Flexibility of a Brick

Over the past two years, I have had a never ending series of little injuries.

The injuries stated with a torn plantar fascia.  That was followed by a wicked bout of peroneal tendinitis.  Then the top of my foot started hurting.  Finally it was a sore hamstring & glute.

I was beginning to think that I couldn’t win for losing.  Seemingly, as soon as I started to recover from one injury, another would pop up.

I’ve been a pretty good patient.  Physical therapy, rolling, trigger point treatment, icing, reducing the length and effort associated with workouts.  You name it, and I’ve tried it.

While there may well be some other underlying issues around my running style and gait, shoe selection, weight (yes, that’s a biggie), and more, I’m becoming more and more convinced that the root cause of many of these injuries lies in the fact that my tendons and muscles basically have the flexibility of a piece of stone.

Some history:  I just turned 46, and have been running or cycling since I was 15.  I ran track and cross country in high school and picked up cycling in college.  In high school, we had a regimented stretching cadence that we followed both prior to and following every workout.  We’d do a warm up run, some core work, and then a bunch of basic (mostly) static stretches.  Fast forward a few years, and I essentially stopped stretching pre or post workout.  To make matters potentially worse, I sit all day long at a computer or conference room table.

Don’t get me wrong – I so some stretching, but whatever I do tends to be centralized on something that is nagging me at the moment.  For example, if my calves are sore, I’ll stretch them.  If my shoulders are sore during a swim, I’ll do some stretching.

Well, a couple of weeks ago, I was remembered a comment my teammate Ryan Heisler made earlier this year.  His statement was along the lines that everything is connected in your body, and that if you are having foot issues, the root issue may be someplace other than in your foot.

And if you think about it (and remember that Schoolhouse Rock video about the human body), it’s true.  The leg bone is connected to the hip bone, and so forth.  It only makes sense that foot pain could be the result of something jacked up in your hamstrings or hip flexors.

So, I decided to test this theory.  My going-in hypothesis was that I had at least a modicum of flexibility still.  I was going to test my flexibility through a few simple tests:  (1) crossed-foot toe touch (2) calf-stretch and (3) forward lunge.  The highly scientific benchmark was the range of motion that I remembered having back in my high school running days.  (Let’s just ignore the fact that ~30 years difference might have some impact on my level of flexibility for now).

I decided to do each of these stretches twice each leg, for :30 each leg.  The true test would be the amount of pain I had to endure and at what point I started to feel the “stretch”.

And as you might suspect, I failed miserably.  Essentially, I can’t touch my toes without feeling like my hamstrings are going to rip in half.  The forward lunge (apart from killing my quads) made my groin and hip flexors scream as if someone had forced me into a split.  I literally thought that some giant gorilla was shaking me around like an old Barbie doll or something.

So, how am I going to fix this?

For starters, I’m going to start stretching again.  I’ve read that the static stretching that is near and dear to me is no longer in vogue.  Dynamic stretching is the way to go.  And so, I”ll incorporate some of that into my routine.  I’ll stand more.  I’ll give yoga a try (begrudgingly).

I will become more flexible.

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National DOMS Day

Yesterday in the United States was dubbed as “National Running Day”.  Posts on social media clamored for people to go out and run.  People were compelled to go run “for something or someone”, to run 1 mile to 100 miles, to just get moving.

And so they did.

There was a plethora of folks running.  My twitter feed and Facebook timeline were awash with posts about how folks went out for a run to celebrate the day.  People posted photos of race-like bibs with “I’m running for _____” printed on them.  People shared comments about group runs, runs with dogs and trail runs.

I’m thinking that there was at least an incremental increase in the number of runners yesterday across the country.

So I’m proud to announce (with the full blessing of me, myself and I) that today – and all June 5th henceforth – shall be known as “National DOMS Day”.

DOMS

Inquiring minds may question the definition of DOMS.  But trust me…if you’ve ever had it, you’d know it.  Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness.  Ya know – the sometimes intense pain in muscles after an intense bout of working out.  For some, it’s intense pain after any sort of movement at all.

By announcing the establishment of this new national holiday, I’m honoring all those out-of-shape, non-exercising couch potatoes who were motivated by yesterday’s holiday to get off their keester and go outside and run.  They may have only run 100 feet.  Some surely went out and ran five miles waaaay too fast.  Bottom line, those folks will find descending staircases slightly more difficult and painful today.  They will experience heavy legs, fatigue, and soreness.  All by-products of their celebratory runs yesterday.

So live large today!  Get a massage.  Wear some compression sleeves.  Complain a lot.  Have a GREAT National DOMS Day!

