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All posts for the month March, 2012

BANG! It was as loud as the crack of the .357 magnum I heard being fired at the gun range last night, however it was the sound of my Jeep’s driver’s side mirror being smashed.

Several seconds earlier I noticed the yellow Hummer H2 barreling toward me, left-side mirror, tires, headlight, and driver taking up my half of the road, yet I wasn’t too concerned. After all, cars straddling the centerline of a relatively narrow thoroughfare is commonplace. You see Greenleaf is an ordinary residential street where passenger cars, garbage trucks, flatbed landscaping vehicles, the occasional Hollywood film crew wagon, and pedestrians including school-kids engage in a daily dance of neighborly goodwill. The choreography includes everyone carefully sidling up to cars parked street-side which ensures safe shoulder to shoulder roadway passage for all. Almost.

Just having rolled over a speed bump, and traveling under 20 mph, I pulled to the right as far as possible to offer the speeding SUV greater leeway. Since rules of the road are founded on motorist cooperation, and because my experience with head to head interface on this same road supports that understanding, I’ve come to expect mutual consideration. Until today. Despite plenty of space on its right, the Hummer refused to steer clear.

WTF?

Fortunately for me, and lucky for the other driver, my soft-top door window was unzipped and folded open at an angle such that it shielded my face from the flying mirror glass that sprayed into my Jeep from the impact. Happily there was a witness present to correct the distorted, defensive account of the woman carelessly driving the Hummer. “No,” said the witness to the guilty woman, “he was going kinda slow. You were going kinda fast.”

Sure, insurance companies will sort it out, and hers will buy me a new mirror, but such property damage is inconsequential. What matters here is attitude. Sadly, the buffer provided by her auto insurance company, her husband the lawyer, and her Hummer H2— at more than three tons and over 9 feet wide, including mirrors— will likely keep her insulated from the effects of her blithe behavior.

My dear uncle Bob used to say that driving a car is like holding a loaded handgun— both can be deadly weapons. But, who’s more dangerous: the intentional shooter, or the oblivious driver?

Over the weekend three of my athletes ran the 2012 LA Marathon. The day was very cold and windy, but at least the rain held off. The race winners had wrapped a couple hours earlier, and the middle of the pack of some 23,000 runners was making its way across the finish line. Happily, my athletes were above the median.

For one, it was her first marathon and she was especially pleased with going the distance. She had never considered herself an athlete, and still struggles a bit with the idea, but now she’s puzzling some hard evidence to the contrary. Enthusiastically she says, “I want to run more marathons!”

Another, who’s run one marathon previously remarks about this personal best race, “It was easy!” Well, easy for him, he’s only 59 years old.

The third is a woman I’d trained over ten years ago for general fitness, for the Big Bear Triathlon (as featured on Discovery Health’s Fitness Fantasy), and for the 2001 LA Marathon. Since, she’s earned an MBA, gotten married, and has had three kids. This Sunday she set a personal record, beating her previous time by a minute. “All that hard work paid off,” she gushes, “and the race went by fast!”

And there you have it.

Every so often I’m accused of being ambiguous, nebulous, opaque…in other words, unclear. Sometimes such claims are not unfounded. Occasionally, though, I can prove otherwise, at least to myself. To that point, one of my clients, a top-flight skier (not the one from my book who “Chewed the mountain a new asshole!”, but one of superior skill, equal age, and opposite temperament) made reference to my book’s description of aerobic endurance training and how to get it, telling me that it was confusing him.

The concept in question is in the second paragraph of Base: 4 to 16 weeks from Chapter Four, Chart Your Course, where I say,

    Though evidence today has been spotty, it may turn out that even a single hard session during the low stress months of Base training may create a confusing pathology. The result, the onset of blood lactate occurring at a lower level means the wrong (anaerobic) energy system is being trained.

The book’s preceding paragraph should put this into context.

