Colorado Springs Group Runs

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Resistance training for Runners

A common topic is whether or not runners should lift weights.  The answer should be simple, right?  Yes or no?  But I think there is more complexity there, and as a podcaster I really like points out, context matters.

I want to use the term resistance training in place of weight training as one can achieve the goals without lifting weights.  For instance, body weight exercises can be quite effect at the start of a program.  Resistance training, to me, also includes plyometric training.

First, yes, we runners should be doing resistance training. The rationale from the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) position paper is that resistance training can increase muscle mass and can stop the loss of muscle mass.  Basically, if we do not use a muscle group, we lose it.  While we runners are using our legs regularly, we likely are ignoring the rest of our body.  Heck, even running can lead to leg muscle imbalances.

It is important to understand that when we lose muscle mass, we lose active tissue that expends energy throughout the day.  Now, you will see very large numbers in terms of how many kilocalories a pound of muscle burns.  I will venture that most of the numbers are way too high.  While muscle tissue is active, it is not as active as many people think.

ACSM recommends working major muscle groups (chest, back, arms, legs, abdominals, and back) 2-3 times per week with at least 1 set of 8-12 repetitions.  I think it is obvious that if you increase the sets that you are likely to see more benefits.  The resistance should be between 60 and 80% of one repetition max (1RM, think of how much you could lift just one time).

One of the fears I often hear from runners is that weight training will add bulk.  Yes, this is possible, but the type of training and your muscle physiology will dictate how much bulk you are likely to add.  To look like Mr. Universe you are going to have to have the muscle fibers that will respond to such training and spend far more time in the gym that the ACSM (or I) will recommend. (I will leave aside the issue of performance enhancing drugs like steroids.)

As mentioned above, the biggest reason to add resistance training is to keep from losing muscle mass. The loss of muscle mass can have a big impact on your daily living as you get older.  It can be as simple as having difficulty lifting a small child (like a grandchild).

It is critical that exercises be performed properly.  Poor technique could lead to injury or not focus on the muscles targeted and slow the development.  This would be a good reason to pay for a few sessions with a certified personal trainer (not just asking the biggest dude in the gym).  The best bet in this area is a National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS).  Let the trainer know exactly what you are looking for:  to be taught proper technique for lifts that are going to help you.  The question comes, "What lifts are those"?  (More on that later.)

A key question that arises for runners is: Should I train my legs?  I would say for most runners you could skip the legs.  I know this sounds weird, but depending on how much you are running you might be fatiguing your legs with the running and not want to increase the fatigue with resistance training.  However, I am open to some training.  If you choose to train the legs, I recommend squats as a multi-joint exercise for the legs.  I will also discuss some plyometric exercises that will train the legs.

 In training, it is recommended to start with large muscle groups and work smaller muscle groups after.

I am pretty traditional in that I think people should progress from hypertrophy (making the muscle fibers larger), to strength (increasing force production in each fiber) to power, possibly (the ability to generate force quickly).  Another factor that can be included is stabilization.

Stabilization is part of the strength-endurance phase that the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) promotes.  This type of training works on balance.  For instance, doing exercises on an unstable platform such as single-leg bicep curls or stability ball chest press can be beneficial since running is a single-legged exercise.  These exercise engage the core: the muscles of abdomen and back that keep us upright.

For hypertrophy, NSCA recommends 3 to 6 sets of 6 to 12 repetitions per set with the resistance at 67 to 85% of 1RM with 30 to 90 seconds between sets.   Hypertrophy is a good place to start, and there is no shame in starting with light weights as you learn proper technique.  One can conceivably stay in hypertrophy training forever.  You will need to increase the weight as you get stronger so that you are just able to finish the workout.  It is not going to do you a great deal of good if the resistance is too low once you get stronger.  If you are completing 3 sets of 12 easily, increase the weight by 5 to 10%.

For strength, you will want to increase the resistance to about 85% of 1RM, reduce the reps to no more than 6 and sets to 2 to 4 (although some will say 6) with 2 to 5 minutes between sets.  It is critical that you allow for more rest between sets as you need time for the muscle to restore itself chemically.

