Sunday, 28 February 2010

Swim tips 5 - Using fins to improve your stroke

Swimming front crawl (FC) efficiently is a complex motor skill to learn. It involves the coordinated movement of the head, spine, pelvic and shoulder girdles and all four limbs at once in an environment that not all of us are comfortable in. Oh, did I forget to mention breathing too? Breaking down a skill into parts and learning each part before putting into practice the whole skill is one way we can learn complex motor skills. This is where the use of fins can be very effective.

For example, we might want to concentrate on our body position in the water using the 'kicking on your side' drill. This is a great drill but at first it can be difficult to get the right body position while trying to kick effectively. So the drill can be practised with fins initially, allowing you to focus on body position while taking some of the pressure off your kick. Once you have the body position sorted you can progress by practising the 'whole' drill without the use of fins.

I recommend you buy yourself some fins and bring them along to our swim sessions. You should go for swimming specific fins, they tend to be shorter and more flexible, no diving fins allowed! We can incorporate the use of fins into each session, not only to add variety but allowing you to refine your technique through the use of swimming drills.

Bring them along next Sunday! Tim (LFTC Coach)

The barefoot running debate

Eaves dropping on conversations at our training sessions is proving to be a great way to find topics for the blog. Barefoot running popped up in conversation just as we were about to head out for a soaking wet cold run this morning. I am afraid I fit the stereotype of a NZer. I grew up in NZ running around barefoot. I used to race my twin brother up and down our gravel driveway barefoot. In fact I competed in athletics barefoot until my teens. Did it do me any good? That is an interesting thought. I stubbed my toes a fair few times!

Like all things new and shiny triathletes have latched on to the idea of barefoot running and wearing shoes designed for forefoot or midfoot running more so than runners themselves. But is all the hype justified? I asked a colleague, Ian Griffiths Sports Podiatrist, to pass on his thoughts. I would trust Ian with my feet (and yours) and if barefoot running was better for me I know Ian would tell me just that. Podiatrists have just as much to gain from understanding the biomechanics of barefoot versus shod (wearing shoes) running and the potential benefits and/or risks.

Ian could talk for hours on the topic but I have chosen to give you the abridged version. If you want to read more on the topic have a look at Ian's blog. Here is what he had to say...

"In summary, what are the actual facts currently known about barefoot and shod running?
  1. Running barefoot/minimalist strengthens the intrinsic or postural muscles in the feet and lower leg…. probably, but not absolutely established.. seems sensible though.
  2. Running barefoot/minimalist increases proprioceptive awareness and balance.
  3. Running barefoot/minimalist forces a change in mechanics to adapt to the forces on the feet.
  4. There are no clinical trials that show an effect of barefoot/minimalist running for a prolonged period of time.
  5. There are no research studies that prove that wearing traditional running shoes increases injuries or that barefoot/minimalist running reduces injuries.

So there you have it… the answer is that with respect to running barefoot and running shod, we don’t actually know which is better for you, or which puts you at greatest risk of certain injuries. What we do know is that certain groups within the barefoot community (usually with their own agenda or sometimes financial interest) continue to promote their beliefs with poor information. Whether they don’t bother reading the research themselves, or whether they do read it but through their own ‘lens’ who knows." Ian Griffiths, Sports Podiatrist.

The piece of research making all the news at the moment by Daniel Lieberman et al was funded in part by Vibram USA® makers of barefoot running shoes, Vibram FiveFingers®. The authors of the paper say on their website "Please note that we present no data or opinions on how people should run, whether shoes cause some injuries, or whether barefoot running causes other kinds of injuries. We believe there is a strong need for controlled, prospective studies on these problems".

Now I am not saying don't give it a go. But before you jump on the barefoot bandwagon look beyond the media hype. There has been some misinterpretation of the results of the study mentioned above by the media. There may be some benefits as Ian mentioned above. I will perform a lot of my strength and balance exercises barefoot and I will perform running drills barefoot when the weather warms up a bit for those reasons. But if you are going to make the transition to barefoot running or a mid/forefoot strike pattern from a heel strike pattern you must go about it the right way by giving your body time to adapt to the changes.

Interesting huh? Tim (LFTC Coach)

Monday, 8 February 2010

Triathlon Cycling and Running Show

The Triathlon Cycling and Running Show will take place at Sandown Park on 13-14 February and will be packed with the greatest products, services, seminars and features for the triathletes, cyclists and runners.

I went last year and though it was well worth a look. This year you could go along and listen to Ironman triathlon super stars Chrissie Wellington and Dave Scott! Tim (LFTC Coach)

Saturday, 6 February 2010

Eating after exercise

Once eaten, carbohydrates are broken down into monosaccharides and are absorbed into the bloodstream. They then get used as energy if needed. Any glucose not needed right away gets stored in the muscles and the liver in the form of glycogen. Insulin, along with other hormones, is responsible for regulating this process. If the concentration of glucose in the blood is too high, insulin is secreted by the pancreas. Insulin stimulates the transfer of glucose into the cells, especially in the liver and muscles.

