Thursday, 19 January 2012

I was pretty surprised when I googled 'core stability and triathlon' earlier this week and saw my own LFTC blog come up on the first page of hits! Apologies for the typos last week. I didn't get my assistant i.e. Sarah, to check it before I published it. The reason I did the search was to see what kind of information came up. This link was one of the first. An article from Triathlete Europe magazine from the authors of Ultimate Triathlon: A Complete Training Guide for Long-distance Triathletes.

The main problem with following this kind of exercise prescription is that it is obviously not individualised. The exercises may be inappropriate for some people or they may not address areas of weakness and complement areas of strength.
With the exception of push ups the exercises are very much abdominal focussed and as discussed there is more to the core than just the abdominals. They are mostly single plane movements in positions that are not very specific to the sport of triathlon. Given that most triathlon related injuries come from running I would expect a core strength program designed for triathletes to involve at least some exercises in a standing position.

Every consideration that goes into designing an effective exercise program for the rest of your body should go into designing a program for core stabilty or strength: individuality and specificity (exercise selection), load, volume (reps and sets), rest periods, frequency, and progression. In terms of exercise selection then I would suggest you work on exercises that require control or movement in multiple planes e.g. a lateral or side lunge would be a simple example. The exercises should be in position and involve movements that mimic to some extent the demands of the sport.

Core stability and core strength are two linked but different aspects of physical fitness. As a general guide core stability exercises should be performed with a low load, a high number of repetitions, a low number of sets and short recoveries. Core strength however should be trained differently with higher loads, a lower number of repetitions, a higher number of sets and longer recoveries. I would also suggest working on core stability first before progressing to core strength.

Finally, the training of core stability and strength does not occur in isolation. It is part of a larger exercise program designed to develop all aspects of physcial fitness required for a given sport. It should be periodised and will have a different priority during different phases of the longer term plan. At times, the core may be the focus of training. At other times, such as during the competition phase, core exercises may be performed for maintenance only while the focus is on race specific fitness and skills.

On to this weekend's sessions then. Our swim is a technique focussed swim and if you have not yet seen this video from Swim Smooth of Jono Van Hazel you should lake a look. It's a great Linkvisualisation tool. Come Sunday you'll be swimming like Jono just by watching the video...if only! Our focus is on good body roll. It ties in nicely with our discussions about core stability. We are giving you options again on the run with intervals, a technique focussed session looking at the role of the upper body when running and a long run for those that like to go long.

See you Sunday. I hope you have those CSS times for us! Tim (LFTC Coach)

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Core stability and pulling your belly button in.

It seems it is not possible to talk to any triathlete or read any triathlon magazine, whether it be about injury or improving performance, without someone saying 'activate your core'. So this is my pet hate... The belief that core stability is all about activating a single abdominal muscle and in activating this muscle you can prevent and/or fix all injuries. To explain I'll have to go into a little of the technical stuff first.

So when did core stability become synonymous with drawing your belly button towards the spine - attempting to activate your transversus abdominis? I can't tell you exactly but here is my theory. Since the 90's up until the present day a number of researchers around the world have been investigating abdominal muscle recruitment patterns in subjects with low back and pelvic pain. A number of these researchers published papers suggesting that in some people with low back and pelvic pain, abdominal muscle recruitment patterns were altered and in particular the activation of the transversus abdominis. Pretty soon anyone with low back or pelvic pain was being taught to activate their transversus abdominis by drawing their belly button towards the spine. I am simplifying things a little but this is the gist of it.

Just like the early research into barefoot running, it was picked up by the media (sometimes misinterpreted) and reported as gospel. Soon everyone with an injury from a hammer toe to headache was being taught to draw their belly button towards the spine because that is where all injuries start! Isn't it? At some point, to a lot of people around the world, this activation of your transversus abdominis became the very 'core' of core stability. I'm not saying the abdominal musculature isn't important in core stability. Far from it. I am saying the emphasis on transversus abdominis training and activating your core by drawing your belly button towards your spine for all types of injury is wrong. Next week I hope to have time to explain how to improve your core stability the right way!

This week's swim session is our long swim to help develop aerobic capacity. We'll be using fins and pull buoys so if you don't want to upset the coach make sure you bring yours. We'll also have a long run option, an intervals run option and a technique based run option. So many choices! I came across this little video of Jan Frodeno which is pretty cool. In particular I like his final comment. Always keep this in mind.

