial as a front-line treatment used immediately after an injury flares up.

Acute injuries, like ankle sprains, are marked by inflammation—icing is known to help limit localized inflammation by reducing blood flow.

It’s been well-established that overuse injuries like tendonitis are not inflammatory after several weeks, but some researchers believe there is a brief “inflammatory phase” that lasts a few days or a few weeks.

If this exists, this is likely when icing would make a difference.

The usefulness of icing in the treatment of running injuries is unclear—on one hand, since there isn’t a single study supporting the use of cryotherapy in the treatment of overuse injuries.

On the other, there are ice bags and cups in nearly every athletic training room and physical therapy office in the country—ignoring anecdotal evidence of that magnitude isn’t a particularly attractive option either.

What we can say is that if icing is beneficial, it’s going to be most effective if you apply ice immediately after you aggravate an injury, then do not ice again.

Further, it is best to use an intermittent approach: ice for ten minutes, then remove it for 10 minutes, then reapply the ice for another 10 minutes.

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Should Your Training Plan Include Speed Work If You’re Not Training For a Race? Thu, 16 Oct 2014 10:00:15 +0000 One thing that keeps me excited about coaching after all these years is that every runner I work with has different goals.

Some are training for their first race, others are qualifying for Boston, and many are using running as a way to stay fit or get healthy.

Most training plans and articles focus on the subset of runners who are training for a specific race, but that’s not very helpful if you’re just running to stay fit, lose weight or maintain between races.

So, the question is, how do you structure your plan if you’re not training for a specific race? More specifically, do you need to include speed work into your weekly routine?

In this article, I’ll examine the roll of speed work in your training plan if you are not training for a specific race, outline why you should include it, and give you some workouts to try so you can maximize your results.

Goal: Improve Your Overall Health

The case for speed work

You’ll build stronger muscles

Speed work recruits different muscles than slow runs do and also strengthens the bones, ligaments, and joints, so they can absorb and adapt to higher workloads.

This effect is similar to weight training. The heavier the weight you lift, the stronger your muscle will become because the muscle is having to resist more weight. With speed work, the more you push the leg muscles to move faster, the more total muscle fibers you activate and the more explosively you contract them. This results in greater strength and injury resistance.

You’ll boost your heart health.

Speed sessions evoke an increase in the maximal stroke volume of heart. This is a fairly complicated cardiologic discussion but simply stated, stroke volume is the amount of blood that can be pumped from the heart in one stoke. A greater stroke volume decreases the heart rate and, in a sense, makes the heart more efficient.

You’ll see progress.

One of the biggest challenges of not training for a specific race is staying motivated. Running an easy pace every day is going to get boring and feel like you’re not making any progress.

By running speed workouts – and repeating the same type of workout every two to four weeks – you’ll find that you’re running faster, or with less effort, and this is going to make you feel like you’re getting fitter.

Even if you don’t have a race goal, all that motivation will keep you going when you don’t want to get out the door or the weather gets bad.

Sample workout

Short, explosive hill sprints are a great way to have fun with speed work, especially because they are not too difficult.

1. Choose a hill that has a fairly steep grade (5-8%).

2. Warm-up your muscles by running a mile or two or perform the Lunge Matrix.

3. Starting at the bottom of the hill, sprint up as fast as you can for 15 seconds.

4. Slowly walk back down, jog very easy for 3 minutes, and repeat. Start with 5 repeats and work your way up to 10.

Goal: Lose Weight

The case for speed work

At an easy pace, running a mile burns about 100 calories. However, the faster you run, the more calories you’ll burn during that mile. Plus, high-intensity training keeps your metabolism revved even after the workout is over. What’s more, research seems to suggest that the after burn – the number of calories your body burns after your workout, when your metabolism is revved – lasts for longer when you run faster.

Sample workout

Short, fast interval workouts at near maximal effort will maximize calorie burning. Try this workout:

1. Warm-up with an easy mile of running and some dynamic stretching.

2. Run 400 meters at 90 percent effort. You should be breathing very hard when finished.

3. Jog slowly for 2 minutes to recover.

4. Repeat 4 to 8 times.

Goal: Training Between Races

The case for speed work

Speed work helps maintain efficiency by stimulating the central nervous system and activating more slow twitch muscle fibers.

More importantly, speed work helps reduce injury by gradually introducing speed into a training schedule.