    Triathlon, for instance, is an aerobic event so Base is where the primary and most potent adaptation occurs. The Base Phase is where the low intensity training environment encourages growth of the heart, lungs and slow-twitch muscle fibers while the intensity-dependent fast-twitch fibers and lactic acid system are allowed to languish…

In Chapter Four within the Constructing Worthy Workouts section, and under the Determine Your Desired Effect sub-section I juxt-oppose two different workout imperatives.

    You might decide that you want to increase your aerobic endurance. So, in this session you’re going to increase your long run by ten percent, say from one hour twenty minutes to one hour twenty-eight minutes keeping your heartrate narrowly within the low-moderate range of Zone 2…

versus

    …you may want to improve your running speed and pacing. For this workout you’ve settled on running five, quarter mile, high-intensity, Zone 5 repeats at a local high-school’s 400m track. Your first two intervals could be running laps one and three fast, in 100 seconds, and jogging laps two and four in 180 seconds, to allow heartrate to drop into the way Zone 1, to recover.”

Earlier in the book, in Chapter Three, Use Every Means in the last paragraph of Everyman Strength Training I point out that “…we get good at what we do…” meaning that training is specific.

And, under the sub-section, Where the Rubber Meets the Road I say,

    …endurance is more than just slogging sloppily away to the end of some long endeavor. Endurance is a measure of how long you can maintain your good sports technique. Endurance training, by extending time and repetition develops the consistent precision required for maintaining such efficiency of action. As a by-product, endurance training tunes the aerobic engine by increasing mitochondria, capillarization, and aerobic enzymes. The result is that at any given heartrate you can now race farther and faster with good form throughout.

In the third paragraph of Base: 4 to 16 weeks, I continue,

    Maybe a month into Base training…aerobic adaptation is just getting started. The circulatory system still has miles of capillaries left to insinuate throughout muscle tissue. While some study results have indicated that high intensity (90% of VO2 Max) improved capillarization in both slow and fast twitch muscle fibers, it’s still best to avoid diluting the primary metabolic stress of the workout, aerobic efficiency.

Then in sub-section, Build: 4 to 8 weeks I say,

    …as intensity increases volume decreases. Shorten long workouts and add intervals, fast hill repeats, sustained tempo efforts or otherwise increase the intensity of your training to address the precise demands of your goal race.

In the Taper / Peak sub-section I say,

    Once you have concluded the Build Phase [which follows Base], you’re fit and ready to race… Over the next week reduce training duration by about a third and keep intensity high. The following week drop frequency and duration by another third and reduce overall intensity, except for a few, short, faster-than-race-pace efforts. Get it right and fitness soars— that’s super compensation, the point of Periodization.

And, finally, in the sub-section Some Rules of Thumb I say,

  • Personal best fitness is produced through methodical, progressive increases in physical challenge, which is peppered with variety and punctuated with rest.

  • More general activity is performed earlier in the season, and along the way it narrows to become largely event specific.

  • Duration and intensity are inversely related, meaning that long steady effort is best trained with a lower load, while the greater loads best serve shorter intervals… Make sure your levels of efforts are well distinguished throughout your season so you receive the expected benefit.

Ultimately, I’m saying that workouts targeting different physiological responses are exclusive of each other, and that there is a process for planning and building fitness. This plan takes precedence over casual, willy-nilly activity. While limited success is available to recreational exercisers, the serious athlete submits to the program and accomplishes their energetic and thus performance objectives— otherwise, what’s the point?

As a skier first, and a paddle tennis player second my client’s sports favor relatively short, high intensity bouts of activity, and LSD (Long Slow Distance) is foreign to his training expectations, and anathema to his attention span. However, he wants to teach his body to burn fat preferentially so he’s exploring aerobic conditioning. While not directly applicable to the stop / start nature of his sports, endurance training still supports recovery in between anaerobic efforts, reduction of “energy” stored in between ribs and hips, and overall health— all of which are beneficial, especially because a paddle tennis match can last for hours, and a ski session, all day. But, Base is certainly a three or four month, pre-season focus.

