Could running make you smarter? The answer may surprise you!
Most of us think of running as a physical activity. Certainly that appears to be the case. Running can make us leaner, trimmer and provides more oxygen to the muscles making them faster and stronger. Most of us know about the physical benefits of running and that is usually what motivates us to do it.
Running also has an emotional effect on us. Running for at least 20 minutes produces a natural chemical called Serotonin, which allows us to feel calm, centered, focused and happy. What a great natural drug we have built into our system to allow us to focus better, therefore being more productive with our time.
But what about the mental effects running may have on you? Only recently have there been studies that focus on the evolution of the brain and the impact exercise and running has played.
As stated in a recent New York Times article by Gretchen Reynolds on January 1, 2013: "Our brains were shaped and sharpened by movement, the idea goes, and we continue to require physical activity for our brains to function optimally. Endurance produced meals, which provided energy for mating, which meant that adept early joggers. …their bodies developing longer legs, shorter toes, less hair, and complicated inner ear mechanisms to maintain balance and stability during upright ambulation. Simultaneously, humans were becoming smarter. Their brains were increasing rapidly in size. Today humans have a brain that is about three times the size that would be expected. Scientists are suggesting that physical activity played a critical role in making our brains larger. What has been discovered is the development of substances that promotes tissue growth and health, including a protein called brain-derived neurotropic factor, or BDNF. These substances are important for endurance. They are also known to drive brain growth. Being in motion made them smarter, and being smarter now allowed them to move more efficiently. As Dr. Lieberman states, 'there is a deep evolutionary basis for the relationship between a healthy body and a healthy mind.'”
What I find intriguing and exciting about these findings is the heightened awareness surrounding the benefits that running provides to us.
I’m sure many of you haven’t thought much about running to make you smarter. Perhaps now is a good time to look back over your life since taking up running and notice for yourself the development of your mind. What has changed? What has improved?
Often we think, as we get older we will begin to loose our mind. What if we are possibly reversing some of this by running and being physically active? What I find key to this article is the discussion and conclusive studies about running.
Perhaps this information could impact how you look at your running lifestyle for the year. We have just started a new year. So often we begin to plan new goals, perhaps bigger goals to “out do” the year we just left behind. Sometimes I think we get to a point where it may not be possible to out do what was previously done. Maybe it’s a year where you begin to have a new focus. Maybe you could create a goal around being smarter, being calmer, having better use of your days and time. What if your goal about running had nothing to do with beating last year’s 10k time, or half marathon time, or marathon time? Maybe the goal is to be a better parent.
For me, running is so much more than staying fit. Somehow I knew deep inside that I was benefitting in so many ways, more than just physically, but often it is hard to articulate or express what we feel from running.
I’d like to encourage you to find some time, perhaps on your next run, to think about what NEW goal you could set for yourself this year that has nothing to do with your time or your distance.
How would that goal impact your life and the lives of others around you? Running truly is so much more than running. It is a lifestyle, a way of being, and a way of expressing oneself.
An athlete’s taper is just as individual, personal, and varied as their training plan. How you taper depends on how you have trained in the months preceding your race as well as what you and your coach decide is appropriate for you. Although we all train differently, the rules to tapering remain consistent. All the months and months of proper training and nutrition is at risk of sabotage if your taper is executed improperly. Nothing you do during your taper will make you any faster for race day, but breaking the basic taper rules will prevent you from performing at your best.
1. Proper Volume Reduction The amount that you reduce your volume (amount of time spent weekly in training) depends on your current training volume and the distance you race. The key to effective tapering is to cut back on training volume significantly. The optimal amount of training reduction is still debatable. Some studies suggest reducing training volume as much as 85% in the weeks leading up to your race. Regardless, gradually reducing training volume should be based on distance. The longer your race, the longer your taper. Below is a basic guide, based on race distance, for decreasing training volume.
4 weeks to race
3 weeks to race
2 weeks to race
10% ↓in volume
30% ↓in volume
50%↓ in volume
80%↓ in volume
Four weeks of a reduction in training volume may seem drastic, but keep in mind the amount of damage you have done to your body over the previous months. You have walked a very fine line of increased training and recovery, training hard and recovering less than is really needed. A proper reduction in training volume will allow your body to fully recover, adapt, and heal so that, come race day, you are ready to push your physical limits knowing you are ready to go!
2. Maintain Proper Training Intensity A decrease in training volume has proven invaluable in getting a proper taper and being race ready. But decreasing your training intensity too soon or too drastically will cause you to lose some of the fitness you have worked so hard to gain. Training intensity is the key to preserving your overall fitness as well as helping you to have a good muscle tension on race day. The two important factors of speed interval training during your taper are: decrease the frequency of these sessions in the weeks leading up to your race, and increase the rest between the speed intervals during the workouts.
In the weeks of your taper incorporate at least one sprint session, per sport, per week. The week of your race do your sprint workout 3-4 days before your race to give you enough time to recover, without the benefits waning before your race. Too long between your speed intervals and your race and your muscles will feel sluggish and heavy. Too soon and you won’t be sufficiently recovered to perform at maximal ability on race day.
A good running speed interval workout, I like to have my athletes perform the week of their race, is Decreasing Sprint Sets. This should be done following a complete warm up. On a track (alternating directions ½ way through the set) perform the following:
2 X 400m all out efforts, followed by 2 minutes of active recovery (i.e. easy jogging)
4 X 200m all out efforts, followed by 1:30 of active recovery
6 X 100m all out efforts, followed by 1:00 of active recovery
Follow with a good cool down. This is a shorter workout with high intensity and longer recoveries between intervals. The benefits of this kind of workout, during a taper, extend beyond increasing blood volume and increasing glycolytic enzymes. It is a perfect way to keep the pre-race blues at bay and work off some of that anxious energy without harming your taper.
