Polarized training and the benefits of having a coach and teammates

This article was originally posted by Ryan at the original HillRunner.com Blogs.

Sorry beet juice fans but no news on beets or juice derived from them this week. I hope you don’t mind.

What I do have is still interesting, though.

Olympic speed skaters and polarized training

I’ve often talked about making your easy days sufficiently easy so your hard days can be sufficiently hard. Ed is probably sick of this topic and I’m sure others are ready for me to stop harping on it also.

Well, here’s a review of the training programs for Olympic speed skaters over a 38 year period. The main factor in performance isn’t time spent training or time spent on skates. In fact, there seemed to be no relation (of course, Olympic speed skaters are all spending a lot of time training obviously). The difference in times at that level was most closely correlated to how polarized their training was.

When they discuss polarized training, they are basically discussing the idea of keeping your easy days easy and your hard days hard. The easier your easy days are and the harder your hard days are, the more polarized your training is. As this research suggests, the more polarized your training is, the faster you are.

Of course, this is looking at speed skaters but it’s a good indication of what works. I wouldn’t be surprised at all to find the same in distance runners. I’d love to see this kind of review done with distance runners.

The benefits of having a coach and teammates

It should be no surprise that I’d argue there are a lot of benefits to having a coach. I’d argue the same of teammates. In a coach, you should have someone who is committed to your success and should be capable of guiding you down the right path. In addition, though, both a coach and teammates can give you people you feel accountable to. You don’t want to let down your coach or your teammates.

Well, that seems to be the case for masters swimmers.

In short, the swimmers were more committed to their training, whether doing it individually or in a team setting, when they had the support of a coach and teammates. Of note, though (emphasis added by me):

The findings suggest that in order to increase participation in masters swimming teams and reduce non-supervised training, coach and teammates should exhibit a supportive attitude and avoid over expectation.

None of this "old school" tough guy coaching. Your coach and teammates should be supportive and not place the burden of expectation too high. I’d agree with this. I don’t like the "old school" philosophy. It’s never made sense to me. Your coach should build you up and fill you with confidence, not beat you down.

Injuries, antioxidants and more on beets

This article was originally posted by Ryan at the original HillRunner.com Blogs.

To think, by Friday morning I was worried that I might not have anything to post this week. Then I got flooded Friday and Saturday morning with some interesting research.

First, a couple studies on injuries:

This meta-analysis of studies on the effectiveness of different kinds of exercises to prevent sports injuries had some interesting results.

In general, physical activity was shown to effectively reduce sports injuries. Stretching proved no beneficial effect, whereas multiple exposure programmes, proprioception training, and strength training, in that order, showed a tendency towards increasing effect. Strength training reduced sports injuries to less than one-third. We advocate that multiple exposure interventions should be constructed on the basis of well-proven single exposures and that further research into single exposures, particularly strength training, remains crucial. Both acute and overuse injuries could be significantly reduced, overuse injuries by almost a half. Apart from a few outlying studies, consistently favourable estimates were obtained for all injury prevention measures except for stretching.

In short, stretching doesn’t appear to be helpful in preventing injury but strength training and proprioception (balance) exercises have very positive effects.

That doesn’t mean that you should stop stretching if you already do so and it feels good. Personally, when I don’t stretch after a run, I feel it during the rest of the day and the next day. That said, don’t just assume it will make you injury free. Better to focus on strength and coordination for injury prevention. What I’m taking home from this is that the proprioception exercises I do sporadically should be a more consistent part of my auxiliary training routine and I should probably be stressing both them and a basic strength routine (something I’ve already been thinking a lot about) more with the runners I coach.

This review of studies (which I found via Running Research Junkie) looks at the causes of injuries. The conclusion kind of speaks for itself:

The main risk factor identified in this review was previous injury in the last 12 months, although many risk factors had been investigated in the literature. Relatively few prospective studies were identified in this review, reducing the overall ability to detect risk factors. This highlights the need for more, well designed prospective studies in order to fully appreciate the risk factors associated with running.

As many of us have surmised for quite some time, the greatest risk factor for injury is prior injury. This is one of the reasons why one of the first questions I always ask a runner I’m new to coaching is about their injury history. I would love to see a deeper dive into why prior injury is such a great risk factor. I have a couple suspicions. First, people tend to rush back too quickly after an injury and re-injure themselves. Second, people often treat the symptoms and not the causes. This results in the underlying cause of the injury still being present when the runner begins running again and the injury recurs.

Other causes mentioned are frequency and volume of running. To me, this isn’t a great surprise. The more you run, the more you risk something happening. Just like the more you walk, the more you risk tripping over your own feet (especially if you have my coordination).

Of note, gender was not associated with higher injury risk in most studies.

On to antioxidants:

This study investigated oxidative stress in cyclists and the effects of antioxidant supplementation.

The data suggest that well-trained athletes with suitable ultra-endurance training volume and intensity do not require antioxidant vitamin supplements to adapt their endogenous antioxidant defenses to exercise-induced ROS.

That pretty much sums it up. Another study that says antioxidant supplementation is unnecessary.

More on beets:

Last week, in my first post of this style, I mentioned beet juice and how it seemed to not help most well trained middle distance runners.

