Sunday, March 23, 2008

On Stretching

Those of you who join us for our Sunday runs know that we do a group stretching session afterwards. We stretch for about 15-20 minutes before we head to Wild Wheat for breakfast.

Many of the people who stretch with us mention how much better they feel afterwards. So I decided to talk about a stretching routine for runners.

Here are some guidelines:

1. ALWAYS stretch AFTER running. Try to stretch for at least 10 minutes after your run. Plan your run so that you have enough time to include stretching. If you only have 40 minutes to run, go out for 30 minutes, and stretch for 10. Some people like to warm up and stretch before they continue their run. This is also beneficial, as long as the muscles are warmed up, you can stretch.

2. Select stretch exercises that focus on the major running muscles (hamstrings, quads, calves) but also pay attention to less obvious running muscles: hip flexors, hip joints, IT bands, feet muscles, lower back and shoulders. If you are not sure which stretches to choose, join us for a Sunday post-run stretch session, or take a few introductory yoga classes. It is important that you have good form when stretching, so we don't recommend do it-yourself stretching when you are starting.

3. Practice gentle stretching whenever you have the opportunity. For example, I stretch my hip joints when watching TV or seating through a long meeting at work.

4. Replace one run of the week by a yoga class. So if you run 4 times a week, run 3 times a week and take a yoga class instead of a 4th run. This yoga session will increase the quality of your 3 weekly runs, will help you stay injury free, increase your core strength, and balance. Start with a basic introduction to yoga class. Talk to the instructor before class to make her aware of your running, and of any pain or aches you currently have. She will then customize the class to the students needs.

Just like in most other things in life, the hardest step is the first one. Just start, and everything else will take care of itself.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

February News: Fatigue

1. Low-intensity exercise boosts energy and relieves fatigue.
The NYT has a story on a new study showing what many of us already know. If I feel sleepy at work, I sometimes get out for a 15 minute brisk walk, and voila! I am back in the game. The explanation the researchers give is that "...exercise acts directly on the central nervous system to increase energy and reduce fatigue."
Link to story

2. Muscle fatigue explained: calcium leaks.
The NYT nicely summarizes a study that elucidates why our muscles get tired. For many years, the theory was that the release of lactic acid causes muscle fatigue. However, this theory was discredited a long time ago (see this story), and the mystery remained. Scientists studying congestive heart failure found that muscles get tired because muscle cells leak calcium. These scientists developed a drug that blocks calcium leaks, and they tested it in mice. The little guys were able to run and swim 10-20% longer. The drug is intended to prevent heart failure, but the article mentions that some athletes may be tempted to use it to increase endurance.
Link to story

3. Signs of fatigue due to overtraining.
Another NYT article lists the signs of overtraining, and says that the simple (and obvious) cure is to rest. One of the interesting facts I learned from this article is the reason why our legs feel heavy when we are overtrained: our blood viscosity increases, and thus it weighs more.
Link to story

Finally, while looking for these month's news, I found a couple of interesting sites:
AIMS: Guidelines for fluid replacement.
Science of Sport blog