Tag Archives: Anatomy for Runners

Why is stability important for long term athletic success?

Success as an athletes depends on an intact joint, strong muscular support, and specific control from our brain to use the right amount of force for the job. But what happens when our joint is chronically damaged? Is your career over? Let’s take a detailed look at how the body adapts, and even improves with stability training.

Warning: I shot this quickly between patients…..there is some fast talking going on at times…….

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.

 

Lesson of the day: don’t hold back

A nice reminder to keep your eye on the big picture, but remember to enjoy yourself….
“The idea is to become an old wizard; to live a long and fruitful life and have a family and be healthy and enjoy the ride. And speaking of the ride, why not let it rip? At least just a little bit. Everyone I know who’s really stoked about getting out of bed in the morning does that to some extent.”
–Laird Hamilton

Road vs. Cyclocross Bike Fit: what’s the difference?

A lot of hype concerning the difference between fitting a road bike and a cyclocross bike could be cleared up if we all agree on two simple things: put the engine in the right place, and then adjust for handling and comfort. Let’s break this down.

Saddle position

Your pedals are driven by large muscles surrounding the trunk, hips and knees. In fact, about 98.8% of the force you deliver to the pedals comes from your hips and knees. That’s right, the ankle only produces a very small percentage of your total power. So it makes sense to have the saddle height and setback (also called for-aft position) the same between your road and cross bikes to maximize power production. Why would you select a saddle position that compromises power output? Keep it simple. If you like your current saddle placement on your road bike, there is zero reason to change it on your ‘cross bike.

Handling and comfort

Good bar position allows you to move around while properly weighting the front end for corners and technical terrain | Photo © Jill Rosell Photography

Good bar position allows you to move around while properly weighting the front end for corners and technical terrain | Photo © Jill Rosell Photography

Okay, now here’s where things are a bit different. Instead of rolling your slick tire down fresh asphalt, you’ve got to contend with dusty pumice, wet grass, rocks, roots, and the nutrient ‘crossers crave: mud! In short, it’s critical to have a good handling front end. This means that you want to have a little less weight on the front so that you can lift your front end over obstacles easier. Careful though, too little weight on the front end will bring your torso too upright make it hard for your front tire to bite and send you skittering wide towards the outside of the turn. Let’s see how this all plays out in fit.

  • ‘Cross bikes typically have a higher bottom bracket. If you were smart, you’d kept your saddle in the same place as your (properly fitted) road bike.  This means that your saddle is higher in the air than your road bike. Since your saddle is higher, your handlebars also need to be higher.
  • Hand-grip placement for optimal handling: A lot of people rarely use their drops on their road bike. Then when on the ‘cross course, they find that they are forced into the drops on steep downhills to brake and get a better grip on the front end. Most riders find the bike is much more stable when conditions get squirrely if they use the drops. So if you are going to be in the drops, make sure you are comfortable.

So what’s the secret recipe to make sense of it all?

It’s simple really; the goal is to get the bars a bit “closer” to you. And you can do this in three different ways. You can run a shorter stem to move the bars closer, you can run your bars higher (by putting a few spacers under the stem or by using a stem with more rise), or a combination of both. I typically recommend that riders start by raising their bars first (because this usually only means moving spacers or flipping a stem). Setting up the bars with some combination of “up and back” will allow you comfortable access to the drops for good grip and handling, and while still allowing you to have optimal engine placement so you don’t lose any precious watts.

Powerful, sketchy, and somewhat comfortable. Yeap; sounds just like ‘cross racing!

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.

Circles vs. Squares: What’s the best shape for a powerful cyclist?

If there was ever a good topic for an episode of Mythbusters, it would be this: should you pedal circles or pedal squares? We’ve been told that “pedaling circles” is important so that we can apply a smooth even pedal stroke. And word on the street is that this uniform application of power around the cranks is more efficient and makes a better rider.

We’ll lets mock up our own episode of Mythbusters. Let’s pretend that you are doing your thesis on power production in cycling (I did). And let’s also pretend that you are trying to get good data on good cyclists (this was my goal). In my research, I tapped into the best client database I could think of (the US Olympic Training Center). And lastly, let’s pretend that you could examine the pedal cycle of the entire national team, and developmental athletes (I could).  What would you find?

