Category Archives: swimming

Inhale-Exhale

Breathing is something we all do without really thinking about it, unless it’s not going well. We become very aware of our breathing when it is a struggle regardless of the thing that is making it a struggle. The athletes who, I believe, are the most aware of their breath is swimmers.

A swimmer has to have a rhythm for their breathing. All other athletes we can just go and not think about it too much until we’re huffing and puffing and even then, we merely recognize it and adjust a bit or push through. Not swimmers. A swimmer has to coordinate every movement to make sure they are able to breath when needed.

Being aware of your breathing has benefits to many aspects of your life not just running (which is what we really care about, if we’re being honest). It can reduce stress, improve physical health, and increase self-confidence.

Deep breathing releases endorphins and those make us feel good and are a natural pain killer. It promotes better blood flow and increased energy through the extra oxygen. The increase in oxygen gives your body the tools to rebuild injured muscles and build muscle.

Breathing properly can reduce anxiety. When you’re feeling anxious about something take a few deep breaths and see what happens to how you feel. Deep breathing has a relaxing effect on our body and our mind, which helps relieve you of anger, sadness, and other uneasy emotions. It reduces stress, lowers blood pressure, and helps with better sleep.

Deep breathing helps with posture. An upright posture has positive effects on many aspects of your physical health. Your internal organs function better when they are not all squished as you hunch over at a desk or table. Your spine stays healthy preventing lower and upper back pain. It massages your organs such as the heart, stomach, small intestine, liver and pancreas.

Deep breathing strengthens your immune system. Oxygen attaches to hemoglobin in your red blood cells allowing your body to metabolize nutrients and vitamins. It also removes toxins from your blood like carbon dioxide.

Deep breathing makes sure oxygen gets to all the important parts of your brain. You’re able to think more clearly and more creatively. Nerves run throughout your body sending messages from your brain to every body system and muscle. Oxygen is one of the nutrients the brain, spinal cord and nerves need to make communication quick and effective.

How do you do this deep breathing?

Ideally you would spend a few minutes each day and complete the following for two sets of ten. Sit with your back straight and tall or lay on your back. Exhale all the air from your lungs. When you think you can’t get anymore out, try a bit more. Pause for one second and then begin to fill your lungs slowly until you can’t take any more in.

Another option is to send a few minutes throughout the day being aware of your breath and make sure you’re sitting straight and breathing into your belly and not your chest. Make the breaths deep.

Hurts to Breath

Diaphragm cramp or side stitches, call it what you like it’s unpleasant. There are only theories as to why you get side stitches when you are running (or doing other sports activities). The most widely held belief is a muscle spasm of the diaphragm and/or its supporting ligaments.

Your diaphragm muscle assists you with breathing while you are running and because your need for oxygen increases when you’re running, your diaphragm works harder. The thought is that it gets tired and/or the surrounding tissues get tired and then the muscle spasms.

The second theory is improper breathing (oh yeah, you can breathe the wrong way). This theory ends the same as the above, a fatigued diaphragm and surrounding muscles which leads to spasms. The difference is breathing too shallow. Shallow breathing means your muscles don’t get enough oxygen and then get tired easier.

So what’s the proper way to breath when you are running? Deep with your belly not shallow into your chest. Breathing deep into your belly opens blood vessels found deep in your lungs and fills your blood with more oxygen. Most people breath with their chest, only filling two thirds of their lungs. To tell if you are belly breathing, lay on your back and lay your hand on your stomach. If your hand rises and falls you’re belly breathing. Most of us have to make a conscious effort to belly breath.

The third theory is we don’t time our breathing with our foot falls properly. When you are running try inhaling for three steps (right, left, right) and then exhale for two steps (left, right). This five-step rhythm will alternate your exhale from your right foot plant to your left. You have to think about it for a while when you’re first learning to do it, but it will reduce your side stitches. Practice it for a few minutes every mile and pretty soon it will become automatic. If you are climbing a hill or doing speed work, change it to a 2:1 ration for inhalation and exhalation.

The fourth theory is poor running posture, aka running with your shoulders rounded and your upper body bent forward. One belief is that hunching over like that compromises nerves in the abdominal area and then they become irritated and trigger the pain you feel and call side stitches. The other belief is that the hunching puts more weight on your diaphragm which causes it to spasm and get tired.

The final theory is dehydration. I’m not going to go into this one. We all know it’s critical to hydrate before, during and after our runs. We know we have to take in electrolytes if we’re running for more than about 60-90 minutes (depending on pace and temperature outside: faster and hotter=more electrolytes).

Bottom line: breath deep with your belly, use rhythmic breathing, pay attention to your posture, and hydrate.

