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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“Performance Nutrition for Swimmers” – an eBook by Jenn O’Donnell-Giles

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A couple of months ago, I had the unique honor of being asked to read a preview of a book that one of my Team Rev3 teammates, Jennifer Giles, had written regarding optimal nutrition strategies for swimmers.

Jenn is a registered dietitian and board certified specialist in sports dietetics.  She has an impressive background – double masters in Nutrition and Exercise Physiology from Columbia University.  Additionally, as a majorly awesome athlete in her own right, she is, in my opinion, uniquely qualified to write a book advising proper nutrition strategies for athletes…in this case swimmers.

The book is a really good read.  It’s a relatively short read, packed full of good insights and information.  Jenn devotes a full chapter to water & hydration – elements that swimmers in particular often neglect to focus on.  I particularly enjoyed several other aspects about the book – I loved her discussion of both macro and micro nutrients and how we need each.  As a parent, I also really appreciated Jenn’s focus on the family dinner as a training table.

I’d encourage you to go download a copy of the eBook and read it.  I’m sure that you will walk away with the same conclusions that I did – that far too often we are self-imposing limitations on performance through improper diet and nutrition strategies.

The book retails for $19.99, but you can get a $10 off coupon on the eStore.  Click HERE to check out the book.

SHOCKING NEWS: Foam Rolling Really Works!

Now that you’ve settled down from the shock of that headline, take a moment to accept the now scientifically-validated truth that we have all known from our anecdotal evidence.

Yes, foam rollers have now been scientifically proven to work (sort of sounds like “Yes, Virginia, Santa really exists…” but I digress – and that statement belonged in a post last month not this month).

Doctors MacDonald, Button, Drinkwater, and Behm led a study that has now been published in a variety of journals regarding the use of foam rolling as a recovery tool following intense exercise.  The study first appeared last July, but it was published in the American College of Sports Medicine’s official journal Medicine & Science in Sports and Exercise this month.

While I didn’t purchase the entire study, the abstract outlines that the study involved 20 athletes, split evenly into test and control groups, and sought to measure improvement in a number of metrics, including thigh girth, muscle soreness, range of motion (ROM), evoked and voluntary contractile properties, vertical jump, perceived pain while FR, and force placed on the foam roller.  The net/net was that the test group found reduced muscle soreness and improved ROM, which improved vertical jump height.

So this conclusion is not really all that shocking to me.  I have used a foam roller for several years now – going back to when I had a pretty intense bout of IT band syndrome.  I really have felt that using a roller has been very effective at helping stretch areas and remove what I perceive as adhesion or scar tissue in my connective tissues.  I often roll my IT band and glutes.  I find, however, that using a foam roller is slightly less effective on other areas (calves, for instance).  That could be more a function of my poor rolling technique than anything.  I use a lacrosse or golf ball to get those hard-to-reach areas instead.

If you’re interested in reading the abstract of the study (or purchasing the full study), click HERE.

 

NormaTec MVP versus Recovery Pump: A Product Comparison

Over the weekend, I received an interesting blog comment.  Actually, the comment was more a question about NormaTec’s MVP system and Recovery Pump’s compression system:

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What a good question! 

So…some backstory.  In 2011, Team Trakkers/Rev3 was sponsored by Recovery Pump and they supplied each member of the age group team a compression system to use during the season.  In 2012, and again this season, NormaTec has sponsored Team Rev3, and has supplied us with with their MVP system.  I have used both of these systems extensively during the past three years.

You can read a product review I wrote about the Recovery Pump here.

I also wrote an “initial thoughts” post about NormaTec’s MVP, but as of yet I haven’t done a full product review.

There’s an interesting (and lively) thread on Slowtwitch debating the differences and similarities between NormaTec and Recovery Pump (and a few other systems).  Full disclosure – probably half of the posts to that thread are from folks who are/were sponsored or associated with one of the respective companies.

So in the interest of full and transparent disclosure, right now I have and use a set of NormaTec MVP boots that they have provided me with.  They sponsor me, and I get the benefit of using their system.  The thoughts I will share below are, however, my independent thoughts.  I’ll share with you specific things I like about both the NormaTec and Recovery Pump systems, the costs, any drawbacks I’ve noticed, etc.  This is not a scientific study of these two systems; I will not be rendering any input in terms of medically or scientifically which system is better….quite simply because I’m not qualified to to that.  At the end, I’ll tell you which system I personally prefer, and why.

