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running

The Real Deal With Fitness Trackers PT.2 - Runner's Best Friend?

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The Real Deal With Fitness Trackers PT.2 - Runner's Best Friend?

A couple weeks ago, I wrote a blog about how fitness trackers, in general, don’t do a whole lot for us in our big-picture workout pursuits. They can give someone a good ballpark on total calories burned, heart rate,VO2 max, and steps, but they are not always super reliable. That being said, I want to reiterate how I closed then; if you like it, use it. One of the biggest pros of a fitness tracker is its usefulness as an external source of motivation and accountability; I can’t argue with that. However, if you’re reading this, you may be interested in how your tracker can help you run better, faster, or longer. Let’s dive in.

Out of the gate, I should point out that the trackers I wrote about in Part 1 of this tracker talk, namely the Apple Watch, won’t really be our focus here; it fits more of an everyday fitness crowd. That’s well and good, but I want to get a little more run-specific. I want to focus on watches and wearables that are specifically designed for runners, and how they work to improve your run.

Garmin and Fitbit have great watches (Garmin’s Forerunner series and the Fenix 5 Plus, the Fitbit Iconic) that link to Strava or Runkeeper or whatever app you like. These watches have the best GPS capability as well so that your run tracking actually reflects your location and speed accurately. Additionally these trackers have the HR tracking capabilities that you would find on any other fitness tracker. They’re not great, but a good estimate for tracking rate over time as you run.

So why does a GPS watch (or even an Apple Watch or Fitbit matter)? Why would you want one? There are a number of pros and cons, and while I could go on all day both ways, I’ll list the heavy-hitters here.

  • One of the biggest reasons runners invest in high quality running watches (or in this case, even an Apple Watch) is because it allows you to ditch your phone; whether you’re bluetoothing through a watch to wireless headphones or rolling music-less, the GPS equipped watches allow you to track your run, keep up with important notifications if needed, and give you a sense of security keeping you connected as you’re out on a run.

  • One of the biggest reasons you may want to skip the watch: it’s not necessary. While it’s nice to be able to view your running metrics (the depth of which will more than likely correspond with how much you pay for your watch in the first place), you can train effectively without a watch based on your perceived effort. While more information is nice, it’s not necessary, and you certainly don’t want to become reliant on some kind of expensive tool to get a good workout in. Sometimes it’s OK to keep it simple.

  • Finally, one of the reasons you may want to go all in on a running watch is that wearables have been shown to be effective motivators. According to research out of the University of Pennsylvania, fitness trackers and running watches do a really good job of motivating people to get their miles in. Specifically, through these wearables integration with fitness-specific social networks, like Strava, allowing for the formation of a community and competitions (both digitally and out in the real world). They also are a good way to track a “me vs. me” competition, making tracking progress super simple.

So, once again, here’s the bottom line: if you like it, use it. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with getting down and dirty with data and tracking your runs using a cool watch; they really can give you a lot. That said, just take your data from your wrist computer with a grain of salt. It’s just one small tool in your arsenal. Don’t forget the basics and don’t let the numbers run your life. The most important thing is to consistently get your miles in and keep enjoying your training. If a running watch or tracker makes that easier, then go for it.

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Do Compression Socks Really Improve Running?

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Do Compression Socks Really Improve Running?

Compression socks can improve performance, decrease lactic acid buildup and minimize muscle soreness, right? If you’ve been running for longer than a year it’s likely that you heard at least one of these statements regarding compression socks. Some runners will swear that it works and others will say it’s a myth. If compression socks can increase running performance how might they do so, and what does the research say?  

Understanding the Claims

Before we get into the knitty gritty of physiology, let’s start with compression socks role in blood flow and venous return. Our heart’s number one job is to pump oxygen-rich blood to our muscles and organs. When we run the demand for oxygenated blood increases so, in order to fill the new requirement, our heart beats faster and we breathe harder. Once our muscles take the oxygen out of the blood and dump in waste products (like lactic acid) our body has to work twice as hard to get the deoxygenated blood back to the lungs and heart to be refueled. Bringing blood back to the heart is more challenging due to gravity, so our body uses our muscles as pumps. Everytime our calfs contract they squeeze the veins in the lower leg, giving the oxygen-poor blood an extra boost. Once the blood finds its way home the whole process starts again.