Initial Thoughts on NormaTec’s MVP Recovery System

One of the really cool perks of being on Team Rev3 Tri is that our amazing sponsors give us the opportunity to use and test their products.  In many ways, we get to look, train, and recover like professionals (now, if I could just race like a pro).

This year, NormaTec joined the Rev3 team – each of the folks on the age group team received one of their MVP systems for the season.  While this post isn’t a full-blown product review (I’ll do that later), I do want to give my initial impressions on the unit after having used it for a month or so.

You may have heard of NormaTec before – they offer an active recovery system that uses sequential pulse technology to flush out fluids and metabolic waste from leg muscles.  There are, quite frankly, lots of other recovery systems on the market – ranging from passive compression (think compression sleeves and socks) to active compression products (see my Product Review page for product reviews of both passive and active products). 

NormaTec’s MVP system is comprised of leg cuffs and a compressor – the compressor applies air pressure to the leg cuffs, causing them to inflate to mimic muscle contractions to help flush out the bad stuff from your legs.  I won’t get into too much of the science here (check NormaTec’s website – I’ll also go in-depth when I do a full-blown product review).

So my first impression?

WOW!

I’m not going to lie – I’m a fan of active compression in general.  The first time I used NormaTec’s MVP product I was blown away.  The compression that this product offers is great.  After a very short 20-30 minute session, my legs feel like a million bucks!  One very cool feature that the MVP product has is that you can apply a little extra oomph in an area if you want it (through their “Turbo” function).

MVP offers seven different intensity settings.  That being said – I’ve never gone over the “mid” setting – that amount of pressure “seems” just right for me. 

So far, I’m a big fan.  I really love how my legs feel both immediately after using the MVP system – and the next day.  There’s nothing quite like how good my legs feel the morning after I do a NormaTec session.

More to come….including a full-blown product review.

 

Recovery 101

Recovery.  It’s called the “fourth discipline”.  We’ve all heard about it.  Some of us do it better than others.

Recovery isn’t just about that 10 second rest break between swim intervals or spinning for a minute on a bike after a hard effort (although both of those are types of recovery).  Recovery is more about allowing your body to adapt to the physical rigors that we put it through as we’re training for swim, bike and run (and weightlifting, P90X, Insanity, Crossfit, Warrier Dashing, etc).  The problem is, since the vast majority of us are not typically very good at recovery, we may be a little unsure of exactly what we should do, and when.  Moreover, we may not track our recovery in similar ways as we track the other aspects of our training.

Recently, Velo Press sent me a new book to read and review:  The Athlete’s Guide to Recovery, by Sage Roundtree.  I finished reading it not too long ago, and I thought that since most of us are really in the “thick” of our training right now, it’d be a good idea to share some of my thoughts on the book.

This book is fairly small.  The chapters are typically fairly short, and as such, it’s a very quick read.

The book is broken into three parts:  Defining & Measuring Recovery; Recovery Techniques; and Recovery Protocols. 

In the first of the three parts of the book, we learn about why recovery in general is important, the work/rest cycle and phases of adaptation to exercise.  We learn about how recovery should be built into our weekly routines, but furthermore we learn about how we should be incorporating recovery into our macro exercise cycles (monthly, yearly, etc).  There’s a chapter devoted to overtraining, including how to identify and prevent overtraining.  Two chapters of the first section relate to using qualitative and quantitative measurements to help us understand how effectively we recover.

I found these two chapters particurly insightful.  One suggestion that the book made was that we should be tracking our recovery activities with the same level of diligence that we track our workouts.  We can and should be tracking both qualitative (how we feel) type metrics and quantitative metrics.  One way we can capture qualitative data is through our training logs.  For example, we could capture our general feel, our thoughts on our performance, our mood, about & quality of sleep.  Then, we should periodically look back and review our notes and compare versus our performance/racing to know how our recovery correlated to our performance.

The next main section of the book is devoted to recovery techniques.  There are chapters devoted to active recovery, stress reduction (and boy, don’t we all need some of this?), sleep, nutrition & hydration, supplements, cold & heat, home remedies, technological aids, massage, self-massage, yoga, and meditation & breathing.

Frankly, there are some parts of each of these chapters that I think many of us have seen or read before.  I have never seen them bundled together as broad tools in the recovery toolbox.  Each chapter goes into the benefits and cons of each modality.  For example, the chapter on home remedies devotes considerable time to compression socks.  (I’ve previously written about compression socks here and here).  Additionally, the chapter offers some insights on the use of creams and Epsom salts as recovery methods. 