What are these things and how are they different from each other?

For starters, both NormaTec’s MVP system and the Recovery Pump system are mechanical compression devices.  Basically, they use forced air to inflate leg sleeves to help flush waste products out of your cells and back into your bloodstream and lymphatic system so that your body can process those products.  Both systems got their start in the medical industry.  Recovery Pump is a lymphadema press – basically a device used to reduce swelling after certain medical treatments or surgeries.  NormaTec’s MVP system is a variant of the lymphadema press – basically re-engineered and developed to use a different inflation approach than the Recovery Pump.

Recovery Pump uses something called sequential intermittent pneumatic compression.  In English, this means that the Recovery Pump inflates several chambers in the leg sleeves/boots in order moving up your leg from your feet to your thighs.  Each chamber stays inflated as the next one fills until you have a “full leg squeeze” thing going on.  Then all of the chambers release the air, hold empty for a certain amount of time, and then start reinflating.

NormaTec’s approach is called peristaltic pneumatic compression.  They actually named their approach Sequential Pulse Technology.  This approach is a little different in that instead of just squeezing your leg; the compression pulses as it inflates.  The system inflates one chamber and then holds that chamber static as the next fills.  Then, as the inflation moves up the leg, the chambers farthest away from the inflated and squeezing chamber are released.  NormaTec describes this approach more similar to a massage and says that this type of compression more mimics how our leg muscles actually work.

OK, NormaTec MVP and Recovery Pump take different approaches, but do they both work?

The short answer here is, sure, both systems work to flush out the bad goop from your legs and help you recover.  Based on my experience with both products, I have found that I felt significantly better after a long run or ride when I used these two systems.  I have found that using either of these systems helped me recover faster, feel like I could go hard again sooner, and not become fatigued as quickly compared to instances where I worked hard but didn’t use a mechanical system.

My anecdotal findings – and those shared by multiple athletes, professional and amateur alike, is that using mechanical compression devices makes you feel great.  I’m not going to lie – chilling out after a hard workout and using compression like this feels awesome.  It’s like having a personal masseuse at any time you’d like.

So they feel great.  What’s different between the two?

We’ve already talked a little about the differences between NormaTec’s MVP system and Recovery Pump’s system in terms of how they compress your leg.  That being said, there are differences between the systems that aren’t just related to sequential versus peristaltic compression.

The Noise Factor:  I’m going to be honest with you:  neither system is silent.  NormaTec’s MVP is MUCH QUIETER than the Recovery Pump, though.  In fact, by comparison, Recovery Pump sounds like Darth Vader having an astma attack.  There’s a quite pronounced sound as the system inflates, and there a very loud hissing as the leg sleeves deflate.  By contrast, NormaTec’s system really doesn’t present a lot of sound during inflation.  There are some random clicking noises from the pump when it cycles, but overall it’s not too bad.  There are two ultimate tests in regards to the noise factor for these units:  (1) the TV test – can I watch TV while using the pump and not have to blast the volume in order to hear the dialogue, and (2) the sleep test – can I use the pump in the bed at night and not wake up my wife.  I’ve actually done both of these tests with both units.  NormaTec’s MVP wins both tests hands down. 

Feeling the squeeze:   It’s pretty obvious that both of these units squeeze your legs.  One difference that I noticed is that the amount of control you have on how hard the units squeeze is pretty significant.  Recovery Pump has a dial that allows you to increase the level of pressure on your legs, up to 80 Mg of pressure.  NormaTec’s MVP system has seven settings of increasing pressure.  I don’t honestly know what each level means, but I suppose that each level equates to a certain pressure setting.  The bottom line, though, is that I could tolerate the highest setting on Recovery Pump without any discomfort at all – and frankly, there were times where I wanted more pressure.  In contrast, I have never set my NormaTec MVP higher than setting five…I can’t handle the pressure.  Plus, one key difference is that the MVP system allows you to boost the amount of pressure on a specific zone or chamber.  So, for example, if I want additional pressure on my quads or calves, I can tell the system to “squeeze harder” there.  I really like that feature quite a bit.

The cost factor:  Here’s the deal.  These systems are not inexpensive.  Like all things triathlon, you’ll spend quite a lot of greenbacks to purchase either of these.  You can purchase NormaTec’s MVP system for $1750.00 on their website (www.normatecrecovery.com/mvp.aspx).  Recovery Pump sells for $1495.00 on their website (www.recoverypump.com). 

