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)
[UPDATE Feb. 13: more detailed info on muscle tension research in this post.]
Steve Magness has an article in next month’s Running Times magazine called “Managing Running Tension,” in which he argues that we should aim to have loose, floppy muscles during easy runs to enhance recovery, and tight, tense muscles during hard workouts and races to get more “pop” in the legs. He suggests several ways to increase tension (sprinting, ice baths, running on hard surfaces, etc.) and several ways to decrease it (jogging, massage, warm baths, running on soft surfaces, etc.).
Runner’s World’s Amby Burfoot offers his take on the article on his Peak Performance blog: the take-away message, he believes, is that when you’re tapering before before a race, you should be wary of doing all your runs on soft surfaces lest you’re left with sub-par tension, and thus dead legs on race day.
It’s an interesting idea. Certainly, I’ve always marvelled at how incredibly dead my legs tend to feel on race mornings — a reaction I’ve always assumed was mental rather than physical, as my brain becomes hypersensitive to sensations of effort in anticipation of the supreme effort to come. Could muscle tension have something to do with it? I don’t know. I’d like to see some evidence to support the story. Do we know how to objectively measure muscle tension? Has anyone measured how it changes in response to things like running surface? I’d welcome pointers if anyone knows — because it sure would be nice to learn how to avoid that dead-leg feeling!