Trackers

Runners like numbers. We want to know how far we’ve gone, how fast we were, how much we climbed/descended, what our heart rate was and on and on. As much as we love numbers, it’s also important to keep things in perspective and enjoy the run for the run, so leave your fun toys at home once in a while and just run.
If you’ve been in a sports store or a running store recently, I’m sure you’ve seen the numerous watches that track every bodily function and your place on the earth at each moment. There are a lot of options out there. When you are in the market I would suggest doing some research. Here are some starting points:
Keeping It Simple
Mio Slice ($100): this little guy tracks your heart rate and makes recommendations about how much activity you should be doing each day. It’s tracking is very accurate. You can track steps, distance, calories burned, and sleep. It’s compatible with iphones and android. Battery life is five days.
Polar M200 ($120-150): tracks heart rate, speed, distance, and route.  connects with an app you can download on your phone. It has a running program adjustable to your needs. Battery life is 6 hours in GPS mode.
Polar M400 ($130): does everything the M200 does plus tracks altitude, calories,  steps and sleep quality. It’s waterproof to be used in all weather conditions. it has a bigger numbers on the display and it’s battery life is 8 hours in GPS mode.
Going Big
Garmin Fenix 5S ($700): this guy comes in three sizes in case you have smaller wrists. It is a multisport tracker with a barometric altimeter, magnetic compass and wrist band heart rate monitor. It measures stride, cadence, ground contact time, bounce, and estimates your VO2 Max. Battery life 24 hours in GPS mode
Suunto Spartan Sport Wrist HR ($500): a multisport trainer, waterproof up to 100m. It has 80 pre-set modes and sport specific metrics. It tracks your basics such as location, pace, heart rate, speed, altitude. Battery life 12 hours in GPS mode (other models have longer battery life if needed such as the spartan ultra 26 hours).
Samsung Gear S3 Frontier ($300)
This one runs on 4G LTE, bluetooth and Wi-fi so you can take calls and respond to text messages without your phone nearby. It’s compatible with android and IOS. It tracks your altitude  distance, location, pace, heart rate and more. It’s water, dust, and extreme temperature resistant. Batter life up to three days with mixed use and screen set to turn on/off automatically

Losing it?

One of the most frustrating things that happens when you take time off running is you lose your hard earned fitness and have to work your ass off to get it back. We all know the longer you have to take off of running the more you lose. This is definitely something I have struggled with as I’ve been coming back from two rolled ankles and a strained hamstring. Anyone who has been forced to take time off running due to an injury knows you go through the whole grief cycle, which I’ve written about and you can find it here.
There are two aspects of losing it: the mental side and the physical side. Let’s start with the easier of the two: the physical side. There’s been lots of research about how quickly fitness is lost when an athlete has to take time off after an injury or just because they are burnt out. We lose the most fitness right up front 20% in the first three weeks. Ouch. after that things level off and up to three months you retain 80% of your fitness. For those athletes who have trained for a long time the impact over time is less because you have a stronger base of fitness. What the experienced athletes lose is what they have most recently gained. You go back to your baseline. As much as this steep drop in fitness loss sucks, it is easier to get back to where you were than it was to get there in the first place.
You can slow the loss and maintain fitness by cross training that makes sure your aerobic system keeps working at the level you had it and doing strength training to minimize the amount of muscle strength you lose. Sport specific fitness is definitely going to take a  hit though so don’t get discouraged when you go back and are sore after a run that would have been a walk in the park pre-injury.
The mental side of it, in my opinion, is the harder of the two that you work through. Depending on how long you are injured, you may have developed a maladaptive coping skill telling yourself it doesn’t matter and maybe you do something other than running. Sometimes it can go as far as, I just don’t want to run anymore. Telling ourselves these things when there is no end in sight or we when we are catastrophizing is a way that we cope with the loss of running, which has becomes a indispensable part our life and who we see ourselves as.  The problem with this, is it makes reviving the motivation to get back out there more difficult. The best way to regain motivation is by remembering the things you love about running, which can trigger those feelings of loss all over again that you were trying to avoid in the first place. See my article on working through the cycle of grief link above.
Once you are back out there, you have to get over the fear of another injury. This takes time and building trust in your ability and self confidence. The only way to build these is to get out there. Give yourself permission to go at your own pace by taking it slow and run easier routes for a bit. It helps if you come up with a plan of action. A plan will help you come to terms with the fact that you can get back to where you were.
A critical element to maintaining motivation and avoiding a lot of self recrimination is to not compare yourself to where you were and where you are. This is a particularly difficult one for me. Try to remain positive and every time this thinking pattern pops into your head, counter act it by reminding yourself that you had to work hard to get to where you were and it’s possible to do it again because you know how and you know you are strong enough mentally and physically to get there. The other half of working through this is accepting where you are. Berating yourself and dwelling on the fitness you’ve lost is not going to help you move forward. It doesn’t change where your current level of fitness is at.
It is not easy to come back from an extended voluntary or involuntary break from running, but runners are a tenacious bunch who like challenges and this is just one more hill to climb.
I’ve also blogged about the safe way to return to running after an injury. You can find it here.
Here is a post about how to run in the swimming pool. Boo!
There is also something called forced rest depression which I talk about here.

