Posts Tagged exercise

Exercise Physiology for running performance

Running is an extremely popular form of exercise with almost no cost and fantastic physical and mental benefits. I’m sure we’ve all met runners who are almost obsessive about their running and are like a bear with a sore head when they can’t run. We see lots of runners at Central Performance, from office workers who run a couple of times a week for the health benefits to our elite running group coached by physio and track coach Ben Liddy.

One thing most of our runners have in common is that they would like to run a little better. Whether that’s reducing aches and pains they feel when running, improving their City2Surf time or lowering their 1,500m PB everyone wants to improve somehow. An often-overlooked way to improve running performance is to include some weight training into your training. The classic opinion was the weight training made you heavy and slow however there is a lot of good research that shows that weight training can significantly improve endurance, running performance and running economy.

It used to be thought that to improve performance in endurance sports like running that it was more beneficial to use a light weight for lots of repetitions when performing weight training. The theory was that it better replicated how the muscle worked when running and therefore it would lead to greater improvements in running performance. We now know that low repetition, heavy weight training and plyometric training is better for improving running performance and economy. This might seem counter intuitive but there are some good reasons for why that is the case.

First of all, heavy weight training and plyometric training both improve what is called Rate of Force Development (RFD). RFD means how quickly a muscle can produce force, the higher the RFD the quicker a muscle is able to produce force. A high RFD is important when running because ground contact time with each stride is so short. If you are able to increase the RFD of the muscles in the legs then you are able to decrease your ground contact time and increase your running cadence. Increasing your running cadence improves your running economy, making you a more efficient runner.

Secondly, a stronger muscle means that each stride requires relatively less effort from the muscles in your leg. For example, the soleus muscle in the calf has to deal with between 6-8 times body weight with each stride. That is an awful lot of force to be dealing with for a sustained period of time. A strong soleus, strengthened with the help of weight training, will be better able to handle 6-8 times body weight for a 800m race, 5km fun run or full marathon.

Thirdly, heavy weight training and plyometric training help to strengthen and stiffen tendons. A stronger, stiffer tendon is better able to transmit the force produce by the muscles into the movement of bones required for running. Better force transmission by the tendons again improves running economy and efficiency. It also has the added benefit of helping to guard against the development of tendinopathies such as Achilles or hamstring tendinopathy. We see many runners with these injuries and heavy weight training is the starting point for their rehabilitation.

As you can see there are some very good reasons for including heavy weight training and plyometric training to improve your running performance. As simple as two sessions of weight and plyometric training per week can lead to significant improvements in running performance. Below is an example of a simple weight and plyometric training session for runners.


Goblet squat:

The goblet squat is a fantastic way to introduce the squat movement into your training program and it is the first version of the squat we use with our clients. The squat is one of the key movements in weight training programs we develop for runners as it is fantastic for developing quad strength. This is important as the quads take the second most load during running after the calf muscles.


Single leg deadlift:

Another key movement in the weight training programs for our runners, the single leg deadlift is great for developing strength in the hamstrings and muscles of the lateral hip, particularly the glute medius. The glute medius plays an important role in maintain lateral stability of the hip, helping to prevent hip drop and subsequent valgus collapse of the knee when your foot strikes the ground. We also aim to have a mix of double leg and single leg exercises in our programs and the single leg deadlift is one of our favourite single leg exercises.

Bent knee calf raises:

An often overlooked muscle group when weight training, the calf muscles have the highest demand on them of any muscle group when running. As stated earlier, the calf muscles must handle between 6-8 times body weight with each stride. Therefore, it is important to strengthen the muscles of the calf. The bent knee calf raise helps to prioritise loading on the soleus muscle and better replicates the ankle position during running.

Hurdle hops:

Hurdle hops are one of our first plyometric progressions we introduce into our runners programs. It is a great exercise to help develop power on one leg and get our clients used to the landing forces associated with plyometric exercises. With a hurdle hop we emphasise ‘sticking’ the landing which requires our clients to be able to control the landing forces.

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The Powerful Combination of Physio and Fitness When Coming Back From an Injury

Being injured and in pain is the worst. It holds you back from performing activities you enjoy and even everyday tasks can be tougher to do to the standards that you’re used to. There are often also mental hurdles to overcome when trying to come back to sports or the training that you love.  

