Sunday, 30 May 2010

Two new champions crowned!

At the Fritton Lake Triathlon Festival on Saturday and Sunday May 29 and 30 the London Fields Triathlon Club found two new champions! Seb Balcombe, competing in his first ever triathlon, won his age group in the Super Sprint on Saturday. In the true spirit of the club Seb even stopped to help the guy next to him in transition who was struggling just a little to get his wetsuit off! Sarah Allen, competing in her first ever Olympic (standard) distance triathlon, also won her age group on Sunday. She got clobbered in the swim by a big bloke, who looked more like a heavy weight boxer than a triathlete, recklessly swinging his arms at the swim start. She didn't let it phase her and powered on to the second fastest run of the day in the women's race. Guy Holbrow was fourth in his age group finishing in his fastest time ever over the Olympic distance.

If anyone else would like to have their results posted on the blog please let us know how you did. Congratulations to all those competing over the weekend. If you are thinking about competing in a triathlon next year the Fritton Lake Triathlon is a great event. You can choose a Super Sprint, Sprint or Olympic distance race. There is on site accommodation and the swim, bike and run all take place in a beautiful area around the Norfolk and Suffolk border. Just a reminder about the North Norfolk Triathlon at the end of the year. We have an inter club challenge with the North Norfolk Triathlon Club so we would like to see as many of you as possible competing in our club kit!

See you next week. Tim (LFTC Coach)

Thursday, 27 May 2010

This week's swim session - Breathing, Rhythm and Timing

Developing a good breathing technique is one of the biggest challenges for beginner and intermediate swimmers. Do you have a strong side and a weak side? Why is that do you think? Problems with breathing can have an effect on other parts of your stroke. For instance, breathing can cause scissor kicks, a poor body position, cross-overs and lop sided strokes.

Here are 7 tips to improve your breathing from the coaches at Swim Smooth.
  1. Focus on your exhalation not your inhalation.
  2. Keep your head still when you are not breathing.
  3. Breathe into the pocket - the bow wave your head creates in the water.
  4. Don't lift your head.
  5. Don't over-rotate your head.
  6. A lack of body rotation could be causing problems with your breathing.
  7. Learn to breathe bilaterally.
Rhythm and timing are all about moving seamlessly from one phase of the stroke to the other. It's all about finding the right balance between stroke length and stroke rate. Try counting your stroke rate (strokes per minute - SPM). A good way to this is to have someone count the number of strokes you take in 10sec them multiply by 6. You will also need to know your pace (secs/100m). Now use the Swim Smooth's Stroke Rate Chart to see what you might have to work on - stroke length, stroke rate or both. The chart works for any effort level e.g. easy, steady or sprinting.

Remember your fins! See you Saturday. Tim (LFTC Coach)

Monday, 24 May 2010

That bothersome calf pain

Calf pain is a common problem especially in athletes whose chosen sport involves running. If not diagnosed and managed properly it can persist for months or recur causing disruption to training routines and frustration. The calf consists of two muscles, the gastrocnemius and the soleus. They both share a common tendon, the Achilles tendon, that inserts into the heel (calcaneus). Both muslces have slightly different roles with the gastrocnemius being more prone to injury probably due to the fact it acts on both the knee and ankle.

Common calf injuries include: muscle strains to either the gastrocnemius or soleus; muscle contusions; muscle cramps; referred pain from the lumbar spine (low back) and delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).

Other less common causes of calf pain are: compartment syndrome; referred pain from other areas such as structures within the knee, entrapment of arteries either within the calf or higher up in the leg; stress fractures in the lower leg and varicose veins. Deep vein thrombosis (a blood clot in the deep veins of the leg) is not common but requires immediate medical attention. An in depth discussion of the less common causes of calf pain is beyond this blog. If your injury is not responding to treatment as expected it is wise to visit your doctor as these causes of calf pain require further investigation and/or medical management.

Calf muscle strains

Calf muscle strains (a tear in the muscle of varying severity) are by far the most common cause of calf pain. Although they can occur any where within the calf the area most often involved is the top part of the calf towards the inside of the leg (medial head of gastrocnemius). This injury is often associated with sudden accelerations. Calf muscle strains are not always caused by acute injuries. You can develop muscle strains over a prolonged period when the tissues fail to cope with the load being placed on them. Micro-trauma (muscle damage that may go unnoticed) leads to macro-trauma (the onset of symptoms such as pain) and a cycle of injury, incomplete healing and further injury can begin.