Some of you wanted some homework to do so here it is. Before next week's session I would like you to complete this swim set including two time trials to calculate your CSS which we will use in future sessions. For more info check out the CSS link.

Warm up - 200m FC easy.
Drill set - 4x50m with pull buoy scull #1 15m into FC 35m. 10 sec recovery.
Build set - 150m moderate, 100m fast, 50m very fast. 20sec recovery between each effort.
Time trial - 400m FC.
Active recovery - 4x50m easy FC (use fins if you like). 20 sec recovery between each 50m.
Time trial - 200m FC.
Cool down - 200m of your choice of stroke or combination of stokes.

Use the results of your time trials to calculate your CSS using the link above and we will use this in future sessions to improve your lactate threshold. So this will be a good test to see if when we prescribe homework i.e. on your own session plans, it actually gets done. We will be asking for your own CSS results in next week's session.

See you Sunday. It's going to be cold so be prepared! Tim (LFTC Coach).

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Welcome back!

Welcome back to LFTC training for 2012! It's going to be a very exciting year for Hackney, London and Great Britain. I hope that the opening and closing ceremonies of London 2012 with the £81 million price tag are going to be worth it! I must say that the fireworks on New Year's Eve were well impressive.

I have been promising to write about 'core stability' for some time know. What is it? Ask most people and they will start making gestures towards their abdominals but there is much more to it than that. I'm going to introduce the topic by defining core stability. There is no universally accepted definition of core stability. Due to its practical emphasis, this definition provided by Dr. Ben Kibler and colleagues at the Lexington Clinic Sports Medicine Center in Lexington, Kentucky, is a good starting point: “Core stability is defined as the ability to control the position and motion of the trunk over the pelvis to allow optimum production, transfer and control of force and motion to the terminal segment in integrated athletic activities”.

What the? The first part is relatively easy to understand - 'the ability to control the position and motion of the trunk over the pelvis'. What is important to note here is that it is not necessarily about keeping the trunk or pelvis still but controlling movement of the trunk or pelvis during athletic activity. The second part - 'to allow optimum production, transfer and control of force and motion to the terminal segment in integrated athletic activities'. In triathlon speak, if we think about the foot as the terminal segment, then we are looking to produce force using the muscles of the trunk, pelvis and leg and then transfer that force in a controlled fashion to the foot and ultimately to the pedal when cycling.

So in anatomical terms 'the core' is made up of the trunk, the pelvis, the hips and all the muscles that act on these areas. So if the core is such a broad area and is made up of so many individual muscles working together how do you activate your core? A common misconception is that activating your core involves tightening your abdominal muscles. While your abdominal muscles are important, core stability is not about individual muscles, it is about numerous muscles working together during athletic activity. So rather than focusing on individual muscles think more about what you are trying to achieve. For example, think about running tall through the trunk with a strong and stable pelvis rather than tightening your abdominals as you run.

That's it on the topic of core stability for this week. There is more to come over the next few blogs. This week's swim session has a technique focus. You'll need pull buoys and fins. Remember we share the Lido with the public and you should bring your own pull buoys and leave the Lido's to the public. The session should help you develop a 'feel for the water'. What is feel for the water? It means that you will learn to feel subtle changes in water pressure on your body, arms, hands, legs and feet as you move through the water. This will in turn allow you to make subtle changes in technique to improve your swimming efficiency.

Take a look at this video of Paul Newsome from Swim Smooth performing a sculling drill (yes we will be doing some sculling!) and then dropping his wrists during the drill. Dropping of the wrist is something we see often. If it makes Paul go backwards when sculling imagine what effect it might have on your propulsion when swimming front crawl. Here are another couple of excellent videos to watch to kick off the season and get you in the right mind set to make some great gains in your training: What is an efficient freestyle stroke? Part 1 and What is an efficient freestyle stroke? Part 2.

We will have an option for a long run this weekend heading to Victoria Park for those who are keen as well as our regular interval session at London Fields. Remember to check the weather and bring appropriate kit and don't be afraid to wear your wetsuit during the swim if you are prone to getting cold over the winter months. Just make sure all your swims aren't in a wetsuit though. That's cheating!

See you Sunday. Tim (LFTC Coach)