Tag Archives: physical therapist

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.

 

Anatomy for Runners: Top 9 Thought Provoking Books of 2013

Its always nice to get a shout out. Steve Magness is one of the “better thinkers” in the world of running, coaching, and athlete performance, and I respect his opinion highly. Apparently, Steve is nice enough to respect mine as well, and named Anatomy for Runners as one if his “Top 9 Though Provoking Books of 2013″ – thanks Steve. If you live under a rock, and haven’t come across his amazing blog, I highly recommend checking it out: the Science of Running.

And while I’m at it, I’d like to say thanks to all of you who have purchased the book. I teach all over the country, and the number of clinicians and coaches who already have the book, and actually USE it daily on their teams and patients is, well, quite humbling. I know the little niche I operate in will never reach the status of the Harry Potter, but there are over 11,000 of you around the world reading this book over the past year. I hope its making you rethink the way you approach your training, and your patients, your teams, and ultimately producing better results. If you’d like to pick up a copy, click on the link on the right side of the page!

The work of a decade of my career, bound into the "take home version" for you.

The work of a decade of my career, bound into the “take home version” for you.

Running around from USATF Nationals to USATF Nationals

Last week, I had the privilege of jumping on a plane and traveling to speak at the USA Track and Field National Conference in Indianapolis. It was a great melding of the minds, with the focus on “rebuilding” the athlete pool. I was asked to speak about injury and trying to reduce injury. My talk was titled: “Solving the mystery of running: practices for sustaining an injury free career.” Given that over half of runners get hurt every year, its a pretty important concept to take a step back and try to STOP this madness. In this presentation we talked about how and why mobility, stability, strength, and power are all unique traits that runners must have, and how these attributes directly transfer to gait. And most importantly, how to improve deficits you’ll find in your runners. So after a day of great discussion, meetings, and networking,  I jumped on a plane back home to Bend, OR.

USATF Nationals to NationalsAnd nationals followed me back home!- This weekend is the USATF National Cross Country Club Championships.  About a thousand runners are converging here in Bend to see which XC Club can take the cake. Local stud, Max King, has organized a challenging course for Saturday. On Friday, I’ll be hosting an all-star athlete panel Q&A featuring: Lauren Fleshman, Besty Flood, Mario Mendosa, Stephanie Howe, and Max King. If anyone wants to ask the best what makes them the best, and gain some scientific insight as to why and how these concepts may make sense for you, come on by – we’ll see you at 4 PM PST at the event expo.  And on Saturday (raceday!), we’ll see you starting at 9 AM for the community run. The REP Lab tents  will have fire pits, hot chocolate, a propane heater, and most importantly – we’ll be hosting a holiday cookie swap!  -that’s right – bake some cookies, trade em out, and eat up. And yes, yours truly will be awarding bragging rights for the best cookie at nationals. Sugar cookies are cute, but don’t stand a chance. To all the potential bakers out there, I’ll give you a hint – don’t bother bringing an entry without chocolate if you really do want to win. And while you are munching, you’ll be cheering as MC’s Jesse Thomas and Matt Lieto calling the races from 10 until 2. And rumor has it there are some after-parties happening ’round town……come see us at the tent and we’ll give you the scoop.

And if you can’t make it to Bend this weekend, Make sure to check out the Runner’s World Google Hangout with Oiselle’s Project Little Wing. The REP Lab is proud that these elite women  call our clinic home for their performance and injury prevention needs.

So this weekend: listen to the experts, eat cookies, and run…..that about sums it up!

Treadmill Running: What’s different? What’s the same?

Well, its that time of year again. The sun sinks below the horizon early, and with that my phone rings with reporters wanting to know what tips they should give to their readers about running successfully on a treadmill. Rather than risking this info getting watered down, I figured I’d give you the straight scoop.