Consider this a follow-up on the topic. This study took an interesting look at nitrate (beet juice extract) supplemtation.

In the study, they took untrained men and had them supplement with beet juice concentrate and a placebo. They then tested these participants for voluntary and involuntary (initiated by electrodes) muscle contraction.

Voluntary contraction force production was statistically similar but involuntary contraction force production, depending on intensity, was either 5-10% greater (at sub-maximal intensities) or 3-15% greater (at maximal intensities).

This is interesting for a couple of reasons. First, it suggests that there is a physiological benefit, at least for untrained individuals, of nitrate. Second, it suggests the central nervous system may somehow counter that so your real world results will not be as greatly enhanced.

Shortly after I read through this, Alex Hutchinson at the Runner’s World Sweat Science blog posted on it and had some interesting insights. Very much worth a read.

It would be very interesting in my opinion to see this kind of test, with voluntary and involuntary force production, done with trained individuals.

Finally, if you see anything interesting, I’d encourage you to comment here with it. Maybe I’ll blog on it next week. If not, at the very least, we can discuss it in the comments.

Beet juice, kinesio tape & have athletes gotten better?

This article was originally posted by Ryan at the original HillRunner.com Blogs.

Here we go, I’m going to give this a shot. This week, we have a study on beet juice, a study on kinesio tape and David Epstein giving a TED Talk on whether athletes have gotten better over the years.

Beet Juice

For those of you who haven’t been following recent research into beet juice, studies have been showing that the nitrate in beetroot juice appears to improve performance by reducing the oxygen cost of exercise. Unfortunately, more recent studies in more well trained cyclists haven’t been able to find these gains. Are these studies just an anomaly or is it not as effective for well trained athletes? There is reason to believe a well trained athlete may have already maximized the body’s ability to reduce the oxygen cost of exercise so the juice may not benefit this athlete.

Well, this study looked at 8 middle distance runners. 1500 PRs were 3:56 +/- 9 seconds so these are good but not world class runners. We’d have to believe they were well trained to get down to those times. They tested both taking supplements for a week (chronic) or just before the test (acute).

The result?

Acute and chronic BR did not reduce running VO2 or improve 1500 m time-trial performance in a group of elite distance runners, but two responders to BR were identified.

So, taken as a whole, there were no performance improvements. However, 2 of the 8 runners did see fairly significant improvements. 5.0 and 5.8 seconds following acute supplementation and 0.5 and 7.0 seconds following chronic supplementation.

Now, a study of 8 is too small to draw vast conclusions from but that’s what you get when you’re looking for 3:56 1500 meter runners. There aren’t hundreds of them readily available and willing to participate in a study. However, this suggests that you’re either lucky or not. If you respond, you’ll see some impressive gains. If you’re in the apparent significant majority, tough luck.

I’m not convinced based on this and other studies that, for well trained athletes, supplementation is worthwhile. For less well trained? Maybe but maybe you could also just train more to get the same benefit. Also, I haven’t seen any studies on where the line (or more likely gradient) exists where you go from likely gaining no benefit to likely gaining some kind of benefit.

Kinesio tape

This tape has been all the rage recently. You pretty much can’t watch a pro track meet without seeing some athletes sporting the colorful stuff. I sometimes wonder how much of it is some kind of fashion statement and how much is actually beneficial.

Well, it appears there is some benefit.

Through the use of elastography this is the first study to support the hypothesis that de-loading tape reduces stress in the underlying muscle region, thereby providing a biomechanical explanation for the effect observed during rehabilitation in clinical practice (reduce pain, restore function and aid recovery). Further investigations are necessary to confirm these results in injured tissues.

The first study to support the hypothesis. In other words, more study is needed. That said, this would suggest that the benefit athletes receive from this tape may be more than a placebo effect. There may be some real benefit.

Have athletes gotten better?

Finally, a fascinating TED Talk by David Epstein:

What do you think? Both of the stories above and of this kind of post. I’d love to hear your comments.

A couple interesting links

This article was originally posted by Ryan at the original HillRunner.com Blogs.

Alex Hutchinson weighs in at his Sweat Science blog on the latest in warmup gear. Interesting idea, though I’m not convinced of the benefit to long distance runners, especially those of us who are not elite. As I was reading, I couldn’t help but picture someone wearing these pants to keep their leg muscles warm while simultaneously wearing an ice vest to keep core temperature down. I guess I wasn’t the only one thinking that way.

I suppose that would be the ultimate tech fashion combo: a distance runner before a race wearing an ice vest to keep core temperature down, plus electric pants to keep legs warm. Seems a little much, but I wouldn’t bet against seeing that in Rio…

I wouldn’t bet against it either. Someone will decide to try the combo.

Mark Hadley weighs in on running by feel.

I already sent this link to a couple runners I coach. As anyone who has worked with me knows, I’m a big fan of running by feel. Coach Hadley does a good job explaining the benefits and giving some how-to at the same time.

Note: I’m going to try to post these on occasion. Essentially sharing links with a few quick comments. I saw these two today that I thought would be a good opportunity to kick it off. If you have feelings, pro or con, on posts like this, please share in the comments. I want to post what is wanted and I think these are of value but, if I’m wrong, I’ll stop.