Now in March we want to alternate between strength workouts and power sessions to maintain physical resilience, muscular stamina and quickness and agility and organize these adaptations around planned trips to the ski slopes. An occasional long day reminds the aerobic system to continue functioning in a manner similar to its full pre-season development, assuming that it has actually been developed through LSD.

Sport specific fitness then is a step-wise progression that first develops a foundation, or Base, then Builds from there toward a Peak which ideally satisfies particular seasonal goals. To my skier client I must emphasize that it’s important to put the icing on the cake after it comes out of the oven.

I’d like to believe that in Fitness, Straight-Up I stated this clearly enough. If not, perhaps I’m doing it here. If still not, what I cannot explain with words I can demonstrate through workouts. Complete understanding only requires following the plan— that’s clear, right?

I recently ran across an article in the LA Times suggesting that running could be good for us. Specifically, that running can even improve joint integrity. This is encouraging, but I’ve been saying the same thing for nearly thirty years, right alongside with weight training being a healthful activity, too. Science eventually validates what athletes practice on their own. Yet, for a quite a while the common and medical wisdom seems to have been that the constant, so-called pounding of running is harmful to joints. Running, it was claimed, would eventually beat us down and leave us hobbled by arthritis. But long, long ago, once our earliest forebears had come down from the trees it was exactly those forces and impacts of running that shaped our modern physical bodies and defined our movements. If not for this pounding— something known as ground reaction force (GRF) where the Earth pushes up as we push down— we wouldn’t run at all.

What was as plainly obvious to me as my first-grade, in-class recognition (in 1965) that all the continents on the world map fit together like a jigsaw puzzle— then a novel notion for geologists called plate tectonics— is that today running is inherently natural and beneficial to humans. Sadly the arrogance of medical opinion and its dismal appreciation for the natural function and resilience of the human body, the greed of the shoe industry and running publications dependent on advertising dollars, and the blind trust and lack of further investigation of the running community has allowed the myth of running’s intrinsic danger to persist.

Incredibly some physicians have gone on record as saying that we humans are not meant to run. Hogwash! Have they never set foot outside their Ivory Towers? Also, a self-serving medical / shoe-industry complex has developed over the last several decades “treatments” for ailing runners— shims, splints, cushions and analgesics— but has yet to make any progress in solving the ongoing running injury epidemic. If anything, despite all of the new technology and advances in treatment injury in runners is expected, accepted, and is becoming even more common. (By the way here is just one report that indicts the sacred running shoe as an injurious variable in the unsafe running equation. And one more by Dan Lieberman, Ph.D.) I might add that this year at least half of all runners will be injured by their sport. Next year, too. The year after, and on and on until we recognize the real problem. But solving the problem dams the revenue stream— and that’s no incentive to profiteers.

Of course, running itself isn’t the problem. That’s because we evolved as athletes, and in large part as runners. (And what is athletics if not modern, symbolic celebration of our natural daily physical lifestyle— running away from danger, throwing objects in hunting, dueling with others as individuals or tribes, etc.?) This is evidenced by several million years of evolution, and some more “primitive,” present-day societies. Our distant ancestors had to adapt to far more than we can imagine to develop these bodies that we take for granted and so routinely abuse with inactivity, indulgence, fashion, and other carelessness and indiscretions. Thing is, our civilized ways have so insulated us from our primal grace that we’ve simply forgotten how to run. While we are actually hard-wired for running, severe deficiencies in activity and low self-expectancy owing to our modern lifestyle leave us woefully out of touch with our birth-given physical fluencies.

Unwitting parents are the first to undermine their kids’ natural running abilities by slapping shoes on their feet even before they are walking, often squeezing and deforming the feet and certainly deadening their proprioceptive connection to the ground. Further, many parents, startled by their children running with abandon toward a street, or just beyond their immediate reach scream “Stop!” Their kids then usually throw a heel out in front of them to hit the brakes. A gestalt develops where, as the youngsters are growing up, many— most actually— soon adopt a running style of leaning forward with their upper bodies which is consistent with their conscious intent “Go!”, and at the same time they extend a straightened leg out ahead of them to land on their heel, effectively stopping themselves on each and every stride, which is the subconscious direction “No!”

