Brian’s Blog

Tomatoes: Terrible or Terrific Food Choice for Performance and Health?

nightshades

Hello Runners,

I recently saw part of an ad in which Dr. Steven Gundry holds up a tomato and proclaims that tomatoes are one of the worst foods that you could possibly eat. I don’t know if my grandparents and parents would agree seeing that they raised hundreds of tomatoes every year and canned or made salsa with them. In fact, I grew up eating lots of tomatoes in the winter in sauces, chilis, etc. Were my parents and grandparents wrong? Were they actually harming all of us and not even knowing it? And why is this important for you, as far as health and running performance?

What could be the issue? After all, tomatoes are an excellent source of biotin, potassium, iron, and zinc. For running performance these nutrients are important for skeletal muscle and nerve function, energy production from carbohydrates and fats, muscle repair and growth, and prevention of muscle cramping. Tomatoes are also one of the best sources of lycopene, an antioxidant that reduces inflammation, as well as conditions related to oxidative stress. Meta-analyses have suggested that tomatoes may be protective against cancer, especially that of the prostate. This likely has something to do with their lycopene content, which has been shown to slow the progression of cancer and tumor cells. Tomatoes also appear to benefit heart health, by lowering both your LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and blood pressure among other cardioprotective effects (Xu et al 2016, Rowles et al 2018).

However, tomatoes also contain another substance that begins with “L” that can be harmful, which is lectins. This is why Dr. Gundry was proclaiming that we should not eat tomatoes. Is he right?

Lectins are a class of antinutrients. In my last post, I briefly discussed antinutrients and went more in depth on one class of antinutrients, oxalates. In this post, I will discuss lectins, including: the foods in which lectins are highly concentrated, the impact of lectins on health and running performance, how we can reduce lectin content in foods, and whether or not we should be eating foods like tomatoes.

What Are Lectins?

Lectins are proteins present in many plants and concentrated in legumes, whole grains, and certain fruits and vegetables. The lectins in food bind to carbohydrates, forming glycoproteins. These glycoproteins perform many functions within the body, from regulating the immune system to keeping protein levels in the blood under control. Since lectins are antinutrients, they can’t be digested in the body and pass through the digestive system intact. Lectins help a plant defend itself against microorganisms, pests, and insects, and help the plant be able to propagate itself, even if eaten.

Lectins have multiple health benefits, as mentioned, however, they can also have adverse health effects. So, it is helpful to be aware of foods high in lectins.

What Foods Are High in Lectins?

The ten foods with the highest concentration of lectins are:

  • Potatoes (excluding sweet potatoes)
  • Eggplant
  • Soybeans
  • Lentils
  • Peppers
  • Wheat germ
  • Red kidney beans
  • Peas
  • Tomatoes
  • Peanuts

What Are The Adverse Effects Associated with Consumption of Lectins?

Lectins can have several adverse effects on the body. The severity of these effects will vary depending on the level of consumption of lectins and an individual’s sensitivity to lectins. The most significant impact lectins can have are that they can damage the intestinal lining of the gut, which can lead to symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (abdominal pain/distention, diarrhea/constipation, flatulence, nausea, weight loss) and increase the permeability of the intestine, which can allow undigested food particles into the blood to circulate the body. This is referred to as “leaky gut” and can lead to significant health issues, especially autoimmunity. This is significant because autoimmunity involves the body’s immune system mounting a response against not only foreign invaders, such as undigested food particles, but the body’s own tissue. Lectins themselves are undigested and can enter the bloodstream triggering an immune response. For lectins this immune response has been shown to affect the joints potentially leading to rheumatoid arthritis (RA). In addition, lectins can facilitate the preferential growth of specific bacteria which can make an individual more susceptible to RA (Wang et al. 1998, Cordain et al. 2000).

Lectins can also facilitate bacterial overgrowth and contribute to leptin resistance, a condition that causes the brain of an overweight person not to receive the signal that the stomach is full (Jönsson et al. 2005). Lectins can disrupt small-intestine metabolism (the chemical processes that occur within a living organism in order to maintain life) and damage the gut villi (finger-like projections on the small intestine’s lining that absorb nutrients). Lectins also act as an antinutrient, meaning that they can interfere with digestion and absorption of foods, upping the risk of nutritional deficiencies. This is especially significant for runners, who need to constantly replenish nutrients throughout their training.

Certain people are more sensitive to specific types of lectins than others.  If you eat something that contains the types of lectins you’re sensitive to (or a lot of lectins that you’re less sensitive to), the result is inflammation that you may experience as brain fog, sore joints, bad skin, or even migraines.  For example, the type of lectins found in the nightshade family of plants, which includes tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, and potatoes, is one that many people are sensitive to.  It is a common autoimmune trigger that has been linked to a significant percentage of RA cases and is a trigger for skin problems.

What Can You Do To Minimize Lectins?

Some research seems to indicate that taking in large quantities of raw lectins could have negative health effects. Although this may be true, especially when consumed in excess or for those individuals with lectin sensitivities, cooking, sprouting, soaking and fermenting your foods can cut down on lectin concentration to help promote better health. Soaking grains and legumes prior to consumption can reduce lectin content and enhance their nutritional value and reduce other antinutrient content. Cooking legumes, in particular, can nearly eliminate all lectins, with one study out of the Roweti Research Institute’s Division of Nutritional Sciences in Scotland even showing that boiling soybeans for as little as five minutes virtually eliminated lectin activity (Pusztai et al 1998). Because legumes are generally eaten cooked and not raw, this means that most legumes in your diet are likely very low in lectins.

Soaking and sprouting grains and seeds can also be an effective method to reduce lectin content (Koval’chuk 2006). Sprouting, also known as germination, is a process that involves soaking seeds for up to 24 hours and then repeatedly rinsing and draining them every few hours for several days at a time. Not only can sprouting decrease the lectin content of your grains and legumes, but it can also enhance the nutritional profile of your foods while reducing the amount of other antinutrients that interfere with digestion (Chingakham et al 2015, Luo et al 2012).

Fermenting your foods can also help reduce the amount of lectin content. Fermentation allows the beneficial bacteria to digest the lectins and other antinutrients in foods to enhance the overall nutritional profile (Oluwole et al 2013). Plus, fermentation supplies valuable probiotics to your diet to improve gut health.

Back to our friend the tomato, cooking vegetables, especially pressure cooking, can reduce the lectin content. Also, cooking or stewing tomatoes and eating them with healthy fat can enhance the absorption of lycopene. This is seen in traditional cultures with Italian dishes pairing olives with stewed tomatoes, or Mexican cuisine that combines avocados and various tomato-based sauces and spreads.

In addition, if you are eating raw tomatoes you may want to opt for varieties like Roma, which have a lower lectin content.

How Are Lectins Beneficial?

To complicate matters…

Lectins also play many vital roles within the body. Lectins are involved in immune system regulation, and some research indicates that they may have antimicrobial properties. In fact, they have been shown to be effective against several types of bacteria, including the strain that causes staph infections and E. coli. Lectins may also help fight off fungi and viral infections (Lagarda-Diaz et al 2017). In addition, a review study found that certain lectins may possess anticancer properties. Specifically, these plant lectins can modify the expression of specific immune cells and alter signaling pathways to help kill off cancer cells and block tumor growth (Jiang et al 2015).

Therefore, the results of these studies suggest that having some lectins in the diet can be of benefit. However…

Who Should Avoid Nightshades and/or Other High-Lectin Containing Foods

Those individuals with a food allergy or sensitivity to specific nightshades should limit or avoid consuming them. There are anecdotal reports from people claiming that when they no longer eat nightshades, they stop experiencing painful inflammatory symptoms. It is possible that some of these people have an allergy of some kind. Therefore, it can be beneficial to keep a food log or journal and record how certain foods may affect you, such as causing sore joints, skin problems, or migraines.

There have been rare cases in which people have an acute allergic reaction to a nightshade, like an allergy to tomatoes. If that’s the case for you, then, by all means, don’t consume tomatoes!

People with inflammatory bowel diseases like Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis may also find that they do better when they avoid nightshades. Some of these conditions can cause intestinal permeability, and a number of test tube and animal studies have suggested that intestinal permeability can be negatively impacted by excessive intake of the alkaloids (concentrated in areas that are green) in potatoes (Patel et al 2002), fiber in tomatoes (Carreno-Gómez et al 1999), and capsaicin in peppers (Jensen-Jarolim et al 1998).

Bottom Line

Lectins are present in many of the plant foods that we eat, however they are highly concentrated in certain foods such as grains, legumes, and nightshades. Lectins can have beneficial, as well as adverse, effects on health and performance. Lectins have been shown to have some beneficial effects as far as immune system regulation and they can have antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal, and anticancer properties. Also, the foods that are highly concentrated in lectins contain many beneficial nutrients for health and performance. For example, tomatoes contain zinc, potassium, iron, and biotin which are important for skeletal muscle and nerve function, energy production from carbohydrates and fats, muscle repair and growth, and prevention of muscle cramping, fatigue, and inflammation.

On the other hand, lectins are antinutrients that can have certain adverse health effects including damaging the intestinal lining of the gut, stimulating the development of rheumatoid arthritis, and affecting nutrient absorption. The severity of these effects will vary depending on the level of consumption of lectins and an individual’s sensitivity to lectins. Therefore, it is important to note or keep a food log or journal and record how certain foods, such as nightshades, are affecting you. Cooking, sprouting, soaking and fermenting your foods can reduce lectin concentration to help promote better health.

Individuals with inflammatory bowel diseases like Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, as well as those with lectin sensitivities may find that they do better when they avoid foods with high lectin concentration, especially nightshades.

