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Training for the London marathon without killing yourself Part One: The bit where you give up near the start.

February 12th, 2011 by Phil Brown

So, you’ve been training for the London marathon. You decided a few months ago that this was going to be your mission. Actually getting into the race was a sign: your calling to make something of yourself and raise some wonga for your favourite charity in the process. You felt good. You felt energised and excited about training schedules, new trainers and losing that stubborn spare tyre.

That was four months ago and things have definitely changed. You can run 8 miles without feeling that your lungs are going to collapse. You are able to get into those jeans that had been lying hidden in the bottom drawer. You’ve chalked up some serious mileage using a training schedule you found in a running magazine. You’re feeling satisfied you’ve come this far, but there is a new feeling too: one of being completely KNACKERED. You are plateauing, which means you are not making the progress that you were in your training. You have aches and pains that won’t go away. You are not enjoying your mission as much as you thought and the sense of purpose you had on each running day is not as keen……

What is happening? You should be getting better, faster, stronger…..you’re doing loads of running, surely you should be getting fitter. You try upping your mileage on your weekend long run and increasing your times on the faster short runs, but that just makes things worse. Then one day, you find that you can’t complete  the 12 miler you have been aiming for because the pain in the side of your knee simply stops you in your tracks. You are suddenly way off your targets and feeling like you aren’t going to make this race after all………

What on earth has happened? You were doing so well. You were warming up and stretching afterwards. You had a decent pair of brand new running shoes you had fitted at a shop where they made you run on one of those treadmill thingies. You aren’t doing too badly at eating, but are probably not eating enough…. You’ve been training dammit and now you can’t even run half a mile without pain!

You made a basic mistake. You thought – quite understandably – that getting better at running meant running lots and lots. You did that, but you didn’t realise one thing:

running lots and lots is bad for you.

Don’t get me wrong. I run a sports and remedial massage clinic. I treat runners and other people who love their sports and their training. I like sport. I believe in keeping fit and in healthy competition. But any extreme form of physical exercise has a negative, destructive effect on the body. That’s the truth. In fact, the process of a  well-planned training programme is to cause adaptation in the body by subjecting it to  cycles of stress and recovery; damage and repair. Each time the body is damaged, it repairs itself and strengthens itself to cope more efficiently with the next challenge. At least, that is the theory. Indeed, when you started out on your mission, you probably found yourself making great progress, adding distance each week and increasing your times quite swiftly. After a while,your body stopped adapting to the stresses you were placing on it and started getting worn down by them.  When this happened, progress was hampered and even stopped, motivation took a plunge and without understanding what was happening, you made the mistake of trying to force more progress by increasing the stress on your body – basically, you tried to train harder. The results were pain and a complete cessation of progress. Argh. Pants. What do you do now?

Firstly, you need to understand what has happened and to ACCEPT your present situation. Your body is tired. YOU are tired. You feel like you never want to run another yard. Start here; being honest. From here, there is a way to recover and restart and even excel in your training, but you HAVE to acknowledge your fatigue and your pain and – for a short time – stop.

In the next instalment of my marathon training series we shall look at how overtraining and injury in the novice runner happens.

Wall Squat 101

June 7th, 2010 by Phil Brown

A basic squat using a wall as support is an exercise I give quite a few of my clients to “wake up” those sleeping thigh muscles. Many people suffer low back pain due to the muscles of the lower back being constantly overused while the muscles of the thighs and buttocks are not being used effectively in everyday movements like reaching and lifting. Watch Phil show you how to do it in this video:

Wall Squat 101

In the wake of another London Marathon

April 30th, 2009 by Phil Brown

The clinic here on Anglesey was busy last week. I got to look at a lot of legs! Phone calls came in from various places in the locality as brave individuals from North Wales prepared to take themselves South to attempt a marathon. Most of the people I treated before last Sunday were attempting a marathon for the first time. Most of them were booking in for sports massage treatment at the last minute, to relieve aches and pains that had cropped up as a result of their training.

