The Elliptical Alternative

elliptical

Many injured and healthy runners use an elliptical machine to reduce the impact on joints, muscles and tendons while maintaining the running motion as closely as possible. An elliptical is a practical alternative and available to most people. It’s purpose is to do just what these runners are looking for. Long term use of an elliptical can have a negative impact on your running, however.

If you’ve ever used an elliptical for over an hour, you’ll notice it starts to make your toes feel numb. The position of your body is different on the elliptical compared to when running.

What are the body position differences?

First, on the elliptical both feet are always making contact with the “ground.” When running one foot is in the air while the other is stabilizing you.

The second difference is your hip extension. When you are running your back leg straightens out more than on an elliptical and it is farther back pulling your hips back as well. On the elliptical, your knee stays bent because your foot continues to be in contact with the ground. This is problematic because a lack of hip extension leads to injuries and inefficient running. Thus, the elliptical does not develop the neuromuscular connection required for a strong efficient form when running.

Another issue is it doesn’t require you to use the stabilizing tendons and muscles of your ankles causing them to become weaker and damaging the neuromuscular connection here as well. Then there is the hamstrings, because the elliptical limits hip extension it doesn’t engage your hamstrings very well. Weak hamstrings impact your ability to climb and cause an imbalance of muscles. The hamstring works to balance your quadriceps. They slow down the forward movement of your leg.

Wow with so many disadvantages, why use an elliptical when injured? Because it lowers the impact. There are other advantages as well. It burns close to the same number of calories as running. It maintains your cardiovascular fitness, and gives more of a total body workout if you use your arms. There is the options of both forward motion and backward motion with your legs, giving you some cross training due to the different muscles used.

Many people work harder on an elliptical than they do when running because the perceived exertion is less on an elliptical. Finally, it’s easy and safe to use.

The take-away? An elliptical is a good alternative to running when injuries or to be used as cross training in addition to running. However, exclusive use of one to train for running, especially long term will compromise your form and lead to injuries.

And it Begins Again

crowded-gym

Every year at this time gyms across the United States fill up close to maximum capacity (well not really, but it feels like it). It’s so crowded you can’t get the machine or weights you want to use. To people who have being going to the gym every day, it can be frustrating because many of those new members are not going to maintain their attendance. In fact, most will dwindle off over the next two weeks. The rest will stop coming in six to eight weeks.

I love to motivate others to begin taking care of themselves through physical activity. It would be a huge win for everyone if all of these people would continue with their New Year’s resolutions/goals of maintaining an exercise program. I think this is why it is so frustrating to the gym regulars.

What can you do to maintain the program you have chosen for yourself this year?

First, pick something that is do able; a program that takes into account your current level of fitness, even if that means you start with only fifteen to twenty minutes of activity three days a week. It doesn’t matter where you start, only that you keep going and find a way to objectively measure your progress. Watching yourself improve will help you continue to be motivated. Small improvements are still improvements, just as one mile is one mile regardless of how fast you run it.

Second, find someone to go to the gym with or at least a partner who will hold you accountable. If you can’t find someone who can go at the same time, it is helpful to have someone else who is just beginning and you can check in with one another each day about what you did and how you are feeling.

Third, don’t change too many things all at the same time. If you are beginning a new exercise program don’t make any other major changes to your life style for three or four weeks. Let your body adjust and get into a groove. If you change too many things, you will become overwhelmed or rebel against all the “restrictions” you have placed on yourself.

Finally, don’t penalize yourself for a missed workout. Go the next day and don’t try to make up for the missed workout. You need to let the missed workout go and forgive yourself for it. Making yourself feel bad about it is not going to help you continue with the program.

Remember it takes twenty-one days to form a habit. Keep going and don’t give up.

Trail to Road

trail to road

Why would you go from running on the trails to running on the road? Of course, some people like running on the road and don’t like the trail, or at least prefer roads over trail. This baffles most trail runners who love the mountains and the challenges and variations they offer. Being in nature and away from the busy, exhaust filled streets of the city is like a mini vacation from everyday life.

Roads can be more convenient for a runner who is pressed for time and cannot drive to the mountains. I admit it is great to be able to walk out your front door and start running. Those runners who are able to do this on the mountains are lucky runners.

Heavy rain and snow can also deter some trail runners from pounding the trail rather than the road. Driving icy roads or roads piled high with snow can be dangerous. The goal is to keep running and not do anything to jeopardize our ability to run, especially for an extended time. Sliding your car off the road or into another car, is not conducive to more running.

So how do we make that transition?

There is research out there that says there is no real difference between running surfaces because our legs automatically adjust their stiffness depending on your shoes and the surface you are running on. When I read these studies, it makes sense and is a simple concept. Our brains adjust our muscle tension based upon our surrounding conditions without our being aware of them all the time.

In my experience, this is not true. I hurt less when I run a fifty-mile trail race than when I run a marathon on the road. Maybe this is because I’m more relaxed when surrounded by a natural forest as compared to a man-made brick and mortar forest. It could also be the variation in the trail and our use of more supporting muscles and tendons to adjust to an uneven surface. All I know is it is harder on my body, and in my mind that increases the risk of injury.

