Author Archives: an athlete's body

About an athlete's body

Your body is a pretty cool thing. Wouldn't it be cool if you understood more about how it worked? A lot of information sources out there focus on developing your athletic engine. That's important! But it rarely has anything to do with your injuries, or maximizing your mechanics. This blog is here to educate and develop your chassis, so that your engine works better. Because no one likes to sit bench. An athlete's body moves with mobility and control. This is for you. This is An Athlete's Body.

United States of Nike: USATF Sponsorship has failed our athletes, and our sport.

nike-blazer-usaI pledge allegiance to Swoosh of the United States of Nike, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under Phil Knight, indivisible, with liberty and justice for Michael Jordan, FuelBands, and cute running shorts.

Do my kids learn this in school ? NO.

Then why do we have a situation where a Mr. Nick Symmonds has been banned from the world championships for not agreeing to the “policy” on wearing “official gear”…..Nike gear….. in all USA Track and Field events, training sessions, and even in breakfast in the hotel.

Let’s make this very clear folks. Our national governing body for our sport is called ” United States of America Track and Field”. The goal of is this organization is to get medals at the Olympics and World Stage. That’s it. Then why is a fashion faux pas preventing our 800 meter National champion from representing our country @ the world championships?

Control.
I do understand that our governing body is dependent on sponsorship to keep the lights on, cover expenses, and hopefully provide unique and amazing opportunities to enable the most talented runner’s in America to represent us on the world stage. And I agree that sponsors should be entitled to coverage to reflect their efforts. But individual athletes also have their own sponsors, who deserve credit and exposure for their individual help. And these sponsors are entitled to their time in the lime light as well for the funding they provide to the individual. And by the way USATF, Nick fully complied with your requirements to wear official team uniform and Nike gear at meets, press conferences, pictures, etc. But why, and most importantly how, can USATF place a blanket ban on all non-Nike sportswear at all events related to racing and training?

Is this the goal of USATF to solely promote Nike? I don’t think so, because here is USATF’s mission statement  – taken directly from their website:

The mission of USATF is to provide vision and leadership to the sport of track and field in the United States, and to promote the pursuit of excellence from youth to masters, from grassroots to the Olympic Games.

Seems like USATF has placed their emphasis on the athletes, not their sponsors. Then how could a situation like this happen?

Is it some sweet heart deal Nike struck with the old boys club @ USATF? We should expect these type of demands from China, the Soviet Republic, or other dictator based nation, but not the US of A, where people have free will and individual rights. A NGB wouldn’t allow a corporate entity to flex muscle over on them……would they?

OK, I know I’m being too altruistic you say……sports has become big biz, and its all about the almightily dollar you say. Nike put up the $$$, and they control the shots. OK, well, sure, Nike, has offered some rather large sponsorship funding to USATF. Both now and for the foreseeable future. And I’m not so sure I’m really OK with this, and think both Nike and USATF are guilty here. Having the majoity of the USATF operating budget come form one single outside company is not OK. The Figures I’ve heard are 16-20 million from Nike out of a 24-30 million yearly operating budget. Half to two-thirds of the annul budget is coming from a fashion company that wants its wares seen. So if this is a pure financial issue in the real world,  it would be an anti-trust case. Any lawyers want to back me up on this one and go to town?

Who’s really in control here?
Look USATF – you got yourself into this mess when you allowed an apparel company to buy controlling interest. And if you were Tide, no one would really care. But this isn’t Tide. You exist to help “us” as individuals, as a community, as a governing body, and as a nation. Each athletes that trains and races under your auspice has nobel goals of being the best they can for themselves, and for our country. Its what the entire Olympic movement is based upon. Faster, Higher, Stronger is supposed to mean athleticism, not the stock ticker.

So how about some answers guys? Nike or USATF- either of you feel like telling us what kind of biz deal you struck for this holy grail of sponsorship? Because in general, sponsors have the best interest of those they support. That’s the entire reason you’d sponsor someone to begin with, right? You felt compelled to enable all US athletes to succeed at the highest level…..right Nike? And the terms that you, USATF, agreed to upheld your mission statement….right? They allowed for athletes rights to support themselves and maintain their own sponsorship and income so they can do things like, say, eat and sleep under a roof between training runs. Because I’ve got to tell you, the mumblings around the world of track and field are not so positive. Its completely backfired. The swoosh is not a sign of inspiration, but rather big brother looming overhead. Look Nike, we know you are a big company, and you have lots of money. That doesn’t mean you have to be the big bully that no one respects.

