Wednesday, April 28, 2010

First Failure, Then Progress

I didn't write a blog post last week. At first it was because I was busy. But that was only the first two days of the week. The plan was to write a post on Wednesday because I had two workouts scheduled and figured out of the two of them I'd have something interesting to write about. And I did. I just didn't write anything because by Wednesday evening, I was pissed off.

Last week's bike ride went fine. In fact I'd say I was really happy about it because I could feel a bit of speed creeping into my legs even though I'm still riding very easily. The ride was around 2 hours and when I was done I didn't feel as though I'd ridden at all. That was in the morning, which even though I got a bit of a late start was still relatively cool temperature wise. In retrospect my late start on the bike would be the beginning of my undoing training wise for the day.

It just so happened, that I was out of some of my key food items that day and really needed to go to the store. Because of this I didn't eat properly before my ride and after my ride (which started and ended late) I had to go shop for things to eat. The only stores that carry some of the things I use, were across town.

By the time I shopped, ate and took a very short nap, it was time for my track MAF workout in the afternoon. When I got to the track this is where things just went completely south. My heart rate, while still aerobic, was nowhere near my MAF zone even walking. I was so frustrated, I wound up bagging the MAF test and running a single 600m interval in 1:53 with a max HR of 186, then thinking better of it ran stairs, stopping and walking when my HR crested 153. Needless to say it was frustrating because every week prior to this I had seen improvement in my speed at MAF and now I was basically reduced to walking.

I think this is why so many athletes avoid this type of training or don't stick with it very long if they do try it. It is humiliating to run so slow, then find out it isn't slow "enough."

So I left the track pretty upset even though the 600 meter split was nothing to sneeze about, I was comfortable throughout the 400m and accelerated through the line during the entire last 200m. I could have gone much faster. But that has never been my problem. So I wasn't thinking about that. I was thinking about the MAF test I flunked. And I was pissed off so, no blog posts until I calmed down.

It was Sunday when I decided I needed to do some things differently. For starters get all my food ready so I didn't need to shop. Then get to bed so I could get up early enough for my morning ride and get back in time to eat and nap. Then go to the track. This week was a complete reversal from the week before. I dropped 10 seconds per mile from my last MAF and 1bpm in average heart rate.

Needless to say I'm happy again, and blogging can continue.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Yoga, Stretching, and Athletes

So when you think of yoga, you might normally think of people with stick figure bodies who are able to take themselves into shapes that would injure a pretzel. Or quite possibly you think it would be great to be more flexible, that the additional flexibility may help prevent injury and improve both training and recovery. And you could have come to the conclusion that incorporating yoga into your training routine would be way to accomplish that. Quite honestly though, aside from the extreme, bendy postures, you may not see much difference between yoga and some of the more common stretches you've seen or read about. As a triathlete I know I didn't until I'd done yoga for a few weeks. That's when I got a taste of just how deep the rabbit hole that is yoga really goes. Let me explain.

The most notable difference between yoga and simple static stretches is the sequencing. Most good yoga classes follow a well thought out progression moving the body deeper and deeper into similar but more challenging positions. In fact many of the common poses you may be familiar with such as Downward Dog, Crow Pose, or even a simple Forward Fold are actually "preparations" for deeper yoga poses. The same is also true of many static stretches many of us have come to know and use regularly. Most common stretches are variations or simplified Yoga poses. Often what is going on in these variations or modifications is the pose is made more accessible by taking several dimensional components out of it so that they become available for someone new to using their bodies in an unfamiliar way. Static stretches (and most weight machines) often remove the coordinated muscle recruitment that relates to stability. The removal of this component, while making the stretch simple, has the undesirable side affect of doing less to actually strengthen the body.

One pose which illustrates this clearly is Uttanasana or Standing Forward Fold. When commonly presented, even in yoga classes, this posture is usually referred to as a mere hamstring stretch. And to see it performed it is easy to get that impression. If you were to merely fold forward without any direction, you would notice the pull at the back of your legs as you attempt to bring your chest in toward your thighs. But there is much more going on in this forward fold than meets the eye or a casual experience. For the fold to happen properly the hips are engaged as a hinge allowing the torso to move forward as the hips shift back. The spine extends out from the tailbone through the top of the head. As the torso is brought closer to the thighs, the thighs will have an inward rotation creating space for the chest. To deepen and hold the fold, the core must be engaged. This entire process allows the hamstrings to "release". Not stretch, "release".