When you sustain an injury that needs physical therapy, this means that one or more of the body’s systems was not robust enough to handle a particular stressor it was up against at the time. 

This could be because of an exercise choice, too much of a particular activity over time, not be ready for the particular activity or simply fatigue that leads to less than ideal movement quality. There can be many reasons. Either way, the body was not resilient enough to fend off the stressor and it broke down. The best way that we know to build up resilience against injury is through fitness.

One of the biggest challenges that we can face when trying to navigate an injury and resume regular movement or training is knowing exactly what’s appropriate to do. When can we begin to veer off the rehabilitation road and flow onto the training highway?

The answer lies in a connecting the various professions that have the most to offer at ALL stages of your journey. Specifically, your physiotherapist and your strength and conditioning coach or trainer. 

For a long time there’s been a gap between physiotherapy and strength and conditioning when there is so much to gain when these worlds collide and there is a combined focus and collaborative effort towards not only getting you back to the activity that you most enjoy but also making sure that you are even more unbreakable in the future.

When you’ve been injured, you’ll need a physiotherapy lens at the site to examine the damage extent, get you out of pain and on the road back to function. Towards the end of treatment, your strength coach or trainer then merges into the game to deliver fitness strategies that should result in you needing fewer trips to the physiotherapist and the long term result of building resiliency against future damage.

The fact of the matter is, your physiotherapist can get you out of pain and back to normal, but they’re often not equipped with the tools to get you far stronger than you were and need. It may very well have been (and often is) a lack of strength and readiness for the activity that led to the injury in the first place.

Your strength coach can get you better than you were, stronger, faster, fitter and less damage prone, but they cannot directly apply the same healing and rehabilitation strategies.

Both of these skill sets have the same goal; to apply a certain stimulus and provoke a certain adaptation that results in you getting a little better. They just exist at different ends of the continuum.

Often, if you’ve been hurt what you need is some combination of the two skill sets working with you at the same time for best effect. 

Danny James, Head Strength & Conditioning Coach at Central Physio & Performance Fitness
Danny James, Head Strength & Conditioning Coach at Central Physio & Performance Fitness and can be reached at danny@centralperformance.com.au

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Exercise physiology for Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome

Patellofemoral pain syndrome (PFPS) is a condition typified by a vague, diffuse pain around the knee. It is often most noticeable during running and walking up and down stairs or hills and is a frustrating injury because it can severely limit a sufferer’s ability to partake in sports and activities they enjoy. While the pain usually isn’t associated with significant damage, the pain itself can be severely limiting. One of the first steps to getting back to activities pain-free is to reduce the aggravating activities to allow the pain to settle and to start a strength training program.

Traditionally it was thought that the most important muscles to help prevent and relieve PFPS were the VMO (one of the quadriceps muscles on the inside of the patella) and the gluteus medius (one the glute muscle on the outside of the hip). However, recent research shows that specific exercises for those muscles have no better outcomes than general exercises. Therefore, the goal of strength training for PFPS should be to have a comprehensive program to strengthen the whole lower body to not just rehab PFPS but improve performance and reduce the risk of other lower limb injuries.

Here is a sample of exercises we use for runners and other athletes recovering from PFPS:

Split Squats:

A fantastic foundational exercise, split squats help develop strength in the quads, hamstrings and lateral (outside of the hip) glutes as well as develop balance in a split stance position. These place more emphasise on the quads and lateral hip muscles than the other exercises in the program.

Deadlift:

Another fantastic foundational exercise, deadlifts are great for developing strength in the hamstring, glute max (the big, main glute muscle) and back muscles. Deadlifts particularly strengthen hip extension which is very important in running and athletic movements.

Calf Raises:

Surprisingly the calf muscles (gastrocnemius and soleus) are the muscles that receive the most load during running (6-8 x bodyweight), more than the quads (4-6 x bodyweight), hamstrings, glute medius (2.6-3.5 x bodyweight) or glute max (1.5-2.8 x bodyweight). Therefore, it is important to strengthen these muscles to improve their ability to cope with the loading they receive during running .