There are a few things you can do to minimize the impact forces of running on the road. First make sure you have a good pair of road shoes. Trail shoes tend to have less cushioning. Second, make sure your form is correct so the force of the impact travels through your body in a way that minimizes it.

The easiest way to do this is to imagine there is a string from the center of your sternum pulling you toward the sun or the moon. This keeps your chest open, shoulders back, and head up. Your knee should be slightly bent upon impact and directly under your center of gravity. Strengthen your hips and your abdominal muscles to be able to maintain proper form throughout your runs.

The smart phone app Treadmill trails shows has videos on your phone of trails and can keep you at least somewhat connected to trails when you can’t get there for whatever reason.

These two things will make that transition more gentle on your body.

 

How attached is too attached?

hug a runner

We all love our running partners, but what do you do when yours gets injured or isn’t available to run with you?

When you are running with a training partner, it can become hard to run on your own. A training partner provides that extra motivation and accountability when you are struggling to get out the door. They provide a distraction when the miles get hard. They push you harder than you push yourself. And they become one of your closest friends.

Training partners are a wonderful thing to have, but you should always have a back-up. Some runners are just able to self-motivate more than others and getting out there isn’t a problem whether someone is there or not. It’s easier to get lost in your thoughts and work through life when you are on your own.

So what do you do if you are not a highly self-motivated runner, who goes regardless of the availability of your partner?

You can find a running group rather than just one partner. Even if you don’t run with a group, having a community of runners who support one another, but may not running together can make a difference because you continue to be accountable and encouraged. Find a new running partner.

Listen to music, podcasts, or an audio book while you are running. These can provide the distraction you need to pound out lonely miles. There are also smart phone applications built specific for runners. If you are strictly a numbers runner and knowing your stats is enough, the app runkeeper will do that for you. There are apps that provide encouragement, social aspects, and numbers while you run endomondo, may be the app for you.  Zombies, run sends you on missions in a zombie infested world in addition to tracking your miles.

Couch-to-5k is a great app for runners just starting out or for those returning to running from an injury. Runtastic will tell you stories while you run.  Charity miles donates money for each mile you run to a charity of your choice. It’s an excellent way to make your runs count for more than yourself.

There are tons of apps out there if you suddenly find yourself all alone for your runs. Don’t let the permanent or temporary loss of your running partner deter you from maintaining your goals.

What do you wear down there?

undies

Sorry guys this one is mostly for the ladies, but if you have lady runner friends or lovers you may want to continue reading.

Basically, there are three options regarding underwear when exercising none, your basic everyday, or specialized. Is there a best and worst or is it all personal preference?

If you’re going with the none option, let’s just say, panty lines could be the least of your problems. You have to be careful with the type of fabric your workout clothes are made from if you are going without any panties. Bacteria grow where it is warm and moist. If you aren’t wearing any panties and your shorts/pants are not made from moisture wicking material, stop by the pharmacy for a yeast infection cream on your way home from the gym.

If you have moisture wicking shorts or pants and you wash them on a regular basis, you are less likely to be growing something you don’t want down under. If you are just a panty wearing kind of girl, there are still options for you.

What about the thong? Experts say regardless of the type of material the thong is made of, it is not your friend during exercise because it shifts and rubs, which can cause an UTI or vaginal infection. Apparently the thong acts like a slip and slide for bacteria from your backend to your front (don’t visualize).

Okay so no thong… you’ve convinced me of that one. What about lace and satin? You never know right, what if you’re hauled away in an ambulance you want to look sexy right? Wrong. Lace, satin and even cotton are not good choices. Although, out of the three cotton is the best.

Ladies your best bet is to spend the extra money and get moisture wicking panties to use during exercise (but make sure they are not thongs!) or buy bottoms that have a bit of liner between the legs and are moisture wicking.

When you are choosing panties, go with ones that are seamless.

What about shaving and waxing down there, will that help? Nope. It actually makes it worse. Pubic hair protects the genital area from STIs, burns and ingrown hairs. If you do go fuzz free, you should use panties to reduce friction. Blisters and chafing between your legs is not good.

For athletes who participate in triathlons, swimming events, or long endurance events, experts recommend wearing two piece suits to be able to change along the way to maintain some dryness down there preventing infections.

When you’re surfing the crimson wave or visiting aunt flow (aka menstruating, I had to put something in there to protect our male counterparts sensitivities if they chose to continue reading after the slip and slide comment), using a tampon or menstrual cup are your best options. Pads will just cause chafing and irritation.

And there you have it, moisture wicking seamless panties (no thongs!) or bottoms are best for us ladies.

Run Happy and Run Free!