However, unless you have inflammatory bowel disease or sensitivities to lectins, rather than focusing on eliminating lectin-rich foods from the diet altogether, such as tomatoes, it’s better to work on reducing lectin content through cooking, soaking, sprouting or fermenting foods instead, so you can still take advantage of the health-promoting properties of these nutritious foods.

 

Please let me know if you have any questions, or if I can be of help in any way. I would love to hear from you.

Your friend and coach,

Brian

 

References

Xin Xu, Jiangfeng Li, Xiao Wang, Song Wang, Shuai Meng, Yi Zhu, Zhen Liang, Xiangyi Zheng, and Liping Xieb. Tomato consumption and prostate cancer risk: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Sci Rep. 2016; 6: 37091. doi: 10.1038/srep37091

Rowles JL 3rd, Ranard KM, Applegate CC, Jeon S, An R, Erdman JW Jr. Processed and raw tomato consumption and risk of prostate cancer: a systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis. Prostate Cancer Prostatic Dis. 2018 Sep;21(3):319-336. doi: 10.1038/s41391-017-0005-x

Irlanda Lagarda-Diaz, Ana Maria Guzman-Partida, and Luz Vazquez-Moreno. Legume Lectins: Proteins with Diverse Applications. Int J Mol Sci. 2017 Jun; 18(6): 1242.

Jiang QL, Zhang S, Tian M, Zhang SY, Xie T, Chen DY, Chen YJ, He J, Liu J, Ouyang L, Jiang X. Plant lectins, from ancient sugar-binding proteins to emerging anti-cancer drugs in apoptosis and autophagy. Cell Prolif. 2015 Feb;48(1):17-28.

Wang Q, Yu LG, Campbell BJ, Milton JD, Rhodes JM. Identification of intact peanut lectin in peripheral venous blood. Lancet. 1998 Dec 5;352(9143):1831-2.

Cordain L, Toohey L, Smith MJ, Hickey MS. Modulation of immune function by dietary lectins in rheumatoid arthritis. Br J Nutr. 2000 Mar;83(3):207-17.

Noah ND, Bender AE, Reaidi GB, Gilbert RJ. Food poisoning from raw red kidney beans. Br Med J. 1980 Jul 19;281(6234):236-7.

Pusztai A, Grant G. Assessment of lectin inactivation by heat and digestion. Methods Mol Med. 1998;9:505-14. doi: 10.1385/0-89603-396-1:505.

Koval’chuk NV. [Dynamic of lectin activity during germination of bean seeds (Phaseolus vulgaris L.)]. Ukr Biokhim Zh (1999). 2006 Jan-Feb;78(1):130-4.

Chingakham Basanti Devi, Archana Kushwaha,corresponding author and Anil Kumar. Sprouting characteristics and associated changes in nutritional composition of cowpea (Vigna unguiculata). J Food Sci Technol. 2015 Oct; 52(10): 6821–6827.

Luo Y, Xie W, Luo F. Effect of several germination treatments on phosphatases activities and degradation of phytate in faba bean (Vicia faba L.) and azuki bean (Vigna angularis L.). J Food Sci. 2012 Oct;77(10):C1023-9.

Oluwole S Ijarotimi, Oluwole A Adeoti, and Oluwaseun Ariyo. Comparative study on nutrient composition, phytochemical, and functional characteristics of raw, germinated, and fermented Moringa oleifera seed flour. Food Sci Nutr. 2013 Nov; 1(6): 452–463.

B Carreno-Gómez, J F Woodley, A T Florence. Studies on the Uptake of Tomato Lectin Nanoparticles in Everted Gut Sacs. Int J Pharm. 1999 Jun 10;183(1):7-11. doi: 10.1016/s0378-5173(99)00050-2.

Bijal Patel, Robert Schutte, Peter Sporns, Jason Doyle, Lawrence Jewel, Richard N Fedorak Potato Glycoalkaloids Adversely Affect Intestinal Permeability and Aggravate Inflammatory Bowel Disease. Inflamm Bowel Dis. 2002 Sep;8(5):340-6. doi: 10.1097/00054725-200209000-00005.

E Jensen-Jarolim, L Gajdzik, I Haberl, D Kraft, O Scheiner, J Graf. Hot Spices Influence Permeability of Human Intestinal Epithelial Monolayers. J Nutr. 1998 Mar;128(3):577-81. doi: 10.1093/jn/128.3.577.

Irlanda Lagarda-Diaz, Ana Maria Guzman-Partida, and Luz Vazquez-Moreno. Legume Lectins: Proteins with Diverse Applications. Int J Mol Sci. 2017 Jun; 18(6): 1242.

Q-L Jiang, S Zhang, M Tian, S-Y Zhang, T Xie, D-Y Chen, Y-J Chen, J He, J Liu, L Ouyang, X Jiang. Plant Lectins, From Ancient Sugar-Binding Proteins to Emerging Anti-Cancer Drugs in Apoptosis and Autophagy. Cell Prolif. 2015 Feb;48(1):17-28. doi: 10.1111/cpr.12155. Epub 2014 Dec 9.

Dr. Steven Gundry. The Plant Paradox: The Hidden Dangers in ‘Healthy’ Foods that Cause Disease and Weight Gain.

Dave Asprey. The Bulletproof Diet.

Yuri Elkaim. Super Nutrition Academy, Module 6 Lesson 4.

https://foodrevolution.org/blog/are-nightshades-healthy

https://draxe.com/nutrition/lectins/

 

Disclaimer: All the information presented in this blog is for educational and resource purposes only.  It is there to help you make informed decisions about health-related fitness issues.  It is not a substitute for any advice given to you by your physician.  Always consult your physician or health care provider before taking supplements or using any other recommendation in this post. Use of the advice and information contained in this website is at sole choice and risk of the reader.  In no way will Denver Running Coach or any persons associated with Denver Running Coach or Enlightened Performance LLC be held responsible for any injuries or problems that may occur due to the use of the advice contained within this post.  Denver Running Coach and Enlightened Performance LLC will not be held responsible for the conduct of any companies recommended within this post.

Spinach: Nutritional Superstar or Potentially Harmful?

antinutrients

Hello Runners,

I’ll admit I struggled during a recent run. However, it wasn’t with the run itself, but instead with coming up for a topic for this blog post. COVID-19 has disrupted our lives in many ways, and for runners that has included cancelled and postponed events, which has affected training. This has also affected the schedule of blog posts I was going to write and share. So, now I’m trying to be creative and write about other topics that may be beneficial.

One topic that I have heard about in the past and have heard some physicians and nutritionists talk about more recently are antinutrients. So, in this post I thought I would talk about one of these antinutrients and how it might affect you.

What Are Antinutrients and What Do They Do?

Antinutrients are toxins commonly formed in plants to keep animals, bugs, and fungi from eating them. Antinutrients reduce the body’s ability to absorb nutrients. The main categories of antinutrients include lectins, phytates, and oxalates.

In this post, I will specifically discuss oxalates, which are common in some of the vegetables that are considered to have the highest nutritional value. In future posts, I will discuss the other classes of antinutrients.

What Are Oxalates?

Oxalates, also referred to as oxalic acids, are natural compounds found in a variety of food sources. Some of the most common oxalates in food can be found in plant sources such as fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds. Oxalates can also be produced naturally by our body. In fact, most of the oxalates we have in our body are from those our body has produced.

In the body, oxalates can combine with calcium and iron to form either calcium oxalate or iron oxalate crystals, which are then excreted in urine, and thus are not be an issue. However, high amounts of oxalates can build up in the kidneys, leading to the formation of kidney stones. An estimated 80% of kidney stones are formed from calcium oxalate.

Also for people sensitive to oxalates, consuming even a small amount can cause burning in the mouth, eyes, ears, and throat. Large doses can lead to muscle weakness, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, especially in people with a high amount of oxalates already in the body.

Besides forming kidney stones, oxalates affect the absorption and bioavailability (ability to be used in the body) of calcium. This is significant because calcium serves several important functions for health and running performance (see below).

Foods High in Oxalates

Although oxalates are found in virtually all foods, there are several foods that are high in oxalate content. Green vegetables, especially spinach, beet greens, okra, leaks, and collards have some of the highest concentrations.

Here is a list of other foods high in oxalates:

Fruits: blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, kiwis, tangerines, figs

Vegetables: broccoli, rhubarb, okra, leeks, beets, potatoes, eggplant, sweet potatoes, zucchini, carrots, celery, olives, rutabaga, chicory parsley, peppers

Leafy Greens: spinach, escarole, beet greens, kale, collards, Swiss chard

Nuts and Seeds: almonds, cashews, peanuts, sesame seeds

Legumes and Soy Products: miso, tofu, soy milk, green beans and kidney beans

Grains: bulgur, corn grits, wheat germ, whole wheat bread, amaranth, buckwheat and quinoa

Beverages: cocoa/chocolate, chocolate milk, black tea, instant coffee, dark beers

I decided to pick on spinach in this post for two reasons. One, spinach has one of the highest oxalate contents of any food. Second, spinach was discussed in a recent interview I heard with Dr. Jayson Calton. In the interview, Dr. Calton spoke on deficiencies that can occur due to lack of micronutrients in our diet and bioavailability of these micronutrients from the foods we consume. Specifically, Dr. Calton discussed a patient of his, who happens to now be his wife, who had advanced stage osteoporosis in her early 30s. Dr. Calton’s wife was consuming a lot of raw vegetables, including a raw spinach salad every day. He shared that by having her minimize the intake of raw spinach, as well as other raw vegetables, and supplementing with specific nutrients, including calcium, she was able to significantly improve her bone health.

So, should we stop eating spinach? Isn’t spinach a nutrient powerhouse?

