August 4, 2022

[Note: I am taking some time off in August for a major family celebration-reunion. I plan to deliver issues on Aug 18 and

Sept 1, but not on Aug 11 and Aug 25. I hope you’re enjoying your summer.]

THIS WEEK: Run smoother on downhills. Cross training for fewer injuries & better performance. How the Army uses heart rate in basic training. Fitness trackers boost motivation. The lowdown on cool downs. Best recovery from hamstring injuries. “Wilt drank milk.” And much more.

4 steps to smoother, faster downhill running

Some top physiologists, biomechanists, and coaches recently participated in two Zoom presentations that explored issues relating to uphill and downhill running. Wow, are they different. But you probably already knew that, especially if you have run a few Boston Marathons or maybe one of those screaming downhill Revel marathons. Big simplification: Uphill running requires the kind of strength and cardio-fitness that we associate with most top endurance efforts. 

But downhill running is another kind of beast. In this article, author-coach David Roche explains 4 downhill takeaways from the Zoom meetings. Perhaps most important: Practice makes a big difference. One presenter explained how runners improved their downhill running dramatically with a 30-minute downhill practice run just once every three weeks. 

Another quantified the substantial metabolic savings when running downhill vs on the flats. Translation: It’s easy to go faster on the downhills. The problem is that downhill running forces your leg muscles to contract eccentrically, which soon turns them to quivering jello, so any oxygen efficiency can be wiped out. You’re not running any longer; you’re hobbling. (Been there, ain’t fun. You’ve perhaps had the pleasure as well.) The only way to cope: Include an appropriate amount of downhill running in your regular training plan. More at Trail Runner. Or, if you like Zoom, here’s raw video of the experts’ discussion. 

Exercise and coronary calcium CAC linked but with “benign” outcome 

You won’t find anyone more interested in coronary artery calcium deposits than me, because I have a sky-high reading. If I were an overweight smoker with my  CAC number I’d almost certainly be dead now. Some other long term runners also appear to have an elevated risk for CAC.

However, several studies, including this new one, indicate that high CAC in lifelong exercisers does not increase risk of heart attacks. That’s because the calcium deposits themselves are not a threat. They are hardened deposits not likely to break off and cause heart damage. It’s the soft, gooey cholesterol deposits that lead to heart attacks and strokes.

In those who exercise a lot, high CAC “does not carry a correspondingly higher risk of incident CVD events.” In fact, “We suggest that the presence of CAC among individuals engaging in long-term, high-volume PA early in adult life represents a clinically benign phenotype.” More at British J of Sports Medicine.

Why and how to incorporate cross training 

Siren Seiler is an elite 5000 meter runner and daughter of a globally famous father, Steven, the exercise physiologist who essentially “invented” the 80/20 training principle. (ie, Do 80 percent of your training at an easy, relaxed pace.) However, even this isn’t always enough to prevent injuries, so Siren has had to look for alternative training methods.

Here she explains why and how she has made cross-training--especially the elliptical and bicycle--a key part of her training. She uses it to maintain training volume, while reducing her training load on the run. Result: fitness with fewer injuries. And, importantly, no “freak out” when you are injured. Instead, you have alternatives. More at Medium.

Fitness trackers provide strong motivation

It’s easy to cut down fitness trackers, watches, and the like. You know: “Listen to yourself, not some tangle of microchips.” But the fact is, fitness trackers help many people stay motivated, improve cardio fitness, and lose weight. There’s no arguing against “Do what works for you.” In a big new study, researchers found that trackers helped exercisers log up to an extra 40 minutes a day. That’s nothing to dismiss. Do what works for you, whether listening to music, microchips, or your own body and mind. More at WebMD and The Lancet.

How the Army uses heart rate and heart rate variability

Army basic training is the real deal, no matter how “basic,” and it gets new recruits in shape quite fast. In this study, the recruits-subjects gained a significant boost in vo2 max after 12 weeks. Army researchers also tracked changes in overnight heart rate (which dropped by 8 beats/minute) and heart rate variability (which increased, indicating improved fitness). The paper didn’t compare HR vs HRV, but at least showed that a simple morning HR provides strong guidance. More at European J of Applied Physiology.

The lowdown on cool downs

There are lots of ways to recover from a hard workout or race, and little evidence that compares them, and anoints a winner. Here researchers tried various cooldown combinations that included static stretching, cold water (passive, and walking in cold water), and simply sitting and resting after a hard running workout. Cold water was good at reducing leg muscle temperature (for what that’s worth, if anything), but there were no significant differences in blood lactate concentration or perceived fatigue. As a result, it seems you should follow the cooldown procedure you prefer. Or, as the investigators put it: “We suggest selecting the appropriate method while considering the specific goal, available time, facility, and accessibility.” More at J of Sport Rehabilitation.

Complete strategy plan for race-day marathon hydration

Not what to drink, but a strategy to optimize your hydration process. Most of the time, you don’t want to read a whole book or a complete encyclopedia entry on some aspect of running. But there are times when you do. For example, when you’re planning your drinks, gels, etc, for your next marathon. This article is targeted to “elite” runners who have special tables at marathons. But you’ll find much of the info helpful even if you can’t run a sub 2:10 or sub 2:24. Especially the late-race drink-swishing idea.  There’s enough detail here to make you take copious notes. More at Running Writings.

Best recovery from hamstring injuries

In a systematic review of sports-related hamstring injuries, researchers found 75 relevant articles to analyze. They were looking for evidence of a healthy return to play (RTP) program post-injury. If you have an actual rupture, surgery appears to be the best path. For hamstring muscle injuries, you’ll likely have the greatest success from visiting a PT who employs “eccentric training, progressive agility, and trunk stabilization.” Injections of platelet-rich plasma “yielded inconsistent results.” More at Orthopedic J of Sports Medicine. 

“Wilt drank milk.” So have many other sports stars and Olympic runner Elle St. Pierre

Over at Outside Online, Alex Hutchinson has written a stats-heavy explanation of why most supplements probably don’t work. Real food is a different story, however, and milk is a real food. When a top Sports Illustrated writer reviews its long history in sports, readers are in for a treat. The story includes many memorable phrases, including the first sentence: “Wilt drank milk.” Another goody: “From the beginning of sports, cow milk was the GOAT milk.”

Many of the individual anecdotes are priceless. Super-skinny, super-tall Manute Bol drank 3 gallons a day, and the dairy-farming parents of U.S. Olympic 1500-meter runner Elle St. Pierre once convinced a young Elle that their cows felt depressed any time she didn’t finish her mealtime milk. Today, she prefers strawberry milk shortly after a workout. Pure fun here. More at Sports Illustrated.

SHORT STUFF you don’t want to miss

> Far infrared radiation lamp delivers “potent effects” to reduce muscle damage and enhance recovery.

> This sensational resource for female athletes comes form the Australian Institute of Sport and covers many important topics: nutrition, bone health, contraception, and more.

> The NYTimes says “everyone. Really” can benefit from Pilates but it doesn’t build either cardio or strength.

GREAT QUOTES make great training partners

“Good things come slow, especially in distance running.”

--Bill Dellinger, Olympian and Univ of Oregon coach

That’s it for now. Thanks for reading. Stay well, and see you again in two weeks. Amby