But it’s over the counter…

Iburprophen

Many of my running friends and teammates ask about taking Tylenol (Acetaminophen) or NSAIDs like Motrin or Aleve (Iburprofen and Naproxen). I always advise against it. These over the counter drugs should be used sparingly if at all while running. Yes running hurts sometimes. Sure you could probably go faster if you didn’t hurt so much. But, It’s just not worth the risk. If you absolutely have to use something take the Tylenol. I know it doesn’t work as well and I know it doesn’t reduce inflammation, but if you take it as prescribed it won’t kill you.

NSAIDs paired with physical exertion and dehydration can land a runner in the hospital rather than at the finish line celebration. Why are NSAIDs so bad? For a few reasons.

First, they reduce an enzyme that helps balance blood flow to your kidneys. If you are dehydrated and running this is also going to screw with the blood flow to your kidneys. Not a good combination.

Second, NSAIDs increase your blood pressure. So does running, which adds up to a stroke or heart attack for some runners, this would possibly be reduced by a particular enzyme that protects the heart, but NSAIDs reduce that one too.

Third, NSAIDs block another enzyme (you may choose to never use NSAIDs again after all this), which protects the lining of your stomach from digestive acids. Without it, you can experience nausea, cramps, intestinal bleeding and diarrhea (just what you wanted at mile 15, right?”

Fourth, In 2005, David Nieman, Dr. P. H., director of the human performance lab at Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina, examined ibuprofen use at Western States 100. About 70 percent of the racers said they took it to help them manage the discomfort of racing. But when he measured pain and muscle soreness in these pill poppers, he found no reduction compared with nonusers. Worse, ibuprofen takers had more inflammation rather than less. “There’s no good reason to use ibuprofen during a race,” Nieman says. “There are too many potential negatives.”

The main risk with Tylenol is dulling the pain can mask a serious injury. Pain lets you know something is not right in your body. If you mask pain and then ignore it you will continue to cause injury and potentially be out of running for weeks.

Educate yourself about what you are putting into your body, just because you can get it without a prescription doesn’t mean it is safe to take.

Run Happy, Run Free!

But I have kids…

overwhelmed parent

Most people have children and children require you to change and adjust your life around them, especially young children. It makes keeping a running schedule a little more difficult. If you’re a single parent, it makes it a lot more complex.

Parents have to be flexible when it comes to getting their daily run in, just like they need to do with other things in their life. As a parent, your life bends and twists around your children. Once your children are older and more independent, it’s much easier to keep a consistent schedule of things you want to accomplish.

Sometimes when you have children, goals have to take a back burner for a while. The needs of our children become our priority, and our desire to finish that marathon or even sleep for eight hours straight through are sidelined.

It is possible to maintain a consistent running schedule when you have children. A supportive partner makes a huge difference, but even if you are a single parent you can get your run in. Here are some ideas on how to do it…

First look at your goals and think about the time it will take to train for a particular race distance. This will depend on the pace you run since faster runners are going to spend less time training. Now look at your schedule and see what you can throw out or where you can squeeze your training in. If you can’t fit in a four hour long run in on weekends once in awhile then you should probably back off your goals.

If your goal is to run 5k’s, 10k’s, or even a half marathon, training during lunch or in the morning before kids get up is doable. I know you’re not a morning person, but give it three solid weeks and you may find that you prefer starting your day by accomplishing something.

A lunch run can be great to break up the day. It also puts you out in the sunshine rather than the dark. Lunch runs can be difficult to maintain on a consistent basis if you frequently have lunch meetings or go out to lunch with friends. Try to find a running group that runs during the lunch hour, either in your office or at a nearby gym or park. Having others to run with, will get you out there on days you have an offer to do something else.

For single parents, a lunch run may be easier than leaving the children during the morning unless they are old enough to not panic when (not if) they wake up and you are not there. When my children were elementary school age, I would make sure my oldest son knew I was running the next morning and what time I would be back. I would write it on a white board with my phone number (just in case he forgot it). If they woke up while I was gone, they called me. I didn’t just go home when they called, it depended on what they needed and how long I had left.

The long run on the weekend will take a little more planning. If you have a partner who is willing to care for the children during your long run that makes things pretty easy. However, make sure you do the same for your partner to have their time away from the children. If you are a single parent, you have to get creative. You can find another parent in the neighborhood who is a runner and single parent one of you could watch the kids while the other runs and switch off weekend days. One of you run Saturday and the other Sunday. This is also useful if both parents run.

Another strategy for single parents is to get up with enough time to finish your run before the children get up. I know this means getting up at like 3:00 am, I’ve done it many times. Keep your run close to your home in case you need to get back quickly and then follow the same procedure as above. Leave a note and your phone number. Have the kids call as soon as they wake up and then decide if you can finish the run or need to go straight home.

Running in circles around your neighborhood for twenty miles is not always a fun run, but it’s better than not running at least in my book. There are things you can do to make it more fun such as listening to an audio book or music. There are great running apps that make running like a game. You can also find a friend to go with you.

Running when you have children can be difficult and you may have to adjust your goals depending on your children’s age and the support system you have. But don’t just give up running, seriously look at your options and get creative. There are so many benefits to your physical and mental health from running to just let it walk out of your life.