Suitcase carry:

A great, simple exercise for the lateral core muscles which play an important role in helping keep the pelvis level during running.

These four exercises together provide a comprehensive strength program that strengthen almost all the muscle of the lower body. Together with a temporary reduction or modification to activity and exercise they can help get you back to what you want to do pain-free.

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Should We Really Bother Foam Rolling So Much, Really?

For all the jazz around foam-rolling these days it may be surprising to know that the underlying mechanisms are still not well understood and there is a paucity of high-quality and well-designed studies available.

Some of the proposed mechanisms of effect may include:

1. Reflex neural inhibition

2. Increased stretch tolerance

3. Mediating pain-modulatory systems

What we do know is that foam-rolling appears to be effective for producing short-term gains in flexibility without reducing performance. And while the benefits to muscle function have not yet been established, there does seem to be a demonstrable reduction in post-exercise muscle soreness as a result of post-exercise rolling.

So, from the research that we do have, it’s safe to say that foam-rolling is perhaps not the miracle saviour for poor exercises choices or not moving enough that we once thought it was.

Reference:

1. A Meta-Analysis of the Effects of Foam Rolling on Performance and Recovery. Wiewelhove, et al. 2019

2. The Science and Physiology of Flexibility and Stretching : Implications and Applications in Sport Performance and Health. Behm, 2018.

Danny James, Head Strength & Conditioning Coach at Central Physio & Performance Fitness
Danny James, Head Strength & Conditioning Coach at Central Physio & Performance Fitness and can be reached at danny@centralperformance.com.au




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Exercise for Achilles Tendinopathy

Running season is well and truly underway! With so many fun-runs, half marathons and marathons going on at the moment, we’re seeing a lot of clients come into the clinic with niggling injuries holding them back, be it in training, competing or just participating! The most common of these injuries is an Achilles tendinopathy (previously known as Achilles tendinitis), which occurs when the Achilles tendon is unable to adapt to an increase of strain being placed on it, leading to small amounts of damage within the tendon fibres themselves. This increase in strain commonly comes about in runners who have suddenly increased the distance they’re running, the amount of hill running they’re completing or the intensity they’re running at!

So, what can you do to help heal an Achilles tendinopathy? Here at Central Performance we love taking an active approach, believing that combining specific exercises with appropriate Physiotherapy techniques is the best treatment possible.

So, what exercises should you be doing? A loaded calf raise program is your best chance at getting back on track. It’s important to remember that initially, these exercises will likely increase your pain, but don’t worry, that soon settles!

Your initial loaded calf raise program should include:

  1. Straight knee heel lowers: Using a wall for support, raise up onto your toes using your good leg, taking 3 seconds. Transfer your weight to your bad leg, then lower your heels to the floor, taking 4 seconds. When this starts to become easy, switch to single leg straight knee heel lowers.
  2. Bent knee heel lowers: Using a wall for support, raise up onto your toes using your good leg, taking 3 seconds. Transfer your weight to your bad leg, and keeping your knee bent, lower your heels to the floor, taking 4 seconds. Again, when this starts to become easy, switch to single leg bent knee heel lowers.

For all these exercises, aim for 3 sets of 15 reps on alternating days. As their difficulty decreases, weight can be added to each of them to further progress the strengthening side of the rehab process.

We recommend following this program for at least 8-12 weeks, progressing from 15 reps max to 6 reps max towards the end of the program. You can still continue to run throughout this time, as long as your pain levels don’t exceed a 3/10 and your pain subsides following the run.

The final phase of your journey to full recovery incorporates ballistics and advanced strengthening exercises. Exercises based around advanced sport-specific strengthening and high- speed movements, combined with rapid change of direction drills are essential for getting you back to full fitness and preventing a recurrence of the injury!

Many clients find that seeing one of our Exercise Physiologists or Strength & Conditioning coach is a great way to build strength, ability & confidence for a smooth return to full sporting activity.                         

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Is Your Phone Ruining Your Sleep?

Are you having trouble falling asleep?

A tonne of research has shown us that the use of electronic devices prior to sleep time can wreak havoc on our ability to fall asleep.