3. Stick to Your Normal Diet Proper nutrition is a discipline all on its own. As athletes, we over complicate the “carbo-loading” phase of tapering. The truth is that carbo-loading is out-dated and doesn’t need to be over analyzed; much less incorporated into our taper. If we follow our normal, healthy diet and decrease our training volume we will be storing what we need for race day. Our bodies can only store so much glycogen; whatever is left over is stored at fat. How we have eaten during our training and what race distance we are training for, doesn’t determine at which point we should start eating more carbohydrates. If you start to eat too much early in your taper you will gain weight, feel sluggish, and perform below your level of ability.
The most important part of taper nutrition is the 24 hours leading up to your race. Here are some Do’s and Don’ts to follow:
1. Drink plenty of fluids, especially if you are flying to your race. Keep hydrated and avoid alcohol as it messes with glycogen storage.
2. Stick to what you know. Now is not the time to try the new restaurant in town. Avoid adding anything unfamiliar to your diet as you don’t yet know how your body will react.
3.Avoid high risk foods. Rare steak and sushi are among the most obvious, duh…
4.Keep it boring. Spicy foods, raw foods, high-fiber foods, gas producing foods, high fat, and high sugar foods should all be avoided the night before your
5.Don’t over eat. Sticking to a dinner of 800-1,000 calories is sufficient.
6.Eat what you always eat before a race. If you wake up early to eat a bowl of oatmeal on long training days, wake up early and eat a bowl of oatmeal before your race. If you wake up and toast a bagel, slather natural peanut butter on it, top it with sliced bananas, lick your lips and dive in, well… then I would highly recommend doing this on race day too! Sticking to 500-800 calories a few hours before a race is ideal for energy and to avoid swimming with food in your belly.
4. Avoid Taper Tantrums If you aren’t feeling grumpy, frustrated, anxious, extra tired, and tempted to go for a long bike ride during your taper, then you are probably not tapering correctly. These emotions are the result of a sudden decrease in training volume, a decrease in the physical and emotional outlets we have structured so carefully into our days. Add this to the race anticipation and anxiety and it’s obvious why triathletes can be so overly edgy during a taper. One minute we feel like we have no energy at all and there is NO WAY we will have the stamina to endure our 70.3, the next minute we have crazy energy and want to go do a brick that very moment! We start to doubt our training, our fitness, our goals, and the benefit of our training. Some ways to battle the tantrums are:
1. Prepare the details. Get your gear laid out and ready to go. Check and double check it. I like to lay it all out days in advance. I always find something, at the last minute, that I have forgotten. Funny, it’s usually the same thing. Do you have your boarding pass? Do you have your fuel? Go through it again and again then walk away for a day and come back to it later. It might sound odd, but I also like to re-arrange it all so that I get a new perspective and not start to “see” things that aren’t really there.
2. Organize a night out with other athletes. Talk about your upcoming races, what you’re feeling and get some advice from people who understand what you’re going through. Maybe some of them have competed in the race you’re training for and have some good advice. Surround yourself with people that are positive, fun, and share your love of triathlon. It might improve your mood.
3. Forecast. This is a little known and underestimated tool to improve your mental focus during your race. I think it’s even more valuable during a taper to keep you focused and stay sane. Get with your coach and/or a very trusted friend and talk through your race like it has already happened. Go through every detail, every possible instance and circumstance as if you are re-telling the race. Not only does this help prepare you mentally for the race, it is a great emotional tool in getting you through your taper “blues”.
4. Put as much effort into your taper as you have into your training. Be diligent in resting and eating properly. Get a massage and focus on preventative care. Do whatever it takes to ensure that you are fully recovered and primed for race day.
A common taper tantrum is the phantom injury. As we get closer and closer to race day we start to feel little aches and pains that weren’t there before we started our taper. Don’t go try to run it out, avoid the need to test the nagging pain. If the pain increases with movement or exertion and doesn’t seem to be getting any better, go get it checked out. Sometimes it’s really there, sometimes it’s a little thing that we over exaggerate because we are in utter fear of getting hurt so close to our race. Be calm, ask your coach or trainer for advice and take it as it comes. More often than not it isn’t as bad as we imagine it is.
5. Program Recovery Workouts. Within the last few weeks of your taper there should be adequate use of recovery workouts. The purpose is to help maintain the aerobic fitness you have worked so hard for! As well as help with focus, mental race preparation, and aid in recovery. The length of these workouts will vary but the effort should be well below lactate threshold. A good swim recovery workout, for an Olympic, 70.3, or IM distance race is the following:
After a comprehensive warm up, add 20-30 seconds to your 100 yd. swim time and complete the following intervals. (I will use a base 100 yd. pace of 1:20 for an example). Whatever time is left in your interval is your recovery. Maintain a pace that doesn’t leave you too out of breath, you should have 15-20 seconds of recovery)
8 X 100 yd. on 1:50
4 X 200 yd. on 3:20
2 X 400 yd. on 6:40
1 X 800 yd. on 13:20
At any given point during a recovery workout, your heart rate should be 35-45 beats below LT or Zone 2-low Zone 3. You should never be out of breath and over exerting yourself. Remember, you are recovering and maintaining your fitness for your race. Nothing you do at this point will get you faster, but if you push these recovery workouts you won’t have time to recover before race day.
