Stronger hips for pain-free knees

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As of September 2017, new Sweat Science columns are being published at www.outsideonline.com/sweatscience. Check out my bestselling new book on the science of endurance, ENDURE: Mind, Body, and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance, published in February 2018 with a foreword by Malcolm Gladwell.

- Alex Hutchinson (@sweatscience)

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Last year, I had an interesting conversation with Dr. Reed Ferber, who runs the Running Injury Clinic at the University of Calgary. He’s a big believer in the role of hip strength in promoting proper biomechanics — in one seven-month study he performed, 92 percent of the injured runners who reported to his clinic had abnormally weak hip muscles, and 89 percent of them improved with a four- to six-week hip strengthening program. (Read more about his research, and the exercises he recommends, in this Jockology column.)

I mention this in light of a study that researchers at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago are conducting, trying to see if strengthening hip muscles can relieve pain and slow the progression of arthritis in the knees.

The exercises focus on strengthening the hip abductor muscles, such as the gluteus medius, a broad, thick, radiating muscle that helps to stabilize the pelvis during ambulation. In patients with osteoarthritis in the knees, these muscles tend to be weak, causing the pelvis to tilt toward the side of the swing leg when walking, instead of remaining level with the ground, which increases the load on the knee joints. Strengthening these muscles helps the pelvis and the knee remain in better alignment, and thereby lessens the load.

Sounds like the same principles at work — I’m sure Dr. Ferber will be watching carefully to see the results of this study.

Ghrelin and leptin: how sleep affects your appetite

THANK YOU FOR VISITING SWEATSCIENCE.COM!

As of September 2017, new Sweat Science columns are being published at www.outsideonline.com/sweatscience. Check out my bestselling new book on the science of endurance, ENDURE: Mind, Body, and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance, published in February 2018 with a foreword by Malcolm Gladwell.

- Alex Hutchinson (@sweatscience)

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Very interesting article by Jackie Dikos in Running Times about the relationship between sleep and appetite:

There are two hormones associated with sleep that influence eating behaviors: ghrelin and leptin. Ghrelin is the hormone that lets your body know you’re hungry. Leptin’s role is to send a message to stop eating when your body has had enough. When you’re sleep-deprived, your ghrelin level increases. At the same time leptin levels decrease. So you crave additional food while simultaneously not getting the proper message to stop eating.

Seems like a pretty straightforward connection, and explains the well-documented links between getting too little sleep and gaining weight. I’ve posted before about how sleep aids athletic performance, and it’s worth adding Dikos’s conclusion:

Sleep is another way to nourish your body, just like a high-quality food choice is.

Size matters in running and swimming: some data

THANK YOU FOR VISITING SWEATSCIENCE.COM!

As of September 2017, new Sweat Science columns are being published at www.outsideonline.com/sweatscience. Check out my bestselling new book on the science of endurance, ENDURE: Mind, Body, and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance, published in February 2018 with a foreword by Malcolm Gladwell.

- Alex Hutchinson (@sweatscience)

***

It’s not just Usain Bolt — elite athletes have been getting bigger for the past century at a faster rate than the general population, according to researchers from Duke University in North Carolina. Yeah, I think we already knew that. But…

Futhermore, the researchers said, this pattern of growth can be predicted by the constructal theory, a Duke-inspired theory of design in nature that explains such diverse phenomena as river basin formation and the capillary structure of tree branches and roots. (www.constructal.org).

Apparently, the size of athletes illustrates some deep underlying truths about patterns in nature, as described in this Journal of Experimental Biology paper. Maybe, maybe not — it didn’t make a lot of sense to me. What I did find interesting was the data set they dug up for 100-metre world-record setters in swimming and running:

Specifically, while the average human has gained about 1.9 inches in height since 1900, Charles’ research showed that the fastest swimmers have grown 4.5 inches and the swiftest runners have grown 6.4 inches.

There’s been a lot of talk about how Usain Bolt’s otherworldly sprint times might be explained by the fact that he’s one of the first very tall men (6’5″, according to the JEP paper) to master sprinting. The second-tallest world-record holder is, not coincidentally, the second-fastest man, Asafa Powell, at 6’3″. This paper makes some interesting arguments about why this should be so, based on the scaling of horizontal and vertical forces in locomotion. It’s obvious to everyone why basketball players are almost all enormously tall — but the same forces appear to be in play, though less obviously, for runners and swimmers.

The authors also suggest that we may need to introduce size classifications, as in boxing and wrestling, to other sports. It’s an interesting idea — but I’m not sure that the genetic advantage of height is really any different from the genetic advantage of having a huge oxygen capacity or lots of fast-twitch muscle fibres.

Why you should swear for a better workout or race

THANK YOU FOR VISITING SWEATSCIENCE.COM!

As of September 2017, new Sweat Science columns are being published at www.outsideonline.com/sweatscience. Check out my bestselling new book on the science of endurance, ENDURE: Mind, Body, and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance, published in February 2018 with a foreword by Malcolm Gladwell.

- Alex Hutchinson (@sweatscience)

***

A friend forwarded me this Newsweek article about a British experiment on swearing and pain tolerance:

In a study published in this month’s issue of NeuroReport, [Richard Stephens of Keele University and his colleagues] asked participants to submerge their nondominant hand in ice-cold water for as long as possible (or for a maximum of 10 minutes) while either repeating a swear word or a neutral word (one that describes a table). The volume and pace used for swear words and neutral words were kept similar. Then, the researchers compared those who swore and those who didn’t to determine the effect on the length of time that participants were able to keep their hands submerged.

Subjects who swore managed an average of 40 seconds, or about a third longer than those who didn’t—evidence that a few well-placed word bombs of your choosing actually has a protective effect. [read on…]

So next time you’re trying to hit one last rep in the weight room, or hang on for one more kilometre at your maximum pace, take a look around — and if there are no children in sight, try swearing a blue streak to success!

[Thanks for the forward, Jay.]

Jockology: exercising in pollution

THANK YOU FOR VISITING SWEATSCIENCE.COM!

As of September 2017, new Sweat Science columns are being published at www.outsideonline.com/sweatscience. Check out my bestselling new book on the science of endurance, ENDURE: Mind, Body, and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance, published in February 2018 with a foreword by Malcolm Gladwell.

- Alex Hutchinson (@sweatscience)

***

We all know that exercising outdoors with lots of air pollution is bad. But we also know that not exercising for the summer is pretty bad too. How do we balance the two? And is biking to work really any worse that sitting in a car in a traffic jam on the way to work? That’s the topic I tackle in the latest Jockology column in the Globe, which has just been posted:

The question

How harmful is it to exercise outside on a polluted day?

The answer

There’s no doubt that the air pollution in cities is bad for us. And exercise makes it worse, since we breathe in a greater volume of air and bypass the natural filtering of the nasal passages by inhaling through the mouth.

Exercising indoors, where the air tends be better during smoggy periods, is much healthier than slacking off for the summer.

But if you have to head outside anyway – to get to work, for example – the choice is trickier. Depending on when you go and what route you take, you may be better off running or biking to the office than sitting in rush-hour traffic. [READ ON…]