Posts Tagged ‘jockology’

How to taper for a race, and why it works

June 11th, 2010

This week’s Jockology column looks at research into tapering: how to reduce your training before an important competition so that you’re well-rested but don’t lose any fitness. It tackles how long you should taper for (two weeks seems to work well); how you should adjust training volume (reduce by 40 to 60 percent), intensity (don’t change) and frequency (don’t change); and the difference between step, linear and exponential tapers.

The most interesting finding for me came from a new study by Scott Trappe and his colleagues at Ball State’s Human Performance Laboratory, suggesting that tapering isn’t just about rest — it actually helps your muscles grow:

He and his colleagues took a series of muscle biopsies from university cross-country runners preparing for a championship race. Surprisingly, they found that the individual muscle fibres responsible for explosive power in the legs actually got bigger and contracted more powerfully after the training reduction.

“On a molecular level, the wheels are so greased that the engines proceed at a high rate even after you reduce your training,” explains Dr. Trappe. This creates a window of opportunity during which the delicate balance between muscle synthesis and breakdown shifts to favour muscle growth.

In contrast, the researchers found no change in measures of cardiovascular endurance such as VO2max. This suggests that it’s the muscle adaptation that provides the performance boost of tapering – and just as importantly, that a brief period of less training doesn’t compromise endurance. The result: The runners raced 6 per cent faster over 8 kilometres than they had just three weeks earlier. [read the rest of the column]


Biking biomechanics, pedalling muscles, cadence, etc.

May 31st, 2010

I’m back online after an unplanned hiatus — I’m currently on a reporting trip in South Africa, and had some trouble (now sorted out) updating the blog. As a result, I didn’t get a chance to point out this Jockology column that appeared last week: it’s an infographic with a somewhat random assortment of neat tips and factoids about cycling. I particularly like the illustration of which muscles you use at various points of the pedal stroke.

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to watch the Comrades Marathon, an 89-km race that had somewhere around 23,000 entrants. It was a pretty amazing sight. Here’s a picture of the literally thousands of runners streaming towards the finish line in the last five minutes before the 12-hour cut-off (at which point the race director fires a gun indicating the course closing, and volunteers rush across the finish line and link hands to prevent anyone else from crossing and getting an undeserved finishing medal!):


And here’s another shot showing something that I suspect we’ll be seeing a lot of in the coming month: those colourful horns are called “vuvuzelas,” and they make an incredible racket. Anyone with ticket to a South Africa game during the World Cup had better bring earplugs…



Live Q&A: Thursday, March 25, 3 p.m. EST

March 24th, 2010

Just a heads-up that I’ll be doing a live web-chat Q&A on the Globe and Mail website tomorrow (Thursday, March 25, 3 p.m. EST), taking questions about running, training and preparing for races. Feel free to pop by with any questions you’ve got — the session will last an hour, and will be located at this link.


Jockology: some (but not all) pre-run stretching slows you down

March 18th, 2010

I posted last month about a new study on how static stretching before your run makes you slower and less efficient. To find out more about the study, I got in touch with the lead author, FSU’s Jacob Wilson. The result is this week’s Jockology column:

For years, researchers have been finding that the more flexible you are, the less efficiently you run – a message that tradition-bound runners have been reluctant to hear. Now, research to be published later this year in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research makes it clear that some (but not all) prerun stretching makes you slower. [read the whole article]

The most significant new piece of news in the article is that Wilson and his colleagues have just finished a follow-up study, in which they used the exact same protocol to study dynamic stretching. They’re still completing the analysis, but the results appear to show no significant decrease in performance for pre-run dynamic stretching. This means that you can still get your flexibility fix before a run without compromising performance — you just need to use dynamic stretches instead of static ones. (Some examples, with illustrations, are provided in the Jockology article.)

Drilling deeper into the dynamic stretching data, Wilson said it appeared that the most experienced runners weren’t affected by the pre-run stretches. Less experienced and less fit runners, on the other hand, still saw a bit of performance decline, probably because the unfamiliar stretches fatigued them a bit. So make sure you practice these stretches before trying them in a race situation. (This last stuff is very preliminary, so it may not be statistically significant — we’ll have to wait until the study is published to see.)

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Which winter sports offer the best workout?

February 11th, 2010
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This week’s Jockology column gets into the Olympic spirit, taking a look at four winter sports: snowboarding, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and downhill skiing. The question is, how do they stack up as workouts? Beyond the obvious (XC skiing is a great aerobic workout, downhill works your core balance muscles), there are some unexpected nuggets. For example:

…a study published last year in the European Journal of Applied Physiology made a surprising observation: a short test of upper-body strength lasting as little as 10 seconds provided better predictions of performance in a 10-kilometre classic ski race than a test of peak oxygen uptake, which measures aerobic endurance.

In other words, the arms are more important than you might guess. In fact, they provide “up to half the power going uphill during skate skiing, and up to a third of the power going uphill with classic style.”

Other random facts: snowshoeing in powder doubles your oxygen consumption compared to going at the same pace on packed snow. And snowboarders have good bone density, thanks to the high loads on their limbs — and possibly thanks to the whole-body vibration offered by a fast ride.

To read the whole piece, click here (and then click on the graphic to see the whole piece, which is presented as an infographic).