Tapering for a race can be the hardest part of an athlete’s training. When training volume drops and stress is elevated, it is tough to resist the urge to train more. Remember the science behind the taper, don’t forget the value of going into a race well rested, fully recovered, and mentally prepared to take it on. Put as much thought, planning, and effort into tapering as you did in your training. Avoid the common taper pitfalls and follow the taper rules so that when you get to your race you feel fresh and ready to do your best.
There proves no debate. Triathletes are very fit, in one direction. In a forward plane of motion, triathletes can swim, bike, and run hours at a time. If fitness were defined by the ability to move forward for extended periods of time then yes, triathletes exemplify that fitness. As a triathlete you know that this sport is much more than an athlete’s ability to go and go and go towards a finish line. If you haven’t discovered loopholes in the above definition, either you are just starting out in triathlon, or you are missing key aspects of your training and cutting yourself short on performance. We sprint, we climb, we challenge the elements, we out maneuver each other, the waves, the undertow, the wind, rain, hills, and potholes. It no longer benefits an athlete to be fit in just a frontal plane of motion. These one-dimensional athletes are the athletes that get passed, get injured, and get bored. To enjoy the sport of triathlon, avoid getting injured, and excel in your performance you need multidimensional fitness. What does it mean to be a multidimensional athlete? Let’s start with what the true definition of fitness is. Fitness is complete balance throughout 10 vital and very different aspects. These are:
Cardiovascular/Respiratory Endurance – the ability to gather process and deliver oxygen in your body.
Stamina - the ability to process and utilize energy through the different systems in the body.
Strength – the ability of your muscles to apply force.
Power - your muscles ability to apply force in the least amount of time.
Speed – the shortest amount of time for a repeated cycle of movement.
Agility - being able to minimize the transition time from one movement to another.
Balance – the ability to control the body’s center of gravity in relation to its support base.
Coordination - combining several movements or patterns into one movement.
Flexibility - maximizing the range of movement of any given joint.
Accuracy - being able to control movements in any direction or intensity.
Think of the last triathlon you competed in and the details of the swim. Think of the people who you passed or those who climbed over you. Think of how it felt to take a turn too sharply on your bike. And remember how it felt to grind up that hill or land off-center on a rock or uneven street unexpectedly as you were running? Remember walking around the day after your race doing whatever it took to avoid flexing your feet because your calves were so stinking sore? And wondering how you were going to go up and down the stairs without looking like a puppet on strings lacking any kind of control, whatsoever, over your own legs.
Looking at the above list of the 10 aspects of fitness, is there one aspect you didn’t need during that race? Or is there one aspect that wouldn’t benefit you as an athlete? Betcha there are several aspects we can all improve on.
Achieving balanced fitness, across all 10 areas above, will create multidimensional fitness which will make you a better triathlete. How do you incorporate this training into your already busy training schedule? Continue to use resistance training along with your swim, bike, and run workouts, but do it right. Here are some rules to follow as you incorporate your resistance training into your schedule.
1. First of all you're not a body builder. You are an endurance athlete so why are you still doing three sets of 10-12 reps and alternating muscle groups every second day? You are in your competitive season and should be hitting the gym 3-5 days a week.
2. Avoid anything resembling a routine. If your workouts aren’t changing, neither are you.
3. Incorporate multi-joint or compound movements. Rarely do we ever only use one muscle at a time. This is where sports specific training is important.
4. Start out easy. As athletes we tend to think more is better. In this case more is just more. And it can really hurt us. Start out with lighter weights and at a cautious intensity as you figure out how you recover and adapt. Within a couple of weeks you will be able to increase your intensity and your weights.
5. Competition in the gym should only be about you competing with you. Save it for the race course and check your ego at the door. To avoid getting injured, focus on good and proper form in all your movements as you compete with yourself in the progression and improvement in your workouts.
All 10 aspects of fitness can be worked on throughout the week, not in a single day. Adequate recovery and proper programming is necessary for your body to gain the full benefits of this kind of training. The best part about incorporating this into your training is that your gym time is cut down to 20-30 minutes a day! These workouts are short, intense, and complete. Exactly what a busy triathlete needs as we struggle to find time anyway.
To get started, now is a perfect time in preparation for pre-season training. With a combined 27 years of experience and FREE workouts online that are created, designed, and programmed specifically to get you fit in all 10 aspects, you can check us out at www.gppfitness.com. We are happy to help answer any questions you might have.
Prepare to become a multi-dimensional athlete. Stronger, more powerful, more balanced, versatile, and healthier. It’s time.
We have all said to ourselves “I want to be better next year.” Of course, being better is an excellent sentiment going forward, but what exactly does “being better” mean, and how do we get there? In terms of endurance sport training how does one “be better”? Should I suffer more? Should I train longer? Will I be better simply by spending more time training, or by working harder when I train?
Setting effective goals, rather than simply suffering more for longer periods of time, is the method to improve ourselves year after year. What is an effective goal? This question can be answered using the SMART goal setting model. The acronym SMART stands for: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Timed. Now, let’s break this down...
First, we must start with a main goal. Naturally, athletes either want to maintain or improve performance, so we’ll say that our goal is to “be faster next season.” Great! Being faster is good, but now what? How do we get there?
