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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Running Tips and Questions Answered

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Last week I sent out some information for anyone interested in starting a running program the correct way. I received several questions as a result of that email and I thought that this week I would share those questions as well as the answers.

Should I breathe in through my nose and out through my mouth?

This is not a "rule" and not advised unless you are running very easy. If you feel like you are not getting enough air then definitely breathe through your mouth...you'll get a lot more air that way. I assume that this "myth" started as a way to get people to control their breathing and not begin to hyperventilate. If you feel that your breathing is abnormally quick and labored when running, keep reading...there is a much better solution than breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth.

What about a cooldown?

Someone brought it to my attention that I didn't include any cooldown time in the running plan. The plan is designed to be a moderate intensity plan and the walk breaks tend to put a cap on the intensity level, but a cooldown is definitely important if you are running at a high intensity. Obviously that level is going to differ from person to person. The plan shouldn't be high intensity, but for some people who are at a very poor level of fitness, it could be high intensity. If the program seems really tough and really gets you breathing hard, simply include a 5 minute walk at the end of each running day to allow your heart rate to come back down to a normal level.

Should I take long strides or short strides?

Shorter, quick strides are more efficient and will tire you out less. When you take long strides, you need to push yourself higher off of the ground each time to take a step to give yourself time to get your other leg around. This wastes a lot of energy. Short, quick strides are better because you tend to push your body forward, as opposed to up off of the ground, thus moving forward faster for less energy expenditure.

My breathing seems to be all messed up. Am I breathing "correctly"?

I've had about 5 people talk to me about breathing, asking if there is a "proper" way to breathe while running. If you think that you are breathing properly, then you probably are. If it isn't broke, don't try to fix it. Obviously, your breathing is going to be quicker when running than when at rest, but if you think that your breathing is very labored compared to how quickly (or slowly) you're running then you are probably taking very shallow, quick breaths. There is a better way...try timing your breaths to your foot strikes. This is very hard to explain in text, but really easy to demonstrate, so I'm going to do the best that I can. If you really can't seem to get it, talk to me about it the next time that you see me. Here is what you should do:

  • Foot Strike ----L----R----L----R----L----R----L----R----L----R----L--R--
  • Breath ----Out--Out--In---In---Out--Out--In---In---Out--Out--In-In-
  • Cycle Count ----1----2----3----4----1----2----3----4----1----2----3--4--

The foot strike line represents your feet hitting the ground, L for left, R for right. The cycle count is an attempt to graphically display what's going on for each step during a complete inhalation and exhalation cycle. Even though you might think it's stupid, actually counting when you first try this is VERY helpful. The breath line shows whether you should be inhaling or exhaling on each step. On cycle count 1 and 2, you should NOT exhale fully twice...it is a single exhalation completed over 2 steps...same for the inhalation on count 3 and 4. Don't start your exhalation when your right foot hits the ground...you're more likely to get a side stitch if you do. This works for all running speeds except when you are running very slowly or very fast. If you are running very slowly, it's too much breathing and just feels weird. If you are running very fast, it's not enough air and you need to breathe more. But for almost all running, short of racing, it works like a charm. For some people this is intuitive and they don't need to practice it, for others it takes a little practice to do it correctly. It may seem cumbersome at first, but running will be easier once you get the hang of it, then it becomes second nature and you don't have to think about it. It won't make you run faster or farther than your current capabilities, but it will make your runs feel much less labored and I'm guessing you'll need all the help you can get.

For additional tips and techniques for beginning runners, check out eRunningGuide.com. It's a great site for information on completing your first race, or for more advanced runners hoping to train for faster times.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Starting a running program

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The weather is starting to improve and now is the time to get outside and get active. The nicest aspect of living in New Mexico is the great weather with plenty of sunshine and low humidity. Take advantage of it. I admit that I'm partial to running and whenever I take some time off of running, I always start up again the same way...with a walk/run program. It is just easier on you to ease into it instead of killing yourself by trying to run miles and miles from the start. I've attached a program designed to get a non-runner from the couch to a 5k race (3.1 miles). The plan requires 3 days of running per week for 20-30 minutes per day. No excuses...you can do that over lunch, but the best time from a scheduling standpoint is usually in the morning, before work. It's also a lot cooler then.