This act of consciously "releasing" muscles is a distinction that gets lost in discussions of yoga versus static stretching routines. In this instance the difference between a forward fold stretch and Uttanasana is Uttanasana is in reality a handstand preparation where more and more weight is removed from the legs and feet and placed into the palms until the hips are directly over the shoulders and the legs are lifted from the floor. You can watch this same process outside a yoga studio in Olympic platform divers as they move into handstands prior to an inverted dive. The purpose isn't to stretch the hamstrings but to gain the ability to release them at will.

Downward Dog works in much the same way, encouraging access through the core, releasing the hamstrings, and preparing the body for the forward folds, handstands, and "floats" to seated positions and arm balances. These are all complex, coordinated movements, much like swimming so the connection is obvious, but mastering these movements can also greatly impact running and cycling by improving strength, range of motion, and economy.

A regular yoga practice can restore the coordinated function to many of the common stretches you already know about and to the other complex muscular activities you engage in. And it will aid tremendously in your recovery between workouts. One of the primary reasons for triathletes to get massages and take ice baths is to increase blood flow and fight inflammation after tough workouts. Think of yoga as an internal massage and an inflammation fighter too. By gaining coordinated muscular access, you recruit muscles more efficiently to perform all tasks from walking up a flight of stairs to riding 112 miles on a bike.

Monday, April 12, 2010


Busy day today. Just training but some good stuff. I'm getting stronger and I know my patience is paying off. I'm really listening to my body and just going for technique, strength and endurance. And enjoying the process along the way. I keep getting these little signs my fitness is improving and that's cool.

Today was a simple 1 hour bike ride. Nothing special just spinning easy with a friend while chatting. But she tends to like to get as much bang for her buck as possible and rides primarily in her big ring. I was able to keep up without much effort even spinning in a small gear all the while keeping my heart rate lower than 130.

Then it was back to the house for some food and out for a 1 hour walk with a friend. I decided after Arizona last year I was going to "train" walking so I walked for an hour, then ran for 10 minutes. After that it was back home for some more food and take care of the cats.

After that, I went for a 30 minute easy run as a warm up prior to my strength work. The run was easy in both intent and actuality. My heart rate stayed low throughout and I actually was able to see my form has improved due to my focus on the feet this year.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Yoga For Triathletes Getting (and Staying) Aero on the Bike Part 2

Aside from talking to folks in my yoga classes about getting and staying aero on the bike, I've been spending a lot of time watching triathlon bike footage on the internet. This has really helped me in my thinking about what it takes to have and comfortably maintain good aero positioning on the bike.

Some components of the position are:

  1. a strong and stable core.

  2. open hips.

  3. Length in the hamstrings.

  4. Open shoulders.

  5. Space in the front body/hip flexors.

This next pose we will explore in this series is a bang for your buck pose if ever there was one. The traditional pose is an forearm balance called Pincha Mayurasana. But we don't need to come into the full expression of that pose for our purposes. As is the case with most yoga poses, sometimes the preparatory pose is more beneficial (read challenging) in developing the attributes of strength, muscular integration and access we are looking for than the actual full expression of the pose itself.

Pincha Mayurasana is no exception. If you've been following along through the last couple of posts in this series we can move easily from Bakasana or Crow Pose into Pincha Mayurasana prep. Of course you can do all of this work as stand alone poses or you can put them together during a strength workout or a stretching routine to augment other work.

From Crow Pose, you would bring the feet back to the floor and come back into the original squat we started out in. From here you would come to your hands and knees with the palms under the shoulders. Then lower the elbows to the ground keeping the forearms parallel to one another. You want to make sure you keep the forearms from rotating inward to one another. They should rest flat on the floor extending out in a straight line from the elbows. Keeping this alignment will be important as we come into Pincha Mayurasana prep as the alignment is what promotes the shoulder opening we are working toward. If you have tight shoulders perfectly parallel forearms might not be possible but you want to keep the arms as close to this ideal as comfortably possible.

Once you have your forearms situated, you will keep your gaze up between your hands as you raise your hips toward the ceiling straightening your legs. At this point you will walk the feet in a few inches. The head will naturally drop but keep the eyes forward looking in between the hands. You want to use your forearms and engage them from the hands all the way back into the elbows. This will create the lift as you engage the core to facilitate the posture.

Try to hold this pose anywhere from 5 to 8 breaths. Come out of it by bending the knees and lowering back to the ground. You will want to repeat this posture 3 to 5 times. As you get better and your shoulders, hips and hamstrings open up and your core gets stronger, you can add more challenge/intensity by raising a leg in the air.