After an acute injury such as a calf muscle strain you could follow the RICE treatment regimen. Some people prefer PRICE where the 'P' stands for professional advice. How long you continue the regimen will depend on the severity of the injury. Restoring muscle length with calf stretches and restoring muscle strength with calf strength exercises is important to prevent re-injury. In addition you must look at contributing factors such as training errors; flexibility and strength in associated areas i.e. the rest of the lower limb, pelvis and spine; running technique, footwear and triathlon specific causes (see section on cramping below).

Calf muscle cramping

Cramping is an interesting topic. It seems that muscle fatigue is being establised as the major cause of exercise induced muscle cramping. If you would like to know more about the science behind muscle cramping have a look at The Science of Sport blog. There are a few reasons why triathletes might be more likely to develop cramping in the calf muscles than other athletes. The prolonged planter flexed (toes pointing) position held in the swim could result in muscle fatigue. Add to the mix cold water and the increased muscle tension generated in order to help maintain core body temperature and cramping could certainly become a risk. Cramping can also occur on the bike. A cleat position that is too far forward can increase the load on the calf. Likewise a saddle that is too high causing you to plantar flex excessively at the bottom of the stroke could increase the risk of cramping. On the run, fatigue is the most obvious cause, having completed two disciplines already. A change in running technique too, for example changing from a heel strike pattern to more of a mid-foot or forefoot strike pattern, will increase the demand on the calf and initially could cause early fatigue and cramping or muscle strain until you adapt to the new technique.

When a cramp does occur a sustained stretch of the muscle will often ease the cramp allowing you to continue. However, some cramps can be so severe that they cause a muscle strain or the cramp may recur as you attempt to continue. At this point you will have to decide if you can continue or not. Teaching your body to resist fatigue through appropriate training, such as strengthening the calf and associated areas through both specific strength exercises and also training strategies such as hill work and over-gearing (riding in a higher gear than you would normally either on the flat or hills) and providing your body with adequate nutriation and hydration will help prevent cramping.

Brick sessions, practicing one discipline immediately followed by another, are a great way to teach your body to cope with the physiological demands of triathlon. A lot of novices struggle with the bike to run transition initially. Brick sessions are an essential part of any triathlon training program especially in the build and race periods.

Referred pain from the lower back

The lumbar spine (lower back) can refer pain into the calf. Referred pain is pain felt in an area that is remote from the area causing it. A number of structures in the lumbar spine, for example intervertebral discs and facet joints, can result in pain in the calf. In addition sciatic nerve related pain can be felt in the calf. Bike set-up is important here because the aero-position a lot of triathletes adopt can place excessive tension on the sciatic nerve and other neural structures.

In this case, the lumbar spine rather than the calf needs specific treatment. Restoring flexibility and strength to the affected area, making postural adjustments, modifying bike position and mobilising the neural tissue e.g. sciatic nerve, are likely to help.

Delayed onset muscle soreness

Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is common after prolonged or unaccustomed activity. Your first training session after a period of time off, your first speed session or your first hill session could all result in DOMS. The pain tends to peak 24-48 hours post-exercise and then eases. Light aerobic exericise and avoiding eccentric loading (when the muscle is lengthening under load e.g. walking down hill), have been shown to help. Anecdotally stretching seems to help but there is little scientific evidence to support this. Thanks to the phenomenon known as 'muscle memory' your second session of the same exercise is unlikely to cause you as much pain!

Recurrent Exertional Compartment Syndrome

Recurrent Exertional Compartment Syndrome (RECS), although not as common, is worth mentioning. The muscles in the lower leg are divided up into compartments. Each compartment is surrounded by fascia (connective tissue). During exercise there is an increase in blood flow to the working muscles. The increased blood flow results in the muscles swelling in size. If the fascia surrounding the compartment is too tight you will get a build up in pressure in that compartment. This will cause pain, can cause sensory changes e.g. numbess or tingling, reduced performance and potentially damage to the tissues. These symptoms will gradually build during a bout of exercise, building faster with exercise at higher intensities, and eases within minutes of ceasing exercise.