Let’s take a look at the Smart Model:
A goal must be specific to be effective. We have stated that our goal is to be faster next year, but how are we going to decrease our overall time? Is there one specific event I am struggling in? Is there any aspect of the race that I am not comfortable in? This is where we analyze our performance from last year, and tailor it to our weaknesses in order to improve those areas. Let’s say that, compared to other racers in my age group, I am much slower in the water. This is an area where I can improve, and should focus my efforts accordingly. Our goal now becomes “swim faster splits relative to this past season” (granted, there will likely be more than one area of improvement, but in interest of simplicity we will focus on one).
An effective goal must be measurable. In other words, how will we know we have succeeded in reaching our goal? If we have ambiguous or poorly defined measurements of success, we will never really know if we have achieved a higher level of performance. There are a number of different ways to measure a goal, however in this instance (as are many examples in athletics) it is related to time, so it is pretty straight forward. Our goal now becomes “decrease swim split time relative to this past season.”
This is by far the most difficult aspect of goal setting for competitive athletes to digest and accept. Committing to overly ambitious, and therefore unrealistic, goals is a major pitfall that should be avoided. In this instance, we will determine what a realistic level of improvement is, and apply that to our goal. For a new athlete, shaving 10-15 minutes off of a 50 minute swim time may well be realistic. For an elite athlete, however, shaving 10-15 minutes off of their swim is probably not humanly possible. For our example, we’ll say that I’ve determined it to be realistic to shave 5 minutes off of my swim time. My goal becomes “decrease swim split time by 5 minutes relative to last season.”
This part of the goal may seem silly, but it is important. This is where we tailor our training sessions in terms of length and intensity to our goal. If I am an Olympic distance triathlete, then swimming faster over a 2 mile course doesn’t really help me reach my goal; I need to be faster in a 1500 meter swim and will therefore focus on training for that distance. If we don’t ensure that our goals are relevant to our performance, then we will have a difficult time focusing on training that is relevant to our goals. Our goal now becomes “decrease Olympic distance swim times by 5 minutes relative to last season.”
This aspect of goal setting dictates when we will reach this goal. This is one of the most important aspects of goal setting because it implements a sense of accountability to our training. If we don’t set time limits to our goals, days, weeks, and even years may pass without us doing anything to train for our goal, let alone reach them. Let’s say an 'A' priority race takes place next July, and I want to beat my PR there. Our goal now becomes "decrease Olympic swim split time, relative to last season, by July 2013."
And there you have it! Our goal of "being faster" has transformed into “decrease Olympic swim split time, relative to last season, by July 2013”, giving it some real legs to stand on. Now we can formulate our training around this SMART goal to maximize improvement. Off-season training is a time of introspection, reflection, and vision for the future. By evaluating ourselves and what we want to do going forward, we give ourselves an opportunity to improve ourselves in an effective and efficient manner. Here’s to a better you in 2013!
How and when do you feel good about yourself? Your workouts? Your goals? Defining what “feeling good” means to you is the first step in evaluating the ways in which you can feel good/better in various aspects of your life.
Feeling good can be a physical sensation, an emotional state, a mental state or a combination of all three. Any of these states can be triggered in a moment’s notice. Think about how you feel in different situations and what affects you in what ways. For example, reflect on how you feel when you wake, after a run, after working out, after sitting in traffic, etc. In any of these situations, how you feel comes from the act of doing, being, accomplishing, or a combination.
Ask yourself: Why is feeling good important? Feeling good is certainly better than feeling bad. How we feel can shape our day. It effects how we are able to cope with our life, being productive, focused, and or handling what tasks lie in front of us. Maintaining a healthy physical state, emotional state, and mental state provides an overall sense of wellbeing and happiness which makes life much more enjoyable.
Let’s begin by looking at the physical part of feeling good. How do you know when you physically feel good? Is it how you wake up in the morning or is it because you performed well during a workout? Is it because you feel strong, fast, light, powerful, awake, and/or energized? Notice there is a variety of ways in which each of us decides what “feeling good” means to us. First and foremost decide for YOU what “feeling good” is and how you physically get there.
One way to feel good is to workout. For me, working out can mean a run, a hike, a bike ride, training at the gym, a yoga class, a walk, swimming, downhill skiing, skate skiing, etc. Part of my prerequisite for a workout is exertion. I need to do an activity where I feel as though I am exerting myself. When my heart rate goes up, I sweat and I begin to feel alive. This brings about a good feeling inside of me. During these workouts, I feel strong, powerful, agile, and free. Soon after my workout I feel centered, calm, focused, pleased with myself, and accomplished. This is what “feeling physically good” is for me. It is very important for me to begin my day with a workout because it allows me to stay on top of my daily game.
There are many other physical ways we can create “feeling good.” For example, getting enough sleep, eating nutritiously, and hydrating all contribute to feeling good. These topics were covered in my previous article: Energy.
It is also worth examining what makes you feel bad physically. By knowing both sides of the coin you will feel more in control to create “feeling good” in your daily life. Train/workout in a way that makes you feel good about yourself, where you feel successful and accomplished. Refrain from evaluating yourself against others. Your evaluation should only be comparative to yourself, and no one else. Stay within to reap your rewards.
What about emotions? Let’s stay in the camp of relating to your workouts, training and competitions. Certainly we feel and have emotions connected to our physical self. So if we feel energized, most likely we’re feeling positive and happy within ourselves. There is a direct correlation between the physical and emotional world. However, it has occurred to me and I’ve seen many people develop a negative emotion despite their positive performance. This is often the case when we have set our personal standards to an outside standard, which will never be optimal. Avoid comparing yourself to anyone. It is the beginning of the end to not feel good about you!