This got me thinking that for many who are training and entering a long distance race for the first time, it is not so easy to get the balancing act right between a training schedule, their family and work and actually making progress and avoiding injury. As I mentioned, most of the people I treated before the London Marathon had never run one before and a regular training schedule was something new to them. The aches and pains they were feeling were not only a result of the load they were placing on their bodies, but also a result of the overall stress that occurs when trying to fit such a schedule into a normal, daily living routine.

So, if you are considering training for a half or full marathon read on for some simple effective tips to keep you injury free and making progress in your training.

SHOES!!

The type of shoes you wear when running is crucial. Running is not easy on the body. Good running shoes help absorb the repetitive shock of heel strike, particularly on hard concrete and tarmac. But thats not all. The shape of your foot is completely individual. The way the force from heel striking travels up your legs and through the knees, hips, spine, shoulders, neck and head is different depending on the shape of your foot as it hits the deck. Some people have a tendency to run on the inside edge of their feet. This tendency is known as pronating. Other runners tend to load weight on the outside edge. This is known as supinating. Still others have a neutral foot strike and others may strike the ground more with the ball of their foot.

Whatever type you are, FIND OUT! Go to a good sports store and get advice on the best type of shoe for you. By ‘a good sports store’ I mean one where there are assistants who actually run themselves. People who can watch you walking and running and are well practiced in analysing different gaits. Some stores have treadmills that the staff will get you running on, but what matters most is the experience and knowledge of the staff themselves.They should be able to recommend a good shoe with the right insoles if needed.

If you have an excessive tendency in your gait, you will need insoles to effectively change the shape of your foot in its contact with the ground. Sometimes, a referral to an orthotics clinic is needed, so that specialised insoles can be made to match your specific needs – for your everyday shoes as well as your running shoes. Your doctor should be able to provide a referral should you find you fit into this category.

If you are doing your training in a pair of shoes that are not right for your feet, you WILL EVENTUALLY GET INJURED!!!! There are no two ways about this. The problem can be that the build-up to injury can be slow and subtle. For example, a pronator in the wrong shoes will be continually overloading their flexor tendons as they ‘toe-off’ with each stride. This continual loading will eventually lead to the tendons becoming inflamed, tight and painful. This condition, which is known as tendinopathy, is chronic and takes time to get rid off. It can sometimes hamper training to the point where you have to stop altogether while the condition clears up. it is so much wiser, at the start of your training adventure, to get proper advice and find the right type of shoes for you.

TRAIN SMART, NOT HARD

The aches and pains that the people I worked with before the marathon were suffering from were the result of training. This is normal. You cannot train for a long distance race without some niggles. Particularly if, as many of the entrants in this year’s London Marathon, fitness has never been a priority in your lifestyle.

Training takes its toll on your body. But when done right, this toll is the thing that causes changes to occur in your body. Changes that make it fit for the purpose you are pursuing. But you have to be smart and learn to listen to your body. This is difficult for many, particularly those for whom physical training is a new thing.

Many of us have an idea of training that comes from watching too many training montages in Rocky movies. We think that if we are not tired and not in pain and anguish, we aren’t training hard enough. This is a wrong, destructive view of training. Although training should be difficult at times, for many of us as newbie runners, consistency is the key.

Aim to build up gradually. Focus on building your ability to run well over distance without worrying about time. If you are training for your first distance run, make your aim to finish in good FORM, rather than time and the time will take care of itself.  Your form is the level of control, poise and balance with which you are able to run over distance. When new to training, try to keep within a level of effort that allows you to remain feeling strong and stable for the large part of each training session. Once you have spent a couple of months building a strong foundation of good form and some endurance, you can start to push a bit harder at times in your schedule. Remember, if you have not made regualr training of any sort part of your life before, you need to focus on this foundation primarily. In your first distance race, to finish well is to finish running.

In my experience, we men are the worst at getting our training right. We overtrain. We do too much over a long period of time and then BAM!, we call up a sports injury therapist a week before the race because suddenly we cannot walk straight let alone run.

Here’s a good test to see if you are the type to overtrain: If you are worried you are not training hard enough, you are probably training too much!