Many runners get hurt when they try to run at speeds their muscles, tendons and ligaments aren’t ready for. Easy speed sessions help prepare those muscles for the harder workouts when you get back to training.

Sample workout

The fartlek workout (a Swedish term for speed play) is a great way to inject a little speed but still gives you the freedom to run by feel and avoid the mental stress involved with a more structured workout.

1. Warm-up with an easy mile of running and some dynamic stretching.

2. Run anywhere from 30 seconds to 5 minutes at a moderately hard pace. You shouldn’t be gasping for breath, but it shouldn’t be easy either. The actual pace isn’t important – it’s the fact that you ate “turning your legs over” and providing your body with a change of pace.

3. Recover by walking or very slowly jogging for an equal time you ran hard. If you ran 2 minutes hard, recover for 2 minutes.

4. Repeat until you’ve done 20 to 30 minutes total of fartlek running.

As you begin to setup your training plan, consider what your goals might be (even if you’re not training for a specific race) and begin adding speed work the right way to maximize your results!

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Can Children Adapt to Temperature Changes More Efficiently Than Adults? Mon, 13 Oct 2014 10:00:56 +0000 Nobody loves summer as much as kids do. Sure, adults like to sun-tan on the beach or go for a run on a Saturday morning, but kids, temporarily freed from school, truly run wild from June through August.

This is all well and good when it comes to playing around, but what about youth sports like a summer track series? Do children and adolescents have a harder time staying cool in the summer heat?

Heat regulation in kids and adolescents

When taking an initial look at the science, there are some good reasons to think that young athletes aren’t as heat-hardy as adults. Kids and teenagers don’t sweat as much as adults do, and their total blood volume is lower, even for their size.

Further, children are less efficient when it comes to using oxygen during weight-bearing exercise, meaning they require a higher effort level to maintain a given workload during exercise—say, eight-minute mile pace.

Although children and adolescents have a high ratio of skin surface area to body mass, which is usually an asset when it comes to heat loss, it can also mean that young athletes gain heat very quickly when the ambient temperature is higher than their body temperature.

These observations indicate that younger athletes would have a harder time exercising in the heat, and so for many years, guidelines called for more modest limits on exercise in hot weather for children.

For example, a 2000 policy statement by the American Academy of Pediatrics writes, “exercising children do not adapt to extremes of temperature as effectively as adults when exposed to a high climatic heat stress,” and a 1995 article in the Journal of Sports Sciences by Oded Bar-Or at McMaster University in Canada recommends curtailing training volume and workout intensity for children when the weather is hot.

Intensity vs. workload

As pointed out in a 2011 review article by Thomas Rowland, a pediatrician at Baystate Medical Center in Massachusetts, the initial studies which examined children’s ability to tolerate heat had some significant flaws.

Early research measured workloads in absolute terms—comparing heat production in children and adults while on a treadmill set to a certain speed, for example. But, Rowland points out that heat regulation is tied to relative intensity, not absolute workload.

He points to research like a 2004 study by Omri Inbar and other researchers in Australia and Israel that measured heat regulation in children, young adults, and elderly subjects during a cycling session in 105° F heat.

Critically, this study set exercise intensity as a constant percentage of the subject’s VO2 max. Contrary to previous studies, the researchers found that the children actually fared slightly better than the young adults when it came to regulating body temperature, even though they did indeed sweat less. Rowland himself, along with three coworkers at Baystate Medical Center, conducted a similar study in 2008, which found no differences in thermoregulation between eight boys and eight adult men during a cycling bout in 88° heat.

What of the differences in sweat rates?

Inbar et al. reconciled this by pointing out that the diminished sweat rate appears to be counterbalanced by the fact that the younger subjects weighed less, and hence had less body mass to cool, and by a higher sweating efficiency: sweat in children appears to coalesce into smaller, more diffuse droplets that can evaporate more rapidly.

This new wave of research caught the attention of the American Academy of Pediatrics, which released an updated policy statement in 2011 which included findings of newer studies. They, too, concluded that children and adolescents are just as tolerant of exercise in the heat as adults in similar circumstances.

The policy statement stresses that this only applies when relative effort levels are controlled for—children running at 60% of their VO2 max, for example, handle hot weather just as well as adults do at the same intensity, but it’s important to keep in mind that a given absolute workload (like running two miles in 15 minutes) is usually more stressful, and thus produces more heat, in a young runner since their overall fitness is typically lower.