Here are a few tips to help you stay positive: Find something in your workout or training everyday that makes you “feel good.” This will impact your training, goal setting, your ability to compete and most importantly, how your life goes. Next, have reasonable goals. I’m going to exercise today, get enough sleep tonight, have a day of rest because I’m over trained, or fuel my body with appropriate hydration and fuel. Setting goals that teeter on the impossible will set you up for failure. Your emotional state is delicate. Treat yourself and your emotions with care. Start your day off in the right direction with a physical good feeling to emotionally set the stage for a positive day for yourself.
Your state of mind is also key, and comes from the combination of your physical and emotional state. If you physically and emotionally feel good, most likely you will mentally feel strong. Mental strength truly is the key to your personal strength, endurance, success and happiness. It must be acquired through your physical and emotional states. It is virtuously impossible to be mentally strong when you’re down on your physical and emotional game. Your mental strength gives you the power to survive one’s daily life. I usually begin my day with the physical, building my emotional and mental state for strength for the rest of the day.
I’m sure many of you may go in a different order; maybe you start with your mental state, or emotional state. What is important is to find the state you can access the easiest to give you that “good feeling” to begin your day with. From there, I highly recommend playing around with the idea of developing the capacity to access your “good feeling” from any of our states. For example, let’s say you take a day off to rest to recover. On this day you may find that you are “feeling good” from your mental state by knowing a day off is going to benefit you tremendously. The more you are able to shift states to create your sense of well-being, the healthier and more functional of a person you will be in the world. Relying always on one state for “feeling good” can be very dangerous, and lacks flexibility. First, learn for yourself how you cultivate “feeling good.” Next begin to play around with “feeling good” physically, emotionally, or mentally.
Soon you will be happier, feel more satisfied with yourself and your life, so you can enjoy and live your life to the fullest.
Have you ever played with a gyro? The feeling of torsional resistance in your hand is amazing. I was introduced to a new way of waking up my stabalizer muscles in my wrist, forearms, and shoulders by playing with this gyro by DFX.
The IRON POWER ball was created by DFX. This is an extreme gyro that in your hand can can create between 50 and 60 lbs. of isometric torque. It's eye-popping hand held motion that keeps going with your consistent movement and is a fun way to strengthen your wrist, hand, and arms. When the gyro was first handed to me it was shocking to feel how quickly my muscles activated to respond to balancing and not dropping the ball.
There are several different options that DFX has created that can really help strengthen your hands and wrists. Check out their web page: http://mydfx.com/categories/extreme-gyros
I have taken the gyro with me in my car on road trips, kept it at my office, and brought it with me to different functions to see what people think. My friends have all been surprised at how quickly it starts to work your arm muscles. I noticed a difference in my arms in just a few weeks using this about every other day.
Many different athletes in several disciplines have seen benefits: Golfers, bikers, rock climbers, swimmers, mountain bikers, cyclists, etc. The list is long and the overwhelming feeling is that this fun portable training toy can give you a feeling of muscle stimulation without getting you into a full sweat. It takes some getting used to to keep the gyro moving but once you get it going it is something that you can really feel.
The low end model gyro can be purchased for 22 dollars, with the high end model the IRON POWER at 100. The price difference is in that the 22 dollar gyro is plastic- while the $100 ball is made of stainless steel and comes with a smooth display case. There are several options and carrying cases available which make this a great gift for the athlete that may think they have everything. Or for the person that likes to have something going on while watching tv, working, or just hanging around with family. For a real challenge get one of these gyros and use it while you are on your trainer this winter.
For more information about this and other products, go to: mydfx.com
I'm going to talk about something that can help you improve your performance, lose weight, make you smarter, improve your mood, strengthen your immune system, help you run faster, bike stronger, swim better, lift heavier, move better and drastically increase your recovery. It will help you reach all your goals and make you feel incredible. And it is super duper easy! In fact, you don't even have to be trying to do anything while this happens. Wanna know how you can accomplish all this amazing stuff? OK, here goes- this is what is going to make an incredible difference in every tiny little facet of your life. SLEEP! SLEEP! SLEEP!
Did you get that? Yep, sleep. I don't know about you guys, but I really like to sleep. It doesn't mean I always get enough of it, but, I sure can feel a huge difference between when I do get enough sleep and when I don't. I'll bet you feel that difference as well.
Here are a few reasons that just might help motivate you to get a little more sleep: many of these ideas came from an article at: http://superhumancoach.com/category/sleep/...if you would like to read the entire article.
When runners deprive themselves of sleep, getting 6 hours or less, the negative consequences come fast and furious.
• Weakens your immune system: getting sick = less training, poor training
• Leads to Obesity: Recent studies have shown that even one night of poor sleep can result in changes in appetite and food intake. Sleep deprivation also impairs carbohydrate tolerance, insulin sensitivity, and glucose uptake. When glucose uptake is inhibited, you aren't able to refuel before, during, and after your workouts.
• Intellectual Decline: sleep deprivation negatively impacts short-term and working memory, long-term memory and the generation of nerve cells – all of which affects our ability to think clearly and function well.
• Inflammation: Sleep deprivation causes chronic, low-grade inflammation. Inflammation is the root of all modern disease and severely inhibits the bodies’ ability to repair muscles, tissue, and tendon damage.
• Injury: When you don’t get enough sleep your motor responses are dulled, this leads to bad form, inefficient neuromuscular patterns and injury
Basically there is no disease or condition (physical, mental, or even spiritual) that sleep deprivation doesn’t either contribute to directly or make worse. Just so you know this is serious from another author, with similar warnings:
Sleep deprivation can be linked to:
Colds and Flu: The less sleep you get, the weaker your immune system is, leaving it less able to fight off colds, flu, and other infections.
