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Sunday
Oct262014

Teach yourself to move for power and efficency

 

The human body is an amazing network of wires feeding the brain an enormous array of information from the status of internal systems to how much force is being applied to the muscles, connective tissue, and bone. With the massive role the nervous circuitry plays in every aspect of our lives knowing how we can train the nervous system and how it works will help maximize training in order to become stronger and more efficient in our movement and in our lives.

A basic review is that the nervous system is broken up into two distinct groups. The first is the central nervous system or the CNS and the second is the peripheral nervous system or PNS. The CNS refers to the brain, brain stem, and spinal cord and it can be thought of as generals and officers in an military unit. All the central and major commands are derived from the CNS and all the sensory information or intelligence is passed back up to the CNS for processing. The PNS is the part of the nervous system that gives the the actual orders to be carried out by the muscles and are the primary receivers of intelligence for the CNS to process.

When it comes to controlling muscles for movement the CNS develops patterns of groups of muscles which it uses to efficiently contract muscles in groups in order to eliminate slow and awkward muscle contractions while performing a task. New movement patterns can be taught and refined over time to efficiently perform tasks needed for activities. These patterns are usually developed over time by practicing an activity over and over again. This can be any activity from throwing a baseball to sitting in a chair for hours at a time.

Movement patterns is something that has become a huge center of focus in the rehabilitation and strength and conditioning fields over the past decade or so. It has been shown that in conjunction with traditional strength training that focusing on quality of movement patterns and will reap better results and decrease rate of injury. Gruber(1) showed with a group of recreationally active adults that having subjects perform balance training exercises only on the lower extremities that their force output of the lower musculature increased significantly in four weeks. This was thought to be do to the high and rapid firing patterns needed to improve balance in the ankles in the feet promoted positive changes in firing speed and coordination in the lower extremities.

In addition Duchateau(2) explained in studies with maximum force production of the quadriceps femoris muscle that when researchers were able to decrease the inhibitory muscle tone of the hamstrings that the force generated by the quadriceps femoris was much greater and the neuro recruitment of more muscle units did not increase. This increase in coordination between the quadriceps femoris and the hamstrings is essential to maximize speed and power in the lower extremities. This is the bases of explanation for proper warm ups and why the functional movement training reduces the risks of injury and increases athletic performance.  

More time needs to be focused on the fundamentals of movement and increasing mobility through healthy functional movement patterns. Doing this increases power production, efficiency of movement, reduces the risk of injury, and increases stability. It is time to focus on how well you move and reach out to a professional that is able to analyze the quality of your movement. Learn to train smarter not harder and you will reach your goals.  

 

  1. Duchateau, J., Semmler, J., & Enoka, R. (n.d.). Training Adaptations In The Behavior Of Human Motor Units. Journal of Applied Physiology, 1766-1775.Gruber, M., Gruber, S., Taube,

  2. W., Schubert, M., Beck, S., & Gollhofer, A. (n.d.). Differential Effects Of Ballistic Versus Sensorimotor Training On Rate Of Force Development And Neural Activation In Humans. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 274-282.

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Saturday
Oct182014

Move Like a Kid!

It’s interesting to see how the field of fitness training, physical therapy, and sports performance all comes down to being a kid again. When I am looking to build a program for a new client or working with a patient no matter his/her age I look to see if the individual is able to master the most basic developmental movement patterns. Can the person perform a yoga cobra and keep their head up, roll from front to back and how do they perform the movement, sit with the legs out and still have mobility, squat, walk or run smoothly, kick with a fluid motion, and use their upper extremities in a skilled manner. This may seem a little odd to think I would have clients practice rolling or crawling but all these movement patterns are the foundation of all activity and as we become older we lose the ability to perform them well or even at all.

Research on the developmental phases of motor movement patterns in children the authors break down the movement patterns into primitive and skilled categories. The primitive movement patterns according to the authors are gross motor control (the recruitment of large groups of muscle to perform a task) that is not segmental in nature. The movement task is accomplished by recruiting all the muscles say for example in rolling, all at once leading to a very rigid movement. This is later followed by the development of skilled movement patterns where the movement is done in a segmental pattern resulting in a very fluid and smooth motion. This fluidity of motion allows for more control, saves energy, and allows for the development of more advanced movement patterns. It is when we become adults and do not perform the basic movement patterns on a regular basis we become more rigid and move in a more primitive movement pattern.