There are loads and loads of different schedules and plans out here on the internet and in various books and magazines. Read around and find a few that look suitable for you. Once you start your training, LISTEN TO YOUR BODY!!!! JUST BECAUSE SOME SO-CALLED EXPERT IS TELLING YOU THAT THIS SCHEDULE IS THE WINNER, IT DOESN’T MEAN IT IS RIGHT FOR YOU!!! Mix and match and try different approaches, but whatever you do, keep focusing on building distance gradually and running well. If your are new to running, forget your time. Concentrate on CONSISTENCY and QUALITY.

ACHES, PAINS AND REST

You will suffer from aches and pains. You are asking your body to do alot more than it is used to. It will get used to it, but it will complain too. These niggles are because you are actually getting injured! Not the kind of injuries that mean you have to stop training, but tiny injuries in the muscle tissues that occur as you put slight and repetitive overload on them. This overload is part of what causes your muscles, joints and ligaments to adapt to the added jobs being asked of them. Muscles respond to stress by getting stronger! They will adapt to the job at hand by increasing in size and changing shape and density in response to the overload. But this change will only occur effectively if you allow the tissues to REST. During rest, the muscles recover and grow to meet the demands of the next session. Any minor aches and pains will have a chance to heal and then you will be ready for the next training run. Overtraining and chronic fatigue syndromes are a common thing hampering progress. Remember that progress is made while RESTING as well as training.

Some of you will need much more rest between sessions than others. The 40 year old man with 3 children, a full time job and limited spare time will need to have more rest since his energy is already being spent in the normal demands of life! The 22 year old single woman with a part time waitress job may have more energy and more time on her hands. She may find she can train more often and get results. Whatever your situation, be realistic and tailor your training accordingly.

If your aches and pains are not going away before the next training session, its sure sign you are not resting long enough and you are on the way to a more serious, chronic injury.

If you find you are feeling tired and down and not looking forward to the next run, you are not getting enough rest.

If you are getting colds and feeling below par more often, you are not getting enough rest.

If you find your progress has stopped and you are not performing in your training as well as you were, you need more rest.

MAINTENANCE

A number of people phoned Phil Brown Massage within 3 or 4 days of the London Marathon last week. Some were complaining of calf pain or knee pain at this very late stage in their training. It was a pleasure to provide useful treatment for each, but I also felt how useful I could have been for them if I had met them earlier. Regular massage and soft tissue therapy has a dramatic effect on recovery time between training sessions. The aches and pains we often carry with us into the next session can be caused by tight overworked tissues adhering to each other and hampering movement in a joint such as the knee or the ankle. Deep tissue massage and specialised stretching techniques can free these tissues and restore freedom of movement and relief tightness and pain. Professional athletes are benefitting from regular sports massage that keeps them free from injury and performing to the best of their ability. Massage has a great effect. If you are trying to maintain a progressive training schedule, then find a good bodyworker or sports masseur and invest in the body you are using!

TRAIN WITH SOMEONE

There is nothing that beats sharing your training with someone else. Having someone next to you who can encourage you and point things out to you that you may miss otherwise is priceless. And you can do the same for them. Training for distance can be lonely and at times boring. Having a training ‘buddy’ to work with can push you further and make the whole experience more enjoyable. Find someone who has similar aims for the event as you and someone who is not too far from your level of fitness.

When you start out, another good option is to find a good personal trainer to get you going and provide you with a start-up schedule and come running with you. A good trainer will be able to recognise your strengths and weaknesses both physically and mentally and help you develop a tailor-made training programme that will enable you to achieve your goals and not wear you out doing it.

Please call Phil Brown for more advice about smart training. If you are considering a new training schedule and are new to the sport you are considering, we have plenty of advice and treatment available here at Phil Brown Massage. There are also loads of tips and advice here at the website. Feel free to browse.

Happy training!!

It just went ping……I wasn’t doing anything with it, honest!