Even though kids and teenagers aren’t any more susceptible to overheating during exercise than adults, it doesn’t mean they are immune either. Children and adolescents, just like the rest of us, need to know their limits during exercise in the heat.

Because of the basic physiology of exercise in hot weather, times and paces will be slower on a hot day. Keeping hydrated by drinking when thirsty and knowing when to dial back the day’s workload are common-sense precautions that make sense for everybody—not just for kids.

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3 Ways to Use a Foam Roller More Effectively to Treat Running Injuries Thu, 09 Oct 2014 10:00:13 +0000 Previously, we took a looked at the latest science behind foam rolling to improve recovery and reduce soreness after a hard workout.

But soreness isn’t the only reason runners use a foam roller.

Managing and treating injuries is another popular use for foam rolling.

But is it really effective?

Unfortunately, there isn’t any hard research on foam rolling as part of an injury-rehab or prevention program for runners, but we can still take a look at some of the hypotheses about what foam rolling accomplishes to see why some runners find foam rolling useful for tight muscles, IT band syndrome, and other soft-tissue injuries.

Foam rolling and connective tissues

If you read the previous article on foam rolling, you’ll know that a number of recent scientific studies have found that foam rolling is surprisingly effective at reducing muscle soreness and increasing muscular range of motion.

One proposed mechanism for this an alteration in the consistency of connective tissue in the area that’s been foam rolled.

Graham MacDonald and other researchers at Memorial University of Newfoundland in Canada describe this theory in a 2013 scientific paper. “Repeated stress placed on the soft-tissue of the body due to overuse or inactivity may cause abnormal crosslinks and scar tissue to form in the fascia,” they write.

Fascia is a type of connective tissue that ties together all of the soft tissue like muscles and tendons in your body. The most familiar bands of fascia to runners are the plantar fascia and the IT band, but all of the muscles of your body are encapsulated by fascia as well.

Macdonald et al. propose that these abnormalities of the fascia could be implicated in some injuries, and could limit range of motion and cause muscular soreness as well.

The raw biophysics behind soft-tissue manipulations like foam rolling is still poorly understood, but some preliminary work, including a 1992 paper on the physical properties of connective tissue by A. Joseph Threlkeld, suggests that the mechanical pressure that’s applied in a typical foam rolling routine is sufficient to induce changes in connective tissue.

The best way to foam roll to treat injuries

So now that we know foam rolling is highly likely to be effective at treating injuries, how can you maximize your time spent on the foam roller?

The actual rolling techniques used in studies on foam rolling and workout recovery are useful from an injury treatment perspective as well.

A few specifics on these techniques are worth highlighting.

Rolling pressure

First among these is rolling pressure: successful studies have used a dense foam roller, and instruct their subjects to put as much of their body weight as possible onto the foam roller (instead of supporting their weight on their arms).

This puts as much mechanical pressure onto your connective tissue as possible, which, according to MacDonald et al.’s hypothesis, is necessary to restore it to a more pliable state.


Second, the ideal rolling method according to Macdonald et al. is to use short, kneading-like motions on the roller, slowly working your way up from the “bottom” end of a muscle towards the top, then quickly rolling back to the bottom in one motion.

After this, begin kneading your way up the muscle again.

This method’s origin is probably from foam rolling’s roots in a massage technique known as myofascial release—indeed, foam rolling is sometimes still called “self-myofascial release” in scientific papers.

While there’s been no comparison of foam rolling methods, it’s not a bad idea to replicate the methods used in successful studies unless or until there’s a reason not to.

Using a stopwatch

Third, you should use a stopwatch to track your foam rolling.

Most studies do one to two sets of 30 to 60 seconds of foam rolling per muscle group—when you actually set a watch timer and concentrate on rolling continuously the whole time, you’ll find it’s a much more intense rolling sensation than half-heartedly rolling back and forth a few times!


Knowing that foam rolling primarily affects connective tissue gives support for a theory runners in the real world have already discovered: foam rolling is most likely to be helpful in mild to moderate injuries to soft tissue, and could be used as a secondary treatment for injuries associated with poor range of motion.

