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Saturday, 24 October 2015

Recovery isn’t upright

The chances are that if you were at school and doing sport; after the race when you are bent over & your breathe was heaving, do you remember the coach telling you to stand up straight and even to put your hands over your head.  These ideas were created to allow the diaphragm to be in the best position to allow quickest recovery.
Now suppose I told you that this is wrong.  Not only is it wrong but doing a HIIT cardio protocol you can lower the heart beat by over 20 beats per minute (BPM) MORE simply by putting your hands on your knees and bending forward slightly.  Would that be worth your time learning?

The study

This is the findings in a post-graduate thesis where they measured the recovery rates between standing upright, with hands over head & holding yourself in that well known bent over recovery position with your hands on your knees.

First let us address the issues stated by your old coach.  “Standing upright with hands over head opens the diaphragm to the maximum.” Says your coach.  “You aren’t compressing your lungs that way.”.  That is the common reasoning, but it appears that this actually incorrect.  You are not compressing your lungs by bending over as you are hip hinging in this position.  Bending forwards like this could actually increase your lung capacity slightly.  Also by using the arms as support for the upper body you lower the activity of the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) & heighten the influence of the parasympathetic nervous system (rest & digest), this also aids recovery.
In this study they saw over 20BPM improvement in 3 minutes.  After 3 minutes you either had drop of 31BPM standing upright with hands overhead or 53BPM by hip hinging forward with hands on your knees.  That difference is a very significant difference if you are doing intervals or recovering between bouts of exertion.

So, to sum things up.  If you need to maximise recovery between sets or during a contest use the bent over, hands on knee posture & be ready to go again as soon as possible.

Even if you are not concerned about the speed of recovery; consider that the faster your heart rate returns to normal, the faster can begin to repair & the super-compensation the body needs to improve. So, whatever your goals learning these methods to maximise recovery will benefit you and optimise the results of any training you do.
Special thanks to Dave of Vegan Runners for the pictures of him after a race and Jemma for taking the pictures. If you are interested in getting involved in Vegan Runners email and I can pass you on the details.

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

A new option for foam rolling

This is an opinion piece.   As far as I know no one has studied this or even talked about it before.  I wish I could take credit for the idea, but it was my partner who first thought of this variation.

Most people know about SMR (Self Myofascial Release), or foam rolling.  You can do it before training, after training, or at other times.  I know there is still debate about what SMR actually does (it probably doesn’t ‘release’ fascia, at least not the way we think of it right now).  Let’s put that all to one side.  Even if we do not know the exact mechanism, we can agree that much of the research does point to it being beneficial.  From there we can move on to the second part of this.

Enter the bath

Many people find benefits for hot baths as a recovery aid.  Slipping into that steaming hot tub can be a fantastic feeling and time spent in the bath actually does seem to help.  For the longest time I have suggested employing self massage in a hot bath as a recovery aid.  Things like calves, knees, shoulders, arms and hips can all benefit for a bit of massage while you bathe.  However things like glutes, lower back & other areas are incredibly difficult to apply a decent pressure to yourself, so until recently I was at a loss about how to include these into a ‘bath time recovery programme’ (expect that new book soon – the bath-time recovery book - ha haa! ).

Enter the lacrosse ball

I’m guessing that if you have tried SMR for any length of time you have a lacrosse ball.  I suspect that the whole foam rolling boom probably saved the lacrosse ball industry.  I see them everywhere! Lacrosse balls are firm, rubber balls.  After you have rolled on a tennis ball for a while, you will soon find that a tennis ball feels too soft to really get into the knots and trigger points you are feeling as you roll.  A lacrosse ball is the next level of firmness.  It is rubber, so it has a little give, but it works much deeper into the tissue.
Like many of you, I use SMR at the start of a workout session (here’s a study that shows extended ROM, but no loss in power by foam rolling[i]). I actually foam roll, then do dynamic stretching, then begin the workout.  I get better sessions that way.

A match made in heaven

So, let’s put these two ideas together and see how that grabs you.  If you want to include a little extra recovery into a simple bath time activity.  First include some self massage.  This will mainly be feet legs, arms, hands & parts of the shoulder and chest. After that, put a lacrosse ball into the bath.  Do not worry, it will sink! Roll on the glutes & the lower back (avoid the spine itself). The weight you apply to the ball will be less due to buoyancy; however the hot water will increase the effectiveness of the rolling. An option could be that instead of using fingers to self massage, you could use the lacrosse ball on the legs & arm also. Just remember to keep both the ball and your own body under control while you roll out as you could slide under water (safety first people!). You can roll out as long as you like.  It could be anywhere from 5-15 minutes (or longer if you like).  The time really depends on how beat up you feel.  Give yourself more time if you feel especially banged-up.
That’s it really.  I am obviously not going to show you pictures of me naked rolling out in a bath (sorry folks).  However if you have any questions about how to either roll out or self massage I am a fully qualified masseur, so I am happy to put together something for you, just let me know below.  A lot of this will be individual as you may be tight, or have trigger points in specific areas so take the time to experiment a little.  Assuming you are a normal, healthy individual, then you cannot really do anything too bad just rolling on a lacrosse ball.  It could be very painful at first but that will ease as you adjust to the practice.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Be aware of the difference between trigger point pain & injury.  Never foam roll over muscle tears, bruising or other tissue damage. If you have any doubts then go and get checked out by a medical doctor.  If you are especially painful then you might want to seek out a qualified masseur or masseuse & get a proper sports massage, SMR is good, but not that good!
Hopefully this has given you few ideas and if you have unique ways to aid recovery why not add those below and we can start a conversation.

[i] MacDonald GZ, et al. An Acute Bout of Self-Myofascial Release Increases Range of Motion Without a Subsequent Decrease in Muscle Activation or Force. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research: March 2013 - Volume 27 - Issue 3 - p 812–821.