Ultimately, as you gain strength and your body opens, you will be able to use the raised leg to bring the hips over the shoulders. At this point the full expression of the pose can be explored. But if all you want to do is be more comfortable on the bike, what I've shown you here will be more than adequate for your training.

Ultimately, as you gain strength and your body opens, you will be able to use the raised leg to bring the hips over the shoulders. At this point the full expression of the pose can be explored. But if all you want to do is be more comfortable on the bike, what I've shown you here will be more than adequate for your training. If you are finding keeping your arms parallel is an issue, then you could try using a yoga block. Most men may need two due to the width of their shoulders. If a yoga block isn't available I've used books if I could find one the correct width. The thing to keep in mind is just try to keep the arms a little straighter than they would be if you let them do what they wanted. In time you should see improvement both in the practice and in your position on the bike.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Sunday And Monday

Sunday I was up before 5am so I went for a swim. This must have been exactly what I needed because now I'm officially adding it back into my training. Not that it was ever really "out" of my training, but If I was going to bail on a workout, swimming would be first, cycling would be second, and running would be a distant third. I think the cold has something to do with it. And because warmer temperatures seem to be here to stay in Austin, Texas, I think I'm in the water to stay.

The swim went well and I've gone back to my efforts at being efficient in the water. (As if I'd ever left them). But I am starting to think more along the lines of is a workout just a workout? Or sort of like are all calories created equal? I'm really feeling not. If I told people what my longest swim from last year was, they'd probably either laugh at me or just not believe me. Especially if they found out that was the kind of volume I went into a 2.4 mile swim with. But that's the point. I'm wondering if all the volume with out real purpose isn't defeating all efforts at getting better?

I mean, I get it. Volume is really easy. It looks cool in the log book. And it gets a lot attention at parties. But I'm starting to wonder if there are some caveats? Like I would never say not to do any distance in training for events like the Ironman. But I am starting to consider trying to find out what ENOUGH is and doing no more than that.

The reason I say this is because there was a point last year in my training where I could almost feel my body say, "You can do this all day". And I think I could have listened to that more closely. If I had I might have actually trained less but more specifically from that point on. I would have put my money in the sharpening basket versus obsessing over more and more volume.

But live and learn. Which is why I'm swimming now instead of obsessing about it in January and February when I really didn't feel like doing it. And why I'm starting to get out on the bike more consistently. Soon I'll be up to running every day and that will be nice.

So Today I biked and swam. Both were short sessions. The bike was just 45 min of maintaining consistent pressure on the pedals so that the shift from one leg to the other was uninterrupted. The swim was 30 min working on my left arm pull which isn't as efficient as my right. I will say a 30 min swim is a big deal for me. Especially at this point in the year. Last year about this time I was all about 15 and 20 min swims and "worked" my way up to 30 min much later in the season. Who knows at this rate I may actually stay in the water for an hour this year. But only if the work is of good quality.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Thursday And Friday

Thursday was a day off. I don't normally take days "off" when I'm training as much as let my body decide when and how long to rest. This was a day off. I wrote it down before hand, wasn't particularly tired, and just took it.

Friday on the other hand is my normal strength day focusing on the legs. But because last week I maxed out all of my sets, I took today easy and dropped the weight back down to prior levels. The weight I did today was still heavier than what I was doing last season, so I'm seeing progress. While I am using weight now, I will switch to more body weight leg work in the future as I start to focus on my triathlon training. The reason for this is I am using the weight now to monitor progress as I work on balancing out the difference in strength between my right and left legs.

In my case what I've come to learn is that this disparity was actually caused by instability in my left knee. So just as flexibility can be influenced by mobility in the joints so can strength and muscular balance. To that end I've been doing a slew of new movements to improve things.

What I didn't expect was the comment from my Rolfer when she saw me this week, "Your feet look a million times better!"

Coming from a Rolfer that is a "functional movement" junky who is obsessed with feet, this was high praise. All I know is it is easier to run faster and I'm just happy about that.

After my leg work, it was time to swim and start focusing on dialing in my technique for the upcoming season. I felt really good in the water and have been toying with the idea of having a single drill be the sole focus of my workout for the day. Today's swim was about 30min but focusing only on extending my arm out in front of me as I floated was more challenging as it sounds. After a few lengths of this, I was pooped but I managed a good solid half hour in the water. When I moved back into freestyle after the drills, I felt strong and balanced. I think the next drill I work on is the catch underwater.