Before you begin

Check with your doctor. If you have concerns about whether or not you are healthy enough to do the plan, check with your doctor first. Your doctor will be thrilled that you've decided to start exercising and will advise you appropriately.

It's gotta be the shoes!

Once you decide that you are ready to take on the challenge, get a good pair of running shoes...and I don't mean the $29.99 specials at Big 5. Go to a running store and get a pair of shoes that is made for your gait pattern. 99% or running pains and injuries can be headed off at the pass by running in the correct type of shoe for you. I'm serious...do not skimp on the shoes. The average cost of a good pair of running shoes is $80 and you should replace them after 4-6 months, or 300-500 miles of running in them. The cost of the shoes are cheap compared to the cost of injuries in terms of time and money. I'll say it again...DO NOT SKIMP ON THE SHOES! In Albuquerque, I would recommend Heart and Sole shoes on San Mateo. (2817 San Mateo Blvd NE, 505-884-SOLE). If you want other reasonable option, try Fleet Feet or The Athletes Edge. For everyone in other parts of the state, try looking in the yellow pages.

Pick a local 5K race

5k races are held at least a few times a year in most places and more often in the bigger cities. Go to http://www.active.com, put in your zip code and find out if there are any races being held in the next few months. Sign up for a race and use it for motivation to stick to the plan. You don't have to be fast, either. Many people are there just to participate and some people will probably walk the entire race so speed is not a big deal. If you fancy a charity event, there are charities that sponsor races and your entry fee will go to support that cause, i.e. Juvenile Diabetes Walk (You're welcome, Amy), Race for the Cure, Run for the Zoo. I'll also mention the Torch Run this Friday. It's a good run to in which to participate no matter what your level of fitness because you can run as long as you can, then just ride back into town.

The program

Print out the attached schedule and start doing the plan. The program is designed to last 9 weeks, but if a week is particularly difficult, or you can't complete the running part that week...then simply repeat it the next week. It might take you longer than 9 weeks to do it, but who cares. Also, don't even think about running fast. I don't think anyone should be doing any type of fast running until you are running at least 20 miles per week. Any less mileage per week than that and the risk of injury is too high to justify the small benefit of speed.


Like I said, running is my thing so if you have any questions, I'd be happy to answer them. I've had almost every running injury that a person can have (until I started taking my own advice about the shoes), so if you've got some weird running-related aches and pains, I've probably got a suggestion on how to get rid of it.

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Monday, May 7, 2007

Fitness/Health/Nutrition Myths, Part Deux

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Of the tips sent out so far, the fitness myth tip got the most positive response, so I've decided to do another one. Besides these are very easy to put together due to an enormous amount of misinformation out there in the areas of health and fitness.

Weight gain with age is inevitable

As we age, certain physiological changes do take place, but weight gain doesn't need to be one of them. Weight gain with age is common, but it's a result of a decrease in activity, not an increase in age. This decrease in activity leads to a decrease in muscle mass and a resulting decrease in metabolism. What can you do to avoid this? The best thing to do is to strength train. By doing resistance exercise, you can maintain or build muscle mass and keep your metabolism from slowly decreasing. If you do 30 minutes of cardio at least 4 days per week, you can offset the metabolic decrease by burning more "activity" calories. If exercise just isn't your bag, then to keep the scale from creeping upwards, you must eat less food. I hope you are beginning to see a pattern in each of these tips as far as what behaviors will aid you in maintaining your weight.

