Posts Tagged strength and conditioning

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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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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Why Should We Train Through A Full Range of Motion?

We’re often asked about the benefits of going through a full range of motion with your strength exercises. Here is why we recommend that you do and what it means for your training.

1. You get a more complete stimulus and development across the full length of the muscle. We know that muscle fibres don’t always run the entire muscle length from origin to insertion. We also know through the specificity principle that strength gains are specific to the joint angles that are trained so it is important to cover as much of the movement arc as you can. A full range of motion allows greater activation of as many fibres as possible and better strength and hypertrophy gains.

2. Technique standardisation. When you go through the same, top to bottom range for each and every rep, you can be sure when you are progressing and not simply changing form to accommodate the load.

3. Length and strength in long positions. Research has been piling high with the benefits of loading in long muscle lengths (such as in the bottom position of a squat or stiff-legged deadlift, pull up, or bench press where you feel the greatest stretch). This enables strength gains specifically in those ‘stretch’ positions where typically we are not able to produce as much force. Loading into lengthening (eccentric loading) also allows greater overload as well as flexibility improvements.

4. Less injury risk. There is a greater dispersal of stress across more joint systems and larger excursions of motion mean that less load is needed to provide an overload. This greatly reduces the likelihood of a training-related injury.

There certainly are circumstances were you might consider reducing range, such as:

1. To provide a greater overload in a particular joint position thereby effecting a specific muscle or group of muscles. Less range means more weight can be used so caution is advised here. This is to be used sparingly and mostly for the advanced lifter only.

2. Specific sport application – half squats have been shown to have carry-over to running and sprinting activities.

For the most part, the bulk of your training should emphasise taking the joint through as much pain-free range as is controllable and the muscle through full stretch to full contraction. It might mean you’re using a little less load however the benefits hugely outway the risks:

  1. Reduced risk of injury which can set your training back
  2. More complete development of a muscle and strength in weak positions.
  3. Consistent technique and clairty of progress.

References:

Altering the length-tension relationship with eccentric exercise : implications for performance and injury. h

Full Range of Motion Induces Greater Muscle Damage Than Partial Range of Motion in Elbow Flexion Exercise With Free Weights

Specificity of a limited range of motion variable resistance training

Why do full range of motion exercises not increase strength at all muscle lengths?

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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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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 2): Sleep

Following our introduction to recovery, we’re going to continue the series looking at some of the research around many popular recovery methods and offer some practical take-aways that you can begin to apply right away.

First up on the list is sleep – one of the most important influences on recovery, one of the simplest to address and yet is often the most overlooked of all performance variables.


Sleep is a needed resource for psychological and physiological wellbeing, during which time many of the bodies more potent repair and recovery processes are kicked into overdrive.  It is generally accepted that the primary purpose of sleep is restoration – To recover from previous wake-period operations and/or prepare for functioning in the subsequent wakefulness period. 

Sleep is also vitally important for memory consolidation and metabolic healthby potentially modifying energy intake and expenditure which can undermine dietary efforts.

An individual’s recent sleep history (consisting of both duration and quality) can have a dramatic influence on daytime functioning. Research has firmly established that sleeping less than 6 hours per night for four or more consecutive nights can: 

1. Impair cognitive performance and mood

2. Heighten risk of illness and injury

3. Disturb metabolic health, appetite regulation and immune function

There are many reasons why sleep habits may be negatively affected, some of which include:

Stress, nervousness, thinking, worrying, planning.

Illness

Sudden change to routine

Unsuitable diet/nutrient deficiency

Poor sleep habits and environment (eg noise, lighting, temperature, late television watching, late caffeine use, late activity). 

In addition to the above, Erlacher et al. 2011 asked 632 german athletes from various sports about their sleep habits leading up to important events or competitions, with the results showing that: 

  • 66% slept worse than normal at least once prior to an important competition
  • 80% reported problems falling asleep
  • 43% reported waking early, and
  • 32% reported waking up through the night

Factors identified as reasons for poor sleep included:

  • Thoughts about competition (77%)
  • Nervousness about competition (60%)
  • Unusual surroundings (29%)
  • Noise in the room (17%) 

The value of quality sleep is clear and it is easy to see how it can be impacted by many of the above variables which we all face from time to time. What isn’t so easy though, is how best to mitigate these factors to ensure that you get a good night sleep and subsequently prevent the associated performance decline from sleep loss.