Heart Disease: “When you don’t get enough sleep, you have an inflammatory response in your cardiovascular system -- in the blood vessels and arteries -- and that’s not a good thing!” says Donna Arand, PhD, DABSM, clinical director of the Kettering Sleep Disorders Center in Dayton, Ohio. “We see the same thing in hypertension. If that sleep deprivation continues long term, chronic inflammation has been linked to things like heart attack, stroke, and diabetes.”
Diabetes: “In one study of young, healthy adult males, they decreased their sleep time to about four hours per night for six nights,” says Arand. “At the end of those six nights, every one of those healthy young men was showing impaired glucose tolerance, a precursor to developing diabetes.”
Another study found that people in their late 20's and early 30's who slept less than 6.5 hours per night, had the insulin sensitivity of someone more than 60 years old.
Poor Brain Function and Mental Health: Studies have found that people who aren't getting enough sleep drive just as unsafely as someone who’s drunk. “We also know that people who are sleep deprived have very poor judgment when evaluating their own performance. They think they’re doing well on memory or eye-hand coordination tests, but they’re not,” says Arand. “The memory is also slightly degraded when you’re sleep deprived, and gets worse the more deprivation you have.”
Metabolic Issues and Obesity: In one study, people who slept five hours per night were 73% more likely to become obese than those getting seven to nine nightly hours of sleep. In fact, one study found that lack of sleep was a bigger contributor to childhood obesity than any other factor. Lack of sleep has been linked to lower levels of the hormone leptin, which helps reduce hunger.
You can follow the perfect training plan, eat a pristine diet and take all the right supplements, but if you’re not sleeping well and managing your stress your performance and health will suffer... period.
Dr. Shawn Allen, of “The Gait Guys” and ACO, treats many high level athletes. “[He] finds that two things are commonly abused when it comes to effective training: recovery and sleep. Many athletes over-train and ignore the restorative benefits of ample recovery days but of the two, sleep is the most abused. In this day and age of productivity in the work place and family demands the average athlete has little time to train, work and recover adequately. And since work and family demands are less flexible, sleep for many tends to take a back seat.” Dr. Allen explains that there is no nutritional supplement or drug that can replace the benefits of a sound night sleep. “And yet, we continue to do what we need to do to get our workouts in, a valid yet jaundiced attempt to benefit our bodies, while at the same time sacrificing the beneficial aspects of health and recovery that can come only with sound repeatable sleep”.
Researchers at the University of Chicago found that dieters who were well rested lost more fat -- 56 percent of their weight loss -- than those who were sleep deprived, who lost more muscle mass. (They shed similar amounts of total weight regardless of sleep.)
Dieters in the study also felt more hungry when they got less sleep.
So, how can you start incorporating this hugely important, game changing, quality of life altering habit into your life?
We need to not only get MORE sleep, but we need to IMPROVE the sleep we are getting. Here are some suggestions:
#1: Don't watch TV before going to bed (or work on your computer, phone, etc.) Block all the blue light (phone, computer, TV and even your alarm clock) from your eyes. Serious. This stuff affects your sleep.
#2: Cut the caffeine in the afternoon and evening. Be finished with any of that stuff by early afternoon and preferably don't make it a regular part of your intake (and I am sure none of you are drinking soda)
#3: Don't eat late at night! You have done it before (as have I) and you know that it totally makes you sleep terribly! Aim to be done with food at least 1-2 hours before bed. In my opinion, make it more like 3+ hours! You will sleep so much better without your body having to digest and work on food as you are trying to sleep.
#4: If you work out in the evening, try to be done at least 2-3 hours before you go to bed. That doesn't mean you push back your bedtime, adjust your workout time to keep you going to bed at a decent hour.
#5: Be consistent with your sleep patterns. Go to bed at the same time and wake up at the same time every day.
#6: If you find your mind is too busy to fall asleep, write down what is on your mind and then focus on just relaxing instead of feeling stressed that you need to be sleeping. Too many thoughts winding us up and making us feel tense and stressed will make it hard to actually sleep, so try to quiet the mind and assure yourself that you can attack those "to do" lists in the morning.
#7: Develop a sleep ritual. That can be taking a hot bath, reading a book, spending quiet time meditating, or whatever else will help prepare you for sleep. Experiment and find what works for you.
#8: If you have a more serious issue, like sleep apnea, get professional help! You need sleep! And if you are not getting the quantity and quality of sleep your body needs to be able to repair itself and prepare you for the stresses and demands of your life, your health and quality of life are going to suffer terribly. You are worth it, get help so you can get sleep.
So, can you improve your performance, reduce your stress, build strength, prevent injury, and generally enhance your life with one “magic pill”? The answer is yes. Sleep.
Coach Keena is a regular contributor at TriEdge and has 16 years experience coaching and training hundreds of individuals. She is a USA Triathlon Certified Coach and holds additional certifications from the National association of Sports Medicine (NASM) and the American Council of Exercise (ACE) as a certified personal trainer. If you would like to contact Coach Keena go to: www.coachkeena.com
We all know what it feels like to be full of energy and often times we think it is only available to the young. Each year we struggle to find the same level of energy we had the previous year. Where does our energy go? Is it really our age, or can we get it back?
Although age is a factor, I have found it to be a small factor. After just turning 49 I am running as fast as I was when I was 45 despite undergoing major knee surgery in March of 2011, and 13 previous surgeries after I was hit by a semi-truck while cycling at age 20.