Rapid refuelling is particularly important for the athlete completing multiple bouts of exercise within a short period of time. Research has shown that eating 100-200 grams of carbohydrate within two hours of endurance exercise is essential to building adequate glycogen stores for continued training. Waiting longer than two hours to eat results in 50 percent less glycogen stored in the muscle. The reason for this is that carbohydrate consumption stimulates insulin production, which aids the storage of glucose as muscle glycogen.

Research has also shown that combining protein with carbohydrate in the two hours after exercise nearly doubles the insulin response, which results in more stored glycogen. Eating too much protein, however, may have a negative impact because it could slow rehydration and glycogen replenishment. So it's all about timing and eating or drinking the right type of food or fluid.

Recent research compared chocolate milk with a carbohydrate replacement beverage as a recovery aid after intense exercise and looked at performance and muscle damage markers in trained cyclists. The findings indicated no difference between chocolate milk and the carbohydrate replacement beverage.

Rehydration, carbohydrate and protein all in a single bottle. What more could you want. Bring on the chocolate milk! Tim (LFTC Coach)

Running Tips 2

Some might say that running is the least technical of the three disciplines in triathlon. Just as many people would argue that this could not be further from the truth! Running is the cause of most injuries that triathletes suffer. Running technique therefore is an important part of staying injury free. A few basic tips straight from the British Triathlon Coaching Manual (with a few tweaks from me) to help you remain injury free and improve your running performance include:
  • Head - Should remain still and looking forward. You should not be looking at your feet, even when on rough terrain, but looking a few seconds ahead to where you want to go.
  • Arms - Should be bent at the elbow to approximately a right angle and relaxed. The angle may change slightly as you run. The movement of the arms should be forwards and slightly across the body (but not crossing the mid-line) and backwards. Movements should be small, controlled and efficient.
  • Trunk - Should be upright and relaxed with the hips forward.
  • Shoulders - Should be relaxed and loose.
  • Foot strike - Should be under the body (not forward of it which would produce unnecessary braking forces). This will encourage a forefoot or midfoot strike pattern. The foot should be pointing forwards as opposed to a 'toe in' or 'toe out' running style.
  • Take-off - Push off quickly after the foot strike with the heel moving upwards under the buttocks.
  • Stride length - Should be comfortable and in proportion to the body. Over striding will reduce efficiency by creating unnecessary braking forces.
  • Cadence - Optimum cadence is around 180 strides per minute (90 strikes per foot per minute)
The above tips are guidelines only. Your running technique is very individual and has been ingrained in you since you took your first running steps. That is not to say that you cannot make changes to improve your technique or performance. When making changes to your running technique you must be very careful making only small changes over long periods of time. This will allow your body to positively adapt to the changes rather than causing injury.

Currently there is a big push towards a forefoot or midfoot strike pattern. There seem to be some benefits at least. Changing how you run, whether by technique training or a change in shoes (like running in shoes designed for a forefoot or midfoot strike pattern or designed to mimic barefoot running), will load your body in a very different way if you are habitually someone that has a heel strike landing pattern. Such a change in load on your body could result in injury if 1). You don't train your body appropriately to cope with such a change, or 2). The changes you make are too drastic and/or your body does not have time to adapt positively to such changes.

Confused? I hope not! We can go into a lot more depth when it comes to running technique in future blogs. Tim (LFTC Coach)

Swim Tips 4 - Swim Smooth

Swim Smooth, in my opinion, is quite possibly the best FREE triathlon swimming website around. Paul Newsome is the founder and head coach of Swim Smooth. Paul is British born but now based in Perth, Australia. Swim Smooth is an innovative swimming coaching company devoted to all levels of swimmers and triathletes. The over-riding goal of Swim Smooth is to raise the standard of swimming coaching and the level of knowledge available to amateur swimmers and triathletes around the world.

Swim Smooth have developed the Mr Smooth Console. This is a great learning tool for swimmers and triathletes of any level. The very latest thinking in freestyle stroke mechanics have been taken to carefully produce an animation showing an 'ideal stroke' for amateur swimmers and triathletes. Use the Mr Smooth animation as a visualisation tool to understand the freestyle stroke better - the visual cues will soon have you improving your swimming.

To download Mr Smooth you must sign up to the Swim Smooth blog 'Feel for the Water'. The blog is packed full of great information to assist you in your quest to becoming a better swimmer and triathlete.

Get yourself a swimming buddy with Mr Smooth and feel your swimming improve without even getting wet! There is no substitute for good quality practice but visualisation is a very valuable training tool. Tim (LFTC Coach)

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Learn from our mistakes!

Even triathlon coaches and experienced triathletes get it wrong sometimes. Guy and I have set some pretty big goals for this season. By big I mean the long course Alpe d'Huez Triathlon. Both of us realise that with three mountain passes to get over, before we even start the run, bike fitness is going to be crucial to finishing the race. So on Saturday we decided to brave the wintry conditions and go for a ride in Hertfordshire. Both of us had some reservations about the conditions. It all came unstuck (excuse the pun) when I, quickly followed by Guy, hit a patch of black ice. Soon after we both hit the tarmac! I will lose at least a weeks training due to my injuries. Guy was also injured and damaged his precious bike. Thankfully neither of us suffered serious injuries. So being passionate about your chosen sport is great but don't let it cloud your judgement!

Ride safe. Tim (LFTC Coach)