Later, shoe companies pad the heels of these kids’ jogging shoes to mitigate the pain of longer distances using their improper stride, and traditionalist coaches teach injurious techniques like “heel striking,” “paw back,” “foot drag” to some of the more gifted, and the more naive athletes. Many top athletes succeed in spite of their coaches due to superior physical and mental resilience. (Again, thank those ancestors.) Others, less talented or less robust buy into any number of silver bullets positioned in the guise of essential gear— expensive cushioning and motion control shoes come to mind straightaway. On the flip side, however, barefoot runners tend to suggest that reacquainting oneself with his or her own feet and re-learning how to run offers the greatest reward…to the runner, anyway.

Now, there are, uh-hem…barefoot shoes. And, while I run in Vibram Five Fingers, and have even worn a hole through the sole of one pair, I run barefooted, too. My feet don’t wear out like do the VFF, rather they get stronger. Plus, the couple millimeters of rubber and felt underfoot in the VFF significantly reduces my ability to feel the ground and adjust my stride (though not as badly as a conventional running shoe). Point is, barefoot is best. As I mention in the Runnin’ Nekkid section of Fitness, Straight-Up, I don’t expect everyone to throw away their shoes for good and start running exclusively barefooted, even though it’s a really good idea. What’s in our interest though is to at least learn how to run “like” we’re barefooted so we can make use of the natural biomechanical spring that those earliest forebears developed for us.

I learned Pose Method running about a decade ago directly from Nicholas Romanov, Ph.D., the founder of the Method. Over the years I’ve explored others’ takes on running, and have done a fair bit of research on running, and have ultimately recognized that in Pose Method I’ve found the one singular natural running style. Pose Method is a conceptual model of running that has a precise methodology. It’s system of movement that’s learnable, teachable, supported by scientific studies, physical laws, and thousands of athlete testimonials from novice to Olympian. Best of all, it works really well for me, as shown here, and here, and here. Pose, Fall, Pull— simple, elegant, and efficient.

You see, nature tends toward parsimony. For instance, many children when they first begin interacting with the physics of their three-dimensional world naturally run Pose. Before they know that they’re even running they just feel the relationship of their bodies with gravity and ground reaction and fall in the direction of their interest, and their bodies follow. Their joints remain bent and so capitalize on the springiness of their muscles, tendons, fascia and bony architecture. They land on the forefoot beneath their hips which preserves their momentum. They quickly pull their foot off the ground instead of trying to push themselves forward, meaning they allow gravity to do its job, accelerating them to whatever speed their enthusiasm and foot turnover will allow. They tend to enjoy the experience because it’s natural and it feels good to them.

How, then is this parsimonious— there’s so much going on, so much in which to invest attention? Fortunately, the only active part of running is changing support, or pulling the foot off the ground. It’s just one thing, and the rest happens more or less on its own, and it hinges on timing. Kids just feel this timing. However, most will lose it the more they “learn” about running. So, as adults, we must reorient ourselves. Barefoot makes it easier, but it can still be accomplished in shoes. The key is pull the foot off the ground on time, as soon as the body’s center of mass passes over its support, the ball of the foot. And while new running mechanics are quick and easy enough to get across through specific drills, perception— knowing when to pull the foot from the ground— takes focus and patience to develop and refine. Now, I’m good at it, but I’ve worked at it, and I still work at it. It’s like playing a musical instrument, or practicing a martial art— you can become good, even great, but there will always be room to improve. That’s a good thing.

Ultimately safe and successful running is a matter of learning to feel when your technique is correct, and when it needs adjustment, and then making that change. Happily, science now gives those who need it permission to run safely, so finally we all have the rest of our lives to run toward greater skills, fitness, and health. And some runners have a head start.