Monday, February 22, 2010

Know Thy Body

The subtitle for this post "could be" Triathlon Taoism 101. Last week I was getting ready to go to the track with the Wed night RunTex group. I teach a short yoga class after this workout which is in retrospect the only reason I should have been there.

Aside from teaching the yoga class, I like doing this group simply because it forces me to go to the track at least once a week. I think I was on the track maybe 3 times all last year. But there was a reason for that. I wasn't running for most of it so there was no need to be on the track. At any rate that isn't the point of this post. The point is as I was standing in the store before the warm up jog up to the School for the Deaf where the workout is held, I look at my heart rate monitor and it is reading 98bpm! I walk 20 or so feet to the bathroom and come back its 121! It should be like 55~60bpm at this time of day if I'm standing around. Crap!

I'm pretty annoyed by this because there can only be 3 reasons for it. I'm nervous - I've had this happen before races and it usually goes away when the gun goes off. I'm panicked (see nervous, but on a scale of 1 - 10 a 10) and that has only happened once with my standing heart rate coming in at about 140, so not applicable here. Or I'm fighting off an infection of some sort. Its probably the latter because I've been helping a sick friend lately or I've been exposed to something at work (also highly likely) or both. Crap!

Normally something like this would not bother me much. I'd just go home and rest. If I'm going to come down with something (which pretty much NEVER happens anyway) I'd rather it be this time of year when I'm not racing than later when I am. The only reason it is bothering me now is because I want to find out what pace I can run at MAF. I've been waiting for the last 3 weeks to do this test and the weather has been uncooperative serving up large doses of rain and cold. So I was there, the track was there, the weather was cooperating, I had my HR monitor. Resting HR? 98bmp! Crap!

So what did I do? I go to the track and do the test anyway. Why? Because I wasn't going to be running hard and I would get data for when my system was understress. I also went because I want that to be a weekly test and I wanted it to become a habit. And I think on a deeper level, it was sort of the sense that I needed to accept where my fitness was at that moment, so I could start learning to accept it at any given moment. The funny thing was, after warming up, and struggling through the first mile keeping my heart rate under MAF (I had to walk quite a bit the first mile), the second and third mile got progressively faster and I wound up averaging 10:35 pace at a 144 HR for 3 miles. That really surprised me because, to be honest, that is about what I expected without the jacked up resting HR. And granted if I throw out the first mile and only focus on the last 2, my pace drops considerably to get me that overall average at the end. But my heart rate sticks right at 144 even though I was running faster.

I'm more familiar with that type of response on the bike because I've been more consistent in training this way while riding. One of the things I've noticed over time, which is why I've been able to ride at lower heart rates without becoming overly concerned about losing fitness, is for me slower movements seem to lead to the discovery of more efficient movement patterns. And aside from the changes that happen chemically in the body allowing for more efficient fuel usage, discovering these efficient patterns of movement can also be beneficial. I think this is what happened on the track. I certainly didn't speed (this term is relative) up because I was running "harder." So I think I'm going to explore this more as I run more this year.

The rest of the week I rested swimming a bit and doing a couple of yoga classes. I was sleepy all week and took that as a sign that I indeed was fighting off something. I kept my training minimal and slept as much as possible, going to bed as early as 8pm some nights. I think sleeping more and my diet kept whatever it was from developing into something nasty. My friend had a fever for almost 10 days.

Oh yeah, the Taoist theme for this post could be:

"Deal with it before it happens
Set things in order before there is confusion..."

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Monday, Tuesday

So I've got the new website up and functioning. You can check it out here. Right now its basically a reorganization of this blog. But that will change as I start to shift my emphasis in what I write. But for now its just a matter of organizing things. I feel like I'm moving in to a new house. But the good thing is now that the site is up, I can get back to the matter at hand and that is simply training. I've gone back to doing my strength work. I'm pretty consistant about working out my lower body but I tend to stop working the upper body except for my core as racing season approaches. This is largely because I find I'm not as flexible which negatively impacts my swimming. But I'm not racing now so that excuse is baseless.

