Thursday, August 4, 2011

Time to Rest?





After disappointing performances in a couple of key tune-up races last fall, a depleted Ryan Hall made the hard decision to withdraw from the Chicago Marathon. Too many grinding 15-mile tempo runs at a five-minute-per-mile pace at 7,000 feet with too little rest afterward had finally caught up with him. "I love to push my body," he says. "Recovery is the hardest part of training for me."

Problem is, if you don't take time for proper R&R, your body won't adapt to the stress of your training—you won't get stronger or faster, explains Stacy Sims, Ph.D., at the Stanford Prevention-Research Center, School of Medicine. Neglect recovery for too long, and you will start to lose strength and speed. You'll sink into the black hole known as overtraining.

First, your sleep patterns and energy levels will feel the effects. Eventually, your immune system crashes, and you lose your appetite. It's like burning out your engine. And you don't have to be logging 100-mile weeks to suffer. Recreational runners can overtrain, too. "With deadlines, chores, bills, kids, and lack of sleep, it's more challenging to recover properly from your runs," says Sims.

So in preparation for the 2011 Boston Marathon, Hall used an online recovery-tracking program called Restwise, which looks at simple biological markers input by the athlete first thing each morning, calculates a daily recovery score from 1 to 100, then trends it over time. (Rest-wise subscriptions start at $119 for six months; go to restwise.com.)

Pay attention to the following 10 markers. If three or more of these indicators raise a red flag, you should consider a few easy sessions or off days so you can return to running strong (see box, right). Says Hall, "Now I'm learning to love to rest."

1 BODY MASS: You lost weight from yesterday
A two percent drop in weight from one day to the next indicates a body-fluid fluctuation. Most likely, you didn't hydrate enough during or after your last workout. Dehydration negatively impacts both physical and mental performance, and could compromise the quality of your next workout.

2 RESTING HEART RATE: Your resting heart rate is elevated
Take your pulse each morning before you get out of bed to find what's normal for you. An elevated resting heart rate is one sign of stress. It means your nervous system prepared for fight or flight by releasing hormones that sped up your heart to move more oxygen to the muscles and brain. Your body won't know the difference between physical and psychological stress. A hard run and a hard day at work both require extra recovery.

3 SLEEP: You didn't sleep well or enough
A pattern of consistently good sleep will give you a boost of growth hormones, which are great for rebuilding muscle fibers. Several nights in a row of bad sleep will decrease reaction time along with immune, motor, and cognitive functions—not a good combination for a workout.

4 HYDRATION: Your pee is dark yellow
This can be an indicator of dehydration, barring the consumption of vitamins, supplements, or certain foods the evening before. The darker the color, the more you're struggling to retain fluids, because there's not enough to go around. You need H2O to operate (and recover).

5 ENERGY LEVEL: You're run down
If your energy level is low, there's something amiss. The key is honesty. Athletes can block out signs of fatigue to push through it, thinking it will make them stronger. It won't always work that way.

6 MOOD STATE: You're cranky
When your body is overwhelmed by training (or other stressors), it produces hormones like cortisol that can cause irritability or anxiety. Stress also halts chemicals like dopamine, a neurotransmitter in the brain that has a big bummer effect on mood when depleted. Crankiness probably means not enough recovery.

7 WELLNESS: You're sick
Any illness, or even a woman's menstrual cycle, will increase your need for energy to refuel your immune system, which is having to work overtime. This means fewer resources available for recovering from training.

8 PAIN: You're sore or nursing an injury
Whether you're sore from overworked muscles or an injury, your body needs more energy to put toward repair, lengthening total recovery time.

9 PERFORMANCE: Your workout went poorly
This is a subjective measure of workout quality, not quantity nor intensity. If you felt great on yesterday's run, you'd evaluate that as good. If you felt sluggish on that same run, you'd count it as poor. Trending workout quality—multiple poors in a row—is one of the easiest ways to identify the need for more recovery.

10 OXYGEN SATURATION: Your oxygen level has dipped
The amount of oxygen in the hemoglobin of the red blood cells can be measured by placing your fingertip in a portable pulse oximeter, a gadget available online for about $40. The higher the percentage, the better: Above 95 percent is the norm at sea level or for an athlete who is fully acclimated to a given altitude. This is a new area in recovery science, requiring more research, but there may be a link between low oxygen saturation and the need for more recovery.