But what does this have to do with compression socks and performance? Well, the more blood we can send back to the heart the more oxygen-rich blood we can send to our muscles. If a muscle has a higher supply of oxygen it can continually convert that oxygen into energy through the mitochondria. Considering compression socks constantly squeeze the calf, it would make sense to assume that the added pressure would contribute to muscle contraction causing even more blood to be sent back to the heart. The more blood we send back to the heart, the more lactic acid byproduct we are getting rid of. If we can get more oxygen rich blood to our muscles while simultaneously removing lactic acid then running performance should improve! What these statements have in common is “if.”

What do the studies show?

I was able to find multiple studies that pointed towards a clear answer - YES! Compression socks have been shown to increase performance and reduce muscle fatigue during bouts of exercise. In the studies done, they had two trials where runners run without compression socks and then again with compression socks (to put it simply). In every study the experimental group that ran with compression socks did better on the second trial. But why? This is where the studies begin to diverge from popular opinion. One of the biggest factors for increased performance was athlete perception. Preconceived notions of the effectiveness of compression socks may have added a placebo effect which would result in higher performance. Although it may seem logical that lactic acid concentrations were lower in subjects using compression socks, studies found that groups wearing and not wearing the socks had no difference in acid concentrations after a bout of exercise. However, the studies did support and find a significant difference in recovery during bouts of exercise; but it may not be why you think. The constant pressure applied by the compression socks inhibited inflammation. When muscles are damaged during exercise an inflammatory response is created to remove any waste and breakdown muscle to form new, stronger muscle. Therefore, the compression socks were able to hinder inflammation because of the lack of room necessary causing a temporary increase in recovery rate during bouts of exercise. As for any other possible benefits of compression socks (like an increase in venous return) there just isn’t enough data to support a definitive answer.

Final Thoughts

We may not know exactly why compression socks work, but they do! Their effects on running performance are clearly seen through a multitude of studies. If you’re still skeptical, try them! Maybe you’ll hit a new PR.

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How to Pick The Right Shoe for Working Out

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How to Pick The Right Shoe for Working Out

A question that I’ve gotten from athletes over the years is "What type of shoe should I purchase for running or for working out?" First off, I want to make it abundantly clear that I am by no means a podiatrist. However, I do have experience assessing people’s musculoskeletal imbalances, and I can prescribe corrective exercises to address these issues.

I’ll start with the most common dysfunctions that could improve by having the proper footwear. It's relatively common to have mobility limitations and insufficient movement patterns at the ankle joint. One of the more common issues I see is excessive foot pronation (feet collapsing inward) (as seen in the photo below) and lack of dorsiflexion (inability to flex the ankle).

People with flat feet or low arches will usually pronate their feet, causing them to put a majority of their weight into their arch. This can create a chain reaction of unwanted stresses up the body - up the “chain”. However, the reverse is also true, which means that if your hips are not stable and aligned, they’ll cause issues down the chain, and your knees and feet will begin to compensate as a result. Here’s a perfect example: as a result of the feet collapsing inwards, the knees will also collapse inwards. This can cause various knee issues, knee pain, and can make it more difficult to externally rotate the hips. The muscle that’s responsible for externally rotating our hips is our glutes/butt. If our butt isn’t in the game when we do lower body movements, then we’re in danger of not just having a flabby butt, but also potentially suffering from overuse injuries due to compensatory patterns.

Lack of dorsiflexion, or the lack of flexing at the ankles, is usually attributed to tight calf muscles - gastrocnemius and soleus being the biggest culprits. This issue is also usually coupled with the feet everting, or turning out, as a compensation for not being able to flex at the ankles.  Dorsiflexion allows for more freedom up the chain to flex the knee and hip during lower body movements such as squats and lunges. Besides exercises to help improve these two common mobility issues (I could write an entire blog post about these exercises), the right shoe can help solve this. That’s what we’re here for, right?! We went to our neighborhood shoe store, BAIT in the Mission to show you some examples of what to look for in a shoe.

FOR THE RUNNERS

First off, let’s start with those of you who run. I suggest getting a gait analysis at a local running shoe store like A Runner's Mind or Fleet Feet. You could also ask one of our P4L coaches to assess your overhead squat and single leg squat. From there, they’ll be able to give you feedback on the type of shoes that you may benefit from, depending on your musculoskeletal imbalances. One recommendation I could give without any assessment is this: if you’ve got flat feet, or if you put weight into your arches, get shoes that give you arch support. Make sure to do some research online beforehand to ensure that you’re getting the shoe that’s best for you.

 
This shoe is ideal for running, because it is a lightweight shoe. The difference between this and a cross-training shoe is that there's no lateral support, meaning there's minimal traction at the sole. I personally like a minimalist shoe, because it strengthens your feet while running and feels closest to a bare foot.