[Note one correction: the data for snowboarding and cross-country skiing got reversed. Recreational snowboarding typically takes about 5-6 MET, while recreational cross-country takes 7-9 MET.]

Jockology:exercising while you’re sick, and boosting your immune system

November 26th, 2009
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This week’s Jockology column takes a look at how exercise affects your chances of staying healthy during the cold and flu season, and what happens if you exercise when you’re already sick:

The question

Will working out help me beat the flu?

The answer

As cold and flu season kicks into high gear, so too does the search for an immunity edge.

Recent studies offer plenty of evidence that regular exercise really does strengthen immune function – a claim that can’t be made for most of the pills and potions whose sales spike at about this time of year. But like any powerful medicine, exercise also carries the risk of an overdose.

“It’s what experts call the ‘J-curve’ hypothesis,” says Brian Timmons, a researcher at McMaster University’s Children’s Exercise and Nutrition Centre. “Moderate intensity is good, but too much exercise is not so good.”

Exercise also turns out to be a mixed blessing if you do get sick: harmless and possibly even helpful for some symptoms, but not recommended for others.[read more…]

An important point made by a commenter on the Globe site: if you’re contagious, you definitely shouldn’t head to the gym and infect other people!


Jockology: running surfaces and injuries

October 29th, 2009
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This week’s Jockology column tackles the longstanding question of how different running surfaces affect your risk of injury. The science here is a lot less clear than you might expect.

The question

Will running on hard surfaces like asphalt and concrete increase my risk of injury?

The answer

In a study to be published later this year, Brazilian researchers found that your feet feel about 12 per cent more pressure with each foot strike when running on asphalt compared to grass.
Thanks for that newsflash, Captain Obvious, you might say.
But the findings actually contradict several earlier studies, which – despite what our intuition tells us – have found that we seem to automatically adapt our running stride so that hard and soft surfaces administer roughly the same shock to the body.
In fact, it may be the smoothness of paved surfaces that makes them dangerous to runners, rather than their hardness. And softer, less even surfaces carry their own injury risks, so the best answer may lie somewhere in the middle. [read more…]

(And a random shout-out to Dan Peterson at the Sports Are 80 Percent Mental blog — I think he was the one who introduced me to the prodigious research output of Captain Obvious, though I can’t seem to find the post I’m thinking of anymore!)

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Jockology: “active rehab” for pulls and sprains

October 15th, 2009
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The latest Jockology column appears in today’s Globe, dealing with the question of when “RICE” (rest, ice, compression, elevation) should turn into “MICE” (movement, ice, compression, elevation). It’s a tricky one, because there’s such a wide range of possible muscle pulls, sprains and tears that it’s difficult to give general advice. But the overall theme is that if you keep protecting and favouring a weak point for too long, you can end up harming the healing process.

The question

Ouch, I think I sprained something. How long should I stay off it?

The answer

Canadian figure skater Anabelle Langlois returned to action last month, earning a bronze medal with partner Cody Hay at a tournament in Germany one year after fracturing her fibula in a training accident. With Olympic dreams on the line, Ms. Langlois’s doctors had pursued every possible avenue in her rehabilitation, including two operations.

One thing they didn’t recommend, though, was a long period of complete rest for the injured leg. [read on…]

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Jockology: Triple bill on fitness in your 50s!

October 8th, 2009
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The Globe is running a special section on fitness in your 50s, so there are three Jockology columns in today’s paper:

The question

How should I train in my 50s?

The answer

When Ed Whitlock became the first septuagenarian to run a marathon in under three hours in 2003, it was thanks to a simple but gruelling training plan: two- to three-hour runs around a local cemetery, nearly every day.

That regimen presented two key challenges that are familiar to any masters athlete: staying healthy and – just as important but less obvious – staying motivated. In fact, when asked why his race performances in his 50s were less impressive than in the years before and after, Mr. Whitlock points to his motivation…


The question

How much will I slow down in my 50s?

The answer

The physical attributes that determine athletic performance – maximal oxygen uptake, as well as muscular strength and power – typically start to decline slowly at about the age of 35, and much more rapidly at about 60…


The question

Now that I’m in my 50s, what’s the cumulative effect of all the exercise I’ve done?

The answer

Unless you’ve made a dramatic turnaround after a severely misspent youth, it’s inevitable that some of your body parts don’t work as smoothly as they did a few decades ago. It may be tempting to blame that on the punishment you’ve inflicted on your body during years on playing fields, ice rinks and jogging paths – but the truth is more likely the other way around.

Researchers have a good idea of the average rates of decline you can expect for various systems. And for almost every sign of aging you can think of – muscle loss, weight gain, artery hardening, joint stiffening – there have been studies suggesting exercise slows it down…

There are also some neat graphics there, though the formatting is a bit messed up. Hopefully they’ll get cleaned up as the day goes on.


Jockology MIA?

October 2nd, 2009
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Just a quick note for those who’ve inquired about why there was no Jockology column in the Globe last week. There was a special section planned for last Thursday’s Globe (featuring extensive Jockology-related content!) which ended up being postponed. I’m not sure when it will now run — probably next week. If not, there’s another Jockology ready to run next Thursday, about how quickly you should return to activity after pulling a muscle or spraining something.

I’ve just returned from visiting the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra, which is a bit of a Mecca for sports science. Very interesting place, which I’ll be writing more about in future articles…