I have found four factors that affect energy levels the most: diet, training, rest, and stress. This article focuses on two more areas where we tend to lose energy: rest and stress. (Read about the first two areas where we lose energy: Part I)
Rest & Sleep
Rest and sleep is the time when the body repairs and restores itself. I recommend 7-11 hours of sleep a night. If you do not get enough rest, your body doesn’t have enough time to restore and repair itself and is forced to use extra energy to push through the demands of your life. Lack of rest, like overtraining, is not a healthy way to treat your body or live your life. Sooner or later you will burn out and you may even damage your body.
A few signs that you are lacking rest, recovery, or time for your body to repair itself include the feeling of heaviness in your legs, arms, or throughout your body, feeling fatigued all of the time, feeling irritable, and feeling jittery throughout your body. If you notice any of these signs, it is critical to assess your rest habits and bring more sleep, rest, and recovery time back into your life.
Stress & Tension: Parasitic Effort
Stress and tension result from many things in our lives such as work, relationships, children, diet, lack of exercise, finances, etcetera. This list is ongoing and everyone has experienced some form of stress or tension. Oftentimes we are so caught up in our response to the stressors that we are not even aware of what is happening in our bodies.
Some of the most common places to hold stress and tension in our bodies are in our jaws, neck, shoulders, chest, fists, wrists, and in our breath. In the Feldenkrais Method, this is called parasitic effort. Parasitic effort is the unnecessary holding of tension or clenching of muscle groups. Runners for example, often clench their fists and jaws or grind their teeth while running. This clenching doesn’t help them run better; in fact it takes requires energy and effort to maintain, depleting the body of the energy it needs to run.
Here is an exercise to help you understand parasitic effort:
Make a fist with one of your hands. Continue to squeeze the fist as you read on. Notice the effects of squeezing and holding the fist. Is the clenching creating tightness in your arm or chest? What about your throat or neck area? Is this clenching necessary for you to read on, or does it make reading more difficult? All of us are exerting parasitic effort in some way or another all of the time because it is a very deep habit built into the nervous system.
(Keep clenching your fist…)
Why? As we are developing throughout our childhood, we hope to overcome this habit of tension through learning how to function in our world. However, many of us experience situations that stimulate this parasitic effort to kick in. If such situations continuously occur; the system continues to rely on the parasitic effort as a form of protection, hence a habit develops. The system believes the parasitic effort is actually helping the situation so it repeats the behavior.
Once parasitic effort develops into a habit that is continuously held, it is called a holding pattern. For some, holding patterns can become so habitual that they continue while one sleeps. Holding patterns consume a tremendous amount of energy to maintain and strip your body of freedom to move and of energy. About a decade ago, this form of parasitic effort became known as Fibromyalgia. Many people have suffered from this disease to the point of being unable to function on a daily basis due to pain, lack of sleep, and complete loss of energy.
(Are you still clenching your fist?)
Parasitic effort is, in most cases, the biggest leak in energy for people. The first step to combat it is to become aware of the stress and tension in your life. Let go and stop clenching your fist. What happened? Notice the sense of ease that begins to return to you. Which feels better? Clenching your fist or not clenching your fist? Notice where in your body you are holding or storing tension. Don’t worry about why, just notice it and begin to let go.
Here is an exercise to help you identify where you are holding tension in your body and maybe clenching, and most importantly where and how you can begin to let go: Lie down on your back, preferably on the floor. Close your eyes and notice how you are making contact with the floor, I call this a body scan. Start at the top of your head and then bring your awareness to your spine. Travel down your spine to the base of your skull to your tailbone and then pelvis. What kind of sense of your spine do you have? Which parts are touching the floor and which are not?
Now broaden your awareness to notice your shoulders. How does each shoulder rest on the floor? Continue to travel down your pelvis, moving your awareness at your own pace so you continue to develop a deep sense of yourself. What do you notice about yourself? What parts are making contact with the floor and which are held or suspended without touching? Notice how your arms are lying along your sides and how your legs are lying. Now, as you continue to maintain awareness, notice where you are holding tension. You may be holding somewhere if it feels like it is being suspended or if there is a sense of tension. Could you let go there? If you can let go, how does it feel now? Notice that just by becoming aware and wanting to let go, you let go. How do you feel? How is your breathing? How are you different? Notice that you are different and all it takes is awareness.
Download Sharon’s “Awareness Through Movement” audio lessons on her website, SharonStarika.com, under “Online Workshops.”
To read about the first two areas where we lose energy go to: Part I.
We all know what it feels like to be full of energy and often times we think it is only available to the young. Each year we struggle to find the same level of energy we had the previous year. Where does our energy go? Is it really our age, or can we get it back?
Although age is a factor, I have found it to be a small factor. After just turning 49 I am running as fast as I was when I was 45 despite undergoing major knee surgery in March of 2011, and 13 previous surgeries after I was hit by a semi-truck while cycling at age 20.
I have found four factors that affect energy levels the most: diet, training, rest, and stress. This article focuses on the first two areas where we tend to lose energy: diet and training.
Diet: Nutrition & Hydration
What you eat and what you fuel your body with determines your energy level. It is that simple. It is essential to fuel you body by eating fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and healthy fats. Think of your body like a car; you put the best type of fuel in your car so it runs well. Our body is no different. What would happen if you put sugar into your gas tank? Would your car even run? Food is fuel and it needs to come from sources that our body can easily digest, utilize, and convert into energy. If you are a high endurance/long distance athlete, protein and healthy fats are crucial. It is important to get protein back into your body within 30 minutes of exercise; my secret weapons to achieve this include almond butter and avocados.