What’s that sound?

Wondering why your knees, ankles, wrists or fingers snap, crackle, and pop? The jury is out on the definitive reason why this occurs and is unlikely to come in with a verdict any time soon. One reason is the ligaments are stretching over a bone and slipping back in place. Second is the compression of nitrogen bubbles in the spaces of the joins and then the refilling of the joint with synovial fluid, which lubricates your joints. A third reason they could be popping is due to friction between the muscle/tendons and the bone. Tight muscles/tendons make this more likely to happen. A fourth reason is called joint fixation. This is when the bones of a joint become stuck together due to suction and when the seal is broken you hear a pop. You can tell the difference between friction and fixation by the reoccurrence rate of the popping. Fixation takes time to set up, so it won’t repeat with every bend of the joint. Friction on the other hand will repeat each time you bend the joint.
Everyone has popping joints at one point in their life or another. In most cases, there is enough slack in our tendons and muscles that no harm is done. Although the sound of it can be irritating or concerning, there is nothing to worry about injury wise. You’re not causing damage and it doesn’t mean that there’s an injury. You should be concerned about a pop is if it causes pain or swelling because it can indicate a tearing or rupture of a tendon or even a fracture of a bone. You will likely know if it could be something like this because there will be an event that causes it. If there is swelling and pain try rest, ice, compress and elevate. If that doesn’t help after three or four days or if the pain is serious(painful to use for normal daily activities) and there is significant bruising, see your doctor.
If the popping is driving you crazy, there are some things you can do to try to reduce or banish the popping. First, try some stretching of the tendons and muscles around the area where the popping is occurring. Stretching should be done when the muscles are warm and not to the point of pain only tightness. Be gentle with yourself. Hold a stretch for 20-30 second and repeat the stretch 2-3 times. Try some yoga. Yoga not only stretches those muscles and tendons, but can be quiet effective at building balance and strength.
Staying active will also reduce the popping and snapping. You don’t need to sit around because you’re all creaky and poppy (I think snappy is a better way to describe it-just more positive). Continuing to stay active actually increases the lubrication of your joints. So you can tell all those nay sayers who ask “Isn’t running bad for your knees?” No it’s not. As a matter of fact, it’s good for them. You can direct them to this article or just tell them to take five minutes and google it on their smart phone.
Cracking your joints or a ongoing unintentional popping of your joints won’t cause your joints to get bigger and it doesn’t cause arthritis.

Foam Rolling?