That is enough for now.  The next blog will deal with power and core workouts.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Nutrition: My thoughts

In a TED Talk Tim Noakes, MD says "...fifty percent of what we teach is wrong, but the problem is we do not know which fifty percent it is".  I suspect that there is no more area in which this is true than when it comes to nutrition.

For a fitness professional, and really anyone else really, nutrition is so confusing.  Listening to media reports that seem to contradict what you heard a few days before muddies the water.  I think this leads a lot of folks throwing up their hands and eating what they were eating before.  What I will present below might be controversial to some.

1)  I think the idea that any one diet will work for everyone is silly.  The variation in humans is great enough that the idea that ever person on Earth should eat the exact same diet is foolish.  Now I will admit that at one time I did hold onto the idea that diet guidelines could be applied to everyone.  Some people do not digest or process some foods as well as others.  Native Americans, for the most part, do not synthesize alcohol as well as Europeans.  So would you recommend a daily drink for them?  What about lactose intolerant folks? Would you recommend milk? Or those with legitimate gluten issues?  Would you recommend a high grain diet?
2) Everyone has an ideal diet.  The trick is finding it.  Also what makes an ideal diet?  My take is that it is a diet that reduces markers for cardiovascular disease, diabetes and other chronic disorders.  For some people performance needs might also need to be considered.  How do you find the diet that works best for you?  Trial and error and data gathering.  Before making a change, get blood work done to look at cholesterol, triglycerides, etc.  After trying a diet for a sufficient period of time (let's say 90 days minimum), get blood work done again to see if there are changes.
3) Do not demonize food.  No foods are bad foods (okay except maybe cauliflower).  Have a piece of cake on your birthday!  Of course, eating cake every day is probably not a good idea.  Fat is not evil, and neither is gluten.  The number of people who are truly gluten intolerant in the United States is pretty low.
4)  Eat when you are hungry not because the clock shows a certain time.  (Here is an area where athletes training is going to vary, but that is a small group of people).

About 1.5 years ago I was approached by a woman (I will call her Ketogirl) who had just started low carb, high fat (LCHF) and wanted to train for a half-marathon.  We met and talked about her new diet.  She is quite intelligent and had done some digging into the LCHF world.  I told her that I had little experience in this area and had never coached anyone on such a diet.  Her goal was to consume fewer than 50 grams of carbs per day.  How a common recommendation is that you need 100 grams per day to keep the brain functioning properly or optimally.  So going to 50 is really going low carb.

So she started training under my guidance.  Due to some life factors, she stopped the training after a month, but I had begun to look into the LCHF movement and it really opened my eyes.  I was (and still am) skeptical that is is right for everyone.

In general I am not a fan of overly restrictive diets except where medically necessary. I believe in eating a variety of foods.  My own diet is not very good so I tend not to critique the diets of others either!

I will post more on nutrition in the coming months.

Thanks for indulging me.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Rating of Perceived Exertion

In my post last week on HRMs, I commented that I like to use rating of perceived exertion (RPE) regardless of the devices that I use with my clients (or myself).

RPE is a subjective assessment of how you feel during exercise.  It takes into account the whole-body experience and not just the legs (since I am a runner and coach runners, I tend to focus on the legs). While running, I am assessing how my legs feel along with my breathing and any sensations elsewhere.  I like RPE because it takes into account my whole body.  A HRM only measures how fast my heart is beating.  A GPS only measures how fast (or slow) I am moving (okay changes in elevation too).

Yes, RPE is subjective, but I believe it is still very useful.  If a runner is using a HRM but is having difficulty maintaining the intensity needed, RPE can tell us that the effort was harder than expected or harder than in the past.  We can then look for reasons why that might be the case.  Was the terrain hillier or more technical (or the trail runners) than usual?  Was the temperature warmer than normal?  Did the person have a bad day at workout?

In an effort to quantify RPE, we use a numbered scale that has specific descriptions that go with each rating number.  There are two commonly used scales.  The Borg scale (take it easy Star Trek: TNG fans) rates the effort from 6 to 20.  The modified Borg scale (and it has nothing to do with the great tennis player either) goes from 0 to 10.  (The hyperlinks will take you to pages that give the verbal descriptions.)