Benefits of Spinach

Spinach is considered to be one of the world’s healthiest foods, with researchers identifying more than a dozen different types of flavonoid antioxidants alone that are present in spinach, not to mention all of its other vitamins, minerals and essential nutrients. Also, spinach has significant anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, and if you combine that with its very low amount of calories, it is easily one of the most nutrient-rich foods in existence.

Spinach contains many important nutrients, which serve many important functions including the following:

  • Protects Against Cancer
  • Defends Against Heart Disease
  • Boosts Immunity
  • Stabilizes Blood Sugar
  • Maintains Healthy Vision
  • Supports Bone Health
  • Keeps Skin Glowing
  • Aids in Detoxification
  • Preserves Brain Health
  • High in Magnesium

For more of details on the benefits of spinach click here

In addition, spinach does contain a significant amount of calcium, which has several important functions for health and running performance.

Important Functions of Calcium 

In addition to its importance for health of the bones and teeth, calcium serves the following important functions:

  • Optimal nerve transmission
  • Blood clotting
  • Hormone secretion
  • Muscle contraction
  • Appetite control
  • Weight loss
  • Controls levels of magnesium, phosphorus and potassium in the blood
  • May help prevent certain cancers

Click here to learn more about the specific benefits of calcium.

Spinach: Nutritional Superstar or Potentially Harmful?

So, now getting back to the question of this post. Should we stop consuming spinach, although it has many nutritional benefits? I have heard some physicians and nutritionists recommend this because of the high concentration of oxalates in spinach and the effect these have on calcium absorption and bioavailability, as well as the possible formation of kidney stones.

However, there are ways to potentially reduce the number of oxalates in certain vegetables, such as spinach, kale, broccoli and sweet potatoes that relate to how these vegetables are prepared. Boiling and steaming are techniques that can reduce oxalate content. Personally, I prefer steaming because this can minimize the loss of other nutrients compared with boiling. Also, soaking some of the high oxalate foods in water and a small amount of apple cider vinegar or lemon juice can potentially reduce the oxalate content. Also, avoid or minimize using raw kale, spinach, or Swiss chard in salads or smoothies. Instead, use greens with lower oxalate content such as green or red leaf or Romaine lettuce in salads and smoothies.

So, you certainly don’t need to give up spinach, especially since it has so many benefits. However, you may want to consider how you prepare it and consider using other greens, in addition to spinach.

However, there are exceptions for those with certain health conditions including: absorptive hypercalciuria and enteric hyperoxaluria. Individuals with these conditions should significantly restrict their consumption of high oxalate foods, such as spinach.

Other Important Factors

Research has shown that the intake of protein, calcium, and water influence the formation of calcium oxalate to a greater degree than the intake of oxalates from specific foods. High-protein intake can lead to kidney stone formation, while too much calcium in the body leads to calcification, crystallization, which can impact the risk for heart disease and kidney issues.

In addition, being properly hydrated is important for flushing the kidneys. This can also aid in removing other toxins from the body. In fact, I recently increased my water intake to about one gallon per day.

Bottomline

As far as the potential negative impact on health and running performance, oxalates are the least harmful of the antinutrients, with other antinutrients including lectins and phytic acid having a potentially greater negative effect. However, you should consider limiting the amount of raw vegetables, like spinach, kale and broccoli that you consume. Steaming can be a good option for these foods in order to lower oxalate content. Also, you may want to use other greens for your salads and smoothies, such as green/red leaf and romaine lettuce that have a significant lower oxalate content. Those individuals with certain conditions, including hyperoxolauria should restrict consumption of foods high in oxalates, especially in raw form. However, for most people there are significant benefits in consuming vegetables such as spinach. Just keep in mind which preparation is best and to include variety. Finally, avoid high-protein intake and consume a sufficient amount of water on a daily basis.

Please let me know if you have any questions, or if I can be of help in any way.

Your friend and coach,

Brian

References

Kim Wagner Jones, Lindsay K. Eller, Jill A. Parnell, Patricia K. Doyle-Baker, Alun L. Edwards, and Raylene A. Reimer. Effect of a dairy and calcium rich diet on weight loss and appetite during energy restriction in overweight and obese adults: a randomized trial. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2013 Apr; 67(4): 371–376.

Vadim A. Finkielstein and David S. Goldfarb. Strategies for preventing calcium oxalate stones. CMAJ. 2006 May 9; 174(10): 1407–1409.

Noonan SC, Savage GP. Oxalate content of foods and its effect on humans. Asia Pac J Clin Nutr. 1999 Mar;8(1):64-74.

Mathew D. Sorensen. Calcium intake and urinary stone disease. Transl Androl Urol. 2014 Sep; 3(3): 235–240.

Bendsen NT, Hother AL, Jensen SK, Lorenzen JK, Astrup A. Effect of dairy calcium on fecal fat excretion: a randomized crossover trial. Int J Obes (Lond). 2008 Dec;32(12):1816-24.

Dave Asprey. The Bulletproof Diet.

Yuri Elkaim Super Nutrition Academy. Module 6 Lesson 4 Antinutrients.

Joseph Pizzorno. The Toxin Solution.

Jayson Calton. Supplements Revealed.

https://draxe.com/nutrition/foods-high-in-calcium/

https://draxe.com/nutrition/foods-high-in-calcium/

https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Calcium-HealthProfessional/

https://draxe.com/nutrition/spinach-nutrition/

https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/diet/calcium-fact-sheet#q5

While You Wait for You Next Running Event Improve Your Running Form And Pace With These Workouts

hill sprints

Hello Runners,

I hope you are staying healthy, well, and positive!

This past week I went to the track for one of my workouts. This is a bit of a big deal for me because frankly, I’m not a fan of running on the track. However, I wanted to work on my running form and pace, so I performed twelve 200-meter bouts at slightly faster than 5k pace with a 200 meter slow jog recovery in between. It was a fairly tough workout, but a good one to work on improving my running form to optimize my performance for my next marathon.

One of the important ways to get better as a runner is by running faster. When we runner faster our bodies have to function more efficiently. Thus, we train our nervous system to better recruit our muscles so that we can run more efficiently and faster. As I mentioned in a previous post, one of the silver linings of having events postponed or canceled is the opportunity to work on aspects of our running that could benefit from improvement. One area that many runners can benefit from, including myself, is running form. Therefore, I am making a focused effort to include workouts that will improve my running form and pace. In this post, I will discuss three different types of workouts you can perform to help you improve your running form, so that you can optimize your running performance. These workouts include strides, hill sprints, and 100-200 meter bouts. Let’s take a look at each of these.

Strides

Strides are short bouts performed in a primarily flat area lasting from 10-30 seconds, in which a runner gradually accelerates their pace over the duration of the stride. The speed that you perform strides depends on the event you are training for. In the case of marathon training, I would recommend performing strides at 5k pace or slightly faster.

To incorporate strides in a run, I would recommend running at an easy pace for 20-30 minutes. Then slowly accelerate your pace for 10-30 seconds, so that you are running at approximately your most recent 5k pace or slightly faster. During this time, focus on staying relaxed and maintaining proper form. See my previous post for cues for proper running form.

At the end of this increased bout, slowly decelerate to a slow jog for 60-90 seconds and repeat. Initially, perform 4-6 bouts of 10-20 seconds. Over time increase the duration of these bouts up to 30 seconds. Also, decrease your recovery time to 60 seconds.

Finish your run at an easy pace for at least 10 minutes.

Hill Sprints

In addition, to improving running form all three of these workouts also facilitate the use of muscles fibers typically not recruited when we run. These fibers are our fast twitch muscle fibers which will generate significant force, for speed and power, but are not be able to sustain contraction over a long period of time. This differs from our slow twitch muscle fibers mostly used when we run. It may not seem necessary to train fast twitch muscle fibers if we don’t use them much when running. However, these fibers can come in handy for speed, especially as we sprint to the finish line, and these fibers can be used during marathons and other long-distance events, as our slow twitch fibers fatigue and need to recover, allowing us to sustain our pace for a longer period of time.

Hill sprints are the best way to train the most difficult to recruit fast twitch muscle fibers, so that we have access to them during our long-distance event. Performing hill sprints has other benefits including strengthening the muscles around the ankles, which can result in decreased risk of plantar fasciitis, IT band syndrome, and knee pain. Hill sprints are also great for overall leg strengthening.

I have a favorite hill nearby that I perform hill sprints on, which has an incline of about 8%. This hill has a dirt path as well, which makes this workout easier on my body. For performing hill sprints, I recommend finding a hill that has an incline of ~6-8% and the surface is grass or dirt. This will significantly reduce the impact on your joints.

Hill sprints should last 8-10 seconds and truly be sprints, in which you are running as fast as you can. Use short strides and a slight lean into the hill. Use arm swing to help power you up the hill. After the hill sprint recover by walking back down the hill. Continue to walk for 2-3 minutes to fully recover before performing the next hill sprint. Start with 1-2 hill sprints performed after running at an easy pace for at least 20-30 minutes. Gradually increase (adding no more than 1-2 hill sprints) the number of hill sprints each week. Increase until you can perform 8-10 hill sprints.

Bouts of Increased Pace for 100-200 meters

After performing strides and hill sprints for at least 4-6 weeks, I recommend replacing one of these workouts with one in which you perform 100-200 meter bouts at approximately 5k pace or slightly faster on a track or other flat area. While performing these bouts remember to focus on proper running form. This is a great opportunity to focus on maintaining proper running posture, incorporating the glutes, and breathing rhythmically. After performing one of these bouts recover with a slow jog of 100-200 meters and repeat. Initially, perform 4-6 of these bouts and then gradually (add up to 2 per week) increase to 10-12.

Be sure to perform a dynamic warmup and easy run for at least 10 minutes before performing the 100-200 meter bouts.