Count Your Red Flags
The restwise algorithm assigns more weight to some markers (e.g., performance) than others (e.g., mood), along with other factors to generate a precise recovery score. But you can get a sense for your ballpark recovery quality by tallying the red flags (left) you average per day in a week.

0-1 GREEN LIGHT
You are clear to train hard.

2-4 CAUTION
You can go ahead with a hard workout if your training plan calls for it, but cut it short if it feels too hard. Better yet, take an easy day, or a day off.

5-6 WARNING
You're entering the danger zone, which could be intentional according to your periodization or peaking protocol. If not, back off.

7-10 DANGER
You require mandatory time off, ranging from a day to a week, depending on the severity of your fatigue and what you've seen over the previous few days and weeks. You may need to visit your doctor.


FEEL Better: Too much rest has its own problems: Your performance stalls. On your recovery days, do something active; go for a bike ride, walk, or do yoga.


MUSCLES NEED 48 HOURS TO RECOVER AFTER AN INTENSE RUN. DURING THIS TIME, CELLS ARE REPROGRAMMED TO BE STRONGER.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

20-Minute Workouts for Endurance Athletes

By Matt Fitzgerald

Triathlete.com

To most non-athletes, 20 minutes of exercise seems like an eternity. But to endurance athletes in marathon training or triathlon training, a 20-minute workout may seem like it's hardly worth the bother.

After all, if your average workout lasts an hour, what can a 20-minute session possibly do to increase your fitness? Quite a lot, actually—even for the fittest endurance athlete.

Consider these four benefits:

1. 20-minute workouts burn a meaningful amount of calories and, thereby, help you reach and maintain your optimal racing weight. For example, a 150-pound runner burns approximately 280 calories in a moderate-intensity 20-minute run. If you normally miss a scheduled longer run roughly once every 10 days due to lack of time, you could burn an extra 10,000 calories over the course of a year by squeezing in 20-minute runs instead.

2. 20-minute workouts provide extra repetitions of the running stride, swim stroke, or pedal stroke that stimulate improvements in efficiency. A big part of what makes you a better, more efficient swimmer, runner, or cyclist is simply time spent practicing the movement. So, even short workouts count as additional movement practice.

3. 20-minute workouts can increase endurance by adding to total weekly glycogen turnover. An interesting Scottish study found that weekly training volume was a better predictor of marathon performance than the distance of the longest training run. In other words, the study suggested that marathon runners are better off running 50 miles a week with a maximum long run of 16 miles than running 40 miles a week with a maximum long run of 22 miles.

The reason is that endurance improves through the repeated depletion of muscle glycogen stores in training. And a heavy week of training will result in more total muscle glycogen depletion, and thus build more endurance, than a lighter week. 20-minute workouts can add a meaningful amount of glycogen-depleting volume to your training week.

4. 20-minute workouts can produce an excellent high-intensity training stimulus. A little swimming, cycling, or running at anaerobic threshold intensity and above goes a long way. Twenty minutes is plenty of time to get all the high-intensity work you need to take your fitness up a notch.

There are basically two ways to incorporate 20-minute workouts into your marathon training, triathlon training, or any other endurance sport training. One is to do a 20-minute workout instead of taking a day off whenever you are too pressed for time to complete a longer workout.

The other way is to add one or more 20-minute workouts to your weekly training schedule to increase your overall training volume without creating a significant risk of overtraining.

Here are some suggested 20-minute workouts:

The Filler: Simply swim, ride, or run at an easy tempo for 20 minutes. This is a great workout to do when you want to avoid the guilt of doing nothing but you're not mentally or physically ready for anything challenging.

Tabata Intervals: Swim, ride, or run at an easy tempo for 16 minutes, then complete 8 x 20-second all-out sprints with 10-second passive recoveries between sprints.

Fartlek Intervals: Sprinkle 5 to 10 fast 30-second efforts throughout an otherwise moderate, steady-pace workout.

Threshold Session: Warm up for five minutes at a comfortable tempo, then go for 15 minutes at anaerobic threshold intensity (the fastest pace you could hold for one hour in a race).

Progression Workout: Swim, ride, or run for 15 minutes at a steady, moderate pace, then blast the last five minutes.

Time Trials:
  • Swimming—Warm up, then swim 800 meters (875 yards) as fast as you can. Cool down as long as necessary to make the total workout 20 minutes.
  • Cycling—Warm up, then ride 5 km as fast as you can. Cool down as long as necessary to make the total workout 20 minutes.
  • Running—Warm up, then run 1 mile as fast as you can. Cool down as long as necessary to make the total workout 20 minutes.