Eating at night will make you fat

Occasionally a "diet" will come out that touts some variation of meal timing as a main component. Not eating after some arbitrary time at night is a very popular anecdotal weight loss strategy. Pure bunk. If you consume more calories than you burn, you'll get fat...it doesn't matter when you consume those calories. I've said this a few times...but there is one exception that I haven't mentioned. Post-workout calories. Carbohydrates consumed within about 2-4 hours of performing moderate to intense repetitious exercise (i.e. cardio or very intense strength training) are more likely to be stored as glycogen in muscles and the liver, than as fat. If you are a competitive athlete at any level, you should use this "window of opportunity" to reload your glycogen stores so that you can be optimally recovered for your next workout. If you've got to be seen with the latest, greatest, coolest recovery drink, Endurox works great. If you value price over coolness, chocolate milk has been shown to have the right protein-to-carbohydrate ratio to be optimally effective and doesn't taste like crap.

No pain, no gain

Pain is never a good thing. This myth does acknowledge that improving is not easy, but pain is never a requirement of success. If you are just beginning an exercise program of any type, then discomfort is a part of the process. If you push your body a little bit beyond its current abilities, you will create small muscle tears that we perceive as soreness. The aching typically peaks 48 hours after the activity that caused the micro tears. After this time period your body begins the process of healing, but it doesn't heal back to its original state...it overcompensates by becoming stronger to better prepare in the event that you need to perform the task again. This "overcompensation" is the key to improvement. On the other hand, if you push yourself too hard you can become injured by causing acute and/or long-lasting injuries to muscles, tendons, or even bones. How do you know the difference? Most injuries cause sharp, acute pain. If the pain causes you to yelp, then you need to cut back or stop the activity until you can resume the activity with no pain, or if the injury is severe you may need to see your doctor. If you have a localized, dull, aching more than likely its delayed onset muscle soreness and a normal part of progressing.

Exercise burns lots of calories

Unfortunately, it doesn't. It is much easier to consume lots of calories than burn them. I always talk about calories this and that, but what exactly is a calorie. It is simply a unit of measurement of energy. Here are a few foods whose calorie content is restated in terms of the amount of exercise required to burn them off:

  • Subway 6" Turkey Breast Sandwich (280) calories = 2.35 miles of running
  • White Chocolate Frappuccino (610 calories) = 5.12 miles of running
  • P.F. Changs Mongolian Beef (no rice) (1180 calories) = 9.92 miles of running
  • McDonalds Big Mac Value Meal w/soft drink (1420 calories) = 11.93 miles of running
  • P.F. Changs Great Wall of Chocolate (2240 calories OH ... MY ... GOD) = 18.82 miles of running

By the way, the above calculations assume a 150 pound person. Lighter people would require more running, heavier people would require less running, but only about +/- 10%.

Bonus Factoid

OK, just a little trivia for you. Assuming that we could consume gasoline for fuel, how many miles could a 150 pound person run on a gallon of gasoline? Well, a gallon of gasoline contains about 31,000 calories of energy, approximately the same as is contained in about 8.85 pounds of fat. Someone who weighs 150 pounds requires 119 calories per mile. A 150 pound person could run 260.5 miles on a gallon of gasoline. What does that prove? Well, gasoline is an extremely cheap source of energy even at $4.00/gallon. It also demonstrates that humans are VERY efficient at storing and utilizing energy. We are engineered to aggressively store energy to survive when food sources run low, but for better or worse, in our society, the lean times never come.

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Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Five not-so-painless changes

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OK, so you got the touchy-feely list last week. Nothing harsh or extreme, precious little snowflakes, only jedi mind trick strategies to fool you into doing something healthy without noticing it. This week...it's time for a little tough love. These are the changes you really should be working toward and none of them are easy. They require commitment, planning, and, God forbid, maybe, some lifestyle changes. The good news is that these are some of the most effective weight management strategies available.

No liquid calories!

"Nooooooo! Scott, you'll have to pry my quadruple, mocha, chocolate, double shot vanilla, triple axel, extra hot, shaken, not stirred, extra caramel, whip, macchiato from my cold, dead hands." Easy there. Studies have shown that calories consumed in a liquid form do not cause us to offset those calories when later eating solid food. In other words, liquid calories don't do anything to satisfy hunger, but they still count from an energy balance standpoint.