If you are eating white bread, chips, crackers, or any types of processed food with corn syrup, sucrose, dextrose, et cetera, you are not fueling your body. In fact, digesting these foods strips your body of energy. Furthermore, most of these kinds of processed foods are loaded with trans fats, which are the worst kind of fats for your body’s system. Start reading food labels and educate yourself about proper nutrition. Discover what good healthy foods you can fuel your body with. Remember food is fuel and your body needs the right kind of fuel to run (just like your car).
Hydration and water along with food is crucial to maintaining energy. Before you exercise you should take in as many ounces of water as half of your body weight in pounds. For example, if you weigh 140 pounds, you should hydrate with at least 70 ounces of water before exercising. During exercise, you should take in 16 ounces for each hour of exercise. It sounds like a lot, but most of us are dehydrated on a daily basis. A few signs of dehydration while exercising include irregular or strained breathing, lack of sweating, or an increase in heart rate without an increase in effort. If this happens, find a shady area, rest, and hydrate.
Dehydration can lead to overheating, which can be much more serious. Signs of overheating to look out for include dizziness, lightheadedness, nausea, diarrhea, or fatigue. Fatigue is often times a symptom of dehydration, not just tiredness. Although you may not feel thirsty, taking in a significant amount of fluids (at least 16 ounces) will rehydrate and reenergize you.
Training: Undertraining & Overtraining
There is a wealth of information on training available from a variety of sources such as personal trainers, fellow athletes, friends, and publications. Ultimately, you are your best source of knowing how much is too much, and how much is too little. In my experience most people over-train but there are many people that under-train as well.
Weekend warriors are often undertraining. When the weekend comes, you go out and hit it hard without training during the week. This leaves you sore or hardly able to walk for a few days. This is not a good way to approach sports, become an athlete, or be healthy. Demanding your body to perform on an all-or-nothing basis stresses the body because there is no rhythm or understanding as to why you are requiring strength, energy, and power. Additionally, your body is unable to store the necessary fuel and hydration needed.
By stressing the body, weekend warriors are likely to endure some injuries along the way. From injuries the body can develop bad habits that may never go away, and that can lead to additional stress and compensations in the body. All of this requires energy. Energy to strain, energy to perform the task, and energy to survive the challenges we are faced with. It is important to develop a weekly routine to prepare your body for the weekend that is manageable, easy to maintain and enjoyable.
To avoid overtraining, establish a variety of ways in which you can build your strength and endurance. For example, I find the best running formula for me is 4-5 days of running rather than seven. This gives my muscles the time they need to repair, heal, and recover to maintain their strength and stamina. If you do not allow time for recovery (like if you are running 6-7 days a week), you are overtraining and damaging your body. For swimming, I recommend 2-4 times a week and for biking, 3-4 times a week. Anytime you do a particular activity or sport more than five times a week, you are most likely overtraining. Pushing a body that hasn’t had time to rest, repair, and restore will require more energy.
For more, go to: Part II
To reframe a moment is essentially taking where you are in a certain moment or situation, and shifting it. This technique is applicable to your physical, mental and emotional states. Once you master “reframing” – it will likely become your greatest gift to yourself and to your level of success in the athletic world, and in life.
This is probably the most important question to answer. Where you are physically, mentally, and emotionally tremendously effects your performance. If you’re having a “bad” day where you feel fatigued and sluggish, where it is hard to run and you’re easily out of breath, most likely you are mentally feeling down and lacking the will to continue to train or to perform. This situation often starts with the physical, and quickly shifts to the mental, and finally, your emotions are also effected. It is critical in these moments to be able to shift to a new state of being. By creating a shift, a whole new world opens up for you, a world where you can be positive and successful.
Let’s say you go on a run and you are tired and sluggish. What do you normally do? How do you feel about yourself? Do you start to feel upset, disappointed, or discouraged? Do you start to doubt yourself? Do you stop and give up? As these feelings begin to surface, think about how you deal with the situation.
Next time you feel this way, try a new approach. Try to find a place where you are feeling good. This may be as simple as acknowledging the fact that you are running. This in itself is great and worth feeling good about! When you are able to shift from a negative state to a positive state, not only does your experience in the moment change, your life changes.
The HOW starts with your awareness about how you are feeling: first physically, then emotionally, and finally, mentally. If it’s not good, the WHEN is NOW! Why now? Because you just became aware. You are now conscious of how you are feeling and this is truly the best moment to shift your attention to find something good in the moment. It can be a very simple, positive thought, such as: “My breathing is at ease, my arms and feet are happy today.” Find something positive to focus on. Then that “something” will become everything, and will become your focus.
WHY do this? Because if every run, every training session, every experience could be amazing… how would your life be, let alone your performance? This approach, this shift gives you the ability to change and improve. Having this powerful tool to use in the moment allows for excellent outcomes in your life as well as in competitions. On a daily basis you can learn to find goodness and happiness no matter what is in front of you.
Think about what a day, a week, a month, or year of your life would be like if you knew you could shift things from dark to light. Take a moment to imagine what your world would be like if you had both the awareness and the power to make this change in every area of your life. Perhaps you can begin now. Start today by becoming aware, find out how you’re physically feeling, then how you mentally feel, and take note of your emotions. Find the moment where you can make a shift. Through awareness you can make the changes to make a positive impact on your life.