This regression of sorts becomes a very big problem and is the basis of most chronic and traumatic injuries. We lose the ability squat yet ask the body to do activities that require the fundamental skilled movement mastery of a squat. We ask the body to walk or run yet we have lost the skilled mastery of fluid walking and running patterns. We have our bodies do all sorts of dynamic movements but without the ability to perform the most basic movement patterns to support the high demands we put on the body’s structural support system. This would explain why orthopedic injuries are so prevalent in society with adults. We lose the ability to move efficiently generating lots of wear and tear through rigid bracing and allowing forces generated in movement patterns to not be absorbed properly.   

So, if you are looking to start a new workout program or are currently active and are having constant flare ups of random pains see a qualified physical therapist, athletic trainer, or allied health professional that can guide you through a motor developmental sequence. Be a kid again and you will be amazed on how much more fun and success you get out of your workout programs.

 

Friday
Oct102014

Skill, Strength, Power

I am always looking for new ideas on how to make training for road races more effective, dynamic, and lets face it more fun. One of the newer and more popular methods of increasing running speed has been the use of weighted sled towing or pulling. The idea behind the use of sled towing is that it requires the athlete pulling the sled to generate increased amounts of force to pull the sled which translates into increased explosive steps without the sled in competition. But training with added resistance can be tricky and might not work the way most coaches think that it does when it comes to generating faster speeds.

First off, running is a lot like golf with respects to the fact that both sports focus on generating a lot of power while maintaining control over the thousands of sequential movement patterns that have to happen. A good runner must not only focus on how hard he/she may be pushing through the legs but also how well they are moving through space. This is referred to as the skill of running and it is the skill of running that wins races, increases efficiency and enjoyment of running and most importantly prevents injury. This is why I say that training with added resistance can be tricky.

If a runner has not developed the required basic skills to effectively and efficiently control his/her body through the thousands of steps and reactive forces that the body encounters with running, then adding resistance will only multiply the bad habits the runner already has. Secondly, if the runner has developed the proper skills for running and begins using resistance sleds during their practices or training, and the resistance is too much then poor movement patterns may result as a substitution method to overcome the weight. Lastly, too great resistance may decrease the rate of force being developed through the low extremities.

So, is sled towing a bad idea for runners? The answer is no and that if used correctly it can be very useful. Technique must be the primary focus when advancing any training especially when it comes to running. The best rule of thumb is if the resistance you are using is causing a loss in form, then cut back on the resistance to the point where there is enough challenge for growth to be stimulated but not at the loss of skill.

In a fairly recent study of the effects of weighted sled training on athletes sprint performance the authors noted the interesting benefits and technique changes made by athletes that used heavier sleds or resistance that would slow their 10 meter time by 30% as opposed to sleds that slowed their 10 meter sprint time by 10%. They found that the athletes that used the heavier sleds increased their speed, increased their step frequency, but did not increase their step length. The lighter sled group conversely increased their step length but did not increase their step frequency. Also, at the end of the eight week study the heavier sled group increased their sprinting speed greater than the lighter sled group but not by increasing the ground reaction forces but by increasing the step frequency.

This finding was very interesting and shows the different neuromuscular adaptations the body develops to compensate for the difference in resistance. It must be noted that these were experienced athletes and skill is something that they struggle to maintain at all times while training and competing. These were also changes and adaptations that the researchers were not expecting to see. This study illustrates the ways the body will adapt to compensate for added resistance and that if an athlete is not careful the adaptations may not be what he or she was looking for. But if the you focus on skill the adaptations just might surprise you.

 

  1. Kawamori, N., Newton, R., Hori, N., & Nosaka, K. (n.d.). Effects of weighted sled towing with heavy versus light load on sprint acceleration ability. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 1-1.

 

 

Sunday
Oct052014

Getting Ready and Moving Freely

Warm ups are something that many people would like to do but do not seem to have the time to complete never mind stretching after a workout. To quote some of my clients, ‘who has time to stretch?’ Warm ups and stretching are essential components of any workout routine and help to prevent injuries as well as increase performance but, they do take up time in an already tight schedule. To solve this puzzle of performing a complete and effective workout all within the time frame allotted in the modern weekend warrior schedule, we must know what an effective and purposeful warm up consists of and how stretching actually works.