We love to hate the foam roller. After a full round of strength training posts, I believe it is a good time to post about the benefits of the foam roller and how to do it correctly. I didn’t learn to love and value my foam roller until I had to walk backward down hills during the last five miles of a mountain marathon. Not pleasant. Since then, I have be come a huge advocate of foam rolling because I know it works. I know it keeps me running. If I slack off for a week, I can tell. My muscles start get tight and I start having some tension in the typical area’s in my quads and calves. And I know, if I don’t get serious with the rolling again, I’ll be wishing I had.
Rolling helps prevent injuries by keeping your muscles loose. Tight muscles do not move the way they are supposed to and then they get pulled, torn, or they cause injury to a supportive tendons/muscles that gets incorporated to help the tight ones than is typically would with a healthy muscle. Our muscles build up lactic acid which can make them sore, especially for new runners or runner conquering more distance. Rolling breaks this up and allows your body to flush out what it doesn’t use. Your muscles will eventually learn to burn the lactic acid as a form of fuel and you don’t get sore anymore (I know you don’t believe me, but as ultrarunners who have been running 100s a while if they get sore…). Tight muscles prevent us from using the most efficient running form we can because we don’t have the range of motion and we rely more heavily on support muscles. Running efficiently means more speed, more endurance, and less injury. Every runner wants those things, or at least the last one.
Can’t I just stretch to make sure I maintain mobility and range of motion? In my experience, no, Foam Rolling is the answer. Runners hear a lot about stretching and there is research saying stretching is helpful, pointless, or harmful to runners. Stretching done right, can be helpful (I’ve posted about yoga and it’s benefits to runners). But stretching done wrong can be very very bad for runners. Cold muscles should not be stretched. Muscles should not be stretched past the point of tension (not pain). If you do want to stretch, make sure your muscles are sufficiently warm, after a run is best. If you stretch without them being warm, you can tear them or strain them. How to stretch and which positions are best can be complicated. Foam rolling on the other hand is easy. I like easy.
Yes foam rolling is one more thing to consume your time. The thing with foam rolling is, you really can’t make an excuse not to, because you can do it and watch TV, talk on the phone, supervise children, help with homework, and play with the dogs. The one thing I don’t recommend is eating and foam rolling. It can be messy. The amount of time you spend rolling is going to depend on your body and the amount of running you do. I run 90 miles a week and do strength training on the days I don’t run, which means I’m pretty dedicated to my foam roller and we spend a lovely time together each evening.
For other runners, daily rolling isn’t going to be necessary. At a minimum runners should be rolling on days they run. It doesn’t have to be right after running, although that would likely  be best. I don’t have time to do it right after a run, because I have to get to work. I roll in the evenings before I go to bed.
How to foam roll:
  1. Purchase a foam roller. I like the foam rollers that are not actually foam. They are a hollow plastic tube about 18 inches long (45cm) and five inches (12.5cm) in diameter. They have contoured cushioning on the outside surface. You can use just a regular foam roller, which many gyms have if you want to try before you buy. You can try them at running stores too. The plastic tube ones are more durable.
  2. Find some floor space, light carpeting will be okay, but you don’t want super cushy.
  3. For the ITBand, place the roller on the floor and lay on the foam roller on the outside of your leg beginning at the him. Support yourself with your arms; you can put the other leg down if you need too. Slowly roll down to your knee and then back up. It’s important to go slow. Stop on any knots (bumps) you feel and rest here for 20 to 30 seconds.
  4. Continue rolling that muscle for 1-2 minutes and then switch.
You can choose to roll just the muscles you typically have problems with, or you can roll all the muscles of the leg. I recommend all the muscles of the leg because they all work together and if you are having a problem with one, it could really be a problem with a different one that is merely impacting the one that is causing you concern. You can also choose to roll only when you are having tightness or tension in your muscles or you can choose to roll on a regular basis. I recommend rolling regularly because you will prevent issues from coming up. It also takes less time if you roll regularly than if you have to roll multiple times a day to fix something.
Runners roll routine. Roll for 1-2 minutes on each of the following muscles:
ITBands
Hamstrings
Glutes (butt)
Quads (make sure you get all three during the time you roll this group)
Calf
Rolling can make a world of difference. I know it has for me. I even take the roller to races with me and on vacation.

 

Arm Strength and Running

This post is the first in a series of posts on what role various parts of our bodies play in running and how giving them some attention can improve our running. I’m going to work from the top to the bottom. So, what role do your arms play in running?
Your arms are important in running. Try running without them moving and you’ll find out just how important they are. Our arms propel us forward and help us maintain balance. They also catch us when we fall, hold our handheld water bottles, and make it much easier to eat and carry a hydration pack. It’s good to have arms.
Our legs move in relation to our arms. The faster we move our arms the faster our legs move. I often tell triathletes and ultraunners to focus on their arms as specific points in their races. For triathletes, it is after the transition from the bike to the run when you feel like a newborn baby giraffe.  For ultrarunners, it when you just don’t think you can take another step.
Holding our arms in the proper form is going to improve our efficiency andendurance as runners. Runners arms should be bent at about a 90 degree angle and swing pretty much straight back and forward without crossing the mid-line of your chest. Your arm should go back until your hand passes just above the hips and come forward until your elbow is close to your waist. Elbows should point backward. Your arms and hands should be held loose, but not flopping around like rubber.
If you don’t have an efficient arm swing you’re going to burn more energy than someone who does. In distance running, you want to burn as little energy with each step as you can at the speed you want to go. Too much crossover causes you to over rotate your torso. Over rotation of the torso wastes energy and can cause injuries down the kinetic chain by changing your foot plant and the alignment in your hips, knees, and ankles.
Your arms help with balance, especially, during a trail descent. Hold them out from your body and assist your core a bit to stabilize you.
Strengthening your arms will help you maintain the proper arm swing and running form throughout your run and keeps your legs moving forward when they are tired. You don’t want large arm muscles because they just add weight you have to haul around. It’s a balance. Strive for lean muscle rather than bulk. To maintain lean muscle complete more repetitions and use less weight.
The exercise shouldn’t be easy and you should feel it by the time you finish a set and the last set should be hard. If you can’t do the number of reps listed below do what you can and work up. If it’s too easy, add more reps before you add more weight.
Here are some easy things you can do to increase and maintain arm strength: push-ups 3 sets of 12-15 reps; tricep press 3 sets 10-12 reps; bicep curls 3 sets 12-15 reps; flies with arms straight and then bent 3 sets 10-12 reps.