Biggest Offenders:

  • Soft drinks - Liquid candy. They contain tons of empty calories with no nutritional value. Are diet drinks OK? Depends on whom you're asking. From a calorie standpoint they are OK. There are some recent studies that suggest that diet drinks “trick” the brain into wanting sweeter foods so you end up consuming more sugar in other foods as a result of drinking diet soft drinks. You make the call. I do drink them occasionally…maybe once a week.
  • Fancy, shmancy coffee drinks - nothing wrong with coffee, it's all the stuff you put in it.
    • Venti Caramel Frappaccino - 560 calories
    • McDonalds Big Mac - 540 calories
    • Given the choice between the two, the Big Mac is the clear winner. It's not exactly healthy, but as least you'll satisfy hunger for a while and won't eat as much later.
  • Fruit juice - Glorified sugar water. Even the no sugar added juices, ounce for ounce, contain the same calories as a soft drink and with only slightly more nutritional value. Eat a piece of fruit and drink a glass of water.
  • Alcoholic drinks - Lots of calories, low nutritional value. Syrupy mixed drinks (i.e margaritas, daiquiris, etc.) are the most calorie dense, beer is the least, and wine is somewhere in the middle. But don't fool yourself into thinking Michelob Ultra is a health drink. Take alcoholic drinks for what they are...something to be consumed in moderation.
Good choices:

  • Water - yes, plain water. It is what your body needs with nothing that it doesn't, unless you live downstream from Three Mile Island.
  • No calorie drink flavors (i.e. Crystal light) - If plain water is just not your thing, crystal light is a good option. The caveat about diet drinks apply to these as well.
  • Tea - Unsweetened tea is a good option. Green tea is even better...just make sure it's real, green tea. That Lipton stuff in a bottle is a soft drink folks, not brewed green tea.

Keep a nutrition log

I know you hate to even think of writing down what you eat. It's a huge pain...but it works. Anything less is just a guess at reducing calories. Keep a nutrition log, count your calories, and I guarantee that you will meet your weight loss goals. If you've "tried everything" but you're not logging your food, you haven't tried the one thing that works. You don't even need to be super accurate. Go to the bookstore, get a small, calorie counting book, write down what you eat as best you can, hit your calorie goal 6 out of 7 days per week (don't totally blow it on the 7th day) and watch the weight disappear. And don’t cheat yourself by not writing down those couple of candies that you took from the candy dish. In reality, we don't eat a huge variety of foods, so after about 3 weeks of looking up foods, you will hit a point where you only occasionally need to look up a new food and it becomes much easier to maintain the log.

Get rid of the junk food. Throw it out.

Can you eat junk food in moderation and still manage your weight? Yes, you can. Now, realistically, how many people have the willpower to eat it in moderation? Not many. So remove the temptation and get it out of the house. If you feel like you want dessert, then go out and get a single serving. Make it inconvenient. Don't buy it any more. That way you won't be "forced" to polish off the rest of that half gallon of ice cream so that it doesn't "go bad".

Cook your own meals

Time to get reacquainted with the kitchen, you know, that room in your house where the refrigerator, stove, and sink live. That's right you need to cook your own meals. Notice I didn't say heat up, or microwave your meals. The only way to know what you're eating is to prepare your own meals. Meals cooked at home, even calorie-laden ones, are much lower in fat, calories and sodium than comparable restaurant prepared meals.

Don't sweat the small stuff, sweat the big stuff

If you aren't exercising, watching your calorie intake, and strength training, then does it really matter what brand of whole wheat tortillas you buy? Endless debate about diet minutia might be fun and make us feel like we are working toward a goal, but in reality it's a form of procrastination. We procrastinate so that we don't have to make the hard choices, and do the difficult actions that will help us achieve our goals. It's certainly easier to pick the low hanging fruit, but you'll get a much better harvest by skinning up your knees and getting up in the tree to reach not-so-low hanging fruit, too.

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