A fairly cool aspect about the chapters in this section of the book is that at the beginning of each chapter there is a graphic called Sage’s Gauge.  The intent of Sage’s Gauge is to graphically detail on a five level scale the relative time investment, cost, accessibility, and confidence associated with each modality.  Additionally, there is a section where contraindications are called out.  For example, for the recovery modality of massage, time is marked at 2, cost is at 4, accessibility is 4, and confidence is 5.  Using massage to treat injury is listed as a contraindication.  To translate the coding – the time investment is relatively low, but cost, accessibility of massage, and overall confidence in the recovery benefits of massage are high.

The chapter on yoga includes very good pictures to demonstrate certain poses explained in the text.  While I’ve never done yoga before reading this book, I have attempted some of these poses based upon the pictures included.  If you’ve never done yoga before, I’m here to tell you that it’s hard – but also very relaxing.

The final section of the book gives some detail on how to recover from both short & long distance races and how to tie all of the myriad recovery options together into a suitable plan for you.

Summary:

  • The Athlete’s Guide to Recovery by Sage Rountree.  Available from Velopress.com
  • Soft cover, 203 pages, 20 chapters, 2 appendices and lots of good graphics, call-outs & photos
  • What I liked about the book:  It’s a fast read, offers good insight on how to avoid overtraining and how to incorporate both qualitative and quantitative data tracking to gauge my level of recovery.  While none of the information in the chapters on specific recovery modalities was “new” per se, reading in this format was beneficial in that it gave me a good refresher and new thoughts about how to leverage multiple modalities at the same time to boost my recovery
  • What I didn’t like about the book:  Actually, nothing. 
  • Would I recommend this book to a friend:  Absolutely, I would!

You can download the table of contents and some of the text by clicking on this link.

>Product Review & CONTEST – CEP Compression Sleeves

>A month or so ago, the folks at CEP asked me if I’d like to try a pair of their compression sleeves and write a review on my experience.  Being interested in providing a service to the triathlon blog-reading public, I naturally agreed. 🙂  They were nice enough to send me a pair of sleeves and asked me to run them through the ringer, so to speak.

First:  Technical FTC mumbo-jumbo.  CEP sent me this pair of sleeves; I didn’t buy them.  They didn’t ask me to say anything in particular about their product, therefore, all opinions expressed below are mine. 

I wrote an article last week about the myriad of researach on compression (read it here) and the multiple schools of thought regarding whether compression is beneficial or not.  In all honesty, though, I didn’t read all the research until I was well into testing these compression sleeves, so I wasn’t able to specifically target one particular aspect relating to compression…such as how they impact recovery.

Like many athletes, this was not my first trip down compression lane.  I’ve worn Zensah compression sleeves for years, and this season I’m also using the Recovery Pump system.  (Look for more on that system later on this week). 

I was excited to give CEP’s compression sleeves a try, as I’ve generally had a positive experience with my Zensah sleeves.

Straight out of the gate, let’s refresh a little about compression.  As I wrote last week, compression sleeves are a type of passive compression.  The way compression works is via a couple of different mechanisms:  enhancement of venous return and stabilization of musculature to reduce fatiguing.  The thought (and research) shows that graduated compression increases intra-vein pressure, thereby forcing metabolic waste back towards the heart.  Obviously, removing the bad waste aids in recovery, performance, and fatigue reduction.  Additionally, research shows that mechanically supporting muscles reduces “oscillations” in the muscles, which ultimately reduces fatigue and prolongs the ability to perform.

I mentioned last week that CEP’s products were actually used in one of the scientific tests on the usability of compression in athletes.  The study (known as the Kemmler study) showed that compression led to improvements in overall work ability, work velocity, and duration. 

Graduated compression garments have a higher degree of pressure distally (towards the ankle) with changing degrees of pressure as you move proximally (up the calf).  Too much pressure at the calf could cause a tourniquet-type setting, actually trapping metabolic waste in your muscles.  Compression devices such as sleeves typically supply between 18 and 30 mg Hg of pressure.

CEP’s sleeves offer graduated compression, although I could not find the actual pressure rating for the sleeves on the packaging or on their website.

Look & Feel

As I opened the box for my compression sleeves, I was pleasantly surprised.  Specifically, what surprised me was that there was no gripper elastic at the top or the bottom of the sleeve.  In fact, the entire sleeve was knitted and didn’t have any “external” artifacts such as elastic, silicone, etc.  See the picture below to show what the ends of the sleeve look like.

