Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Is compression gear science or fiction?

I admit, I'm both skeptical and intrigued by compression gear. I'm not sure if the benefits are real or imagined, but I love the idea of going for a long run in compression socks and waking up in the morning ready to do it again. Although the personal anecdotes for and against compression garments are split, science tends to favor compression tights. This new study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research is pretty compelling.

(This synopsis is reposted from

Can the clothes you wear after exercise help you recover more quickly? That’s the claim that makers of compression gear have been making for several years — that wearing tight gear can help increase blood flow, allowing the waste products that build up after you exert yourself to be flushed from your muscles, helping you feel better and stronger after exercise than if you didn’t wear the gear.
I’ve been using compression tights after hard cycling rides for a couple of year, and do feel a difference in my recovery and soreness. Among professional cyclists, compression tights are standard gear almost any time they’re off the bike. But there haven’t been a ton of scientific studies that try and quantify the effects of compression on recovery.

A study in the new issue of the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research used 20 subjects in a randomized study to see if using compression helped in recover after they did a weightlifting workout. The results:

A whole body compression garment worn during the 24-hour recovery period after an intense heavy resistance training workout enhances various psychological, physiological, and a few performance markers of recovery compared with noncompressive control garment conditions. The use of compression appears to help in the recovery process after an intense heavy resistance training workout in men and women.

This is very good news for makers of compression garments, who can now point to a pretty solid looking study. The subjects who wore compression garments not only reported feeling better, but they did better in some more rigorous measurements of recovery, including swelling.


Read more about the research.
Here's another first-hand perspective on compression gear.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Newton's laws for running

Years ago, Runner's World ran an article about realizing your potential as a runner. It included a sidebar called "Newton's Laws," which I clipped out and taped to my bathroom mirror. I used to read it every day, but now it's just white noise. I'm so used to seeing it there, that I never *really* see it.

So this morning I reread it and was amazed how timeless it is. Newton's Laws are courtesy Joe Newton, one of the most storied high school cross-country coaches in America. In more than 50 years of coaching, he has led his teams to 26 Illinois state titles and has often said that success stems from a positive mental attitude (PMA). Coach Newton describes PMA as a combination of motivation, persistence and preparation.

Newton's Laws
  1. Make running a lifestyle -- Get enough sleep, eat a nutritious diet, and seek advice from more experience runners.
  2. Commit to excellence -- Commitment is the key word. For you, excellence may be meeting a particular time goal or training pace, or completing a certain distance.
  3. Do your best with what you have -- Build on your strengths while minimizing your weaknesses. If you're naturally fast, focus on shorter races. If you're short on speed but long on endurance, tackle longer distances.
  4. Be persistent -- Develop a strong work ethic. Don't take the easy path in training, competition or goal-setting.
  5. Have a race plan -- Keep your goals in mind, so you don't lose focus. Bring your game face and don't lose sight of your race goals until you cross the finish line.

(For an extra kick of motivation and advice, check out these clips.)
On positive mental attitude
On secrets of success
On discipline

Monday, January 18, 2010

What's really going on with military fitness?

I thought the New York Times' At War blog had an interesting take on military fitness.

Despite the military’s stress on physical fitness, many senior officers and noncommissioned officers I have spoken to are adamant in their beliefs that today’s soldiers are physically softer than the soldiers of yesteryear.

Nevermind that the U.S. military has spiced up its fitness options by incorporating CrossFit, grappling competitions, and weight vests. It seems that more seasoned officers think the new recruits are soft.
I think this brings up a lot of questions.

Is this a generational issue? Are senior officers holding GenY to a standard set by the Greatest Generation and is that appropriate? My grandfather and his WWII buddies were physically and mentally tough, but they had no other choice. They were depression-era children who went without and had to be strong to get by. Today's 20-somethings grew up in an era of plenty and privilege. As a generation they haven't had to "get by."

Is this a military issue or a general population issue? Until recently, obesity rates were consistently on the rise. Still, the latest numbers still show that more than two-thirds of adults and almost a third of kids are overweight, with no sign of improvement. The Pentagon surveyed CDC data last year and determined that more than one-third of youth aged 17 to 24 are unqualified for military service because of physical and medical issues.