Suggestions for improving sleep:

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

Switch off tv, computers, tablets, and smartphones 1-2 hours before sleep time. These will disturb the production of hormones that prepare you for sleep. 

2. Develop a ‘Wind down’ routine before bed

Slow down and de-stress as much as possible before bed and try to establish consistent sleep and wake times. A shower before bedtime has been shown to improve sleep onset latency. Research has also shown that almost half of all insomnia cases are linked to stress or emotional upset. Avenues to reduce stress are highly individual and situation dependent, so finding ways to reduce stress are paramount to improving sleep, and long-term health and wellness. Some proven strategies include: 

  • Exercise 
  • Deep breathing exercises 
  • Meditation
  • Daily journaling 
  • Gratitude journaling
  • Taking a walk
  • Being outside/sun exposure
  • Social activities / being with friends and loved ones

Habits and Environment

3. A quiet sleep space is a key

If noise can’t be avoided try using headphones with instrumental music at a low volume, or keep a fan on for an acutely distracting ‘white noise.’

4. Temperature, darkness, and clothing

Approximately 18 degrees Celsius is a cool room temperature that has been shown to help comfortable sleep occurrence. Thick bedding and clothing must also be avoided if it causes overheating. A dark environment with limited lighting can also help the body recognise that it’s night time and time to begin the process of preparing for sleep. 

5. Coffee and heavy meals

Avoid caffeine, big meals and heavy amounts of liquid before bed. 

6. Take Naps Where You Can & Need To

Naps can be beneficial to catch up on lost sleep, however, avoid them later into the afternoon if it might impact your regular sleep time. Blanchfield et al. 2018 recently showed that a short afternoon nap improves endurance performance in runners that obtain less than 7 hrs of nighttime sleep. Napping might be an important strategy to optimise endurance exercise in other athletic and occupational scenarios when sleep is compromised (eg long-haul, intensified training etc).

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Effective Exercise Treatment For Hamstring Strains

Strength, Flexibility and Running Are Key Elements of Hamstring Rehab Programs

Hamstring injuries can be tricky, and proper treatment is a definite must before testing them out again on the sporting field. Hamstring injuries are among the most common we see here in the clinic, and we believe in using a holistic treatment approach encompassing several areas to get those dodgy hamstrings healthy again!

 

The three main treatment avenues we use are: Strength, Flexibility and Running.

1. Strength

1 Leg Barbell DeadliftsStrength is a crucial part of keeping hamstrings healthy, and there are a number of exercises we like to use to increase hamstring strength. We use progressive overload in both hip and knee dominant exercises to ensure maximal strength levels are achieved. Some of these exercises include single leg bridges, Nordic curls, prone hamstring curls, single leg deadlifts and hamstring slider curls. Remember to mix up your exercises and give yourself plenty of rest between sessions.

2. Flexibility

Obviously, flexibility is a massive part of healthy hamstrings, however many people don’t release that flexibility of muscles other than the hamstrings also plays an important part of keeping those hamstrings healthy. Therefore it is important that flexibility components of hamstring rehab programs focus on glute, hip flexor, quadriceps and calf range of motion as well as the hamstrings themselves. Poor range or severe tightness in these muscles are an injury risk factor, so this should be a priority for anyone returning to sport from a hamstring injury.

3. Running

Running can be a difficult part of hamstring rehab, as in many cases it was the mechanism of the injury! It is however an extremely useful tool in hamstring rehabilitation, and once you’re over the initial hesitancy is the trick to getting those hamstrings firing again. Changing up the style of running training you do is key. We use a mix of progressive speed exposures, max speed exposures, change of direction and deceleration training, and again suggest varying the type and intensity of running training you complete.

 

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Should You Be Starting A Pre-season training Program?

Pre- Season training: why is it important?

For many people who play winter sports like football, soccer, AFL, netball and hockey, pre-season training is just around the corner or may have even started already. Completing a whole pre-season program is not only vital for fitness levels and skill practice, it can be a massive component of preventing injuries throughout the season!

Pre-season strength trainingA 2016 study found that elite AFL players who completed <50% of their pre season training were 2x more likely to sustain an in- season injury than those who completed >85%. This isn’t just relevant for AFL though; it’s relevant for all sports at any level.