The pro factor:  Let’s face it:  some people will base their decisions solely upon who uses a particular product.  Think Michael Jordan and Hanes t-shirts.  Both of these products sponsor a bunch of triathletes, runners, etc.  For what it’s worth, it seems like NormaTec has broader appeal to professional athletes outside the realm of triathlon…NBA teams, pro cyclists, skiers, Olympians all use NormaTec. 

Portability:  Neither of these systems is small, but ultimately both are portable.  NormaTec’s MVP is designed as a cool-looking toolbox with a handle on top, making carrying easy.  Recovery Pump looks more like a medical device and doesn’t have a handle for carrying.  Both will fit into a suitcase fairly easily – but neither will fit in a transition bag if you have your “normal” race stuff in there (like a wetsuit, shoes, helmet, etc).  I’ve traveled to races with both units before, and quite frankly, if you buy either one of these, you’re going to want to take them with you to a race for both pre and post-race usage.

Which device would TriMadness buy?

Here we are, down to brass tacks.  As I said above, I really liked the feeling that I got out of using both of these systems.  Both products made me feel like I recovered faster after a hard workout or race.  I am a believer in mechanical compression as a recovery modality, and would suggest that if you have the means to purchase one of these products, you should.  There is, however, one product that I would personally prefer to purchase, were I about to spend my own hard-earned money.  That product is NormaTec’s MVP system. 

Why NormaTec?  It essentially boils down to just a few traits for me that sealed the deal:  MVP is quieter than Recovery Pump.  It’s not as disruptive for my family compared to the Recovery Pump.  I don’t have to turn the TV up to be heard over the unit, and my wife can sleep next to me if I’m using it in bed.  I also really, really like the fact that I have the ability to target a specific zone with the MVP system.  I often feel like my quads are trashed after riding hard or going on a long run, so I really like to focus there and have the MVP system squeeze harder there.  I don’t know if it flushes out more crap that way, but it feels amazing, and I feel like I’m better recovered.

Good luck if you’re thinking about purchasing a mechanical compression system.  I think you’ll find that this type of recovery is fantastic and really facilitates getting back at it fairly quickly.  If you have questions about either of these two products, please leave a comment or send me a note via the “Contact Me” page.

Thera-Band & Biofreeze To The Rescue!

Here I am in the midst of my “recovery” from a partially torn Plantar Fascia.  Which, by the way, pretty much sucks.  The cortisone shot I got last week has finally started to kick in, and the sharp pains that I had in my heel are gone for the most part.  I’m wearing my night split religiously. Cortisone and wearing a night split won’t cure my PF on their own.  A large part of my rehab includes stretching and exercise.  To accomplish this, I’ve become one with my Thera-Band tools. 

About half a year ago, Thera-Band sent me a huge box of goodies to try out and use.  Included in the enormous box from Thera-Band were the following:  a new foam roller and Wrap+ wraps, a Foot Roller, a Stretch Strap, a Flex Bar, a very cool portable Roller Massager, and a green Exercise Band.  I also got a bunch of BioFreeze – which I absolutely LOVE.  I’ve been using these products since I received them, but mostly for what I’d call “maintenance”.  For example, if I’d done some really intensive running sessions or hill repeats on my bike, I’d use the foam roller for a while to help work out the kinks and aid in my normal recovery. 

Well, since I’m now on the physically unable to run list, I’m using these Thera-Band products for a more purposeful use:  Rehabilitation of my injury.

I finally feel like I’ve used these products sufficiently well to actually write about them.  Thera-Band products are professional grade medical devices.  In fact, if you go to an orthopaedist, podiatrist, chiropractor, or physical therapist, you will likely find Thera-Band products there.  They are, as you’d expect, constructed really well.  For example, none of the foam on any of the rolling devices that I have received has experienced any noticeable compression (whereas a foam roller I bought years ago to fight IT band syndrome has developed a “groove” in it that perfectly fits my legs….and don’t say that’s happened because I’m fat!).