This explains why runners often find foam rolling quite helpful in cases of IT band syndrome, but not very useful with shin splints: the IT band is just a thickening of the fascia that surrounds the muscles of the thigh, but shin splints is fundamentally a bone problem.

Foam rolling is therefore a useful secondary treatment for soft-tissue injuries and injuries associated with poor range of motion.

By combining your personal experience with knowledge of what foam rolling might actually accomplish inside your body, you can figure out whether foam rolling is likely to be helpful with the specific injuries you encounter.

If you need help with specific foam rolling applications and routines to treat your injuries, check our our Foam Rolling for Runners program.

The guide includes detailed videos and instructions help you understand the “why” behind every movement and exactly how to execute so you’re confident you’re foam rolling correctly, avoiding common mistakes and you’re getting the most from your session. Check it out here.

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3 Reasons a Gait Analysis at a Running Store May Not Help You Find the Right Shoe Mon, 06 Oct 2014 10:00:36 +0000 ReduceInjury_VideoGaitIMAGE

Ask a group of runners what the reason for video gait analysis is and one of the most common answers will be “to help you choose the right running shoe.”

It may be closely followed by ‘to have your running technique analyzed’ but even in those cases one of the burning questions is typically ‘so are these the right type of trainers for me?’

A study earlier this year by Saragiotto, BT et al.: ‘What Do Recreational Runners Think About Risk Factors For Running Injuries? (2014) highlighted the popular belief amongst recreational runners that wearing ‘incorrect trainers’ is one of the highest risk factors for injury.

To meet this demand, the last few years has seen an increase in running stores making use of in house ‘video gait analysis’ to help provide customers with the ‘correct type’ of trainer. A quick web search for gait analysis shows most results linking it with some form of shoe fitting service.

Unfortunately, despite the genuine good intention from most running stores, the ‘science’ typically used to translate results from their gait analysis into suitable trainer selection is not science.

In this article, we’ll look at the three main reasons why gait analysis to choose your running shoe is an outdated practice and help you understand how you can use gait analysis more effectively.

The ‘arch-type’ model

Many running stores and websites still promote and use the outdated, non scientific ‘arch-type’ model to prescribe trainers. Runners are still categorized into one of three groups, each of which has a shoe to match:

  • high arch’ runners are labelled oversupinators and given a more cushioned shoe
  • normal arch’ runners are labelled neutral and given a stability shoe
  • ‘low arch’ runners are labelled overpronators and recommended a motion control shoe.

As we discussed here, research has conclusively shown that this practice of categorizing runners into three groups based on arch height is way too simplistic (see Richards,CE et al. 2009: ‘Is your prescription of distance running shoes evidence-based?’).

The model provides a very neat, attractive way of selecting a specific running shoe for everyone’s needs but it totally lacks the specificity required to cater for the immensely varied physiological make-up of each and every runner.

The lack of evidence for the arch-type model has seen many websites and stores recently placing less emphasis on the significance of the once popular ‘Wet Foot Test’ in which runners are asked to stand on a heat sensitive foot pad in order to evaluate their arch type.

Statements such as “this will only give a basic indication of your running gait” are now made, as well as the very common “it’s a start and we all have to start somewhere.

But it’s not a start.

The idea that what your arches do when you are standing on a pad will be replicated once you start running has been consistently disproved.

The only ‘start’ a wet foot test provides is that of a slippery slope ending with non-evidence backed footwear recommendation.

One of the biggest problems for some running stores is that science has yet to produce an alternative model that can be used for trainer prescription. As we saw here, the only factor that has stood well in the quest to find shoes that will reduce risk of injury is making sure the shoes are comfortable (see studies by Benno Nigg).

Though the idea of trying on a few pairs, going for a run and seeing what ‘feels’ most comfortable sounds very un-scientific, there is more evidence for that potentially reducing injury risk than prescribing the runner a shoe type based on the arch type model.

Misuse of overpronation

And so we turn to in house video gait analysis.

Having someone look at you actually running sounds like a great way to be recommended suitable trainers, but once again the problem is the model used to prescribe trainers.

It is worth pointing out at this point that recording a video of somebody’s feet when they run is not gait analysis.

It is feet analysis (though I imagine many podiatrists would not be happy about that name either). If movement of the rest of the body is not considered, the only real observation that can be made in an in house ‘feet analysis’ is whether the arch of the weight bearing foot is ‘going too low’, in which case the runner is once again labelled an overpronator, or that the arch is ‘staying too high’, in which case they are labelled an oversupinator.