This is a telling stat, and one that needs to be at the front of all athletes’ minds whilst participating in pre-season training. Even if you’re injured, there is something you can do. Pre-season isn’t just about “getting fit again”, it can be used for rehabbing those niggly injuries still hanging around from last season. The is also lots of research showing that increasing strength can help prevent many common sports injuries including hamstring and adductor (groin)  muscle tears, rotator cuff and other shoulder injuries, shin splints and other sprains and strains.  

Research from the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) also shows that avoiding rapid spikes in training load helps you avoid injury not only in pre-season, but during the season as well. Going straight in to in-season training and competition loads causes a huge spike in strain through your body and this dramatically increases your risk of injury during the season.

So make the most of your pre-season training. Get yourself to those sessions, and work on everything you can! Remember, the work you do now will pay off come start of season if you make the effort!

Not sure what to do for your pre-season training? Let one of our Strength & Conditioning coaches  or Exercise Physiologists get you on the right program to boost your performance and reduce your risk of injury

Reference: Murray et.al 2016 Individual and combined effects of acute and chronic running loads on injury risk in elite Australian footballers

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Can Strength Training Help You Run Faster?

Run Faster For Longer With Less Chance Of Injury

The right strength program can improve your performance as well as reduce your risk of injury.

At Central Performance we see a lot of runners coming in either for physio treatment or running training with our running coach/physio superstar Ben Liddy. We know that runners love to run and can be like a bear with a sore head when they can’t run due to injury. One great, and often overlooked, way to both improve running performance as well as reduce the risk of injury is to add some strength training to your running training.

Traditionally it was believed that strength training won’t improve running performance as lifting weights will make people bulky and slow. However there is now good evidence that strength training improves running performance by increasing running efficiency. An increase in running efficiency means you to use less energy while running.

Strength training helps improve running efficiency by increasing the rate of force development (RFD) of a muscle. RFD is how quickly a muscle can produce force. The higher the RFD the quicker a runner is able to spring off the ground, reducing the ground contact time and therefore reducing the amount of energy they use.

What Type Of Strength Training Is Best For Runners?

Training needs to be personalAlso contrary to popular belief, the best form of strength training for runners is not light weights with high reps to build endurance. Research shows that the most effective form of resistance training for runners is heavy weights with low reps and plyometric (power) training. Using heavy weights for low reps helps to increase neural drive to the muscle which helps to improve RFD. Plyometrics also help to improve RFD and power development. Plyometrics involve jumping exercises and help teach the body to use muscles and tendons like springs, reducing ground contact time and thereby improving running efficiency.

The best types of resistance exercises for running are compound exercises such as deadlifts, squats and lunges. These exercises use almost all the lower body muscles in a coordinated fashion. 

Research shows that weight training twice per week causes significant improvements in running efficiency and performance. It has also shown that for competitive runners reducing weight training to once per week during the competitive season maintains the improvements made with twice per week.

Can Strength Training Also Reduce My Injury Risk?

Strength training also helps to reduce the risk of injury to runners and all other athletes. A recent review in the British Journal of Sports Medicine showed that resistance training can lead to a 66% decrease in sports injuries and a 50% decrease in overuse injuries. The below picture does a good job illustrating why strength training is important injury prevention for runners.

As you can see the soleus muscle, one of the muscles in the calf, needs to handle between 6.5-8.0 times bodyweight on ground contact during running. Having to tolerate such huge forces obviously requires a lot of strength otherwise the rsk of injury is greatly increased. A good guide for having adequate strength in the calf muscles is to be able to confidently do 30 single leg heel raises on each leg.

Tendinopathies are a very common type of running injury. They occur when the amount of load going through a tendon overloads the tendon’s ability to recover from it. Commonly occurring tendinopathies for runners are hamstring and achilles tendinopathies as both the hamstrings and calf muscles are extremely important in running. One of the best ways to improve a tendon’s capacity to handle load is by resistance training. Heavy resistance training provides a beneficial stimulus to tendons to help them build strength, remodel and allow them to adapt to high volumes of load put through them during running.


We’ve Got Runners Covered

The Central Performance Running Centre helps runners of all abilities improve their performance and reduce their risk of injury. Our strength coaches and exercise physiologists can get you on a personalised program that is effective, efficient and tailored just right for you. 

You can book online or call us on 9280 2322 for more info. 

This post was written by Hugh Campbell, our senior Exercise Physiologist. He has extensive experience and has attended numerous post-graduate courses on running biomechanics and the role of strength training in runners. 

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