Is this a leadership issue? It's amazing what our bodies will do when our motivation and confidence are high. A basic level of fitness can be trained into nearly anyone, but it takes leadership, mentoring and coaching to help the minimally fit become physically and mentally strong. (I'm not suggesting that anyone who lacks motivation will become an overnight sensation by hiring a coach. Rather, I'm suggesting that having a mentor helps us become better at our sports.)

Finally, is there a better way to test the mental and physical strength of new recruits? The tests currently used attempt to ensure a minimum standard of fitness for all service members. The standards aren't adjusted for elite athletes or elite military teams or even for relatively fit folks. And perhaps more importantly, the current tests don't measure a person's ability to simultaneously perform difficult physical and mental tasks in combat situations.

I'm certainly not an expert on military fitness, but it seems like the issue is more complex than simple couch-potato syndrome. It also makes me wonder if this is a perpetual "problem" that senior officers raise from generation to generation. I hope my military friends will chime in and give us some first-hand perspective.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

2010 fitness goals

As promised, I'm posting my 2010 fitness goals. I make goals at the start of every year -- personal, professional and health related -- but I've never made them public like this. Honestly, I'm a little anxious about it. Going public means I have a handful people who will hold me accountable and expect me to achieve these goals. That's a good thing right?

Here goes...

1) Be half-marathon ready at all times.
2) Consistently attend Thursday night running club.
3) Consistently attend Tuesday night track workout.
4) Consistently run 5x per week, including track workout and long run.
5) Do yoga 2x per week and strength training 2x per week.
6) Take and pass personal trainer exam by March 31.
7) Get mileage up to 50 miles/week.

Your turn. What are your fitness goals for 2010, how do they compare to 2009 and how will you keep yourself focused on them?

Friday, January 1, 2010

A crunch-free core

I planned to sit down and write a few posts today, but I've been sucked into a series of documentaries about the Ironman World Championship. So while I dab my tears over all the neat finisher stories, check out these ab exercises designed to protect your spine.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Forget resolutions. Set goals.

I love these last few weeks of the year. Like a lot of distance runners, I'm somewhat Type A so I savor this time to look back at the year and set goals for the coming year. Forget resolutions that never see the light of day. I like to set measurable goals that I can mentally check off the list throughout the year.

Running and goal-setting are as much about psychology as they are about physiology. Our minds can be our greatest asset (mind over matter) or biggest liability (self-doubt). Goal-setting helps us channel our mental and physical energy for a common purpose. Clear, measurable goals empower us to track our performance and adjust our training, so it's important that they be motivating and achievable.

Here are few things to think about as you prepare for 2010:
  • Set goals that are specific and measurable.
  • Be reasonable (and realistic). Make your goals challenging, but achievable.
  • Focus on performance v. outcomes. Performance is something you can control. Outcomes tend to be affected by other people or conditions.
  • Share your list with another runner. "Saying it out loud" makes it real and we all need someone to keep us accountable from time to time.
  • Create or revise a training plan based on your goals.

I'm still working on my goals for next year, but I'll post them here in the next few weeks.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Man down: What's the etiquette when a runner falls out?

For the last few years I've done an jingle jog in a tiny country town about an hour away. It usually attracts a small but competitive crowd.

The race was last weekend and I spent the first couple of miles running just ahead of a man who was probably old enough to be my dad. About two miles into the five-miler, I heard him howl and I looked over my shoulder in time to see him drop to ground. He had a charlie horse, so I helped him massage it and get back on his feet. When it was clear he could walk the rest of the course on his own, I jumped back into the race. Here's the rub: I finished the race and managed to place in my age group despite the delay. (Truthfully, that probably says more about the lack of competitors in my age group than it does about my performance.) But I couldn't help being disappointed that no one else seemed to notice or care when this guy went down.

With no prize money at stake, is meeting a time goal so important that you can't stop and help someone who is obviously in trouble? What's the proper race etiquette in this situation? What do you do when you see someone in trouble on the course?