After performing the 100-200 meter bouts, cooldown with an easy jog for at least 10-15 minutes, and then perform cooldown exercises, such as stretching and/or foam/lacrosse ball rolling.

Final Thoughts

For now, I would recommend incorporating 1-2 of these workouts per week. I would start with strides and hill sprints and then you may want to transition to 100-200 meter bouts on a track or other flat area. Leave at least 2-3 days in between each of these of workouts for recovery.

Please let me know if you have any questions, or if I can be of use in any way.

Be safe and enjoy your runs!

Your friend and coach,

Brian

 

What You Eat and Don’t Eat Can Affect Your Performance, As Well As Your Immune System and Your Susceptibility to Viruses, Such as COVID-19

positivity

 

 

 

Hello Runners,

I hope you continue to stay healthy and well in these crazy times. I also hope that you are connecting with other people, including loved ones and friends that you may not have been in touch with for a while. I have appreciated having more time together with my wife, Karen, and our dog, Zadar. I also recently connected with some college friends that I haven’t been in touch with for a while. It was a lot of fun! So, there has been some silver lining to our current situation. I hope you are finding your own silver lining and staying positive.

In a previous blog I provided some tips for building and boosting the immune system. One of the areas of science and medicine that is receiving more and more attention the microbiome and how it can impact health. In this post, I will briefly discuss what the microbiome is, how it can impact your immune system, and what you can do to support your microbiome, so that you can avoid the impact of COVID-19 and other viral and bacterial infections.

What is the Microbiome

The microbiome refers to all organisms that live in and on our bodies, includes bacteria, viruses, fungal organisms, one cell protozoa; basically all microscopic “critters” that inhibit our body. There are more than 100 trillion of these organisms in and on our bodies, which is over three times the number of cells in our body! Most of these microbes are beneficial, however some are not, and can cause disease.

Although all body surfaces, orifices, and cavities are teeming with microbes, the vast majority are located within our large intestine and make up what is known as the gut microbiome or microbiota. Since we can have the greatest effect on microbes in this area of the body, I will focus the rest of this post on the gut microbiome, and not microbiomes of other areas of the body.

The microbes that make up the gut microbiome can have a profound effect on all functions of our body, including hormone levels (can affect performance through such things as energy production), nutrient absorption, metabolism (important for producing the energy we need to run), brain function, and the immune system.

Variety is important for health and performance, when it comes to microbes. Unfortunately, the average American adult has ~1200 different species of bacteria in the gut. This number is significantly less than other populations, such as the Amerindian living in the Amazon of Venezuela which has 1600 species of gut bacteria. This lack of diversity in Americans can be attributed to our overly processed diet, overuse of antibiotics, and sterilized homes. However, the microbiome exhibits plasticity, meaning it can be changed and improved, thus providing us with the opportunity to shape it in a way that optimizes our health, as well as our performance.

How is the Microbiome Connected to the Immune System

As I mentioned, the gut microbiome affects many functions in the body, and it is worth discussing the role it plays in hormone levels, nutrient absorption, and function of the mitochondria because they can all impact our running performance. However, due to our current situation I will focus on the impact that the gut microbiome has on the immune system in this post, and save these other important functions for later posts.

The gut microbes of our microbiome are in constant communication with the part of the immune system (mucosal immune system) located in the intestine. These microbes help the immune system discriminate between harmless foreign entities like food and harmful ones like Salmonella. The microbiome helps train the immune system to make the distinction, so that we have a proper response of the immune system. An improperly trained immune system can lead to allergic reactions to substances that would otherwise be harmless, such as pollen.

Research has shown that the gut microbiome can not only impact the local or mucosal immune system, but also the more systemic immune system, impacting the rest of our body. For example, Hao et al. (2015) concluded from several research studies that consuming probiotics can also lower rates of upper respiratory tract infections, thus suggesting probiotic bacteria can tap into the function of the immune system in the gut (local) and systemically. Probiotics are basically strains of microbes that when taken can temporarily increase the number of microbes in the microbiome. Although there are no current studies showing a positive effect of probiotics on the lower respiratory tract, which is the primary region affected by COVID-19, the fact that microbes in the gut can affect the immune system in the lungs is promising.

In addition, there is some evidence that COVID-19 infection may lead to intestinal infection, as they found the presence of the virus in feces. (Zhang et al. 2020), thus showing the importance of the mucosal immune system in combatting COVID-19, as well as the systemic immune system.

How Can We Support The Microbiome In Order To Support Our Mucosal and Systemic Immune Systems

Basically, we need to provide foods that feed the good microbes and eliminate or at least minimize the foods that feed the bad microbes. This can be a challenge for many runners, who really heavily on foods and beverages with added sugars. These sugars feed yeasts and other microbes that can negatively impact our immune system and health. For events and long runs consider using supplements like UCAN, Vitargo, or Infinit-E (Millenium Sports), instead of the typical gels, sports drinks, etc. that contain significant amounts of added sugars.

It is important to add variety in the diet and not eat the same short list of foods day after day, week after week. This is the opportunity to get a little creative with your recipes and explore some new foods! Eating a wide variety of fiber-containing foods (especially onions, garlic and Jerusalem artichokes, as well as fruits, vegetables, legumes and some unrefined whole grains) provides different fibers to feed a greater variety of microbes, allowing them to flourish. This will also squeezing out harmful microbes, such as Candida. So as far as vegetables, “eat the rainbow”, that is eat vegetables of different colors. As far as fruits, berries are a great option!

You should consume enough fruits and vegetables daily that would include at least 25 grams of fiber per day. The average Americans consumes about half of this. These fiber-containing foods act as prebiotics, because they provide the food for beneficial microbes in the gut, which will promote their growth.

Other foods that can help support the microbiome include coconut oil, omega-3 fatty acids (fish oil or flaxseed oil), and fermented foods (unpasteurized sauerkraut, pickles, kefir, yogurt, miso, kimchi, kombucha). Probiotics, which are discussed below, can also be beneficial.

In addition the intake of other foods should be eliminated or minimized including: processed foods, gluten, dairy, added sugars, alcohol, caffeine, peanuts, beef, pork, and saturated and polyunsaturated fats. These can all be detrimental to the microbiome and gut health and thus, negatively impact the immune system.

What About Probiotics

We hear a lot about probiotics. So, what are they and what is their role in the microbiome and for our immune system health?

Probiotic means “for life” and are “live” micro-organisms which, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host (FAO/WHO). Probiotic bacteria are transient visitors to the gut and offer a method distinct from diet to tune the microbiome, so that it can more effectively work with the immune system. As they drift through the digestive tract, probiotics communicate with resident microbes and intestinal cells. This can help in fighting colds, flus, and diarrheal illnesses. However, since most probiotics are not well-suited to live in the gut, they are transient and must be consumed regularly.

There are several considerations that should be made in selecting probiotics. First, the probiotics should be refrigerated so that the microbes are live. So, do not purchase probiotics that are not refrigerated because basically you are getting dead microbes that are of little or no value. The probiotics that are available are typically only a few different microbes, basically those that can be most easily produced by supplement companies. The effects of these probiotics can be unique to individuals because of differences in microbiota and this can vary daily as a person’s own microbiota fluctuates. So, it is impossible to predict the effect of consuming a specific probiotic. Thus, it is most beneficial to consume fermented foods in addition to taking probiotics.

Beware of claims by companies pushing probiotics. Avoid buying probiotics from online or e-commerce companies, especially those that sell only one product. Check to make sure third party testing was done in order to insure for safety of the supplement. U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention (USP) provides 3rd party evaluations on product’s labels for supplements. Only purchase supplements from reputable companies.

Discontinue use probiotic products that cause uncomfortable bloating, excessive gas, or headaches.

What’s Your Gut Microbiome Like?

There is still lots to learn about the microbiome and the impact it has on immune system, as well as other aspects of our health, and performance. You can learn about the health of your own microbiome through the American Gut Project. For $99 and a stool sample you can get a list of the bacteria in your gut to see how diverse your microbiome is, as well as how much of your microbiome is beneficial and how much is detrimental to your health. It is also possible to retest your microbiome to see if it has improved with any dietary changes you implement.

Please let me know if you have any questions, or if I can be of help in any way.

Stay healthy and stay positive!

Your friend and coach,

Brian

 

References

Dr. Robynne Chutkan. The Microbiome Solution.

Dr. Tom O’Bryan. The Autoimmune Fix.

Dr. Mark Hyman, Interconnected Episode 1: The Missing Piece in Health and Longevity.

The Good Gut: Taking Control of Your Weight, Your Mood, and Your Long-Term Health by Justin and Erica Sonnenberg, Penguin Press. NYC, 2015.

Yatsunenko, T et al. “Human Gut Microbiome Viewed Across Age and Geography.” Nature, 486.7402 (2012), 222-27.

Zhang Y, Chen C, Zhu S et al. [Isolation of 2019-nCoV from a stool specimen of a laboratory-confirmed case of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19)]. China CDC Weekly. 2020;2(8):123–4.

https://www.who.int/news-room/commentaries/detail/modes-of-transmission-of-virus-causing-covid-19-implications-for-ipc-precaution-recommendations

Hao, Q, et al. “Probiotics for Preventing Acute Upper Respiratory Tract Infections.” Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2 (2015).

Shi N, Li N, Duan X, Niu H. Interaction between the gut microbiome and mucosal immune system. Mil Med Res. 2017 Apr 27.

Ben Greenfield. Beyond Training.

FAO/WHO Guidelines for the Evaluation of Probiotics in Food. 2002.