  • Fact vs Fiction: A lot of coaches preach the message “you push yourself over the ground outside, and your pull yourself overground on a treadmill”…..this is 100% false. If you look at the fancy stuff we measure called “ground reactions forces” you’ll see very very similar patterns when running on either surface. The overall mechanics are very much the same.
  • Think about it as a different surface, not a different way to run: despite the fact that the treadmill is very similar to running over ground, there are some differences, and some are actually what qualify as “statistically significant.” But if you look at the clinical impact this has, and if you deal with this type of data every day like I do, the differences are really small. There is a difference in body mechanics running on grass, trail, asphalt, and concrete. But again, these differences are small. As long as you slowly adapt your mileage to treadmill, you’ll be OK. No one runs 100% of their miles on trail and then jumps 100% onto the road. This goes for transitioning miles to the treadmill. Allow a few weeks to transition your mileage over, and your body will adapt to these slight changes.
  • Run correctly on your treadmill: Here’s the most important one. Everyone has a friend who ran on their treadmill and then got hurt. Or maybe it was you. They “blame it on the treadmill” – what happened? First, you need time to acclimate (re-read previous paragraph).  But most importantly, its not running on the treadmill that’s typically the issue. More often than not its running differently on the treadmill. Example. If running outside, you are free to make small fluctuations in speed. On the treadmill, the belt speed is held constant. So if you decide to try to slow down 1%, you can’t. As you get tired, your speed changes, but your cadence slows, which forces a longer stride than you are used to. Your body’s soft tissues are in a completely different position (longer) than you’ve trained them in your previous miles. This longer position can create strains on soft tissues and increase the lever arm on your joints and cause pain. But this really isn’t a treadmill issue – its a running form issue.
  • To incline or not to incline? We often hear to increase the incline on the treadmill to 1-2% to make up for the lack of wind resistance. Here’s the deal. Raising the incline slightly increases the physiological stress level compared to flat, and it doesn’t really change the loads much on the body. In fact, running with a slight incline is actually a bit “safer” for the body since it makes it tougher to over-stride. So no harm here.

What’s a safe way to run on the treadmill?

  1. gradually increase the % of miles you are doing on the treadmill
  2. run the same. Be honest with youself. Are you really running 6:45’s on the road? or are you really running 7:15’s? Aim to keep paces realistic. And aim to keep your stride pretty close to what you typically do. An easy way to do this is by counting your cadence (number of foot contacts per minute). Next time you are running 7 min pace, count your strides. If you are consistently hitting 88 per minute (single side), then aim to maintain the same cadence on the treadmill at 7 min pace. This way you avoid overstriding and the stresses it can place on your body.
  3. Novices: don’t go crazy on speed work. Doing intervals makes you tired. Running faster than 800 meter pace on the treadmill can make it much more likely that you’ll run with compensated form.  In general, I recommend tempo intervals on the treadmill, but speedwork is best done outside. If you must do speedwork on the treadmill, make sure your cadence is similar to what you’d maintain outside.

For those of you who like the fine print, feel free to read more below. And of note, all the information in this article pertains to steady state distance running. Sprint training on treadmills is a different concept entirely. My UVA lab group wrote one, and Irene Davis’ team wrote another. No matter on treadmill or outside – enjoy your run!

References:

Riley PO, Dicharry J, Franz J, Della Croce U, Wilder RP, Kerrigan DC. A kinematics and kinetic comparison of overground and treadmill running.Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2008 Jun;40(6):1093-100

Fellin, R.E.,  Manal, K, Davis, I. Comparison of Lower Extremity Kinematic Curves During Overground and Treadmill Running. J Appl Biomech. 2010 November; 26(4): 407–414.

 

Island Power: a case study in athlete development for Ironman World Championships

“Hello- this is Jay can I help you?” After a short sigh, I get a panicked summary of the past several months. A constant battle with shin splints and stress fractures. Not able to run. Rest isn’t helping. Oh and their biggest race of the season – IM Kona- is in 7 weeks. I wasn’t startled. I asked her what her goals were for race day and she said top 10 and a PR in the run. Fast forward through 7 weeks of targeted rehab,strength, and form work. Longest run up to Kona was only 9 miles. Results? She ran a 3:04 and got 10th.

How? It’s actually really simple. For years the triathlete mindset has been that strength and cross training is “something else” to fit in on top of your swim, bike, and run volume. Well, research and successful splits on race day are blowing this myth wide open. The truth? To perform at your limit, its essential to benchmark, and target, your mobility, stability, strength, and power. Instead of just improving your fitness, you can improve you. We didn’t just think outside the box, we threw the box away and re-engineered Linsey’s training in new way to meet her goal. A better you is a faster you.

100% focus during the race, 100% smiles after

100% focus during the race, 100% smiles after

When I saw Linsey 1:40 down with 1.5 miles to go, I knew she could pull through and make a move from 11th to 10th. She had strength and form nailed down solid. Not only did she make the pass, but she made it with over 20 seconds to spare. And I should note that she also maxed out on several of her strength exercises the same week as Ironman. Strong runners = fast (and happy) runners!

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beautiful form, beautiful race course!