I have found that people are very consistent in their ratings.  When I worked at the US Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, CO, we tested some athletes multiple times using metabolic carts and measuring blood lactate levels.  Each time we also monitored their RPE.  After many tests with the same athlete, I could predict what their pace (or power) at lactate threshold would be based on RPE.  One triathlete on his running tests would consistently reach his lactate threshold at a RPE of 16 (using the 6 to 20 scale).  The blood data backed this up.  We never went solely on RPE, but it was a tool athletes could use in the field if HRMs or powermeters failed.

To me, RPE provides another piece of data.  While my GPS or HRM will get me some numbers, I also want to gather information on how I feel.  If the data seems to be out of what I normally experience, then I will assess myself to see if I can determine a cause.

Another advantage of RPE is that technology sometimes fails you and RPE gives you an idea of how hard you are working.  It can also free you from that technology which can be liberating.  RPE is also great for that person who is not into tech but that wants to track the workouts.

So if you are into uploading your data, in the comments section add RPE for that session.  Do this for a time period to see how well it tracks.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Heart Rate Monitors and Why I Am Not a Fan of Them

Heart rate monitors (HRMs) are relatively cheap and some have moved away from the, often, uncomfortable chest strap feature.  However, I find them to be more trouble than they are worth except in limited situations.

First, why measure heart rate?  Well, as we ask our bodies to work harder and harder on a run (or during any exercise) we increase the metabolic demands and that means the demand for oxygen increases.  One way we meet that demand is by increasing heart rate.  (The amount of blood pumped per beat -stroke volume--also increases early on).  The increase in oxygen demand is pretty linear and so is the heart rate increase.  Linear means that if I increase my running pace by 5% every few minutes, my heart rate will also increase by a certain amount and that those increases continue until we get near our maximal efforts.  Because heart rate and oxygen demand are related, we use HR as a proxy (stand in) for oxygen uptake.

Okay, so what could be wrong with that?  Well, that relationship is solid in a lab setting where temperature and pace is tightly controlled, but in the outside world effort changes a little and you might be going up some rises and down small hills and you have the wind and the sun to deal with.  So the relationship falls apart somewhat.  So running 5 miles at 166 beats per minute (bpm) on a cool October day could be a very different workout from running 5 miles at 166 bpm on a scorching hot August day.

One of the things that happens to heart rate as we get more fit is that at a given absolute intensity, HR decreases.   So if you take a person who has not exercised in years and measured his/her resting HR and then measured it again after several months of running, the resting HR is likely to be lower.  If that person was walking at 15 min/mile on day 1 and then several months later walked at that same pace, the HR would also be expected to be lower.

Here are some of my issues:
1) To get the most benefit, you need to measure your actual maximal heart rate (HRmax).  The formulae you often see such as 220-age or 205-(age*0.5) can be off by 10 bpm or more for an individual.  To get HRmax you need to push yourself to your MAX!  Now this can be done in a hilly sprint type workout or taking the highest HR seen at the end of a 5K.  Both will get you better data than any formula.  There is an alternative of using lactate threshold heart rate, but that is a little messier in my opinion.
2) Many factors affect your heart rate.