In short, I’ve got to say – this is embarrassing. The goals of our NGB have clearly gotten compromised. Nick has been training hard to be ready for you, and ready for the world stage. What have you done constructively to help him? I’m shocked, puzzled, and perplexed at your decision to leave Nick off the world team: a true conflict in interests. But if you guys try to pull this stunt again and look past him, or anyone else in this situation, for the Olympics, well, I’d ask all parties involved to read the mission statement of USATF, and ask yourself what you’ve done to uphold that message today, and for the future.

Are Larger Runners More Prone to Injury?

I had a great chat with Competitor Magazine recently about just this question. If you’d like to know the rest of our conversation, take a look at the jump.

Take home – weight is WHAT you are made of. If that weight is predominantly well-trained and functioning tissue (lean body mass!) – you are right on track. People comes in all shapes and sizes, and people who win races come in all shapes and sizes!

Take a look here for the full scoop!

Shoulder Solid – Improve your posture on the bike

You pedal with your legs, but your shoulders and core drive the front end, and deserve some respect too. In this video, Jay Dicharry and Lindsey Voreis will teach you why posture and shoulder position are critical to keep you solid on the bike.

Better bodies make better riders, and better rides!

The New York Times talks Maximal Shoes – or maybe maximizing yourself

I really like house projects. I know, I’m likely i the minority here, but it gives me a way to be involved in the place I live, and make stuff, and well, I find that pretty cool. To be successful at this, you’ve got to have fancy tools like a chop saw, joiner, planer, but more importantly know how to actually use them!

So when it comes to footwear, I tell my athletes that footwear is but a tool for the job. Full disclosure, my lab consults for many different footwear companies, and these findings have helped shape a number of products on the wall at your local running speciality store. I’ve seen objective data on how different footwear influences running gait and the individual runner. Not just a slow motion video of your foot pronating, but really dorky stuff like force vectors and the like. All of this data we collect has shown me a few things:

1. Shoes do make a difference.

2. There is no single shoe optimal for all runners, or even a single shoe that is optimized for a single runner across multiple speeds. Again you are looking for the “right tool for the job”

3. Its been really interesting to see what is “marketed” vs. what really “works” in each shoe.

Finding an optimal match of footwear for you is currently best done in a lab where we can measure data points to help runners find the best tool for their needs. As we learn more about what shoes REALLY do, hopefully the REAL message and technology will get out to your running retailer to help you match what is right for you (and the simple slow motion barefoot running assessment isn’t even close to the right way to match a shoe to your gait, as the research shows there is zero correlation to foot pronation and matching footwear).

However, let’s break this co-dependent relationship on shoes. In the excellent New York Times article on the upswing trend of maximal shoes, I closed with a statement saying that runners should spend less time shoe shopping and more time improving themselves. Gathering clinical, biomechanics, and training data with many thousands of runners over my career, has led me to the conclusion that the best thing you can do is to put a better “you” into a pair of shoes. If you’d like a little a help here, I suggest this video I made with Running Times a few years ago. While its called “Are you ready for minimal?” it really applies to all runners, and the goal is simple: the foot is the most important thing. Period. If you bring better foot control to the table, you aren’t relying on the shoe.

And if you’d like to know more on how footwear applies to running, I’ve got a whole chapter dedicated to footwear in Anatomy for Runners (with over 80 references!) and also highly suggest Pete Larson’s book Tread Lightly.

Here’s a recipe for success: Put the best foot you can into a shoe that lets your foot do its job. Don’t be afraid to try out a bunch of different shoes to see what works best for you, but don’t skimp on your body. You want it to perform? learn how to use it, and give it some attention.

My buddy’s joiner and planar allowed me to fabricate a beautiful african mahogany door to a cabinet I once built. But its the knowledge of how to USE those tools that allowed me to produce a beautiful piece (and avoid loosing a finger in the process!)

The Perfect Christmas Gift for Runner’s on Your List

Want to help the runner you love (or yourself) reach their next level this Christmas? OK, so sure, here’s a shameless plug…. but hey, its 11 bucks at amazon, and Santa will have it under your tree or in your stocking by the time you wake up on the 25th.