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here’s how you start the day in Kona

20131015-032221.jpgMy first, and likely only pic, in Triathlete. Doesn’t this pic look a bit like the “which one of these is not like the other one” song from Sesame Street? Yours truly hasn’t seen 6% body fat in a while…..From left to right: me, Linsey Corbin, Matt Lieto, Chris Lieto, and Elliot Bassett.

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flower power

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Linsey has beer, and it needs transport 1 mile down the road to Bike check on friday…..these are the type of circumstances at which I’m best. Taking resistance training to a whole new level. Ice cold Corbin’s! Get your Ice cold Corbins here!

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some folks will be happiest after IM is over!

Linsey Corbin’s Lucky 13: kudos from the field

I work with many athletes – and to be honest, I get just as much personal satisfaction seeing a person complete their first 10K as I do helping an elite earn a spot on the podium.  I’m always humbled and honored when athletes seek out my help, and even more humbled when they put out some nice footage such like this as a way of saying thanks.  I’m really just trying to do my job!

Well, professional triathlete Linsey Corbin is also trying to do her job with a stellar performance in Kona 2 weeks from today. Check out Day 2 on linseylucky13.com to learn what Linsey and I have been working on together.

The Tipping Point: how does aerodynamics impact cycling?

Cycling is a balance act – you want to produce as much power as possible to make your bike move forward, while maintaining comfort, aerodynamics, handling, and safety. But quite often, we loose sight of the big picture in search of the “fastest looking position.” The most common question I get from time trialists and triathletes is, “Can you make me more aero?” Let’s tackle this issue head on using an example, and some science.

TippingPointPicSeveral years ago, I did a fit on a medical resident; we’ll call him Bill. He was three years into his cycling career and was doing quite well at the district and state level. He came and saw me for a bike fit on his time trial bike. His goals were to podium at state and place top 10 at nationals, and also to eliminate his low back pain on the bike. I’ll spare you the details, but after his fitting, his back pain was 100% gone, he won state, and placed 4th at nationals in the 40K time trial. The next year, he stood on the podium at nationals. Bill was very happy.

Right after nationals, Bill graduated and began making more income and sought out the advice of a wind tunnel to squeak out a performance advantage. The folks in the wind tunnel were able to produce a 28% improvement in his drag coefficiency. This is a very, very large improvement in aerodynamics! Bill left and was excited to see how this new position would play out over the season.

Well, things didn’t play out so well. Bill called after several months of riding in his new position. His back pain returned. He hadn’t made the podium in a single time trial all season. And he wasn’t able to hit the same power output on his new time trial position that he could easily hit on his road bike. Guess what we did? We adjusted his fit exactly back to where it was when we last worked together. Bill made the podium in his next race, and the next, and the next, and won nationals. Bill was happy again.

What happened? Bill hit the tipping point. Sure, he was more aerodynamic, but aerodynamics don’t make you ride fast; producing power does. Let’s back this up with some data:

  • The chief obstacle you have below 11 mph is the rolling resistance of your tires. At slow speeds, nothing matters more than tires and pressure.
  • When your average speed is above 25 mph we should begin to have talks on aerodynamics, and when your average speed is above 27 mph we really need to address aerodynamics. But for most riders, you’ll gain more speed by producing more power over your entire race distance rather than aiming to adopt a sleek, aerodynamic position.
  • Comfort matters. For most competitive cyclists, it’s likely you’re signing up events that 40K or longer. Those of you doing Ironman distance events are spending 5+ hours on the bike. Don’t try to replicate the overly aggressive position of a Tour de France time trailer (whose TT is quite short) just because you think it looks cool. You’ll end up so uncomfortable in your aerobars that you won’t be able to stay in them for long.
  • Power comes from your hips, not your knees. If I told you that you had a muscle in your body that had the best leverage of any other muscle, and was more resistant to fatigue, wouldn’t you want to tap into that muscle? You do have that muscle; it’s called your gluteus maximus. Strong quads are nice, but a proper position on the bike optimizes your glut to drive the pedals.

To get aerodynamic, most riders opt for a low, forward position to get their trunk down and out of the wind. This creates two issues. First, it compromises power by shifting emphasis from muscles in your hips (very fatigue resistant) to your knees (fatigue quicker). Poor compromise. Second, I’ve personally been in the wind tunnel with athletes and it is possible to get excellent drag numbers while maintaining a very powerful pedal stroke. This gets complex and very individualized, but good bike fitters can not only help you look better to the wind, but look better to the clock