RECS is not so easy to manage. Some people will require surgery in order to to correct the excessively tight fascia surrounding the compartment. The recovery time is relatively quick and returning to activity quickly is very important. Stretching, deep soft-tissue massage, correcting training errors such as excessive volume and running technique changes may help depending on the severity of the problem. Sometimes activity modification is required e.g. a break from running may result in muscle atrophy (the muscle becoming smaller) and thus the tightness within the compartment is not such an issue and a gradual return to running may be possible.

Phew! That was a long one. Tim (LTFC Coach)

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

This week's swim session focus - Body roll!

Hello there!

This weekend’s swim session is focussing on ‘body roll’. Body roll refers to the rotation of the shoulder, torso and hips about the long axis of the body with each stroke. A good efficient freestyle stroke will result in the shoulders, torso and hips rotating together. The head remains stationary turning only slightly to breathe to each side in time with the body roll and arm action.

Body roll will help improve your freestyle stroke in the following ways:

1. Making arm recovery easier helping to avoid shoulder injury.

2. Using your larger muscles e.g. latissimus dorsi or ‘lats’, and core for power improving propulsion.

3. Lengthening your stoke allowing you to cover a greater distance with fewer strokes.

4. Assisting your breathing by preventing the need to rotate the head too far or lift the head in order to breath.

If you would like to know a little more about body roll have a look at the Swim Smooth website. Remember your fins if you have them it will really help you learn correct technique! See you Saturday. Tim (LFTC Coach)

Monday, 3 May 2010

A pain in the butt!

With four of our club members joining me for long run in the cold wind and driving rain on Sunday it wasn't long before our minds wandered away from thoughts of spring and the upcoming race season. The topic of conversation instead turned to human anatomy and more specifically buttocks! One of the group had been experiencing buttock pain associated with running and sitting for a number of weeks. And so another blog topic was born.

Buttock pain is not uncommon in triathletes. Cycling and running, for a number of reasons, can lead to buttock pain. Common causes of buttock pain are: referred pain from the lumbar spine (low back) or sacroiliac joints (two joints within the pelvis); injury to the hamstring origin (the hamstrings originate from those bony points you sit on); ishiogluteal bursitis (inflammation of a small fluid filled structure in the buttock region); myofascial pain (pain from one or more of the muscles within the buttock and the associated 'connective' tissues; sciatic nerve related pain or hip related pain.

Less common are bony injuries such as stress fractures e.g. of the sacrum and some other bony injuries that are more common in adolescents. There are of course more serious causes of buttock pain too such as various forms of arthritis, tumours or infections but these are relatively uncommon. If your injury is not responding to treatment as expected it is wise to visit your doctor as these causes of buttock pain require further investigation and/or medical management.

By far the most common causes of buttock pain are referred pain from the lumbar spine, sciatic nerve related pain and myofascial pain. An in depth discussion of the management of buttock pain is beyond this blog (it would take forever!). I do believe a lot of buttock pain of this type can be resolved using simple self-help techniques.

Stretching of the buttock muscles, especially the gluteals and piriformis, is often very useful. Which stretching exercise will help will depend on where the areas of tightness are within the buttock. For a description of the exercises and photos of useful buttock stretches click on this link.

Self-massage of the buttock muscles (don't laugh!) is also useful to target specific areas within the musculature and the associated connective tissues. This can be performed using something like the AOK Massage Ball. For a description of the exercises and photos of useful self-massage techniques click on this link.

Sometimes myofascial pain and tightness in the buttock muscles can be due to weakness within the buttock musculature. Weakness in the gluteal muscles (gluteus maximus, gluteus medius and gluteus minimus) is common. This can result in the small muscles of the buttock e.g. pirifomis, being overloaded. As a result myofascial pain and tightness can develop either in the gluteal muscles or the smaller muscles of the buttock or both. Which strength exercise will help will depend on the pattern of weakness in the buttock. Gluteus maximus and gluteus medius weakness is suprisingly common. For a description and photos of useful strength exercises click on this link.

Of course you must always treat the cause and not just the symptoms. That means considering your bike set up, riding technique and equipment e.g. type of saddle, and cycling training errors e.g. sudden increase in volume, as a possible cause. Looking at your running technique and running training errors as a possible cause. Looking at your posture and in particular your sitting posture as a possible cause. This is especially important for buttock pain referred from the lumbar spine and sciatic nerve related pain as the majority of people with low back pain experience pain with sitting.

So hopefully that pain in the butt might not be quite such a pain if you try some of the simple self-help techniques above. Tim (LFTC Coach)