This shoe is ideal for running, because it is a lightweight shoe. The difference between this and a cross-training shoe is that there's no lateral support, meaning there's minimal traction at the sole. I personally like a minimalist shoe, because it strengthens your feet while running and feels closest to a bare foot.

 

FOR THE STRENGTH TRAINERS / CROSS-TRAINERS

For those of you do a variety of activities, and especially if you strength train, then please do yourself a favor and get cross-training shoes. I’ve seen countless people over the years strength train or do functional fitness classes in running shoes. Two reasons why this is not a good idea:

  1. Running shoes don’t have ankle support, so when performing lateral movements, you’re going to be more vulnerable to ankle sprains.
  2. Running shoes don’t provide as much heel elevation or do as good of a job at preventing pronation as much as cross trainers do. Cross trainers will lock your foot in place and assist in ankle flexion - however, that’s not the best reason to get cross trainers.
 
This shoe gives you more ankle support than a running shoe. The elevated heel makes it easier to flex in the ankle, thus helping you squat easier. You'll have increased stability. In addition, it has heel support and traction so that you can do lateral movements.

This shoe gives you more ankle support than a running shoe. The elevated heel makes it easier to flex in the ankle, thus helping you squat easier. You'll have increased stability. In addition, it has heel support and traction so that you can do lateral movements.

 

I will say that I do prefer a minimalist shoe, or even working out barefoot if you’re solely strength training; the reason being that you have more feedback and contact with the ground, thus giving you more natural ability to move your foot freely and to generate force into the ground with your entire foot.

Thanks for listening and I hope this helps!

Author Footer - Bryant.jpg

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#HowIPerformForLife : Ryan

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#HowIPerformForLife : Ryan

When did health and wellness become an important part of your life?

Health and wellness have always been an important part of my life.  I played lots of different sports as a kid (particularly baseball) and have gotten more into long-distance running in the past several years.

Image Credit :  Andrew Sorensen

Image Credit : Andrew Sorensen

When was the last time you pushed yourself beyond your limit?

When I ran my first marathon in August 2016.  I totally hit "the wall" around the 20-mile mark and really struggled to finish (but I made it!).

Where is your favorite place to run/walk in the city?

Golden Gate Park.  It's great for getting away from all the cars and being able to run uninterrupted for long distances.

 

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Heels or Toes? Foot Placement While Running Explained

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Heels or Toes? Foot Placement While Running Explained

Foot placement while running is an age old debate that many regular runners are familiar with. What’s wrong with running on your heels? “Landing on your heels is horrible for your knees and back!” Well what about forefoot striking? “What a great way to give yourself tight calves and plantar fasciitis”. If that’s true, then obviously landing on the midfoot is the way to go. Like Goldilocks would say, “Not too hot, not too cold. Right in the middle is just right”. The truth is, none of them are necessarily right or wrong.

How the foot strikes the ground has more to do with a runner’s speed, footwear, and the running surface itself.

However, there is a best way to orient yourself so that your feet land properly when running in various conditions.

According to physical therapist, Jay Dicharry, who is internationally renown in running gait analysis, placing the foot as close to your body is much more important in the grand scheme of the entire gait cycle than where on the foot you land. Just because you heel-strike, doesn’t mean you’re over-striding because there are plenty of forefoot strikers who over-stride as well. There are pros and cons to heel, forefoot, and midfoot striking, and which one is more optimal has more to do with the individuality of the athlete, speed, footwear, and the quality of the surface you are running on. 

Steve Magness, Head Cross Country coach at the University of Houston, former Olympic coach, and author of the book, The Science of Running, says that “ideal landing is close to the center of your body and directly underneath the knee”.

If you follow the above advice, your foot should naturally land the way it’s supposed to based on your speed and characteristics of the surface you are running on. When running at faster speeds, like when sprinting, your foot should naturally land more on the forefoot, whereas when running at a slower pace, like when jogging, your foot will probably land more on the midfoot or even on the heel. However, no matter the speed, you should always try to place your foot as close to beneath your hip as possible and then focus on driving your foot down and back to propel yourself forward.

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References:

  1. http://running.competitor.com/2014/03/injury-prevention/footstrike-101-how-should-your-foot-hit-the-ground_63548
  2. http://www.scienceofrunning.com/2010/08/how-to-run-running-with-proper.html
  3. http://www.somastruct.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/Footstrike11.jpg

 

Learn more about Coach Randall here

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