It turns out that the short-wavelength blue light emitted from smartphones, tablets, and other devices disrupts proper melatonin production.

Melatonin is a hormone released primarily by the pineal gland that regulates sleep-wake cycles. It is released at night and in conditions of prolonged darkness as a signal to the body that its night time.

Figueiro et al. 2012 looked at a small sample size of 13 individuals who used self-luminous tablets to read, watch movies and play games prior to bed.

The study concluded that light from these self-luminous displays 2 hours prior to bedtime diminished melatonin production by about 22%, possibly affecting circadian rhythms and normal sleep cycles.

Some things you can do to help not only get a good night’s sleep but help get to sleep in the first place include:

1. Develop a ‘POWER-OFF POLICY’ before bed

Switch off your electronic devices at least 1-2 hours prior to bedtime.

2. Develop a ‘Wind down’ routine before bed

Slow down and de-stress as much as possible before bed. Some other suggestions include taking a walk, meditating, reading a book, gratitude journaling.

3. A quite, cool, and dark place

Reduce any distracting noise, avoid warm clothing or bedding and aim for a temperature of approximately 18 degrees Celsius.

4. Avoid coffee, heavy meals and liquids before bed

Limit feelings of fullness, digestive discomfort and sleep disturbances due to late-night bathroom trips.

Danny James is the Head of Personal Training and Strength and Conditioning services at Central Physio and Performance Fitness, located in Surry Hills in the Sydney CBD area. danny@centralperformance.com.au

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What’s Better For Recovery From Strength Training? Whole Body Cryotherapy, Cold Water Immersion, or Placebo.

In our post on compression garments and recovery, we brought up the potential role of the placebo effect which sparked some questions and commentary.

Adding a little more to the placebo/recovery discussion, in a new study from Wilson, et al. 2019 compared the effects of cold water immersion (CWI), whole body cryotherapy (WBC) or a placebo (PL) intervention on recovery markers after a resistance training session.

Although a single training session does not reflect the everyday workload demands placed upon competitive athletes, there was substantial enough effect on the recovery markers used following the single training session to directly compare the three interventions.

What did they do?
24 males with a minimum training age of 12 months were matched into CWI (10mins at 10 degrees Celcius), WBC ( 3 and 4 mins at – 85 degrees Celcius) or PL group and performed a high volume lower body resistance training session at 80% of predicted 1RM.

Recovery markers were assessed before and after at 24, 48, and up to 72 hours post-exercise including ”Perceptions of soreness and training stress, markers of muscle function, inflammation and efflux of intracellular proteins.”

What happened?
The single training session did cause the expected perceptual soreness and muscle function disturbance with WBC managing to attenuate soreness at 24hrs and positively influencing peak force at 48 hrs post, greater than in CWI pr PL group. This has been a consistent finding in the literature to date: Stanley et al. 2012; Leeder et al. 2011; Versey et al. 2013; andRoberts et al. 2014.
It should be noted however that the WBC temperatures used in the study (- 85 degrees Celcius) were higher than those typically suggested (-110 to 140 degrees Celcius) possibly influencing results.

Aside from this small difference, it appears that ”many of the remaining outcomes were trivial, unclear or favoured the PL condition.”

The study concluded that while WBC may perform slightly better on some recovery indices following a single resistance training session, overall neither WBC or CWI performed better than the placebo treatment at accelerating recovery.

Readers should be aware that we are still not aware of the chronic effects of cold water therapies and that some research has suggested it can negatively interfere with vascular and muscular adaptations from resistance and endurance training while CWI has shown some small benefits for recovery from endurance protocols.

Danny James is the Head of Personal Training and Strength and Conditioning services at Central Physio and Performance Fitness, located in Surry Hills in the Sydney CBD area. danny@centralperformance.com.au

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Recovery (part 4): Compression Garments

Although a relatively recent addition in Australia, Compression Garments (CG) have rapidly become quite the fashion statement, initially designed to promote recovery from hard training and competition and subsequently to help improve performance.