When I tried on my sleeves, I noticed that the CEP sleeves were much tighter than the pair of Zensah I own.  This could be related to a couple of factors.  Firstly, before I ordered my sleeves, CEP asked that I measure each of my calves and send the dimensions in to them.  Turns out that my calves are not of equal diameter (what’s up with that), and as a result I fell in between two sizes of sleeve.  They sent me size 4.  Secondly, it could be that my Zensah sleeves have stretched out some through multiple wearings and washings (note:  all compression garments WILL stretch over time.  You will need to replace your compression gear at some time to maintain the structural integrity of the garments and to gain the desired benefits).

In short, I found that CEP’s compression sleeves were very well made, fit extremely well, and did not cause discomfort or chafing at all.

My goal was to put the sleeves through their paces before I rendered an opinion.  So how exactly did I test them?
Testing Protocol
It would be a significant stretch for me to say that my testing of the CEP sleeves was scientific, but I did try them in a variety of settings.  I ran in them.  I recovered in them.  I wore them after receiving active compression through my Recovery Pump.  I wore them under work clothes as I flew from Florida to Idaho (and back).  I washed them at least ten times.  I didn’t swim in them, nor did I cycle in them.  Frankly, I’m not sure that I’d ever cycle in compression socks or sleeves.  The only reason I could think someone might want to do either would be to potentially save time in transition.  That said, putting on the sleeves is a breeze and takes literally no time.
My results
Having used compression for the past couple of years, I went into this testing thinking that I’d likely see some reduction of calf fatigue during long runs.  I also suspected that the sleeves would benefit me during recovery from longer runs.
Both of those things happened.  I ran several 8+ mile runs in these sleeves, and typically found my calves did not tighten up or cramp.  Additionally, when I wore the sleeves for recovery, I found that my calves felt better than on the days that I didn’t.  Again, these results are similar to results I had using my Zensah sleeves, so I cannot say that the proximate cause for the results I saw were just the CEP sleeves.  I suspect that any brand of graduated compression sleeves would render similar results (and I’m no where near elite enough an athlete to be able to tell any differences that might exist).
I was very pleasantly surprised when I wore the CEP sleeves in conjunction with the active compression therapy I received from my Recovery Pump.  I found that my legs felt fresher longer when I slept with the compression sleeves on following an evening’s use of the recovery pump than when I only used the recovery pump.
One thing I did with these sleeves that I had never done before was fly with them on.  In April, I flew from Florida to Idaho and back…requiring four long flights (over 3 hours each).  I wore the compression sleeves on both travel days.  I found that my legs did not feel as fatigued as they normally feel post-flight.  Additionally, during my runs during the week that I was in Idaho, I found that my legs were nowhere near as fatigued as I expected them to be.
Cost
Let’s face it….good compression gear is not inexpensive.  Such is the case with CEP’s calf sleeves and socks.  A pair of calf sleeves will set you back around $40.00 from a variety of online retailers.
Summary
Overall, I was pleased with CEP’s compression sleeves.  They fit like a glove and I found good results from wearing them (especially when I wore them as a recovery aid). 
I personally am an advocate of wearing compression for recovery purposes.  Do CEP’s sleeves stand out against the competition?  That’s a spectacular question.  I’m not sure that I can answer that affirmatively.  CEP will tell you that since their product was specifically used in a scientific study their product is superior to others.  Maybe it is.  Maybe it isn’t.  That’s for you to decide.
That said, I liked the sleeves.  I’ve since retired my Zensah sleeves in favor of the CEP sleeves.  Why?  Better fit (mostly) and the lack of hair-yanking grippers.  I’d recommend that you at least consider this brand if/when you’re evaluating compression sleeves.
More information on CEP can be found at their website.  CEP wants you to know that they have a 30 day guarantee, that their products are clinically proven to improve performance 5%, and are the compression favorite of tons of professional athletes such as Matt Reed, Andy Potts, Miranda Carfrae, and other. 
And now…The CONTEST!!!!!!
I’m happy to give away a pair of CEP Compression Sleeves. 
This contest will run until 12:01am ET, Saturday, May 7th.  At that time, I’ll close the contest, tally up the entries, and pick a winner.  Here’s the cool thing – you can get multiple “entries”:
One Entry:  Do the following:  Leave a comment here telling me why you love compression AND follow CEP on Facebook AND follow CEP’s blog.  Yeah – multiple steps to get one entry, but it’s an easy price for admission…
Two Entries: Do the above AND become a follower of this blog.  If you already follow, just mention that in your comment.
Three Entries:  Do both of the above AND follow me on Twitter AND send out the following Tweet:  “I just entered the @TriMadness / @CEPCompression Contest.  Go to http://joelpstrickland.blogspot.com/ to enter”
Best of luck!