I like to do my upper body strength training on Monday because its the beginning of the week and I like to get it out of the way first thing. Probably because I don't like it. And because it hurts. And if there is anything I will find an excuse not to do it is this workout. The session isn't very complex, it just hurts is all. So here's what I did:

  1. 2 x 30 sec max rep push ups
  2. 2 x 30 sec max rep pull ups
  3. 2 x 30 sec max rep mil push ups
  4. 2 x 30 sec max rep rev grip chin ups
  5. 2 x 30 sec max rep decline push ups
  6. 2 x 30 sec max rep close grip pull ups
  7. 2 x 30 sec max rep diamond push ups
  8. 2 x 30 sec max rep towel pull ups
  9. 2 x max rep divebomber
  10. 2 x 30 sec max rep isometric chest press
Then I went to an hour and a half all levels yoga class. The class just so happened to be pretty core intensive and included a lot of standing poses which really emphasize leg strength and balance. Later that day did an indoor MAF ride for half an hour which included two sets of single leg drills.

Today, I ran for an hour with an average heart rate of 140. I've been training at completely MAF (maximum aerobic function) for the last couple of weeks. A lot of folks discount this type of training or don't stick with it for very long, but I've seen the results and am willing to do it. Then I came home and got on the trainer for 40 min also at MAF with an average heart rate of 127. That was today's work. Gonna swim and run tomorrow.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Yoga For Triathletes - Malasana

One of the popular workouts these days for athletes of all disciplines is the "Core" workout. This type of work goes far beyond the 6 pack ab craze that came before it. There is a great benefit to be had in all endurance activities by strengthening the core. But once we've done the work and strengthened our core, our next question should become, "How can we access that strength and put it to work for us?"

To be honest, that question, the one about gaining "access" is a far deeper rabbit hole than a single post about a single pose can cover. That's because it is one thing to "tighten your core " or "keep it tight" (something that is commonly said when referring to the gross muscles comprising the mid section during activity), but accessing strength through the core to produce a desired muscular response while running, cycling, or swimming is something else. Understanding this, my goal is to simply get you started thinking about this concept of "gaining access" to the core and integrating it into the other movements that comprise your sport of choice.

To start us on our way to gaining access to the core, we need more access to our feet. And our feet need to gain a sense of being firmly engaged into the ground. Said another way we want to have a sensation of what it is like to have our feet "planted" (as in deeply rooted) into the ground. And for that we are going to explore a pose called Malasana or Garland Pose.

Essentially Garland pose is a deep squat. If you've travelled, especially in countries like India and throughout Asia, you will notice people sitting low to the ground, squatting deeply. This has several benefits, one of which is an opening of the hips. Another benefit of the pose is the opening of the ankles which can allow for a better connection to the ground by engaging through the feet for balance.

  • Malasana Variation where the feet are separated and point out 45 degrees

To come into the variation of Malasana that is most accessible, we start with our feet a bit wider than hip distance apart (the toes should be pointing forward but can be rotated out to about 45 degrees to facilitate lowering into the pose if needed). Then with the arms extended out straight in front of you for balance, lower your body bending at the knees. The torso should remain upright as the hips drop below the knees. If you hadn't started with the toes rotated out at 45 degrees initially it may become necessary to rotate them out as your hips move closer to the floor. You may need to widen your stance as well once you get your hips closer to being level with your ankles. You want to hold this position for about 8 even breaths if you can. If you can't don't sweat it, hold it as long as is comfortable. You should be able to stay in the pose for longer and longer periods of time if you work the pose consistently.

Now for some housekeeping. These are some things you want to keep in mind. Throughout this movement the spine should be kept long even though the torso can have a tendency to tilt forward. You can get and keep more length in the spine once in the squat by bringing your hands together in prayer position and using the connection of the elbows to the shins for a bit of leverage to articulate the pelvis by bringing the navel in to the spine. It is possible that as you lower down even after rotating your toes out to 45 degrees and widening your stance, you cannot come into the full squat without your heels leaving the ground. If this is happening you can still work in the pose by placing a rolled up blanket or towel under the heels and then lowering down onto that. While this will change the sensation of grounding somewhat, it does not diminish the effectiveness of the pose.

  • A rolled up towel or blanket can be used as a wedge if the heels don't reach the ground.

If you still find it difficult to maintain your balance in Malasana, another option is to practice it inside a doorway. I use this when I want to experience the squat with my feet and shins together holding on to the door frame as I lower my hips to my heels. This allows me to get a sense of the opening in my ankles and hips necessary to access this movement now while I wait for my body to allow me to do it without assistance. To come out of the pose simply ground into the feet and straighten the legs or bring your palms to the floor and come to all fours. Lastly use good judgement when doing this pose. Save the pose for strength days at the gym or lower intensity training days. Because of the deep squat, if you have knee or ankle issues Malasana is not recommended.