April 9th, 2009 by Phil Brown

Accessory to the fact

These other muscles are the ACCESSORY muscles to the exercise I am doing. An example is the good old bench press. We men like the bench press for three reasons:

1. We can lie down.

2. We can pump up our manly chest muscles.

3. Its an easy exercise to get strong at and feel impressive.

However, many of us don’t take into account all the muscles involved in the movement of the bench press. Sure, we like to focus on the big pectoral muscles as we squeeze that bar up. And that focus is a good thing, since these are the primary muscles we want to affect. There are other muscles hard at work however and when it comes to an injury, it is rarely the big powerful pecs that get damaged in the bench press.

A pressing problem

The rotator cuff are a group of muscles that work to stabilise the shoulder joint during an exercise such as the bench press. It is these muscles that – in this movement – are working in an accessory role. Injury to these muscles can occur when the load placed on the pectorals and the shoulder joint is too much for these stabilising muscles to cope with as they fight against the more explosive powerful forces of the chest muscles. Rotator cuff injury is a common one in men overtraining and overloading their bench presses.

The “invisible” cause

A large percentage of people at most big gyms are not even aware of the accessory muscles in a movement. Hence, when they get injured, it is sometimes hard for them to identify the primary cause of the injury. In the case of rotator cuff injury from bench press, it is hard for people to make the connection between a shooting pain or ache down the upper arm (one possible symptom of rotator cuff tendon damage) and the heavy chest exercises they were doing the week before.

“Ping!”

In other cases, someone may be doing an intense resistance exercise to work one muscle group.  Suddenly, they get a sharp pain somewhere they were not expecting. They might come to the massage clinic saying “It just went ping…..I wasn’t doing anything with it, honest!”

Hamming it up

I have an excellent example of just this. Me. This morning. While doing a resistance exercise focusing on my shoulder retractors and mid/upper back muscles. I got hurt. But not where I would have expected. Silly me. And I should know better.

I was doing cable rows. I love cable rows. I am good at them. I make sure to keep my lower back stable and smoothly pull through into my belly and squeeze my shoulder blades together. I have good form. I did not expect to get injured. I did not anticipate the sharp sharp pain. In my upper hamstrings. I was not TRAINING my hamstrings!

The sharp pain and nasty tightness occurred on the sixth or seven repetition of a set of around eight or nine. The reason is this:  as the primary muscles involved in the movement began to tire and weaken (my back and arms), I began to “cheat” the movement with other muscles. The hamstrings are HIP EXTENSORS.  As I sat with a flexed hip pulling a heavy weight towards me in a rowing fashion, my hamstrings were bravely stabilising me  AGAINST hip extension. They were activated and tight, but not moving, SO I DIDN’T NOTICE THEM. Then, when I started to “cheat” and moved my lower back a little into extension because I was tired, my hips extended a little and my already tight hamstrings cramped and got damaged.

This had never happened before! I wasn’t doing anything honest! It just went ping!

The “silent” partners

I had forgotten about the “silent” muscles in a movement. This meant that I had not stretched and warmed up my lower body before beginning the more intense phase of my workout. My hamstrings were ready to get injured due to some leg exercises they were still tired from a few days before, plus I had been spending alot of time sitting down working at a computer. In this position, the hamstrings are kept short for long periods. They need to be stretched and warmed up before exercise if you have spent a long period beforehand in one position.

Conclusions

Although I am not glad I got injured this morning, I can use it as a reminder of the following:

1. Warm up your WHOLE body before a workout. Make sure your muscles are warmed and stimulated ready for the more intense work to come.

2. Familiarise yourself with your different muscle groups and their roles in movement, so you know what the primary AND accessory muscles are in each of your exercises.

3.Make sure you are doing the exercise correctly and efficiently. Many injuries happen in very slight, everyday movements we make without thinking. Something goes “ping!”  in a muscle group that has been constantly worn out by overuse in imbalanced exercises.

4. Never think about one muscle in isolation. Although there are exercises in the gym that you can to effectively isolate a muscle (e.g preacher bench bicep curls) – you can never truly isolate one muscle, since your whole body is always using many muscles to stabilise you in a position or a movement.

