Archive

Archive for April, 2009

Running in pollution, core strength, toe joints and more!

April 28th, 2009

The new issue of Canadian Running magazine is on newsstands now. Lots of good stuff in there, as usual — I particularly recommend the article by Canadian 1,500-metre star Hilary Stellingwerff on her training stint in the highlands of Ethiopia. Lots of behind-the-scenes details about the training of top Ethiopian stars, and a very interesting window into a country that few of us have visited (well, I haven’t).

There’s also my regular Science of Running column. Topics covered: how much pollution you inhale running alongside a four-lane highway; why it’s better to measure your heart rate in a race or workout than in the lab; whether core strengthening actually makes you run faster; whether heavy shoes make you run slower; and whether running is bad for your toe joints.

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Follow-up on “non-surgical” Achilles treatment

April 26th, 2009

I now have details from the ARRS Annual Meeting presentation on the “non-surgical” Achilles treatment discussed yesterday. Read more…

New “non-surgical” treatment for Achilles problems?

April 25th, 2009

[UPDATED INFO HERE.] There’s a press release from the American Roentgen Ray Society (a.k.a. radiologists — “Roentgen ray” was the original name for X-rays) that has been making the rounds over the past few days, thanks to a fairly optimistic opening line:

Researchers have found an alternative, “non-surgical” method to treat chronic tendinosis (tendinitis) of the Achilles tendon that fails conservative treatment, according to a study performed at the Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University in Chicago, IL.

This, of course, would be great news, especially for the 10 to 15 percent of runners who may be affected by Achilles problems that don’t respond to the usual treatments. The new approach seems to be “ultrasound-guided Achilles debridement.” This is a little confusing, because debridement (removing the damaged tissue, and possibly making some incisions to stimulate the body’s natural repair processes) is (a) a well-established treatment for Achilles problems, and (b) generally considered a surgical procedure.

So what’s new here? Perhaps it’s a minimally invasive procedure, made possible by the ultrasonic guidance — though that still sounds like surgery to me. I’ve requested a copy of the full study, so that should answer these questions. In the meantime, the press release reports that about 60 percent of the 17 patients who underwent the procedure reported either marked improvement or complete disappearance of their symptons, so it’s worth keeping an eye on.

BOSU balls, wobble boards, stability balls, Dyna Discs…

April 24th, 2009

This week’s Jockology column (just posted) takes a look at balance training tools:bosu1lega

No gym is complete these days without an assortment of oddly shaped and surprisingly expensive balance-training gadgets. Unlike many fads, this one really does have its roots in solid medical research: Wobble boards earned their stripes decades ago in aiding the rehabilitation of ankle sprains.

The purported benefits of balance training now extend much further, promising injury prevention and the strengthening of countless small stabilizer muscles that would otherwise be left flaccid. For those who play court sports involving lots of running and rapid changes of direction, the benefits are increasingly clear; for the rest of us, the verdict is murkier. (read on…)

Another data point on compression socks

April 19th, 2009

The Mt. SAC Relays, a traditional season-opener for many North American track and field stars, has been taking place this weekend. Further to our discussion of compression socks last week, I note this photo by Image of Sport‘s Kirby Lee of U.S. 5,000-metre runner Chris Solinsky showing off the latest in knee-high Nikes.solinsky

While Solinsky ran a fine time of 13:18.41, he did wind up getting outkicked by the other two runners in the picture, offering further evidence that facial hair and tattoos still trump compression socks in the final straightaway.

Fetal training regimens

April 17th, 2009

Over the last few years, there have been a bunch of articles with titles like “Marathon moms raise the post-natal bar,” charting changing attitudes about exercise during pregnancy. In general, the information provided is anecdotal — after all, there are understandly strict limits on what regimens you can inflict on pregnant women in the name of science. So it’s interesting to see this study, presented by researchers from the Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences at the annual meeting of the American Physiological Society.

The researchers were aiming to see whether maternal exercise improves the cardiovascular health of the fetus, with the “exercise” group performing moderate intensity aerobic exercise for at least 30 minutes, three times per week. Sure enough, fetal heart rate was lower in the exercise group. Interestingly, the researchers also suggest that maternal exercise could help the development of the autonomic nervous system. This part is less clear to me — but perhaps it’s a topic that’s worth digging into a little more deeply. Certainly, it’s encouraging to see some hard data emerging in a very hard-to-study area.

A successful Easter egg hunt won’t interfere with training

April 12th, 2009

The reputation of the humble egg, so long considered a cholesterol time-bomb, has been gradually rehabilitated by a series of studies over the past several years. In honour of Easter, I thought I’d mention one of these studies, from the January issue of the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry. Researchers from the University of Connecticut put 12 subjects through a 6-week endurance exercise program. Half of them ate 12 eggs a week, the other half ate none. The result: both groups improved good cholesterol by 10 percent and decreased bad cholesterol by 21 percent — and there was no discernable difference between the egg and no-egg group. Happy Easter!

Jockology: compression garments

April 10th, 2009

This week’s Jockology column on compression garments is now up on the Globe site. I’ll be interested to see what people think, because it covers a lot of ground. The science behind compression socks is very different from the science behind compression shorts — not to mention Allen Iverson’s compression arm sleeve, and the full-body compression suits that companies like Skins are hyping — so it’s hard to generalize about whether compression garments in general work.

I was pretty skeptical when I started researching this column, but I uncovered a lot more research than I expected — and I also heard some pretty ringing endorsements from, among others, William Kraemer, one of the very big names in sports research. On the other hand, given the impossible-to-blind nature of compression garments, I can’t quite shake my worries that it’s all a big placebo. Anyone have personal experience with this stuff?

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How fast to run if you’re stranded in the desert

April 9th, 2009

I had an interesting interview this morning with Karen Steudel of the University of Wisconsin’s Hominin Locomotion Laboratory, for an upcoming feature in Canadian Running magazine. She’s the researcher who caused a stir a few weeks ago with a study revealing that each person has an “optimum running speed” where we burn the least number of calories per mile (nicely summarized by Dan Peterson of 80percentmental here). Until now, strange as it may seem, researchers thought that it would take you exactly the same number of calories to run a mile, no matter what pace you ran at.

Steudel’s real interest is in whether our ancestors a few million years ago were efficient enough runners to chase animals for hours until they collapsed of heat exhaustion, a technique known as persistence hunting. But she’s well aware that the idea of an “optimum speed” might be of interest to runners (and she’s apparently receiving tons of e-mail asking for training advice!). The optimal paces in her study were about 7:14 per mile for men and 9:14 per mile for women — but with just nine subjects, the study is too small to take those numbers too seriously. However, she’s now back in the lab working on a new study trying to determine how limb length affects that optimal speed — another result that will be of interest both to evolutionary biologists and runners.

So what do we do with this information? Well, I’ve often pondered the scenario where you’re stranded in the desert with no food, 100 miles from the nearest aid, and you have to decide what your strategy is. Do you run? Walk? How fast? Seems like if you know your optimal pace, you can maximize your odds…

Future tech: read on the treadmill with “stabilized text”

April 7th, 2009

treadmill-readingThere’s a big conference on human-computer interaction going on in Boston right now. Not a hotbed of sports-related research, but I noticed this fantastic research project from Purdue University’s Healthcare and Information Visualization Engineering (HIVE) Lab:

ReadingMate: An Infrared-Camera-Based Content Stabilization Technique to Help Joggers Read While Running on a Treadmill.”

The contraption monitors the bobbing of your head, and makes the text that you’re trying to read bob up and down on a screen, so that it seems to you that it’s not moving at all. Seems unlikely, but… Read more…

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