We’ll, this episode of Mythbusters would be pretty clear. World championship and Olympic medals have been won by riders who feature a smooth pedal cycle (circles) as well as cyclists who are mashers (squares). Uh oh. Don’t’ you hate it when real world data flies in the face of what you’ve been told. So where does this leave you?

Spin Scan Pedal Profile: Looking different doesn't mean one is better

Spin Scan Pedal Profile: Looking different doesn’t mean one is better

Its not to say that pedaling style is not important, because it is. In fact, research shows that elite cyclists have better pedaling mechanics than both recreationally competitive cyclists, and even elite triathletes. So if its not the “shape” of the application of power, what does better pedaling mean? Better cyclists have lots and lots of practice turning the pedals over. All this “practice” helps them produce the right amount of force from each muscle, without fighting, or co-contracting muscles during the pedaling cycle. They ride smoother and don’t fight their own pedal stroke. They also can change their pedaling cycle easily when they fatigue, in breaks, or up climbs. Having lots of “strategies” to tap into help as them adapt to the race conditions and terrain they are facing.

The take home:

▪   If you are a rider that has had success mashing your way along at 75 rpm, it doesn’t mean that you must learn to spin at 110 rpm just because someone else does.

▪   Pedaling technique is a variable that better cyclists adjust based on terrain, fatigue, and surface. It is still worthwhile to learn proper pedaling strategies. If you do want to improve your spin, the most beneficial cues are to “scrape mud” off the bottom of your shoe at the bottom of the stroke, and to “kick a ball” at the top of the pedal stroke.

▪   Traction matters. In general mountain bikers have a smoother pedal stroke to maintain traction. If they put all their power around a small part of the pedal cycle their tires spin out.  If you spend time on dirt, emphasize smooth power to keep your tires hooking up  – especially on the climbs.

▪   Better cyclists don’t necessarily pedal circles or squares. They just pedal better circles and better squares – stop reading and go for a ride!

 

 

Spin Scan Pedal Profile: Looking different doesn't mean one is better

Spin Scan Pedal Profile: Looking different doesn’t mean one is better

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

 

 

Bike Fit: yes, its worth it. But don’t take my word for it.

Screen Shot 2013-09-10 at 3.28.42 AMBike fit is critical. Why? cycling is a pretty constrained motion, and you go through a LOT of repetitions. Even the forces on the body are much lower than running, the volume on the bike can still add up to a lot of wear and tear.

So can it make you faster? Optimizing the position of your engine (you!) over your machine (your bike) does in fact pay off. The research is pretty much all over the place on bike fit. Doing well controlled studies is pretty hard to do for cycling, because people are just different. But when you really nail down what’s different, and work to not just improve the “Fit” but also improve the rider on the bike, big things start happening.  In light of this, I thought I’d offer some feedback from a few of my clients over the past year.

“after years of low back pain on the bike, nothing hurts! – thanks!”
Chris Eatough – Professional Mountain Biker, Six-time World 24hr Solo Mountain Bike Champion, Five time US 24hr Solo Champion

“wow – this is going to be fast! – thanks!”
Ben King – Professional Road Cyclist, US National Champion

“Thank man! Had a solid ride yesterday with the new position! Best power output so far by a ways”
Jesse Thomas – professional triathlete, multiple-time Wildflower champion

“Basically, I feel like a kid in Maine again: Lower seat, cleats further back, putting down the power, and trying to ruin corners. Its really fun”
Adam Craig – professional mountain biker: US Olympian, US Champion in XC, Super D, and Cyclocross, Single Speed World Champion

“Loving my bike fit – fast and comfy”
Carl Decker – professional mountain biker, multiple time Downieville All-mountain Champion, US Super D champion, US Road Champion, Single Speed World champion

“Loved, loved, LOVED it! Bike felt so good – Thank you!!!”
Serena Bishop Gordon – 2013 NUE Series Champion, 2nd place US Mountain Bike Marathon Nationals

“The juice is back – nothing hurts and feeling strong!”
Matt Lieto – professional triathlete, commentator, author, fastest bike split IM Whistler 

I don’t work magic, but I do my best to help you achieve your goals. Give me a call if I can help you out with yours.