Disclaimer: All the information presented in this blog is for educational and resource purposes only.  It is there to help you make informed decisions about health-related fitness issues.  It is not a substitute for any advice given to you by your physician.  Always consult your physician or health care provider before taking supplements or using any other recommendation in this post. Use of the advice and information contained in this website is at sole choice and risk of the reader.  In no way will Denver Running Coach or any persons associated with Denver Running Coach or Enlightened Performance LLC be held responsible for any injuries or problems that may occur due to the use of the advice contained within this post.  Denver Running Coach and Enlightened Performance LLC will not be held responsible for the conduct of any companies recommended within this post.

Disclaimer: Dr. Brian Hand does not invest in or benefit in any way financially from any products mentioned in this post.

You Need to Strengthen Your Upper Body as Well To Optimize Your Running Performance, Here’s How

optimism

Hello Runners,

I hope you and your family are staying healthy.

I remember looking for the first time at a photo that my wife took of me several years ago when I was running the Virginia Beach Marathon. The picture was taken at about mile 23 or 24 of the marathon and it was certainly not a flattering picture. My shoulders were hunched up and my head was cocked to one side. Also in the picture was another runner whose running form and body posture was much better than mine. She looked strong and I looked like I was in pain. We ended up finishing the marathon together, but she definitely had a stronger finish than I.

The marathon can really bring out muscle weaknesses, which result in us having to compensate with other muscles, thus causing us to fatigue faster and result in us having to slow our pace. Obviously this results in not optimizing our running performance.

Although many runners engage in strengthening exercises for the core, hips, and legs, which is certainly beneficial, they ignore upper body strengthening. This was certainly the case for me in the Virginia Beach marathon, and although at the time I set a personal record in the marathon, I often wonder how much I might have improved my performance, if I had been stronger in the upper body.

In the last post, I discussed what to if your event is postponed or cancelled. Since it may be several months before there are running events, now may be a great time to address such things as muscle weaknesses, such as in the upper body.

Why Is Upper Body Strength Important

Now when I’m talking about upper body strengthening, I’m not talking about going to the gym and loading up a barbell with a bunch of weight and pumping out a bunch of repetitions doing a chest press. Our purpose is not to build a bunch of muscle mass. However, we want to have strength over an extended period of time to swing our arms and maintain upper body posture.

Arm swing is tied to our leg swing or running cadence (steps per minute), and running cadence is one of the two factors that affect our running speed. The other factor is stride length. Increasing our cadence, compared with increasing our stride length, can often be a better way to increase our speed, because a longer stride length may increase our risk for injury.

Also, if we are not able to maintain proper upper body posture, this can throw our running form out of whack, and result in us having to compensate with other muscles, especially core and lower body muscles. These muscles will be used more and will fatigue faster, thus resulting in us having to slow our pace.

What Upper Body Exercises Should I Do and How Much

Here are some upper body exercises I recommend and how to perform them:

  • Pushups
    • Perform either a standard or knee-assisted pushup
    • Start in a prone position with arms bent and with hands slightly wider than shoulder-width distance apart
    • Push away from the floor with a smooth and controlled movement keeping the entire body from head to feet in one plane, with back straight, until the arms are fully extended
    • Exhale while pushing up
    • Slowly lower the body by bending at the elbows until the chest is parallel and touching, or nearly touching the ground
    • Inhale while you lower your body
    • Start with 5-10 repetitions
  • Y, T, I, and W
    • While lying prone on the floor (on your stomach) with arms overhead angled outward to approximately a 45 degree angle, thumbs pointing up raise the arms while exhaling and pause briefly to form a Y, keeping the rest of the body in contact with the ground as much as possible
    • Lower the arms to the ground and position them so they are straight out to the side with the thumbs still pointing up
    • Slowly raise the arms as high as possible while exhaling and keeping the rest of the body in contact with the ground to form a T
    • Pause briefly at the top while squeezing your shoulder blades together
    • Then lower the arms and position them at the side of your body with thumbs still pointing up
    • Slowly raise the arms up as high as possible while exhaling, keeping the rest of the body in contact with the ground to form an I
    • Pause briefly
    • Then slowly lower the arms while inhaling
    • Now position the arm and hands with palms facing down to form a W
    • Then slowly raise the arms and hands while exhaling and keeping the rest of the body in contact with the ground
    • Pause and then slowly lower while inhaling
    • Repeat each of these positions
    • Start with 5-10 repetitions for each position
    • Here is a video for this exercise, although it does not show thumbs pointing up, nor the W position:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yjcoVkZv55E

  • Inchworms
    • Stand with both feet on the ground
    • Place the hands flat on the ground as far as forward as you can with the heels remaining flat on the ground.
    • Move the hands forward until the heels start to come off the ground
    • When the heels begin to come off the ground, walk your feet forward so that they are flat on the ground again
    • Then repeat with the hands moving forward
    • Breathe normally during this exercise
    • Start with 5-10 repetitions or until fatigue
    • Picture of inchworm exercises:
    • Inch-Worm_Exercise
    • Here is a video of this exercise:
    • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z19gpqxQBwo

I recommend incorporating these exercises at least 2-3 times per week and work up to performing 1-3 sets of 10-15 repetitions for each exercise. These are best performed after your run, but could be performed as part of your warmup, or at another time during the day.

Please let me know if you have any questions, or if I can be of help in any way.

Stay healthy and positive.

Your friend and coach,

Brian

What To Do If Your Event Gets Postponed or Cancelled

“What is hope but a feeling of optimism, a thought that says things will improve, it won’t always be bleak [and] there’s a way to rise above the present circumstances.” ―Wayne W. Dyer

Hello Runners,

I hope you are all staying safe and healthy. You may be going through the same initial disappointment that I recently went through when I found that the marathon (Colfax Marathon) I’ve been training for to run this spring will be postponed to a later date. As of this posting, it’s not clear when this event will be moved to, but it will be late summer or fall. Fortunately, this event is only being postponed, and depending on the date it gets moved to, I can still run it.

At least this event hasn’t been cancelled, but some of you may not be so fortunate, and your event may have been cancelled. This can be very frustrating, especially with all the time and effort you have put into training. I can appreciate how you feel because I’ve trained for several marathons, but something happened which forced me not to be able run the event, such as the first time I qualified for Boston and then shortly after developed a severe case of plantar fasciitis.

So what do you do?

If your event has been postponed, keep training. You will most likely need to go into maintenance mode, depending on the reschedule new date. For example, this past weekend I had a 20-miler scheduled to prepare for the Colfax Marathon, and so I ran it. However, I adjusted this run, so that I did it at a slower pace than I would if my marathon hadn’t been postponed. You might do something similar, or adjust the distance, or both pace and distance. Similarly, you will need to adjust your training, so as to delay when you achieve your peak performance level, but you want to be trained, so you can easily transition into race-specific workouts shortly before the event.

If your event has been cancelled, consider the following: how you can make the most of the training you have put in, potentially adjust your schedule for another race down the road, shift your mindset so something good can come out of this. I recently read a post from Coach Jeff Gaudette with Runners Connect that offered some sound advice.

Jeff gave different recommendations based on how far out the cancelled event was. For an event that was only 1-3 weeks away he recommends running your own race. That is, set up a course in a flat area that is free of traffic and is the same distance as your event (best if you set up a loop). You can set out water bottles and fuel similar to aid stations at an event. Warm-up and prepare like you normally would and then race your loop to the best of your ability. You might convince a fast friend to pace you or have a family member bike alongside to help you keep pace. You can even do a virtual race (search online for options), which can help increase your level of motivation. This will allow you to take advantage of your taper and the hard training you have put in.

If your cancelled race is 4-11 weeks out, Jeff recommends transitioning to maintenance mode. In this case, you would back off the intensity slightly, but keep your mileage up. Specifically, you would eliminate really tough, race-specific workouts and replace them with moderate, general workouts. This will allow you to maintain fitness and keep a solid foundation of training allowing you to more easily transition into race-specific training at a later date.

Finally, if your cancelled race is 12 weeks away or more, Jeff says this is a golden opportunity to focus on your weaknesses or address any injuries. This is an optimal time to turn a negative into a positive. Focusing on a weakness can help you make overall progress to achieving your running goals. For example, if endurance is a weakness, compared with speed (you perform better in shorter races in comparison to longer events), concentrate on longer runs and your aerobic development. Reduce the intensity of your workouts and instead increase your mileage.

If speed is your weakness (you are strong aerobically and/or an older runner), focus on improving your running mechanics and improving your speed. Slightly back off your mileage and on any tempo run sessions, and instead include more speed development work like strides, hill sprints, 200 meter intervals, as well as strengthening exercises for muscle weaknesses and imbalances.

If you are consistently injured, focus on what you need to get healthy. Now would be a great time to back off on training and focus on rehab. This includes dedicating time for strengthening exercises, foam rolling, stretching, and the other little things that typically get put on the back burner when we are training for a race. This is also a great time to identify the underlying causes of any injuries and begin addressing these causes.

So, if your event has been postponed or cancelled, it can be helpful to shift your mindset and make a positive of the situation. This may not only help you with your next event, but help your become a better runner overall.

Please let me know if you have any questions, or if I can be of help in any way.

Be well.

Your friend and coach,

Brian

Reference

Jeff Gaudette. Runners Connect

 

Critical Tips for Runners to Avoid Viruses and to Build and Boost the Immune System

 

Energetic runner

 

 

 

 

Hello Runners,

As we deal with the many challenges of COVID-19 and its impact on health and our lives in general, I wanted to briefly discuss how this might affect your training and achieving your running goals. Many spring events have been cancelled or postponed. In my next post, I will discuss adjusting your training if you have had an event cancelled or postponed. However, in this post I will discuss overtraining and how it can play increase your risk for contracting viruses, such as COVID-19, and how you can build and boost your immune system to prevent viruses from taking hold in your body and derail you from achieving your goals.

