Have fun, static stretching and a miracle hamstring exercise?

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

It appears I’m borrowing heavily from the New York Times Well blog this week. No conspiracy, it just happened to have a couple very interesting things in it that I’d like to share and, for the first, expand on.

Have Fun!

First, some comments on Losing Weight May Require Some Serious Fun:

In that pursuit, the researchers first recruited 56 healthy, adult women, the majority of them overweight. The women were given maps detailing the same one-mile outdoor course and told that they would spend the next half-hour walking there, with lunch to follow.

Half of the women were told that their walk was meant to be exercise, and they were encouraged to view it as such, monitoring their exertion throughout. The other women were told that their 30-minute outing would be a walk purely for pleasure; they would be listening to music through headphones and rating the sound quality, but mostly the researchers wanted them to enjoy themselves.

Those women who’d been formally exercising reported feeling more fatigued and grumpy than the other women, although the two groups’ estimates of mileage and calories burned were almost identical. More telling, when the women sat down to a pasta lunch, with water or sugary soda to drink, and applesauce or chocolate pudding for dessert, the women in the exercise group loaded up on the soda and pudding, consuming significantly more calories from these sweets than the women who’d thought that they were walking for pleasure.

In other words, if you’re doing a chore, you are more tired, grumpy and likely to "reward" yourself by eating unhealthy "treats". If you’re out for a pleasure walk, the exact opposite.

This goes along with something I’ve said for a long time. We’re all better off if we do something we enjoy. Personally, I love running. It’s a release for me. It’s a joy to be out running. Can you believe, though, that I’ve actually encouraged some people to quit running and try something else? It’s true. I’ve had several instances where people have told me they dread running, they hate it but they want to keep running to stay healthy. Then they ask me how to keep at it. My answer is, if you don’t love running, don’t do it. Try bicycling, rollerblading, hiking, pick-up basketball, volleyball, touch football. Find something to do but make it something you enjoy.

Why do I tell people to quit running? Because it just makes intuitive sense. If you don’t like something, if you consider it a chore, two things are likely to happen.

First, you need to reward yourself for doing the chore. For those of us who love running, the run itself is the reward. For others, it’s very likely that bad habits like eating junk food will be the reward.

Second, you’re much less likely to keep doing it. Running is such a pleasure for me that I’ve never had trouble continuing to do it. Sure, I sometimes have trouble keeping the hard training going but my day isn’t right if I don’t at least get out the door for something. I have more trouble taking time away from running, even if it’s a single day, than I do getting out because my run is one of the best parts of my day. If running isn’t that for you, though, you’re not going to keep at it. I’d rather see you quit running right now and find something else you like to do instead than try to keep running and end up quitting in frustration and not picking up something else you might like more.

So keep running…if it’s what you like to do. If not, find something you do like to do and keep doing that.

Static stretching

Static stretching has been a hot topic of debate for some time now. Does it reduce or increase injury risk (answer: depends)? Does pre-run static stretching reduce running economy (answer: not likely unless you’re holding the stretches for unusually long periods of time)?

Well, this study takes a look at how it affects pacing in a 3K time trial. The results?

The overall running time did not change with condition (SS 11:35+/-00:31 s; control 11:28+/-00:41 s, p = 0.304), but the first 100 m was completed at a significantly lower velocity after SS. Surprisingly, SS did not modify the running economy, but the iEMG for the BF (+22.6%, p = 0.031), stride duration (+2.1%, p = 0.053) and range of motion (+11.1%, p = 0.0001) were significantly modified. Drop jump height decreased following SS (9.2%, p = 0.001).

I found it a little disturbing that they so soundly bought into the theory that static stretching affects running economy but I’m glad they pointed out that they didn’t find that in their study. The evidence is out there. This isn’t the first study to find these results.

That said, the results are interesting. You start slower over the first 100 meters after static stretching but there is no statistically significant difference in finish time. What does this tell us? I’m not sure. But it is another piece of evidence that pre-run static stretching does not in fact affect running economy. The evidence now suggests you’d have to hold your stretches for well over 30 seconds to do that. As I mentioned, the evidence is there. We need to get people paying attention to it.

A miracle hamstring exercise?

A hamstring exercise that can result in 70% fewer hamstring injuries?

In a 2011 study, 942 Danish soccer players were randomly assigned to either an off-season program of the Nordic exercise or normal training. In the subsequent season, those following the Nordic exercise program experienced 70 percent fewer injuries than the control-group athletes. Players who had previously suffered hamstring damage saw 85 percent fewer injuries.

The article notes that, according to "at least" a half dozen studies, injury rates may decrease by almost two-thirds with the use of this exercise.

This almost seems too good to be true but a half dozen studies suggests there is more here than just random chance. I’m still not completely sure what to do with this but, if I had a history of hamstring injuries, I think I’d be trying this exercise right now. I actually did pass this along to a runner I coach with a history of hamstring problems as soon as I finished reading it and I hope she considers trying this.

More coming Thursday. I started writing a post sharing a couple links and I realized it quickly was turning into too much to combine with my "have fun" comments into one single post.

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