Compression Garments are a type of tight-fitting form of clothing made from elastic material providing a gentle compression of the limbs. Some of the reported positive outcomes include:

  • Help Thermoregulatory control (maintaining correct body temperature)
  • Provides greater joint-position awareness
  • Enhanced local blood blow
  • Enhanced removal of post-exercise waste products
  • Enhanced muscle oxygenation
  • Reduced muscle oscillations
  • Reduced swelling
  • Reduced creatine kinase concentrations 
  • Reduced perception of post-exercise muscle soreness and fatigue

There is also the possible placebo effect and psychological aid of wearing CG and perceived recovery and performance improvements to be factored in, as anecdotally athletes often speak positively of their helpful effects. The magnitude of physiological recovery improvements observed in the literature are similar to what has been seen with cold-water therapies or light exercise.

While the research currently has shown some recovery benefits from wearing CG it should also be noted that a great deal of the research is of poor quality and clouded with inconsistencies.

It should be added that there is also the risk of bias due to sponsorshipship and potential financial gain.

While there have been some benefits shown and no observed adverse effects on performance or recovery with their use, there is still also no reliable criteria for best practice.  

It is therefore suggested that if CG are used they should be used as an adjunct to more proven and reliable recovery enhancing modalities such as enough quality food, good sleep hygiene, as well as fatigue and stress management strategies. Currently, the research is not strong enough to provide conclusive recommendations.

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Recovery (part 3): Stretching

Stretching has been tied to performance since the very beginning and currently, there is some evidence to suggest that there are small recovery benefits to be gained from post-exercise stretching.

For this instalment, we’ll be looking at some of the current evidence on stretching for recovery. Stretching to increase flexibility or as part of a warm-up will be covered in more detail another time.



The most common reasons for post-exercise stretching are to reduce soreness, help recovery and to regain pre-training flexibility, and while stretching is still common practice, much of the initial supporting theory has been debunked. 

Type

There are many types of stretching but the two categories most often subscribed to for recovery are static and dynamic. 

Static:(Self-administered, in place/no movement) 

Passive:(Partner administered) 

Dynamic:Active (movement based) 

Ballistic: Active / fast bouncy actions at end range)


Effects on Muscle Soreness 

A dig through the current literature will show that while there is some research suggesting positive results from post-exercise stretching on muscle soreness, much of it is low quality. While there is also widespread anecdotal observation of reduced muscle soreness with post-exercise stretching, there appears to be very little or no effect on muscle soreness reflected in the current body of evidence.


Blood Flow 

Static stretching appears to temporarily constrict the blood vessels through compression reducing blood flow, oxygenation and red blood cell delivery to the muscle. Shortly after the applied stretch, however, there appears to be a sudden and enhanced surge of blood flow greater than in pre-stretch conditions. This short-lived shunting effect may assist the recovery process through enhanced nutrient delivery and waste removal although this has not been firmly established in the literature.


Enhanced Parasympathetic Activity 

The PSNS is the branch of the Autonomic Nervous System associated with a ”rest and digest” response. Essentially, it slows the system down, reduces neural excitability and helps facilitate the recovery and adaptation process.
Static stretching has been shown to influence PSNS modulation, acutely (same day) and across several weeks after a consistent application over 28 days. This was demonstrated by positive changes to heart rate variability, which in recent times has become a popular metric for measuring ANS status and training readiness. 


Flexibility 

More research in recent times has pointed to static stretching leading to an improved stretch tolerance, rather than increased tissue flexibility. Some research has also suggested that improvements in flexibility may occur due to a temporary decrease in neural excitability or resting tone as a result of static stretching. Some newer evidence suggests that flexibility improvements may also be the result of change to the mechanical properties of the muscle-tendon unit through stretching.

In summary: 
. Static stretching has little to no effect on post-exercise muscle soreness

. Following post-exercise static stretching, a ‘shunting’ effect occurs resulting in a temporary increase in blood flow and waste removal.

. Static stretching promotes relaxation by enhancing PSNS activity.

. Static stretching creates short-term improvements in flexibility, and reduced neural drive.

While it appears that there are a few mechanisms through which static stretching can influence recovery, these changes are not meaningful enough to warrant using static stretching as a stand-alone, or primary method of recovery. 

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