Exercise, including running, can be beneficial for the immune system, however too much of a good thing can be detrimental. I know for myself, I can tell if I’ve overdone it with my training, and overtrained, because I will come down with a cold. Basically, when we overtrain we overstress our bodies and our immune system is not as effective, thus we are more susceptible to viruses. Therefore, it is important to plan your training and properly recover from your workouts to avoid overtraining. In addition, there may be other stressors in your life, besides your training, that can make your more susceptible to viruses. Thus, it is important to properly balance lifestyle (including sleep, nutrition, daily schedule), training, and environment (including family, job). For training, it is important to follow a plan that progressively and appropriately prepares you for your next event and incorporates proper recovery, so you can avoid the effects of overtraining.

Signs of Overtraining

Below are signs and symptoms of overtraining. There are certainly more, but these are the ones that are most detectable:

  • Elevated resting heart rate
  • Poor sleep
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Persistent muscle soreness
  • Increase in muscle and joint injury
  • Rapid drop in body weight
  • Reduction in maximal exercise capacity
  • Increase in the number of colds
  • Swelling of lymph glands
  • Menstrual dysfunction
  • Decreased bone mineral density
  • Lower self-esteem and confidence
  • Mood changes
  • Lack of concentration
  • Fear of competing
  • Giving up when things gets tough

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, I would recommend taking at least 1-2 days off from running and then reevaluate to see if symptoms have improved. Moving forward with your training, you may need to cut back on your mileage and/or intensity. Also, you may need to reevaluate your training plan and consider if it is appropriately preparing you for your next event, or if you need a new training plan.

Tips to Build and Boost Your Immune System

In addition to avoiding overtraining, there are other important steps you can take to build and even boost your immune system to help you avoid viruses, like COVID-19, taking hold in your body.

Immune Building – Provide the Building Blocks for a Strong Immune System

  • Protein
    • The recommended protein intake for runners is 0.55 grams per pound of body weight. For example, I weigh approximately 155 pounds, so I should consume about 85 grams of protein to support my training and immune system.
    • Protein provides the building blocks necessary for antibody production, as well as the following benefits: decreasing occurrence of bacterial/parasitic infections and increasing immune response
  • Vitamins
    • Vitamins play an important role as antioxidants and some are involved in production of various components of the immune system. Therefore, it is important to get an adequate daily intake. The most important vitamins for the immune system include: B vitamins and vitamins A, C, and E.
    • I strongly recommend a multivitamin/multimineral complex from whole organic foods and not synthetics. Some examples would be Garden of Life and Intramax.
  • Minerals
    • Speaking of minerals, it is important to consume and absorb sufficient levels of zinc, iron, copper, iodine, and selenium which either serve as antioxidants or are involved in activity of various immune system components.
  • Fatty Acids (omega-3s)
    • Finally, omega-3 fatty acids provide beneficial anti-inflammatory properties and are involved in the production of antibodies.
    • Good plant sources include: flax seeds, flaxseed oil, hemp seed, chia seeds, walnuts, and microalgae oil.
    • Other good sources include wild-caught salmon and sardines.
    • Supplements: Plant-based omega-3 supplements offer the same beneficial DHA and EPA fatty acids as marine sources do for optimal health. If you insist on fish oil, choose organic, sustainably-harvested sources.

Immune System Boosters

  • In addition to immune system builders, you might consider adding one or two immune system boosters. My wife, Karen, has been making us daily cocktails with some of these immune boosters, particularly oil of oregano and astragalus.
  • However, you should use caution and possibly avoid these if you have an auto-immune condition, such as Hashimoto’s, etc.
  • Some foods that can boost the immune system include garlic, Reishi and chaga mushrooms, and probiotic foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, yogurt, and kombucha
  • Supplements that can boost the immune system include: oil of oregano, astragalus, and Echinacea. However, you will want to make sure these come from a good and reliable source.

Please let me know if you have any questions, or if I can be of help in any way.

Avoid overtraining and stay healthy.

Your friend and coach,

Brian

References

Yuri Elkaim. Super Nutrition Academy. Everything You Need to Know About the Immune System.

Bob Seebohar. Exercise Physiology. USA Triathlon Level I Certification Clinic. June 7, 2013.

Ben Greenfield. Beyond Training. Victory Belt Publishing, Inc. Las Vegas, NV, 2014.

Dr. Edward Group. Supplements Revealed.

Dr. Edward Group https://globalhealing.com/natural-health/fish-oil-benefits/

Disclaimer: All the information presented in this blog is for educational and resource purposes only.  It is there to help you make informed decisions about health-related fitness issues.  It is not a substitute for any advice given to you by your physician.  Always consult your physician or health care provider before taking supplements or using any other recommendation in this post. Use of the advice and information contained in this website is at sole choice and risk of the reader.  In no way will Denver Running Coach or any persons associated with Denver Running Coach or Enlightened Performance LLC be held responsible for any injuries or problems that may occur due to the use of the advice contained within this post.  Denver Running Coach and Enlightened Performance LLC will not be held responsible for the conduct of any companies recommended within this post.

How To Strengthen Your Core To Improve Your Running Performance and Avoid Injury

lungewithtwist

 

 

 

 

Hello Runners,

I can distinctly remember my chipper and well-intended (although at times not seeming that way) physical therapist, Laura, leading our group of 5-8 every Wednesday evening. “Remember to come up one vertebra at a time, great job!” she would instruct and encourage us as we would inevitably, at some point during our Pilates workout, perform, or attempt to perform, a roll up. Some of my classmates would perform this exercise with somewhat relative ease. That was not the case for me. I could raise up to a certain point, the sticking point I seemed to encounter each week, and then “cheat” as I had to use other muscles to get past my sticking point. It was my weak core that was holding me back. The reality that my core was weak, was why I willingly tortured myself each week for several months. The rest of the each week’s Pilates class did get much better for me.

How could this be? Not many years ago my brother and I would religiously spend 2-3 hours at the gym, pushing each other through our brutal muscle-building routines. We performed plenty of weighted crunches, back extensions, and knee lifts. I’d had a decent “six pack.” How was my core so weak now?

This neglect of properly strengthening the muscles of the core that really mattered was the reason I landed in a physical therapy (PT) clinic. Earlier in the year I’d qualified and registered for the Boston Marathon. Unfortunately, I would not be running it this time. Instead, I’d developed a painful and frustrating injury that would keep me from running for nine months.

I’d gone to another PT clinic, but opted for Laura’s torture, instead of the “quick fix” injections in my feet. I need to address the root cause of my injury and not just put a bandaid on the symptoms. So for months I would subject myself to two PT sessions with Laura (sometimes her co-torturer Wendy (another physical therapist) would gang up on me as well) to put me through a series of exercises to address my muscle weaknesses/imbalances and flexibility issues, using various setups and devices, including a Pilates reformer. Pure hell at times.

But over time it began to work and I was able to run again. Most importantly it made me aware that I needed to change my training to stay injury free and be successful in running. I am forever grateful to both Laura and Wendy.

Over the past few weeks I have provided recommendations for strengthening the glutes, outer hips, and muscles that support function of the ankle. Technically, these would all be considered core muscles. However, in this post I will focus on strengthening of muscles that many consider the “core,” specifically those muscles that support the pelvis, sacrum, and spine.

Muscles of the “Core”

We hear the term “core” a lot and we hear that it’s important to have a strong core. For our purposes in this post, I am going to discuss the “core” as being those muscles that support the pelvis, spine, and sacrum. Although most of us are familiar with muscles such as the rectus abdominus and erector spinae that get targeted when we use abdominal and lower back machines at the gym, these are more superficial muscles and the muscles that we want to primarily target are the deeper stabilizer muscles, such as the transverse abdominus and internal obliques. Our primary focus is not to have a nice “six pack”, such as if we focus on strengthening the rectus abdominus with crunches and abdominal weight machines. Instead, we want to focus on contracting the muscles that support our pelvis, sacrum and spine for longer periods of time with primarily our body weight.

What Exercises Should We Do?

So, what exercises will be most effective? Should we do a bunch of crunches or sit ups and back extensions? The answer is no. In fact, these exercises can be detrimental because they involve flexion of the spine.

Instead, here are some recommended exercises that should be performed at least three days per week, I typically perform these 5-6 days per week:

Prone plank

  • Position yourself as you would for a standard pushup
  • Raise to the top position and hold for 15-60 seconds, or until fatigue, while breathing normally
  • To increase the difficulty of this exercise rest on your forearms, instead of your hands, and position your arms so that you can interlace your fingers
  • While performing this exercise make sure not to round your lower back or allow it to sag

Side Plank

  • Position yourself so that you are lying on one side of your body
  • Now raise up by resting on the forearm of the side that you are lying on
  • Keep the other arm next to the body and keep the legs and the rest of the body straight. While breathing normally hold in this position for 15-60 seconds, or until fatigue
  • To increase the difficulty of this exercise extend the top arm so the fingers are pointing upward
  • Repeat on the other side

Supine plank

  • Position yourself so that you are supine (resting on your back) on the ground
  • Now raise up on your forearm and elbows, keeping the rest of your body straight
  • Try to keep your neck relaxed
  • While breathing normally, hold this position for 10-40 seconds, or until fatigue

supineplank

 

 

 

 

Reverse table

A variation of supine plank is the reverse table yoga pose. I interchange these exercises and you might consider doing the same.