Core Stability for climbers. By Zac Laraman ISRM BASEM

February 27th, 2009 by Phil Brown

Core   (St)ability
So far in this series we have looked at the factors that may make us more liable to getting injured, whether it might be our climbing activity itself – perhaps due to poor technique or lack of conditioning.  Our own very individual lifestyles outside of climbing may also contribute.  So last month we stressed the need for stretching and flexibility.  This month we look at core conditioning and why this area of our training is so vital.

“It is only when we understand the complex workings of the human machine that we can start to fine tune it” – Neil Gresham (climbingmasterclass.com)

It seems everyone these days is bandying around the phrase ‘core stability’.

So what is the core stability?

Richard Robinson, Orthopedic Physiotherapist, explains;

“The ‘core’ comprises the layers of muscles surrounding and supporting
the torso, shoulder to shoulder, pelvis to neck. A strong core allows us to transfer power from and to the limbs assisting in and coping with the energies generated by a moving centre of gravity during physical activity, whilst always supporting the spine.”

The activity of climbing requires our bodies to co-ordinate complex, fluid, efficient and powerful maneuvers over and over again. We need to simultaneously pull, push, balance and tension our bodies so that we can utilise our energy most efficiently and ‘flow’, seemingly, effortlessly across the rock.

We need to adapt our training to encompass movements that utilise the core within each element.  The deep layers of muscle around our joints stabilise each joint in preparation for and during movement; the more superficial and general larger muscle groups can then perform the gross movements that we feel when we climb.

Weak deeper muscles that may allow the joints to move in an awkward and potentially injurious manner affect the larger muscle groups that may then have to then act as the stabilisers themselves, as well as carrying out these larger movements. Therefore these larger more superficial muscles are carrying out both jobs or we can say are compensating for these weaker deep muscles and this over a period of time causes an injury to occur.

This has been termed the ‘Reservoir of Compensation’ in that all our bodies have a margin within which some tissues may absorb and disseminate stresses placed upon them by other weaker muscles. Once this Reservoir of Compensation is drained then the likelihood of an injury occurring is greatly enhanced.

Jan Davies, a climber and Stott Pilates Instructor from Form Pilates, explains core training from a Pilates perspective;

The Inner core (the bit in the middle!)
Firstly imagine a cylinder with a top and a bottom.
The middle of this cylinder consists of the deepest layer of the abdominal group Transversus Abdominus. This muscle has fibres which are horizontal and wrap around from our lower back to the front of the body and these horizontal fibres, when tensioned under about 30% of effort, form a ‘stabilising belt’ that helps to support the lower spine. The bottom of this cylinder consists of the pelvic floor group and we want this group of muscles to fire equally with the Transversus Abdominus. Together they co-contract and form the beginnings of a stable centre.

The initial activation and training of the core is quite a difficult concept to grasp and is best demonstrated and explained by professional Pilates instructors.  It is likely that professional climbers already unconsciously activate and use their core, however if you are new to climbing or do not climb daily then you are unlikely to be doing this, furthermore if you have been injured then some muscles tend to ‘switch off’ as part of the injury process and need to be ‘switched back on’ again in order to complete the rehabilitation phase.

A cautionary word is needed here; just as within any profession there are varying levels of expertise. My advice would be to find a recommended Stott or Polestar Pilates instructor who looks the part too! A one-to-one class to start with is probably best so they can assess you and find out what you want and need.  They can also explain to you in depth about exactly how to activate your core and keep it that way. Future classes should have no more that 5 in a class so that the instructor is available to come around and correct you WHEN you go wrong!

It is beyond the scope of this article to ‘teach’ you how to activate these core muscles and integrate this into your movements.  There have been many articles written about how to do this but in my experience the best and most effective way of doing this correctly is to be taught by a professional.

Remember these articles thus far are all designed to keep you injury free and out of the injury clinic, prevention is better than cure!  But if you are suffering from an overuse injury or any other injury this core training will benefit you in all your lifestyle activities and reduce the likelihood of re-injury.

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