To all of you who have bought the book, thank you! And to those that haven’t, the gift of knowledge is keeps on giving.

Merry Reading, and Merry Christmas Everyone!

The Traveling Runner: how to maintain benefits from weights when you don’t have a gym

Does anyone else live in a bubble where time-zones tick by as fast as minutes? Last night I got back home from one trip, unpacked, repacked, and flew off again this morning….traveling can be tough on our routines, and unfortunately, wreak havoc on our athletic efforts. Let’s face it, on some trips we have hours on end to utilize the high end gym (that is likely nicer than the one you have at home!). But for most of the time, it’s a pulley machine, a swiss ball, and a treadmill stuck in a standard sized hotel room masquerading as a “gym”. Not really an ideal environment to push the limits. And on top of limited equipment, you likely only have about 30 min between answering emails from your “regular work” on top of everything else demanding time on your trip. So how do you maintain your benefits of your weight work while facing the demands of traveling?

 

Its easy to say – OK – no weights, I’ll just go for an easy run. No harm in this at all. But for those of you really dedicated to making gains while on the road, there is a will, and a way. Take a look again at the previous post on ways to improve your neuromuscular recruitment. If the weight room isn’t set up to help you kickstart those fast twitch fibers, hitting some local hills, or even doing sprints in the parking lot go a long way.

 

But remember, the goal of these is to go HARD. Really hard. As hard as you are working on the last few reps in the weight room. And to go that hard, it means you have to rest between intervals. For those of you who think that rest is only for the weak, let’s look at what sprinters do. People who run hard for a living (sprinters) take approximately 1 full minute easy for each 10 meters they run. So yes, a 30 meter sprint means 3 minutes rest before the next one. And keep the durations short. Intervals over 40 meters aren’t helpful. And while sprinting hills is really tough, the effort should still be quite high and be limited to less than 20 seconds of effort. Throw your shoes on, hit a short easy run, some dynamic warm-up moves, and then hit some intense hills or sprints. Jump in the shower, and get back to travel life……knowing you did something for yourself before the day even started.

Neuromuscular control: why is it important for runners, and 3 easy ways to improve it

Efficient movement is one that allows you to activate your muscles as fast as possible. Why? Because running demands some pretty quick contact times (between .08 – .3 seconds every stride). If you can generate a forceful contraction rapidly during the stance phase, you’ll tap into some amazing efficiency. And tapping into those forceful contractions requires good “neuromuscular control”. This term gets throw around a LOT with abandon. A quick explanation here: Strength is nothing unless your body can control it. Our nervous system needs to “learn” to control our newfound strength and power. Said simply: better neuromuscular control, better economy.

 

To get more of your nervous system in the game, we need to recruit more muscle fibers to contract. And there are three ways that we can increase muscle fiber recruitment.

 

  1. Sprint all the time. If you are in a drag race, you aren’t going to pull up in a Prius. You are going to borrow your neighbor’s Porsche. Who cares about economy, you want to win the checkered flag! Running as fast as you can isn’t really that efficient. It costs way more energy per distance than running slow. This increased energy cost comes from recruiting a LOT of muscle fibers at once. Sprinting is actually one of the best running- specific forms of strength training out there. Its not just for track-stars. I have my 800 meter, 5K, 10K, 13.1, 26.2 and even ultra runners doing sprints at various cycles during the year. But its hard, and that why we don’t do it every day!
  2. Run Hills. No secret here. Running up hill requires we raise our body up against gravity more than running on flats. And the extra force per step it takes to conquer that hill comes from….you guessed it…..more muscles fibers being recruited each and every step. Hills are tried and true for years to improve running-specific strength. But again, these place a big training load on our body, and we can’t do them every day.
  3. Lift weights. The cool thing about weights is that we can get a huge increase in the number of muscle fibers activated (there’s that catchy term again…..more neuromuscular recruitment!) without a big cardiovascular and connective tissue training stress. Lifting quite heavy and quite powerfully has been directly coorelated to running economy. And here again, you can’t do these daily either.

 

So the secret to improving your ability to activate more muscle fibers comes from, well, activating more muscle fibers. Take a look at your training plan and see how you can include 1 or 2 of these techniques into your own strategy each week. A little goes a long way here. Have fun, and watch as you achieve those running milestones.