  • From the side plank position with your left arm extended overhead, rotate 90 degrees to the left, and drop your left hand to the floor underneath you
  • Your two hands are now positioned palms down directly underneath your shoulders with the fingers pointing towards your feet, and your belly is open to the ceiling
  • Bend your knees 90 degrees, and position your feet flat on the floor directly underneath your knees
  • Draw your hips upward so that your body forms a straight line parallel to the floor from the knees to the shoulders
  • Hold your head in the position that is most comfortable
  • Concentrate on keeping your hips high as you hold this position
  • Breathe normally and hold until the pose becomes too uncomfortable to maintain

reversetablepose

 

 

 

 

 

 

Quadruped

  • Position yourself so that you are on all fours (on hands and knees in table top position), with the hands under the shoulders and knees under the hips
  • Keep the back straight
  • Raise one arm and the opposite leg, extending the arm straight out in front and the leg straight out behind until both are parallel with the ground
  • Keep the head and neck in neutral (normal) alignment
  • Exhale while lifting arm and opposite leg, and pause briefly when the arm and leg are parallel with the ground
  • Inhale while slowly lowering both to the ground
  • Repeat with the opposite arm and leg
  • Continue until you have performed 5-15 repetitions for each side

QuadrupedAlternatingExtension

 

 

 

 

These exercises should be performed in addition to the previous exercises I recommended for the glutes and outer hips, as well as eccentric calf raises. Discontinue any exercises that cause pain.

Performing These Exercises Alone Is Not Enough

Just like I discussed with muscles of the glutes and outer hips, it’s important not only to strengthen them, but to properly engage them while we run and in our daily life. The exercises that I mentioned are great for building core strength initially. Once we have a good level of core strength it is then helpful to use our core strength for dynamic movement, such as activating the core when we perform an exercise like a walking lunge, or performing a walking lunge and then twisting to the side. While we are seated we should be conscious of engaging our core muscles to have better more active posture when we sit and not allow the core muscles to just slack off and be slumped in our chair. Also, it can be helpful (and initially challenging) to use a stability ball for a chair, instead of your regular desk chair.

Oh By The Way, How Do You Perform a Pilates Roll Up?

If you are interested in trying a Pilates Roll see below. This can be a good assessment of core strength that you can perform periodically. I still do this exercise on occasion.

How To Do a Roll Up

  1.  Lie on your back on the floor with your legs straight. Let your belly drop down toward the floor and make sure your shoulders are relaxed and away from your ears.
  2. Take a few deep breaths as you check your alignment and tune into your body. When you are ready, leave your scapula anchored in your back and your ribs down as you bring your arms straight up over your head and back so that your fingertips are pointing to the wall behind you. This will be your beginning position. This first move is the Pilates arms over.
  3. Inhale: Leave your scapula down as you bring your arms up overhead. As your arms pass your ears, let the chin drop and the head and upper spine join the motion to curl up.
  4. Exhale: Continue in one smooth motion to curl your body in an “up and over” motion toward your toes. This is the “moment of truth” for many. Pull in your abs in and deepen the curve of your spine as you exhale. That’s what gets you up (not momentum).
  5. Reach for your toes keeping the head tucked, the abdominals deep, and the back rounded. Ideally, the legs are kept straight throughout this exercise with energy reaching out through the heels. However, a modification would be to allow the legs to bend, especially as you come up and reach toward the toes.
  6. Inhale: Bring the breath fully into your pelvis and back as you pull the lower abs in, reach your tailbone under, and begin to unfurl—vertebra by vertebra—down to the floor. The inhale initiates this motion until you are about half way down. Be sure to keep the legs on the floor and don’t let them fly up as you roll down. Check that your shoulders are relaxed and not creeping up.
  7. Exhale: Continue to set one vertebra after another down on the floor. Keep your upper body curve as you roll down slowly and with control. The arms are still outstretched and following the natural motion of the shoulders as you roll down. Once your shoulders come to the floor, the arms go with the head as you continue to roll down to the mat.

Full-Body-Roll-Up_Exercise

 

 

 

 

 

 

This exercise may seem similar to a sit up. However, one important difference is that the motion is slower and more controlled to avoid using momentum compared with a regular sit up. Also, I’m not recommending that you perform a bunch of roll ups. It’s good exercise to do on occasion to assess where you are at with your core strength.

Please let me know if you have any questions, or if I can be of help in any way.

Your friend and coach,

Brian

References

https://www.verywellfit.com/how-to-do-pilates-roll-up-2704679

runtastic.com

gethealthyu.com

bodybalancephysicaltherapy.com

 

 

 

 

 

How To Address Tightness In The Hips To Help Improve Running Performance

 

Hello Runners,

In the three previous posts I have discussed strengthening the glute and outer hips muscles and activation of these muscles to significantly improve running performance and minimize the risk of injury.

However, it is difficult to fully engage the glutes and other muscles of the hips if they are significantly tight. There are different approaches to reducing this muscle tightness, including active isolated stretching and foam rolling. Click on the links to access videos to use these techniques.

Another useful technique, which can also be relaxing, is to use yoga poses. In fact, I use some of the poses, which I will discuss, on a daily basis. When performing yoga poses it is important to breathe naturally and not hold your breath. You should only progress to as far as comfortable, using props such as blocks as necessary to support your knees, hips, or arms. Also, you should hold poses only as long as comfortable. Don’t worry about holding for 30 or 60 seconds, for example. You may only be able to hold a pose for a few seconds when beginning. That’s okay. It’s more important that you are performing the pose properly.

So, here are a few yoga poses you can use to reduce tightness in the hips. Discontinue any of these poses that cause significant discomfort or pain.

Square pose

  • From a seated position, straighten your right leg out, and place your left ankle under your right knee
  • Bend the right leg (without moving the left and place the right foot in front of or on top of the left knee
  • Fold forward from the hips and allow your spine to round
  • Place your hands down, or rest on your elbows
  • Hold the pose for as long as feels comfortable
  • You are looking for sensations in the outer parts of the thighs, buttocks, hips and around the sacrum
  • To come out of the pose, lean back on your hands and straighten your legs
  • Repeat on the other side
  • Beginner tips:
    • If your knees stay high up, try sitting up on a cushion and place blocks or blankets under your knees.
    • Make sure you avoid any discomfort in your knees. If this occurs, try separating your knees further apart and supporting with blocks.
  • Variations:
    • Place a bolster across your legs to support your chest while folding over.
    • If the neck is sensitive, support your head with your hands by placing the elbows down. Use blocks or a bolster under the elbows if needed.
    • For deeper sensations, stack ankles and knees over each other. However, if your knees lift up, bring the shins back in front of each other.
    • You can bend sideways instead of folding forward to target the side body.
    • You can incorporate a gentle twist before coming out of the pose. Use your hands to slowly roll up, ground your sitting bones to find length in your spine and gently twist towards the side of your upper leg.
  • Here is a video demonstrating square pose:

https://www.google.com/search?q=square+pose+yin+yoga&rlz=1C1GCEV_en&oq=square+pose&aqs=chrome.1.69i57j0l7.6809j0j7&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8#kpvalbx=_KotdXvESy9X6BKCtkogB28

squarepose

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pigeon or deer pose

  • Pigeon pose
    • To begin, come onto your back with your knees bent and your thighs parallel and hip-distance apart. Next, cross your left ankle over your right thigh, making sure that your anklebone clears your thigh. Actively flex your front foot by pulling your toes back. When you do this, the center of your foot will line up with your kneecap rather than curving into a sickle shape, which can stress the ligaments of the ankle and the knee.
    • Maintaining this alignment, pull your right knee in toward your chest, thread your left arm through the triangle between your legs and clasp your hands around the back of your right leg. If you can hold in front of your shin without lifting your shoulders off the floor or rounding the upper back, do so; otherwise, keep your hands clasped around your hamstring or use a strap. The goal is to avoid creating tension in the neck and shoulders as you open the hips, so choose a position that keeps your upper body relaxed. As you draw your right leg in toward you (making sure to aim it toward your right shoulder and not the center of your chest), simultaneously press your left knee away from you. This combination of actions should provide ample sensation, but if you don’t feel much, try releasing your pubic bone down away from your navel toward the floor. This will bring a bit more curve into your lumbar and should deepen the hip stretch.
    • Boost Your Bird
    • This variation moves more in the direction of the final shape but uses blankets to help maintain alignment. Come onto all fours with your hands shoulder-distance apart and about a hand span in front of your shoulders. Bring your left knee forward and place it on the floor just behind and slightly to the left of your left wrist, with your shin on a diagonal and your left heel pointing toward your right frontal hipbone. Now bring your attention to your back leg: Your right quadriceps should squarely face the floor so that your leg is in a “neutral” position—you want to avoid the common pitfall of externally rotating the back leg. Establish this neutral leg by tucking your right toes under and straightening your right leg so that the thigh and knee come off the floor. Lift your right inner thigh up toward the ceiling and move your right frontal hipbone forward so that it is parallel to your left frontal hipbone. You want to have your hipbones square toward the front of the mat. As you roll your right hipbone forward, draw your left outer hip back and in toward the midline of your body. Its natural tendency will be to swing forward and out away from you.
    • When the hipbones are parallel in Pigeon, the sacrum is less likely to be torqued, and you can practice the pose without straining your low back. Maintaining this hip alignment, shimmy your right toes back slightly and then point them so that your right thigh releases to the floor. Move your left foot and shin toward the front of your mat, aiming for your shin to be parallel to the front edge, and flex your foot to protect your knee.
    • Now observe your left outer hip. If, after you square your hips, the area where your thigh and buttock meet doesn’t rest on the floor, you need to add a blanket or two underneath. This is crucial to practicing the pose safely. If the outer hip doesn’t have support, the body will fall to the left, making the hips uneven and distorting the sacrum. Or, if the hips stay square but your left hip is free floating, you’ll put too much weight and pressure on the front knee. Neither scenario is good!
    • Get Even
    • Instead, use your arms for support as you organize your lower body. Adjust so that your hipbones are parallel to the wall you’re facing and your sacrum is even (meaning one side hasn’t dipped closer to the floor than the other) and place however many blankets are necessary to maintain this alignment beneath your left outer hip.
    • Place your hands in front of your left shin and use your arms to keep your torso upright. For the final version, keep moving your left foot forward, working to make your left shin parallel to the front edge of your mat. Make sure that in doing so you maintain the alignment in your hips and sacrum, continuing to use blankets if necessary. The left leg will be in external rotation, the right leg in neutral—each position giving access to a different type of hip opening. The right leg will stretch the psoas and other hip flexors, and the left side will get into the group of rotators in the buttocks and outer hip
    • It’s common to experience intense sensations in the left hip as the femur rotates outward in the hip socket. (For many people, this is in the fleshy part of the buttock; for others, it’s along the inner thigh.) Some feel a stretch along the front of the right hip as the psoas lengthens. You do not, however, want to feel any sensations in your left knee. If you do, this variation is not for you! Return to Eye of the Needle, where you can safely open your hips without strain.
    • If your knee is sensation free (hooray!), extend your torso forward across your left shin, walking your arms out in front of you and releasing your forehead toward the floor. Fold forward only after you’ve spent time checking your alignment and paying attention to your body. Your left knee will be to the left of your torso (with the left thigh on a bit of a diagonal), and your flexed left foot will be just alongside the right side of your rib cage. As you fold forward, turn your attention inward. We tend to hold this version of Pigeon longer than more active postures, so see if part of your practice in this pose can be to stay mentally focused once you have settled in. In the Yoga Sutra, Patanjali defines practice as “effort toward steadiness.” In these extended, quieter holds, you get to explore this idea, tethering your sometimes scattered attention by following the breath as it moves in and out, finding stillness as you open and expand.
    • Video:

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jQMsyrLowFw

Pigeon Pose Yoga Benefits_19.jpg

  • Deer pose (less intense alternative to pigeon pose)
    • Foundation-Begin seated with your legs in front of you.
    • Action- Bend you right knee into half butterfly with the heel about a foot away from the pelvis, then place your left knee into the arch of the right foot. Bend the left knee until the foot is closer to ninety degrees from the knee towards the bottom. (The legs will look a bit like a pinwheel) Rotate the torso in the direction of the right knee and walk thee torso forward until it rests on a bolster, blanket, or your mat. The arms can relax out to the side like goalposts. Turn your head to the side.
    • Boundary- Keep upright in the seated twist if there are hip issues. Adjust the bend of the knees to your own degree of comfort.
    • While You are There: Relax the front of the torso towards the ground. Remain for as long as comfortable on each side
    • Modify- The easiest option is to stay seated as you twist. The level of bolster/ blanket height can be adjusted to the degree of flexibility. Turning your head in the same direction as the knees will be the more gentle option for the neck.
    • Deepen- Take the chest all the way to the floor to increase the rotation and lower hip compression/ upper hip stretch. Send your arm that is on the same side as your knees up overhead and stretch from the hip all the way through the fingers to add shoulder opening. Turning the head in the direction away from the knees will increase the stretch on the neck.
    • Transition out of the Pose: Place your hands on the ground and use that support to slowly return to seated. Then unwind the twist. It is nice sometimes to lean back on the arms, place the feet in front of you and windshield wiper the knees before taking the second side.
    • Video:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AAob8VDW_q4       

deerpose

 

 

 

 

Low lunge

  • Start in Downward Facing Dog pose
  • As you exhale, step your right foot forward, between your hands. Lower your left knee to the floor, sliding the foot back until you feel a nice stretch in the left hip and thigh.
  • Keep the hips low and level with each other.
  • As you inhale, engage your lower belly and lift your chest away from the thigh, sweeping the arms up alongside your ears.
  • Look straight ahead or come into a gentle backbend with your gaze to your thumbs.
  • As you exhale, lower your hands back down and step back to Downward Facing Dog.
  • Beginner tips:
    • You can keep your hands on the floor, blocks or your hips and work on the stretch in the front thigh.
    • Scissor your hips together to keep them level with each other and find stability.
    • Use a folded blanket to pad your back knee.
  • Video:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aOfniMZY2hk

lowlungepose

 

 

 

 

 

Be aware that there are several variations of each of these poses and that you can use the ones that work best for you. I recommend incorporating yoga poses at least 3-4 days per week.

Please let me know if you have any questions, or if I can be of help in any way.

Your friend and coach,

Brian

References

https://www.yogajournal.com/practice/pigeon-pose

https://www.ekhartyoga.com/resources/yoga-poses/low-lunge

Address These Lower Leg Issues To Avoid Injury and Improve Running Performance

eccentric calf raises

Hello Runners,

In the last three posts I have discussed strengthening the glutes and outer hips muscles, as well as proper activation of these muscles, to significantly improve running performance and minimize the risk of injury.

Another factor that can adversely affect running performance and increase your risk of injury is muscle tightness. I had planned to address muscle tightness issues in this post. However, I recently had the opportunity to have a conversation with massage therapist and ultra endurance runner, Aaron Lange. Aaron practices massage on athletes, include Olympic athletes, in Boulder, CO. In our conversation I asked Aaron about some of the most common issues that occur in runners and how to address these issues. The main issues Aaron encounters in runners are poor running mechanics, overtraining, improper function of the ankles, and lack of glute strength.

In a previous post I discussed proper running mechanics, and in another post I included cues that you can use for proper running mechanics. In addition, Aaron mentioned that running drills and performing strides, in which you are running faster, can help. To run faster you have to run more efficiently, so that is why performing strides and sprints are beneficial. I have discussed these previously, but will revisit these in a future post. I will also discuss overtraining and signs that you are overtraining in a future post. As far as glute strength, Aaron shared this is important to keep your feet from landing close to, or even crossing the midline of the body, because this promotes a turning outwards for the foot. When the foot turns inward or outward this can lead to the most common injuries that runners encounter including: IT band syndrome, plantar fasciitis, knee pain, Achilles tendon issues (tendonitis or tendinosis). Proper engagement of the glutes can minimize this outward movement of the foot.

In the rest of this post, I will talk about what Aaron shared with me regarding issues with the ankle and how to address these. Having proper control at the ankle without the foot turning outward or inward can significantly minimize the risk of injury and results in a more efficient stride, which means you can run faster. As with the muscles at the hip (glutes, outer hips, hip external rotators, etc.), muscle weakness and tightness of the muscles that control the ankle can result in the inward and outward movement of the foot upon landing and then push off of the ground.

Muscle Weakness Issues

The muscles that control the movement of the ankle include the gastrocnemius (outer calf muscle), soleus (deeper or inner calf muscle), peroneals (outside of lower leg), posterior tibialis (inside of lower leg), and flexor halluces longus. The best exercise to address weaknesses in any of these muscles is eccentric calf raises.

To perform eccentric calf raises:

  • Use a step with a hand railing, so that you can balance yourself as needed as you lower your foot so that it drops below the level of the step.
  • Position each foot so that approximately half the foot hangs over the edge of the step
  • Have your legs straight and engage the core so you are as tall as possible
  • While using the hand railing for support as needed, raise up on both feet
  • Then slower lower on one foot so that foot drops to below the level of the step
  • Raise back up on both feet
  • Perform 15 repetitions for each foot
  • Make sure to keeping breath throughout this exercise, ideally exhaling as you slower lower
  • Make sure the foot is pointed straight forward when lower and not turned to the side

I recommend starting with one set of 15 repetitions for each leg with a straight leg. Once you are comfortable with this then increase your frequency to 2-3 times per day. Then increase the number of sets to 2-3. Aaron also performs this exercise with a bent knee, which can better target the soleus muscle.

Muscle Tightness Issues

Most runners statically stretch the calf muscles, at least the outer, or gastrocnemius.  You should also be stretching the inner or deeper soleus muscle by bending the back leg (the one being stretched). Bending the knee will also stretch the Achilles tendon.

Although many runners are good about stretching the gastrocnemius and sometimes soleus, they ignore addressing tightness in the other muscles important for proper ankle function. Some of these muscles are referred at as the “stirrup muscles” and are found on the outside (peroneals) and inside (posterior tibialis) of the lower leg. These muscles can become tight, especially if a runner does not properly control at the ankle and has their foot turn inward or outward.

The best ways to address tightness in these muscles is through foam rolling (for the peroneals) and self-massage while flexing the ankle (for the posterior tibialis).

To reduce muscle tightness in the peroneals:

  • While lying on your side, place a foam roller directly underneath the outside of your lower leg between the knee and ankle
  • Support your upper body using your forearm and free hand. Adjust pressure into the roller with your free hand and foot.
  • Slowly roll up and down the length of the peroneals (outside of the lower leg between the knee and ankle) while slightly rotating the leg periodically for 20-30 seconds.
  • Repeat on the other side.
  • Be sure to keep breathing while rolling
  • You may also want to apply pressure on the most tender area of the peroneals and hold for 20-30 seconds while you continue breathing

To reduce tightness in the posterior tibialis:

  • While seated cross one leg over the opposite knee.
  • Apply pressure with your thumbs on the muscle just on the inside of the ridge of the shin
  • Slowly flex and extend the ankle
  • Start for 30 seconds and gradually build up to 1-3 minutes daily
  • Repeat on the other leg

 

Please let me know if you have any questions, or if I can be of help in any way.

Also, please feel free to share this with anyone you feel might benefit

Your friend and coach,

Brian

 

References

Jay Dicharry. Anatomy for Runners. Skyhorse Publishing: New York, NY, 2012.

National Academy of Sports Medicine Essentials of Corrective Exercise. Ed. Michael Clark & Scott Lucent. Lippincott, Williams, & Wilkins: Baltimore, MD, 2011.