Thera-Band's Foam Roller and Wrap+

Thera-Band’s Foam Roller and Wrap+

 

Thera-Band Foam Roller and Wrap +

Most of us have seen or used a foam roller before.  I personally have a love/hate relationship with my foam roller that grew a few years ago when  I had a particularly bad bout of IT Band Syndrome.  But this is not your ordinary foam roller.  When you combine the foam roller with the Wrap+ wraps, you can achieve a totally new level of massage.  These very cool, ridged-surface wraps come in four progressive levels of density – allowing you to really customize the level of tissue massage you give yourself.  And I’m here to tell you…if you think plain, normal foam rolling can be an episode of S&M, then you need to try one of these Wrap+’s.  The bottom line, though, is that with these very cool innovations, you can really massage deeply and free knots and muscle adherences.  That, my friends, is what foam roller massage is really all about.

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Thera-Band Foot Roller

The Thera-Band Foot Roller has become my real go-to appliance recently.  I’ve been using this roller as one aspect of a three-part strategy to roll my feet since I’ve been diagnosed with plantar fasciitis  (the other two parts include a lacrosse ball and a golf ball).  This molded foam roller is made of fairly dense material, but it’s not as hard as, say, PVC pipe.  The ridges are helpful, and feel great.  The added bonus – and one that I only recently realized, is that you can put the Foot Roller in the freezer!  It doesn’t get quite as cold as a bag of ice or an ice cup would, but it does cool down considerably.  Plus – if you lather your foot up with BioFreeze then use the Foot Roller you get twice the benefit!

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Thera-Band Portable Roller Massager

Until recently (meaning until I got PF and started using the Foot Roller daily) the Portable Roller Massager was by far my most favorite device from Thera-Band.  This massager has a fairly familiar look and feel.  It’s essentially your mother’s rolling pin, but instead of being made out of wood, it’s made out of high density foam.  The foam on the Roller Massager, like the Foot Roller and Wrap+ devices, is ridged.  This helps increase the massage sensation and bring more bloodflow to the area to help with healing.  The very cool thing about this device is that the handles are spring-loaded, and can be retracted into the device.  This makes the entire unit much smaller (and hence portable).  I’ve taken this on numerous trips during the past six months; it fits nicely in my luggage – but would also fit nicely into a carry-on or briefcase.  I use the Roller Massager everywhere…calves, quads, hammies, glutes, back.  Basically everywhere I can reach.  I even used the end of the handle to dig in really deep to accomplish trigger point release.

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Thera-Band Stretch Strap

I don’t know about you, but I’m not as bendy as I once was.  Stretching has become….shall we say….painful.  I’ve often found myself using the same-old stretches that I did when I was a high-school runner back in the 1980’s.  Here’s the problem with doing the same old thing.  I have found that I am unable to properly stretch certain muscle groups due to age-induced loss of flexibility.  Here’s where the stretch strap comes into play.  You can use this to really get the right range of motion needed to properly stretch.  The strap can be used in conjunction with dynamic or static stretching (once properly warmed up).  I’ve probably used this device second most of all the tools that I received from Thera-Band.

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Flex Bar

The Flex Bar is designed to work your hands and forearms.  Quite frankly, I’ve hardly used this device, as I haven’t had any real issues with my arms at all.  My wife, on the other hand, uses this thing religiously.  She has been dealing with tennis elbow for years – which is odd, because she doesn’t play tennis.  Regardless, this device is used to strengthen your forearms and help alleviate tennis elbow.  I believe you can also use it for carpal tunnel syndrome.

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Biofreeze

Chances are high that you’ve seen or used Biofreeze before.  This menthol-based product is a topical pain reliever that can be applied directly to the area where you are sensing pain and discomfort.  The “cold therapy” that results from using this product inhibits the sensory production of pain and helps deliver relief.  Biofreeze comes in many variations – gel, spray, and new, single-use packets.  I really like these because the product is clear (and liquid based), doesn’t stain, and actually carries a lighter scent than the original, green gel does.

Where Can You Purchase Thera-Band and Biofreeze products?

Well, like most products these days, you can purchse practically anything online.  Both Thera-Band and Biofreeze are sold through one central website – complete with lots of details and online ordering.  You can also purchase any of these products from your health-care professional…especially if they are in the sports-related field (think Chiropractor, Physical Therapist, Orthopaedists, Podiatrists).  I’m not sure that an OB-GYN sells Biofreeze, but you never know 😉  The pricing is really fair.  For example, a 10-pack box of Biofreeze Singles is about $15.00.