Warm ups are more than just jumping on the bike or hitting the treadmill for ten or twelve minutes. Warm ups are progressively challenging activities that reinforce the activities that will be focused on in the work out or in the competition as well acting to increase the bodies metabolic readiness to deliver energy efficiently to the working muscles and organs. I other words the warm up should last about twelve to fifteen minutes or more and progressively become harder and is nearing the intensity of the actual workout or competition. At the end of the warm up you should be breathing heavy and breaking a sweat.

As for stretching this is easily incorporated into any workout toward the end and should look as if you are still engaged in the building phase of your workout. The purpose of stretching is to teach and reteach the body how  to go through full ranges of motion at the joints and maintain functional control while in those positions. In a recent study researchers took subjects through an eight week resistance training program of squats, pull ups, bench presses and many more traditional full body resistance exercises. The subjects were not allowed to perform any static stretching during the study and their range of motion was measured both at the beginning and end of the eight week study. The researchers found that the subjects increased their range of motion in the hips, knees, and in the hamstrings. It is important to note that the exercises were performed through full ranges of motion. So deep squats, full extension in the arms and shoulders with the pull ups, and so on.

A workout routine should be designed to incorporate a sandwich model of planning. With a dynamic warm up for twelve to fifteen minutes, actual training for twenty five to thirty minutes followed by range of motion training at the end for fifteen minutes and finished off at the end of the day with crocodile breathing. With this model of training you can get all the benefits of the warm ups, workout, and stretching in one session. Try it out and let me know your thoughts.

 

A few references:

  1. Aguilar, A., DiStefano, L., Brown, C., Herman, D., Guskiewicz, K., & Padua, D. (2012). A dynamic warm-up model increases quadriceps strength and hamstring flexibility. Journal on Strength and Conditioning Research, 26(4), 1130-1140.
  2. Mortan, S., Whitehead, J., Brinkert, R., & Cane, D. (2011). Resistance training vs. static stretching: Effects on flexibility and strength. Journal on Strength and Conditioning Research, 26(12), 3391-3398.

 

Saturday
Sep272014

Fuel for the Road and the Immune System

Training for a long distance race like a half or full marathon can be a stressful goal to achieve no matter how well trained you maybe. The stress of ensuring that you get your miles in for the week, that you stick with your program, ensuring you are performing all the preventive injury exercises and stretches, and maintaining your nutritional intake to maximize every step you make can be a daunting task. Fueling during your run, as it turns out, is possibly one of the most important steps you must do well to ensure a healthy and stress reduced finish.

It is well known that running distance races requires the athlete to refuel with drinks that have simple carbohydrates in them so as not to run out of energy and dehydrate. Many times the thought of using these sports performance drinks stops at the need to maintain a free flow of energy rich blood sugar for the run. While that is very true there is a just as important reason and that is to maintain a healthy immune system during your training and after. In other words that Gatorade the athlete drinks during those long hard runs is also helping support the immune system.

In recent studies on the biochemical cascade of responses the body has to prolonged bouts of exercise such as running, it has been shown that if the athlete does not ingest fluids high in simple carbohydrates that the bodies immune system will become suppressed. The reason is because there is an increase in stress signaling hormones (cortisol for example) released that are responsible for starting the process of breaking down sugar stores in the body. This suppression can last a for a rather long period of time post workout and increase the risk of getting sick and becoming run down as well as longer recovery times.

Studies have also shown that carbo-loading does not affect the this mechanism much. When a person carbo-loads before a race they typically load up 8 hours or more before the run and therefore the carbohydrates are changed over to stored triglycerides. Also, there has been shown a dosing relationship to mitigating the over elevation of stress hormones during prolonged bouts of exercise. The dosing recommendations are about 45 grams of simple carbohydrates per hour with a liter of water or the average amount of simple carbohydrates in a liter of Gatorade. When the normal concentration sports drinks was compared to decreased calorie or low concentration sports drinks, the low calorie sports drinks had minimal effect compared to the normal concentration sports drink that had a positive and significant effect.

 

Now, this doesn’t mean that more is better and that drinking sports drinks while sitting on the couch is a smart choice. More concentrated simple carbohydrate drinks may cause stomach and bowel issues while running and increased calorie intake while inactive does nothing to help with the immune system. It is all about a happy balance and that is what the research show the normal concentrated sports drinks provide for the body when performing longer bouts of endurance exercise.