Sound familiar?

Like the Wet Foot Test, this method of measuring ‘overpronation’ lacks the specificity required to be able to attribute such movement to current or future injury.

Research highlights this e.g. Nielson et al.: ‘Foot pronation is not associated with increased injury risk in novice runners wearing a neutral shoe’ (2013).

Failing that, a quick look at the way in which Haile Gebrselassie’s feet ‘overpronate’ should be enough to seriously challenge the in house overpronation model for prescribing shoes, especially as Gebrselassie runs in Adidas Adizero Adios.

Is overpronation an issue?

Using the term ‘overpronation’ as a diagnosis is where the problem lies.

There are many potential causes for the observed foot mechanics: the most commonly quoted is descending of the inner arch (navicular drop) but the same movement could be a product of the heel falling onto its inner edge (calcaneal eversion) or the forefoot turning outwards (forefoot abduction), or maybe a combination of all three.

Categorizing runner according to what their medial arch is seen to do during slow motion video is not a viable model for prescribing a running shoe.

The Foot Posture Index (FPI) devised by Dr. Anthony Redmond in 2004 uses six quality measurements to assign subjects a score where 0 is neutral and positive numbers signal degree of pronation, negative numbers degree of supination.

Using this system of assessing the foot and giving it a value for ‘overpronation’, a study by Teyhen et al. in 2013 (Impact of Foot Type on Cost of Lower Extremity Injury) linked the FPI definition of ‘overpronation’ to increased risk for injury.

This research has paved the way for future research and highlights the need to stop using the term ‘overpronation’ generically and inaccurately, especially in the prescription of running shoes.

Full-body video gait analysis

Hopefully by now you are realizing that video gait analysis is not about helping you choose the best trainers.

A full body video gait analysis is about looking at the interaction of the whole body and evaluating how movements in one area may be contributing to tissue overload in another.

Research shows the importance of considering the mechanics of the hips and trunk of the body and how they can play a vital role in controlling movement seen distally in the lower limbs (Chuter et al “Proximal & distal contributions to lower extremity injury: a review of the literature. 2012).

In contrast to the lack of evidence supporting a cause-effect relationship between distal contributions to lower extremity injury, an increasing amount of studies are managing to link movements in the proximal lumbo-pelvic hip complex with overuse injuries in the lower extremity, e.g. foot and ankle injuries, patellofemoral pain syndrome, iliotibial band syndrome, anterior cruciate ligament injury.

The message to date is therefore as follows:

Sort out what’s happening up top first.

Full body video gait analysis can help with this. Improving running form can so often lead to resolution of pain in the lower limbs.

Avoid relying on running shoe or trainer ‘prescription’ to sort issues or reduce injury risk.

The current model used in most stores is no more accurate than flipping a coin. Modern running stores should be using their treadmills to help promote comfort for trainer recommendation, not foot mechanics. Let’s leave that for the podiatrists to figure out!

Happy running!

Matt PhilipsMatt Phillips is a Run Conditioning Coach, Video Gait Analyst & Sports Massage Therapist with over 20 years experience working within the Health & Fitness Industry. Follow Matt on Twitter

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How to Return to Running after the Flu or a Fever Mon, 29 Sep 2014 10:00:13 +0000 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 Thu, 25 Sep 2014 10:00:28 +0000 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.


  • 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) Mon, 22 Sep 2014 10:00:01 +0000 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.


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 Thu, 18 Sep 2014 10:00:25 +0000 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.

If you need help with specific foam rolling applications and routines to treat your injuries, check our our Foam Rolling for Runners program.

The guide includes detailed videos and instructions help you understand the “why” behind every movement and exactly how to execute so you’re confident you’re foam rolling correctly, avoiding common mistakes and you’re getting the most from your session. Check it out here.


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The 4 Mistakes You’re Making When Foam Rolling (and How to Fix Them) Mon, 15 Sep 2014 10:00:49 +0000 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.

If you need help with specific foam rolling applications and routines to treat your injuries, check our our Foam Rolling for Runners program.

The guide includes detailed videos and instructions help you understand the “why” behind every movement and exactly how to execute so you’re confident you’re foam rolling correctly, avoiding common mistakes and you’re getting the most from your session. Check it out here.


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