  • Temperature is a huge factor.  Doing a run in July at a given pace and another run in November at that same pace will likely yield very different heart rate readings.  (I will put my money on the November rate being lower).  That makes comparing the July and November runs using HR challenging.
  •  Hydration status plays a role.  If you are hypohydrated (underhydrated), your HR at a given intensity will very likely be higher than when you are euhydrated (normal hydration).  One reason is that the plasma (the watery part) of the blood is decreased and the blood does not flow as smoothly requiring the heart to work hard.
  • Sleep or fatigue can be a factor.  If you are not recovered from your previous workout or just did not get well-rested, you might see an increase in heart rate.
3) The heart rate training zones that one often sees are not as clear cut as the proponents make them out to be.  The difference in 75% of HRmax and 76% HRmax is not much a difference at all in reality.
4) Cardiac drift:  this is the phenomenon where during continuous exercise lasting for longer than an hour (although it can occur quicker) even if you maintain the same intensity, your heart rate will rise or "drift" upwards.  While some of this can be accounted for with dehydration, even when exercisers have maintained fluid balance the rate has risen.  So the issue becomes, especially during a long race, where a person wants to maintain some pre-determined heart rate and would need to slow the pace in order to maintain that rate.  This slowing, even when a person is doing fine, could lead to a decrease in performance.
5) The person relying solely on HR may ignore how he/she is feeling.  Are you struggling to maintain that heart rate?  If so, other information could be telling you to slow (or stop).  If you are going to use a HRM, please do not become a slave to it (same for GPS devices!).  Listen to your body and adjust accordingly.
6) How is the data you are gathering being used?  Data management (and this holds true for GPS as well) is tricky.  I suspect that most people will perform a run at some HR and then never look at the data at all.  If they do look at it, what are they looking for?
7) It is impractical for many interval training sessions.  When you increase the intensity, it takes a bit for your HR to get to where it needs to be.  Let's say you are doing efforts lasting 3 minutes and are trying to reach a HR of 170 bpm.  You start out and after a minute the HR is at 155 bpm.  At minute 2, HR is 165 and just as you finish your HR reaches 170 bpm.  Does this mean that you need to run faster?  NO! Heart rate lags behind demand and can take 2 to 3 minutes to reach the required HR to sustain that demand.  So for intervals lasting less than 3 minutes, the HR data can be deceiving.

Now, I am not an absolutist on this.  I see how a HRM can be a useful tool.
A)  In general I think people go too hard on their easy days and a HRM can help to reel them in.  Let's assume you have a good handle on your HRmax, but you (or an athlete you are working with) is the kind of person who pushed hard all the time.  A HRM might be useful in lowering the intensity.
B) Newer HRM models have the ability to capture heart rate variability (HRV).  Now, this gets far more complex, and to be honest, is not something I have ever worked with directly.  We think of our hearts beating in a nice rhythm.  If you have ever seen an EKG, you see the electrical pattern and it looks consistent.  However, in reality the time delay within each complete cycle varies a little bit (talking tenths of  a second).  The more variable the better!  More variability is associated with better fitness and also reduced risk of cardiac events.
C) TRIMP: Again, this is a bit more complex.  TRIMP is TRaining IMPulse and was developed largely by David Bannister (Roger Bannister was the great miler and later physician and no relation) as a way to use HR to assess how well training was going in athletes.  This is an area that I looked into briefly and even analyzed some data, but my duties at the time did not allow me to pursue it.  The TRIMP idea, as best I can tell, is somewhat incorporated into the software that companies like Polar use to assess fitness.

There you have some of my thoughts on HRMs.  I think it is a tool, but one that comes with limitations.  As with any tool, it is the proper application of the tool, and in this case the data it generates, that matters.

Even with a HRM or GPS, I like to know the rating of perceived exertion

I do not require the athletes that I work with to use a HRM.  If they use it, I will look at the data from time to time (assuming they upload it), but in general I go with rating of perceived exertion (RPE).  I will blog about RPE later.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Getting Started with a Coach

My clients over the years have ranged from people who have never run to those wanting to run a marathon fast enough to qualify for the Boston Marathon.  Each type of runner brings his/her unique needs.

What I offer in coaching is not only a training plan that meets your individual needs and goals, but I also offer support for the change you are undertaking.  I am not one to give you just a training plan and send you on your way.  I  like to get to know my athletes (and yes, YOU ARE AN ATHLETE!) as I find that helpful in assisting them toward their goals.  If I know you as a person, I think I can help you achieve your goals easier.

While I am an exercise physiologist by training, I also have a background in psychology and counseling.  I think the combination makes me a good coach.  I value lots of communication whether through email, texts or phone calls.  Face-to-face time is also important if practical (I do some long distance coaching where Skype or FaceTime substitutes).

The coach and athlete enter into a relationship.  In some ways, it is like a dating relationship although the athlete will be sharing more with the coach than the other way around!  We will get to know each other slowly and develop trust.  I will give you workouts that should challenge you and make you a better runner and that will develop the trust you have in me as a coach.  Likewise, I will trust that you will let me know how a workout goes, how you are feeling (emotionally and physically) and give me feedback on what you like and do not like.

At the end of the day, you need to select a coach that you trust and hopefully like.

If you have questions or would like a short consultation, please drop me an email so that we can set a time to chat.